7 Teams That Have Surprised Us This College Basketball Season

By now it’s pretty widely agreed upon that this season has been crazy in college basketball. Upsets all over, blue chip programs struggling to put it together, and teams that were overlooked, turning heads. You often see teams start hot and fade away once conference play begins, but let’s look at seven teams who appear to be legitimate here in mid January.

Auburn

Take a second to realize just what Bruce Pearl has done this year at Auburn. His program was linked to the FBI report that was released in the Fall. He lost one of his assistant coaches just before the start of the season. And, his two best players are out for the entire season. Recipe for success? For sure not. However, the Tigers have a 16-1 record, and a perfect 4-0 record in SEC play this season. While they played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, Auburn has two strong SEC wins at Tennessee and against Arkansas. This team is playing with confidence and their head coach is coaching with a swagger. Auburn may be the most surprising team so far this season.

Ohio State

Speaking of non-ideal scenarios, take a look at what Chris Holtmann inherited at Ohio State. In June, he took over a team that won just six Big Ten games, and were losing their top four leading scorers. His only option would be to weather the storm and begin making serious changes after what was expected to be a rough first season, right? Wrong. Although they got off to a shaky start, failing to secure any signature non-conference wins, what Holtmann has done at Ohio State so far is fantastic. Behind the All-American play of Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes already have six conference wins, and are tied with Purdue at the top of the standings. And while they may not have been able to secure any resume boosting non-conference wins, they announced themselves as contenders with an absolute drubbing of Michigan State a few weeks ago.

Clemson

The Clemson Tigers were supposed to make the NCAA tournament last season, at least that’s what their expectation was. Jaron Blossomgame was finally a senior and be was going to lead them to the Big Dance before he left. Unfortunately that story never panned out, but Clemson appears to be on their way this season. What losing Blossomgame did was turn them into one of the more balanced scoring teams in the country. They have five players who average 11 points a game or more. They hold wins over Ohio State, Florida, Louisville and Miami. Three of those four wins were at home, a place they defended pretty well this season.

Oklahoma

If you watch a lot of college basketball, you know the Oklahoma Sooners are a lot more than Trae Young. Sure, Young is a sensational player and well on his way to being named Player of the Year, but this team is blossoming after going through many growing pains last year. After being extremely young last season, Oklahoma is seeing a lot of players make big jumps in their game, year over year. Young might be a straw that stirs the drink, but his strong supporting cast is the reason the Sooners are a top 5 team in the country.

Arizona State

Arizona State has had a humbling start to Pac 12 play, but they are still light years ahead of where anyone thought they would be. They have a top 10 offense in the country, though that has slowed down some as well. Despite their conference struggles, the Sun Devils still have wins against Xavier and at Kansas to hang their hat on. They have a favorable stretch coming up that should (hopefully) be what this team needs to get back on track. Regardless, this team is 14-3 and a real threat to win the Pac 12. That is something not many people expected coming into the season.

Texas Tech

If you are unaware, the Big 12 Conference is really, really good. One reason why is the ridiculous play of Trae Young. Another reason is the emergence of Texas Tech and the tenacious defense Chris Beard has instilled in this team. While they don’t generate the turnovers that West Virginia does, the Red Raiders defense is Top 10 in the country in terms of points per game. A mix of strong senior leadership and tough defense can take a team far. This Texas Tech team is good enough to reach a Final Four, just ask Kansas, Baylor, Nevada and West Virginia.

Purdue

The Purdue Boilermakers are tied for first place in the Big Ten. They haven’t lost since the day after Thanksgiving. In that time they’ve beaten Arizona (albeit without Rawle Alkins), Louisville, Michigan and Butler. The Boilermakers made a statement in a 34 point slaughter of a Minnesota team that has some problems. With Purdue, you have another rare exception of a team losing an All-American (Caleb Swanigan) and seemingly being better without him. Despite the departure of Swanigan, Matt Painter still had the pieces to have a successful season. Right now he is getting the most out of all those pieces, with three upperclassmen averaging over 13 points a game, and a sophomore, Carson Edwards, leading them with 16 a game. The Big Ten was supposed to be a bad league dominated by Michigan State. Three weeks into conference play however, it is Purdue that looks dominant.

We’re still a long way from March. That is fortunate and unfortunate news for some teams. And as I mentioned before, there are plenty of teams who have played better than expected. Right now though, these seven teams and coaches deserve a lot of credit for the the job they’ve done in the first half of the season.

Oklahoma’s Scorching Offense Ready for Texas Tech’s Stifling Defense

The Big 12 Conference has arguably been the most exciting conference in college basketball this year. It’s almost guaranteed to have a ranked team play another ranked team every night the conference is in action. That will hold true tonight as #9 Oklahoma hosts #8 Texas Tech.

This will be the second straight game Oklahoma has taken on a Top 10 team. The Sooners traveled to West Virginia over the weekend and lost to Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, nothing to hang your head on. Trae Young and company will now need to bounce back against the Big 12’s best defense. Not an easy task.

Numbers Don’t Lie

While West Virginia fans may have something to say about that last line, Texas Tech is in fact leading the conference in scoring defense. The Red Raiders allow just 59.2 points per game in 15 games so far this year. They are very legit; their only loss is to a talented and experienced Seton Hall team. They’re 3-0 in the Big 12 and have won all those games by double digits, including a 12 point win at Kansas where they led wire-to-wire.

Chris Beard has done a phenomenal job with this team. As seasoned as they are, they’ve gotten a huge boost from freshman Zhaire Smith, who is second on the team in scoring and fourth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage. The Red Raiders have also had strong play at the most crucial position, point guard, with Keenan Evans returning to lead the team in scoring and assists.

The moral of the Texas Tech story however, is defense. They are not a team that will run up and down with you. Despite Evans’ 17 points a game and Smith’s 11, they know they will not outscore their opponents. Instead they will contest every shot, limit transition chances and wear you down for 40 minutes. Ask the teams they’ve played, it’s not fun.

Different Story For The Sooners

On the other side, the Oklahoma Sooners are a tad different. Instead of suffocating their opponents defensively, the Sooners have been piling on the points, leading the conference with 94.4 points per game. Everyone knows about Trae Young and his insane 29 points per game, but the Sooners have more than just the freshman phenom.

They have a total of four players averaging 10 points a game, including Christian James and Brady Manek, both of whom have showed an ability to score in bunches in games this season. While the OU offense starts and ends with Young, Texas Tech will need to contain the entire Sooner offense.

Against West Virginia, Young had his worst game as a collegiate athlete. On paper he finished with 29 points, but that came on 8-22 shooting, his lowest shooting percentage since his first game of the year. He also had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio for the first time all season, finishing with 5 assists to 8 turnovers. If you watched the game you could see Young did not look as comfortable as he has most of the year. He has a chance to get back on track at home.

Despite the tremendous defense of Texas Tech, I like Young and Oklahoma to bounce back tonight with a home win and move to 3-1 in the Big 12. I know the numbers favor Tech, with them leading the conference in both defensive field goal percentage and three-point defensive percentage, but I don’t believe Young can have two poor games in a row. They will no doubt run Young off the three point line any chance they get, but that’s where I expect Young to take what they give him and become a distributor when necessary. I don’t think he will have a negative turnover-assist ratio again and I think that will be the difference.

It’s the conference’s number one offense versus the conference’s number one defense. Something has to give. Don’t miss this game tonight, 7PM on ESPN