North Carolina's Marcus Paige (AP Photo)

College Basketball Talk’s Top Ten Most Surprising Teams

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Dayton: A loss at Illinois State has taken some of the luster off of the Flyers’ start this season, but don’t overlook what this group has done this year. They won at Georgia Tech, they beat Gonzaga and Cal in Maui, and they took Baylor to the buzzer.

George Washington: The Atlantic 10 looks like it will be one of the most competitive conferences in the country this season and one of the biggest reasons for that is the play of George Washington. The Colonials are now 8-1 with wins over Miami, Maryland and Creighton. They’ll be a factor in the A-10. Mo Creek is getting the attention, but don’t overlook the play of Kethan Savage.

Iowa State: The Cyclones has lost a lot the past two seasons, but this group is proving that they are going to be a factor in the Big 12 race.

Missouri: I’ll be the first to admit that Missouri’s resume isn’t all that impressive. They have two wins of note, over West Virginia and UCLA, and both came at home. But watching this group play, they look pretty good. Their perimeter trio of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross is tough.

source:  North Carolina: This is the pick that people may argue with me about, but I think I’m right here. I always think I’m right, so hear me out. The Tar Heels entered the season as a borderline top ten team. They’re currently sitting someone around the mid-teens right now, so looking at it strictly via the polls would lead one to believe that the Tar Heels have been a disappointment.

But here’s the thing. Those preseason predictions were made under the assumption that P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald would be in uniform by now. They’re not, and without those two, the Tar Heels are not the same team. I’m not the only person that thought this group would have trouble making the tournament if Hairston misses a significant amount of time. And guess what? They may have losses to UAB and to Belmont, but they also have two wins better than anyone in the country: they beat Louisville on a neutral court and knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing. No one — and I mean no one — would have predicted that three weeks ago.

Pacific: The Tigers were picked to finish in the bottom half of the WCC in the preseason, and they still may end up there by the time the season ends. But they’ve notched some nice wins early this season — most notably at Utah State — and are currently sitting at 7-1 on the season.

San Diego State: This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Aztecs as they work through the loss of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. Instead, they look like they’re neck and neck with New Mexico for the best team in the Mountain West. Xavier Thames has been terrific.

Texas: The Longhorns hemorrhaged talent this offseason. Rick Barnes was permanently planted on the hot seat. Most thought this team would be competing with TCU and Texas Tech for the eighth spot in the Big 12 this year. Yet, here we are in mid-December with Texas sitting at 8-1 with wins over Mercer, Vanderbilt and at Temple. Well done, Rick.

Villanova: In a year where everyone in the Big East seems to be losing — both marquee non-conference games and key players — the Wildcats keep on winning. Knocking off Kansas in the Bahamas put them on the map, but don’t overlook the win over Iowa in the title game. This is a Jay Wright team: lots of talented, tough-minded perimeter pieces.

Wisconsin: As my buddy Jon Rothstein likes to say, “Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan.” So yeah, the fact that Wisconsin is good this year isn’t a surprise. But the Badgers, for my money, are the best team in the Big Ten right now. Better than Ohio State. Better than Michigan State. Better than Michigan. Show me someone outside of Madison that thought this team cracking the top five nationally was a possibility.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.