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Early 2011-12 NCAA Basketball Rankings: San Francisco Dons And Santa Clara Broncos As Sleepers?

The folks at SB Nation's NCAA Basketball page took an early look at what we could see in NCAA basketball rankings for the 2011-2012 season. It's obviously incredibly early and we're waiting for players to declare for the NBA Draft, but it's still a fun little exercise to assess where team's are likely to be standing at the beginning of the next college basketball season.

Their preliminary top ten included WCC heavyweight Gonzaga due in large part to their only expected loss being Steven Gray. In putting together their rankings they also posted some potential sleepers for next season, including Belmont, Alabama, George Mason, Florida State, Michigan State, Wichita State, and Temple. I would argue that the Bay Area has a pair of sleeper candidates to at least make some noise in the WCC next year: the San Francisco Dons and the Santa Clara Broncos.

The Dons finished this past season third in the WCC, while the Broncos finished fourth. Additionally, Santa Clara won the 2011 CIT championship, while San Francisco advanced to the quarterfinals where they lost to the Broncos. What makes these schools legitimate sleeper candidates is the number of quality players they'll be returning for the 2011-12 season.

The Broncos lose two players with fairly significant minutes in Ben Dowdell (24.7 minutes per game) and Troy Payne (24.5 mpg). Dowdell averaged 8.2 points per game and was third on the team with 4.7 rebounds per game. Payne averaged 5.4 points per game and was second on the team with 5.9 rebounds per game. While they are sizable losses, the Broncos return their top three scorers in Kevin Foster, Marc Trasolini, and Evan Roquemore. Foster is the key as he averaged 20.2 points per game, and bumped that up to 25.4 in leading the Broncos to the CIT championship.

The Dons are coming off a season in which they surprised folks with a strong WCC run to third place. The Dons lose only one senior in Moustapha Diarra, who averaged 16.2 minutes per game, 7.8 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game. Beyond that they are expected to return their top six players in terms of of minutes, their top four scorers, and their top five rebounders.

The key for both Santa Clara and  USF will be to build on last year's momentum. Gonzaga will be locked and loaded for a WCC title run. St. Mary's will be a question mark with the loss of Mickey McConnell, but return some quality talent. Oh and BYU is joining the conference. The Dons and Broncos will have their work cut out for them, but they could have the talent to make some noise.