The non-conference portion of the college basketball season is virtually over, and several teams have drastically outperformed expectations through this point of the season. There have been a number of disappointments - USC and Notre Dame come to mind - but these four teams have put themselves in a great position going into 2018. Here are the four teams that have been the biggest surprises so far:
Tennessee started the season projected to finish in the bottom three in the SEC, and all they've done is earn a top 25 ranking with an 8-2 record. Their win over Purdue at the Battle 4 Atlantis really set the stage for this resurgence from the Vols, and while close losses to Villanova and North Carolina have kept them from moving even further up the polls, their performances in each of those games have solidified them as an NCAA Tournament team.
Sophomore forward Grant Williams (15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) has emerged as this team's star, but their biggest strength is their depth and well-balanced attack. Head coach Rick Barnes uses a 10-man rotation and they all share the ball, as 68.6 percent of their field goals come off of assists (second in the country). They also have a top 20 defense.
The Aggies entered the season projected to be the fourth-best team in the SEC, but they figured to be a team that was in and out of the rankings all season long. Instead, a blowout win over West Virginia in the opener and a 16-point win over USC on the road put them in the top 10 - a place they have proven they are worthy of staying in.
Projected lottery pick Robert Williams (7.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg) has not had the season many expected, but Tyler Davis (13.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and D.J. Hogg (14.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) have stepped up in A&M's well-balanced attack. In fact, Williams is the only starter that doesn't average double-figure points.
However, as in the case with Tennessee, it has been their elite defense that has carried them here. They rank in the top six nationally in defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage defense, and three-point percentage defense. Of course, being the eighth-tallest team in the country certainly helps with that.
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I have no problem admitting that I have fallen in love with this Oklahoma team over the first month a half of the season. Trae Young (28.5 ppg, 10.2 apg) leads the country in both points and assists, has tied the NCAA record for most assists in a game (22), and has led Oklahoma to victories over Oregon, USC, and Wichita State - all of which have come away from Norman. With Young emerging as the clear-cut best player in the country, the Sooner have been incredibly dangerous.
The supporting cast continues to step up, but in the end, Young is the guy that drives everything Oklahoma does. It has been incredible to watch, but if some team can contain him (a big if), can the Sooners win?
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Arizona State has to be in the top spot no matter what. They were supposed to finish in the middle of the Pac-12 but have instead emerged as a legitimate top-five team thanks to their guard play and first-ever 11-0 start.
Led by Tra Holder (21.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.0 apg) and Shannon Evans II (17.5 ppg, 4.6 apg), the Sun Devils are the only team that has beaten Xavier this season and knocked off Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, which may be the hardest thing to do in the entire sport thanks to their offense. They rank in the top 10 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage.
Arizona State is facing some defensive questions that could come back to bite them in conference play, but with the way their backcourt is playing - along with their toughness - should ensure that they stay among the nation's top teams all year long.Back to the NCAA Newsfeed