We’re almost done with the non-conference portion of the college basketball schedule, and there have been some teams that have come out of nowhere, some that have exceeded expectations and others that have fallen short of the preseason hype.
Here are my top 10 surprise teams and also the 10 who have disappointed:
1. Butler – The Bulldogs were 16-17 last season and were picked to finish eighth in the Big East this year. However, they have jumped out to a 10-1 record and hold a spot in the top 25. It’s still Kamar Baldwin’s team, but the big difference has come on the defensive end of the floor where LaVall Jordan’s team is allowing 54.5 points per game compared to more than 70 per contest a year ago. The win at Hinkle against Florida should be significant come March, and the lone loss came in Waco by one point against a top-10 Baylor team.
2. Dayton – We knew Obi Toppin was good, but this good? Dayton’s big man has been terrific this season and the Flyers (8-1) have been better than expected with wins in Maui against Georgia and Virginia Tech, taking Kansas to overtime and also beating Saint Mary’s in Phoenix. Anthony Grant’s team should enter A-10 play as the favorite.
3. DePaul – The Blue Demons were picked to finish dead last in the Big East where they have finished the past three seasons. However, they are intriguing this year with a potential future NBA player in Paul Reed and the rebirth of Charlie Moore. They have a road wins over three high-major programs: Iowa, Minnesota and Boston College, as well as a home victory over Chris Beard and Texas Tech. DePaul still has one more game in the non-league slate, and should enter Big East play at 11-1.
4. Baylor – I had the Bears in my top 10 early in the preseason, but that was with Mario Kegler and what I thought would be a healthy Tristan Clark. Kegler was dismissed from the program, and Clark is a shell of himself due to a knee injury. But Baylor has a bunch of big, athletic guards who have led the Bears to wins over Arizona, Villanova and Butler. If Clark can get back towards 100 percent, Scott Drew’s team could make a Final Four run.
5. Indiana – The Hoosiers lost Romeo Langford and there wasn’t a ton of optimism around Bloomington. However, IU is 10-1 with wins over Florida State at home and against UConn at Madison Square Garden. We’ll see if the Hoosiers sustain it, but Archie Miller has also done it without starting point guard Rob Phinisee for much of the season.
6. Auburn – Bruce Pearl and the Tigers won 30 games and went to the Final Four last season, but lost their top three scorers. This was supposed to be a “down” year, but Auburn is now 9-0 and led by guys like senior guard Samir Doughty and versatile freshman Isaac Okoro. There aren’t any huge wins, but there are still victories over Richmond, New Mexico and Davidson on a neutral court, and against Saint Louis in Birmingham.
7. Duquesne – Keith Dambrot’s group doesn’t even play on its home court, and the Dukes have won all nine games thus far. Remember, this is a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tourney since 1977. Duquesne was tabbed to finish eighth in the A-10 prior to the season.
8. UNI – Ben Jacobson’s Panthers are 10-1 for the first time since 2011-12 and have a star in AJ Green, but were still picked to finish behind Missouri State and Bradley in the Missouri Valley. The lone loss came against West Virginia, while there are wins at Colorado and against South Carolina down in Cancun.
9. Florida State – I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore by Leonard Hamilton and his staff, but the Seminoles lost a ton of last year’s team, including first-rounder Mfiondu Kabengele. But FSU is 8-2 with a road win in Gainesville and also victories in Niceville against Tennessee and Purdue.
10. Delaware – The Blue Hens were picked to finish in the middle of the CAA, but Martin Ingelsby’s team has jumped out to a 9-2 start with one of the losses coming against a ranked Villanova group.
1. Florida – The Gators (6-3) were ranked No. 6 in the AP Preseason Top 25, but Mike White’s team has lost three times already: at home to Florida State and on the road against Butler and UConn. None are awful, but we expected more out of this group — especially after adding veteran big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. in the offseason.
2. Providence – The Friars had gone to the NCAA tourney five consecutive seasons before a disappointing 18-16 campaign and a 7-11 mark in the Big East a year ago. Ed Cooley brought back Alpha Diallo and a bunch of talented guards who are now sophomores. But PC is 6-5 with the losses coming against Northwestern, Penn, Long Beach State, Charleston and URI.
3. Michigan State – There are a couple of factors that played into Tom Izzo and the Preseason No. 1 Spartans losing three of their first eight games. Josh Langford was lost (perhaps for the season) just prior to the year, and Cassius Winston has had to deal with the tragedy involving his late brother. There’s no shame losing the opener to Kentucky, but the loss in Maui to Virginia Tech was a head-scratcher, as was the embarrassing home setback to Duke.
4. Alabama – The start of the Nate Oats Era hasn’t exactly gone well with a 4-5 mark. I had the Crimson Tide as a preseason top 25 team but I overrated the talent. Sure, they have a talented point guard in Kira Lewis, but there’s not much up front and the defense has been abysmal. The best win thus far is against Stephen F. Austin at home, but there have been five losses, including one at home to Penn.
5. Davidson – There’s just one terrible loss — on the road against Charlotte. But with Kellan Grady and Jón Axel Guðmundsson, you would have figured that the Wildcats wouldn’t be 5-5 with setbacks to Auburn, Charlotte, Wake Forest, Marquette and Temple. The best win for Bob McKillop’s group thus far is at home to Nevada, so this is a team that will need to finish in the top two in the A-10 or win the league tourney to get into the NCAA tournament.
6. Syracuse – I know the Orange weren’t a preseason top 25 team, but this has been even worse than expected. Jim Boeheim’s team scored 34 points against Virginia at home in the opener and has lost to Oklahoma State and Penn State in Brooklyn, Iowa at home and Georgetown on the road. The ‘Cuse is 5-5 with its best win coming against a mediocre Georgia Tech team.
7. North Carolina – The Tar Heels won their first five, but are now 6-4 after a loss in Chapel Hill to Wofford. It came without Cole Anthony, but that just showed how underwhelming the rest of the UNC roster is this season. The Tar Heels were blown out at home by Ohio State, scored just 47 points at Virginia, and could be in major trouble as far as making the NCAA tourney if Anthony doesn’t come back soon.
8. Cincinnati – No one in their right mind (except my buddy Matt Norlander from CBSSports.com) expected all that much from the Bearcats in John Brannen’s first season at the helm, but it’s been a mess — especially with senior Jarron Cumberland. Cincinnati is 6-4 with two of the setbacks coming against Bowling Green and Colgate.
9. Missouri State – I was extremely high on Dana Ford and the Bears, and I wasn’t alone as they were picked to win the Missouri Valley. They lost to Little Rock to start the season and are 6-6 overall with setbacks to Buffalo and a down Miami team down in Charleston. Three of the six wins have come against bottom-tier teams: Alabama State, Cleveland State and Mississippi Valley State.
10. Seton Hall – Maybe we all overrated the supporting cast around Myles Powell, but the Pirates are now 6-4 and have lost at home to Michigan State, down in the Bahamas against Oregon and on the road to Iowa State and Rutgers. Seton Hall will have one more chance to get a resume non-league win against Maryland at home on Thursday.