The month of January hasn’t reach its midpoint yet and this college basketball season has already been bonkers. Trae Young’s domination, Arizona State’s 12-0 start and climb from the unranked realm, then the fact that no team made it to 2018 without a loss – the first time that’s happened since the 40s – it’s been an insane start to the season.
To further display this unique spectacle, let’s take a look at five hoops programs that were supposed to play like bottom feeders but have risen to the challenge. These teams were predicted to finish near the bottom on their conference standings, but here they are flirting with potential postseason relevancy.
Oklahoma Sooners 13-2 overall, T-2nd in Big 12
Tate’s Take: How dare we mention this team without starting with arguably the most impressive player in the sport, Trae Young? He leads the nation in scoring (29) and assists (10.9) and makes his supporting cast of Brady Manek and Christian James better by getting everyone involved in the offense.
The Sooners defeated three then-top-10 programs in Texas Tech, Wichita State and TCU, so you can see why the team that finished last season 11-20 overall and 5-13 in conference play is on a mission to perhaps even snap Kansas’ string of regular season conference titles.
Texas Tech Red Raiders 14-2 overall, T-2nd in Big 12
Tate’s Take: Texas Tech is one of the more balanced teams in the country and embraces stingy defense, a true rarity in today’s game. Keenan Evans is the catalyst that sparks this team. Physical play has been a staple for years and it doesn’t look like the it’s going anywhere. Who would have thought that we’d be talking about the Raiders priming themselves for a potential 3-seed in March?
Auburn Tigers 15-1 overall, 2nd in SEC
Tate’s Take: Auburn entered the season amid FBI investigations but has played like no pressure was on. The difference? Auburn never folded. Head Coach Bruce Pearl has done a stellar job in recruiting – many from the Metro-Atlanta area – but has been, thus far, unsuccessful in translating the talent to victories. That is no longer the case for the War Eagles.
The combination of Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron make up one of the deepest young backcourts in the country that nobody is talking about.
Tennessee Volunteers 11-4 overall, 6th in SEC
Tate’s Take: A few seasons ago people questioned (myself included) the hiring of Head Coach Rick Barnes from Texas. Rocky Top has continued to prove doubters wrong. Tennessee has benefitted from the most underrated player in the country, Grant Williams. His strength, high IQ and sneaky athleticism are just a few of the many facets of Williams’ game.
There may not be a better complimentary player than teammate Admiral Schofield. Just ask Purdue and Kentucky what UT is capable of. The Vols – predicted to finish 11th in conference – are gaining steam and trending upwards toward realistically competing for an SEC crown.
Clemson Tigers 14-2 Overall, T-2nd in ACC
Tate’s Take: This is not a misprint. And with apologies to Virginia, the ACC is not typically known for its stout defensive schemes. Try telling that to Clemson. The Tigers hang their hats on defensive anchors opening up opportunities for their offense.
Five Tigers average double digits in scoring including Donte Grantham, an impressive senior forward that is better than average from the field, long distance and charity stripe.
Suiting up to play Clemson has no longer become a walk in the park. This time around Brad Brownell is making the opposition pay. Will wins over Louisville and Florida offset losses to Temple and NC State come March?