Six teams on the rise entering the 2014-15 season

Six teams on the rise entering the 2014-15 season

Our 2014-15 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at six teams on the rise. Check back every day for more college hoops preview content.

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:

Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season
• Oct. 21: Big East Preview: To raise its stature, the league needs a big March
Oct. 22: Chris Holtmann aims to guide Butler through period of uncertainty 
 Oct. 23: The 25 most intriguing non-league games of the new season 
 Oct. 24: American Athletic Conference preview: All eyes on UConn, SMU
 Oct. 27: Six teams on the rise entering the season

Arkansas (22-12, 10-8): Thanks to a flurry of ill-advised early departures and the team's maddening inability to win away from home, the rebuilding process under Nolan Richardson disciple Mike Anderson has taken longer than most Arkansas fans expected when he arrived in 2011. At last, however, the Razorbacks' patience may finally pay off. Arkansas appears primed for a breakout season thanks to a roster that blends experience, talent and depth. The most gifted player is 6-foot-11 Bobby Portis, an NBA prospect who sank jump shots and ran the floor well as a freshman but needs to improve his rebounding and low-post repertoire to emerge as one of college basketball's elite big men. Complementing Portis are experienced guards Michael Qualls and Ky Madden, both of whom fit well into Anderson's fast-paced, pressing system. Qualls was a SportsCenter regular for his dunks last season, but Arkansas would love to see him produce more highlights with his jump shot this year. Madden will benefit from being able to move off ball due to the arrival of junior college transfer Jabril Durham and skilled freshman point guard Anton Beard. Ultimately, with so much returning talent and a rare peaceful offseason, there's no excuse for Arkansas not to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. The Razorbacks are a tier or two below Kentucky and Florida but a strong contender to finish third in the SEC.

Miami (17-16, 7-11): For a program that will rely almost exclusively on newcomers this season, Miami has the potential to ascend in the ACC this season. The reason for that is a loaded backcourt fueled by a pair of coveted transfers. Angel Rodriguez, a second-team all-Big 12 point guard in his final season at Kansas State two years ago, will immediately assume the role of offensive catalyst and team leader. He'll be aided in the backcourt by wing Sheldon McLellan, a Texas transfer who led the Longhorns in scoring two years ago but clashed with coach Rick Barnes. Throw in redshirt freshman Deandre Burnett, true freshman Ja'Quan Newton and returner Manu Lecomte, and it's clear the Canes have plenty of options at guard. The key will whether the Miami frontcourt can survive without suspended junior college All-American Ivan Cruz Uceda for the first 16 games of the season. Seven-footer Tonye Jekiri will be the only true big man available for the first half of the year and will have to provide defense and rebounding.

Nebraska (19-13, 11-7): Between the raucous sellout crowds at its sparkling new arena and an unexpected late-season surge to slip into the NCAA tournament, Nebraska enjoyed its most successful season in at least two decades last year. Now the Huskers will try to build on that success and show it was no one-year aberration. Nebraska has every chance to make loud crowds, marquee wins and national headlines its new normal thanks to the return of Big Ten player of the year candidate Terran Petteway, slashing wing Shavon Shields and most of last season's core. The addition of Georgetown transfer Moses Abraham will also help, giving the Huskers a physical defensive presence in the paint to pair with finesse-oriented stretch forward Walter Pitchford. If all Nebraska's returners merely improve incrementally and a season-ending knee injury to forward Leslee Smith doesn't leave the team shy of frontcourt depth, the Huskers should return to the postseason and maybe even notch their first NCAA tournament win in program history. If Tai Webster takes a big leap at point guard, a third big man emerges to solidify the frontcourt and Petteway develops a consistent outside shot to go with his knack for attacking off the dribble, Nebraska is fully capable of accomplishing even more than that.

Northern Iowa (16-15, 10-8): If any Valley team is going to emerge as a foil for Wichita State, Northern Iowa is probably the most likely candidate. The Panthers return their six leading scorers from last season and add a potential impact newcomer in Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson. One of the major reasons Northern Iowa underachieved a bit last season was the Panthers lost their hardscrabble defensive identity, playing at a faster tempo but surrendering the Valley's fifth-most points per possession. Interior scorers Seth Tuttle and Nate Buss sometimes appeared afraid to challenge shots in the paint last season because they didn't want to get into foul trouble, a mindset that must change. Regardless of how much Northern Iowa gets better defensively, the Panthers remain efficient on offense. The 6-foot-8 Tuttle is a four-year starter and a returning all-league player, guard Deon Mitchell generates offense off the dribble and Jesperson is a former top 100 recruit who shot well from the perimeter at Virginia but will seek to showcase an improved all-around game. Dethroning Wichita State will be a difficult goal for Northern Iowa to achieve, but the Panthers could be formidable if they can improve their defensive without sacrificing scoring. This is a team with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations.

SMU (27-10, 12-6): For a team that unexpectedly lost its most coveted recruit in years when he decided to play professionally overseas this past summer, SMU is surprisingly well positioned entering the new season. One year removed from being maybe the last team left out of the NCAA tournament field, Hall of fame coach Larry Brown has enough talent to absorb the loss of Emmanuel Mudiay, crack the field of 68 with room to spare and maybe even do some damage too. What gives the Mustangs a great chance to accomplish those goals is the return of every key player besides guard Nick Russell and forward Shawn Williams. All-conference point guard Nic Moore is an outstanding shooter and distributor, forward Markus Kennedy is a double-double threat and wing Keith Frazier and big man Yanick Moreira both have breakout potential. The arrival of battle-tested Xavier transfer Justin Martin also provides another double-digit scorer who improved every season with the Musketeers.  One concern for SMU is the eligibility of Kennedy, whose academics are apparently an issue. Brown released a statement earlier this month acknowledging Kennedy "still has some work to do to meet eligibility standards for competition this season" but also insisting he expected the forward "to regain his eligibility and get back on track to earn his degree."

Utah (21-12, 9-9 last year): In a Pac-12 that lost a ton of talent this past offseason, Utah is an exception. The Utes return their top six scorers from a 21-win team and add a solid recruiting class, two huge reasons many consider them the most viable threat to league favorite Arizona entering the season. The biggest catalyst for Utah's rapid improvement is point guard Delon Wright, a first-team all-league selection last year with the size, quickness, court vision and ball-hawking instincts to be selected in the first round of next June's NBA draft. He and versatile small forward Jordan Loveridge will carry the offense, but the Utes need others to provide complementary scoring, whether that's 5-foot-10 sharpshooter Brandon Taylor or promising freshman forwards Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma. Defense should again be a strength for Utah with 7-foot Dallin Bachynski protecting the rim and giving the security the freedom to gamble for steals, but the Utes will need to prove they perform down the stretch in tight games and on the road. They lost eight games by four or fewer points last season and they dropped their first six Pac-12 road games.

Also on the rise: Auburn, LSU, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Rhode Island

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!