College Basketball Surprises (Or Not)


The regular season for men’s college basketball is nearly two-thirds complete, with schools now playing the second half of their conference season. This time next month we will be in the midst of March Madness with Selection Sunday announcing the 65 teams who made the tournament, with the first game played two days later.

basketballOddly, the defending national champion UNC Tarheels look like that they will sit this one out unless they manage to win the conference tournament, thereby receiving an automatic bid. But at 13-10, that isn’t a likely scenario with the more realistic picture having the Tarheels play in the NIT.

But the Tarheels are not the only surprise team of 2010. There are at least four more teams who have raised eyebrows at some point this season with some not on everyone’s radar, at least just yet:

Pitt Panthers – Being 17-6 and ranked #21 isn’t a bad place to be, but when the expectations for your team were so much higher, the Panthers seem to be a disappointment. At 7-4 in the Big East, Pitt lost a pair of games in recent weeks that they should have won against Seton Hall and South Florida. Still, don’t count Pitt out just yet: they’ll make the NCAA and they could go deep. A close second Big East surprise is the Uconn Huskies who, like UNC, will probably not make the tournament.

Charlotte 49ers – The Dayton Flyers were expected to waltz through the Atlantic 10 this year as Xavier, Rhode Island, Temple and St. Joe’s lost their most talented players to the NBA last season. But Dayton is 5-3 and in sixth place in the conference with Charlotte leading all-comers at 8-1. Forward Shamari Spears and guard Derrio Green are leading the 49ers effort this season, combining for 31 points per game. Tomorrow night’s game at Dayton is a must win for the Flyers.

Cornell Big Red – The Ivy League will likely never field a national champion, but they usually can be counted on for fielding a team with the potential to slay a giant. Princeton and Pennsylvania once had a lockhold on the conference for smart people, but Cornell is 6-0 and will most likely win the conference if they knock down challenges from Princeton and Harvard. The Big Red’s open seasoning victory at Alabama and five point loss to #1 Kansas has put Cornell on the NCAA conference map.

Lafayette Leopards – Not exactly a power conference but one where the tournament winner receives an automatic bid, the Patriot League has its own surprise in the form of Lafayette. Everyone had the Leopards finishing dead last, but they started out their conference season on top of the league. Now 5-3, Lafeyette is one game behind Lehigh, but within striking distance of the top. At 14-9 overall, the Pennsylvania school may be a surprise entry in the Field of 65 come March 14.

West Coast

I realize that this list is skewed toward eastern teams, but I think that may be due mostly to the strength of the east versus the west. Indeed, when a power conference such as the PAC 10 cannot place a single team in the Top 25, then you know that a shift has taken place. Gonzaga, New Mexico, Brigham Young, and UNLV are the top teams of the west, but the dearth of a dominating team from that area of the country is simply stunning.


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