Posted in: NCAA Basketball
The NCAA Men’s Basketball season is officially underway and just a couple weeks into the season we are seeing teams that most didn’t expect much out of that are surprising the nation.
In this article, I will highlight five teams that are surprisingly having strong starts to the season. Let’s get started!
Let’s start with the team that many of you didn’t even knew existed until they shocked the nation, not once, but twice already, to start the season. Coming into the season, the Paladins were picked to finish near the middle of the pack in the SOCON, behind NCAA tournament regulars UNC- Greensboro, and Wofford. But after a 5-0 start, people are starting to wonder if this team is the real deal.
All this team has done already is beat half of last year’s Final Four. Scoring huge upset wins against, both in true road games, Loyola-Chicago and Villanova. Furman scores at a high rate, nearly ninety points per game. And they do it by sharing the ball and not turning it over. Furman also made national headlines this season when their point guard, Jordan Lyons, hit an NCAA record fifteen three-pointers in a game against North Greenville.
Having a point guard like Lyons that can really fill it up and win you a game on his own is a huge asset to have in a small conference like the SOCON. It remains to be seen if this run was just a fluke or if this team needs to be considered a threat to make a run in the tournament. But if you see Furman’s name pop up on your bracket in March, remember what they are capable of doing.
The Buffalo Bulls are another team that started outside of the national spotlight and have quickly put their names on the map. Buffalo was a sharp bettor’s pick to do damage this year as they brought back essentially all of the production of last year’s team that blew out a very talented Arizona team in the NCAA tournament. The Bulls were picked to win the MAC this year, so they shouldn’t have been too far off of any true college basketball fans radar. But with their hot start, they have vaulted themselves into the top twenty-five nationally.
Bob Huggins has been known as one of the best defensive coaches in the country, and his “Press Virginia” defense got blitzed by the Bulls. The Bulls followed up that performance by beating a game Southern Illinois squad and showed that the West Virginia upset was no fluke.
The Bulls scheduled very aggressively in the non-conference this season as they have true road games against Syracuse and Marquette coming up in December before hitting league play where they are expected to dominate. If somehow the Bulls can knock off the ‘Cuse and Marquette, this could be a team that should be considered for a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament. This team has that level of talent and experience and is led by the best player in the MAC, C.J. Massinburg who is a double-double machine. Don’t sleep on this Bulls team this year, they are legit.
The St. Mary’s Gaels lost an enormous amount of talent from last year’s team that won thirty games and was a one seed in the NIT. Jock Landale was one of the best players’s in the country for St. Mary’s and they also had to deal with the losses of big-time contributors Emmett Naar and Calvin Hermansen. Head coach Randy Bennet has never lost so much talent at one time in his eighteen seasons in Moraga, and many people thought this was going to finally be a down year for the perennial contenders in the WCC.
But here the Gaels are, undefeated on the season. The Gaels passed a big early season test by going into New Mexico State, one of the toughest places to play in the country, and beating the Aggies by fifteen points. The Gales also have blowout wins over McNeese State and Utah Valley to kick off the season.
St. Mary’s has a long way to go before they crack the top twenty-five, but I think the rumors of their demise were greatly exaggerated, as this team has talent. Jordan Ford looks to be taking over for Landale as the alpha male on this team as he is averaging almost 29 points a game on 55% shooting from the field.
The one knock on Randy Bennet in his time at St. Mary’s is that he refuses to schedule tough in the non-conference and that continues this season, as outside of matchups with LSU and New Mexico, its cupcake city for the Gaels. So, don’t be shocked if this team runs out a 10-0 or better start and gets some national attention. St. Mary’s appears to be a program that no longer has to rebuild, they reload.
It is surprising that a college basketball blue blood program like Indiana ends up in a situation like they were to start this season, and that is out of the top twenty-five and picked by many to finish near the middle of the Big 10 this season. The Hoosiers have yet to crack the top twenty-five in either major poll, lurking just outside in the others receiving votes category. But make no mistake, this team has shown just how talented it is this season already.
The big win for Indiana came at home against a good Marquette team by twenty-three points. Bigger though than the win, has been the early season play of Romeo Langford. Langford was an Indiana high school legend, and the minute that he announced he would be staying in his home state for college, the expectations grew for the Hoosiers. Throw in Juwan Morgan, and this team could compete to win the Big 10.
The Hoosiers are scheduled very heavily in the non-conference as Archie Miller is ready to show the nation that this team is ready to play in the Final Four. Upcoming games against Duke, Butler, Louisville, and Penn State should tell us whether this team has returned to glory. Don’t be shocked to see the Hoosiers slide into the top twenty-five at some point this season.
To round out our top five, we have another Big 10 team, the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa was picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 10 this season as they brought back almost all of last year’s team. The problem for Iowa is that last year’s team was awful. Iowa finished just 4-14 in Big 10 play, so even though they brought back a lot of bodies, it was hard to say if they were bodies, they wanted returning. But the Hawkeyes have put all that talk to rest as they have started out the season 4-0 and improbably took home the 2K Classic title last weekend in New York City.
Iowa went into the 2K Classic as what looked like the worst team of the small four-team field. But after knocking off a very talented Oregon team that had the third best-recruiting class in the country this season in eth first round, they followed it up by beating UCONN in the finals. Both of those wins are big-time wins against established programs that are going to look great on their resume on Selection Sunday.
The Hawkeyes have gotten the job done on both ends of the court, but it looks like the defense will be the strength of this team this year as they held Oregon and UCONN to an average of just seventy points a game. Iowa gets it done with a true team effort as they have four players averaging double-digit scoring and play a nightly nine-man rotation. Will Iowa be able to sustain this effort all season long in a stacked Big 10? Only time will tell, but right now they have opened a lot of eyes with their early season play.
Here they are folks, five teams that have really surprised with their early season results. A couple of these teams, specifically Buffalo and Indiana, probably should have been more on the radar than they were to start the season but have removed any doubts early on that they are tournament level teams. And St. Mary’s, Iowa, and Furman have used some big upsets and strong play to get themselves a look from a national perspective.