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.

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