North Carolina's Marcus Paige (AP Photo)

College Basketball Talk’s Top Ten Most Surprising Teams

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source: Getty Images
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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.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie calls to his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Central Florida, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
(Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Big Ten showdown and key bubble battles

Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (20), Christian Williams, center, and Adam Woodbury, second from left, and Michigan State's Deyonta Davis (23) and Eron Harris (14) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 9:00 p.m.

As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.

Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.

The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.

The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
  • Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
  • With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
  • At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
  • Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
  • High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
  • James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
  • Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.