Each season there are teams that break through and show significant improvement from the prior season. In 2013-14, we saw Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers win both the ACC and ACC tournament. Tim Miles’ Nebraska Cornhuskers went from a Big Ten bottom-feeder to the Big Dance. Kevin Ollie's Connecticut Huskies -- ineligible for the postseason a season earlier -- won the national title.
Breakthrough teams typically return a core group of players, have excellent guard play, defend, are physically tough and have roles that are well-defined. Let’s take a look at which programs are poised to have major seasons.
In two short seasons, Larry Brown has made the Mustangs relevant and created excitement in Dallas. In 2013-14, they went 27-10 and 12-6 in the American Athletic Conference. They had two wins over Connecticut as well as victories against Cincinnati and Memphis. Their nonconference schedule cost them an NCAA bid, but they used that motivation and advanced to the finals of the NIT (losing to fellow breakthrough team Minnesota).
As Larry Brown says, the Mustangs "play the right way." They get high-percentage shots and make them (48.3 field goal percentage), are hard to score against (38.5 percent field goal percentage defense) and were seventh in the country in defensive rebounding percentage (69.5), which also led the American. This season SMU could have one of the best backcourts in the country in dynamic Nic Moore, developing 6-5 sophomore Keith Frazier and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay, ESPN’s No. 5 overall recruit, is a big point guard who is terrific in transition and uses his size to see over the defense. He can finish as well as make his teammates better. Sterling Brown brings depth and toughness to the backcourt.
The addition of Xavier fifth-year transfer Justin Martin, at 6-6, gives the Mustangs another versatile piece that can play either forward position. Martin averaged 11.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and made more than 50 perimeter shots. His skill set will fit in well with coach Brown’s offensive system.
Up front, Markus Kennedy is a load. The Villanova transfer is a wide body (6-9, 245 pounds) who has an old school low-post game.