The Biggest Surprises In College Basketball So Far
We are now less than four weeks away from Selection Sunday. There have been plenty of good surprise teams so far this season. I am going to look at the biggest surprises in college basketball.
Providence is one of the biggest college basketball surprises thus far. Nobody expected them to be 21-3 and ranked number eight in the country. When I previewed the Big East in December I had the Friars seventh in the conference, although I did feel like that was a little low when I wrote it. Right now they lead the conference and are on track to win their first Big East title ever. It is hard to believe the Friars have never won one considering they were one of the founding members of the conference back in 1979. But that could change this season. I also currently have them as a two-seed in my latest bracket projection.
When you look at the biggest impact you have to look at Jared Bynum. Bynum shot an abysmal 12% from three last season. This year? He’s shooting 45.6% from three. That is a massive increase. Noah Horchler is averaging a bit shy of a double-double. They have two players averaging over thirteen points per game. They can go eight deep with eight players averaging more than fourteen minutes per game. Ed Cooley should be in every single Coach Of The Year conversation. The Friars are not just a Big East title contender, but a national championship contender; and this is the their time to shine.
Marquette Golden Eagles
Few teams suffered as much turnover as Marquette did. They fired their coach and they lost all five starters from last season. The Golden Eagles seemed a year away from competing again. All they have done this season is beat seven ranked teams, including a sweep of Villanova and tenth ranked Illinois. In February they beat three ranked teams in a week. They have already won three more games than they did last year. In addition, seven of their nine losses have come against likely NCAA tournament teams.
Redshirt freshman forward Justin Lewis has made a big jump this year and has been the most impactful player for Marquette. He is averaging more than twice as many points per game and 2.6 more rebounds per game than he did last season. His shooting percentages are up all across the board. Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell and George Mason transfer Tyler Kolek have both made big impacts in their first season in Milwaukee as well. Shaka Smart has the Golden Eagles as a serious threat to make it to the second weekend of the tournament.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Nobody thought Wake Forest was going to be good this season. They went 6-16 last year. They also have only made the NCAA Tournament once in the last eleven seasons, have had four straight losing seasons, and have not won 20 games in a season since 2009-2010. The Demon Deacons used to be in the national conversation every year under Dave Odom in the 1990s and the legendary Skip Prosser in the early 2000s. They have not been like that recently. Even this year they were not expected to be very good. But Steve Forbes has Wake Forest headed in the right direction.
Alondes Williams has been a revelation for the Demon Deacons. The Oklahoma transfer is averaging just shy of 20 points per game. In his two seasons as a Sooner, he never averaged more than 6.7 a game. Williams is the team leader in points, rebounds, and assists. That is both totals and per game. He is a contender for ACC Player Of The Year. While the team has slipped back down onto the tournament bubble recently, they still have a good shot at making the tournament for the first time since the 2016-2017 season.
Much like Steve Forbes at Wake Forest, Jeff Linder has made a massive turnaround at Wyoming in only his second year as the Cowboys’ head coach. That has only happened twice in the last 33 years. They are also ranked for the first time since the 2014-2015 season. There were not very high hopes for them this season. Despite all of that I think Wyoming is pretty much a lock for the NCAA Tournament at this point.
Wyoming has two contenders for Mountain West Player Of The Year. Hunter Maldonado is averaging career-highs in multiple categories and is shooting 56.7% from inside the arc. Graham Ike has made massive strides in his second collegiate season. Both of those players are averaging over 19 points per game and Ike is averaging over 20. Recently the Cowboys beat Colorado State and Boise State back-to-back. They also won the Diamond Head Classic back in December. Like I said they look increasingly more like a lock for the tournament. But even so, there are still plenty more opportunities for quality wins as they still have games against Colorado State, San Diego State, and Fresno State left to play. Wyoming is definitely a second-weekend threat.
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