A little more than a month into the
college basketball season, which teams’ success (or, more specifically, degree
of success) has surprised me the most?
I’ll touch on five of them, and
And, no, the performances of
Illinois and Washington (the No.’s 5-7 teams
in this week’s Scout.com Top 25), all unbeaten, or that of one-loss (at
Wisconsin, haven’t surprised me in
Unlike other preseason
prognostications, each of those four teams were ranked in the Scout.com
preseason Top 25
None of the following were in that
initial Top 25 – just another example of why rating teams before the start of a
season isn’t a science at all, much less an “inexact since, at best”.
(records as of Dec. 12; with
Scout.com Top 25 ranking)
(5-1, No. 17): The Tar Heels lost the top seven scorers, including four
lottery selections in the NBA Draft, from the national championship
So why have the Tar Heels lost just
once (68-64 to No. 6 Illinois), won at
Kentucky (83-79) and captured
their other four games by an average margin of 22 points?
Well, we should never lose sight of
the fact that Roy Williams is one of
the elite coaches of his – or any other – generation.
And it was expected that forward David Noel, the only returnee to see
significant playing time a year ago, would have a solid senior season. And so
far (14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game), he’s done just that. But the
performances of juniors Reyshawn Terry (14.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg., and 2.5 assists per game) and Wes Miller (6.7 ppg) have been
Those who follow the national high
school scene closely knew that Tyler Hansbrough (16.3 ppg and 7.5 rpg) was not only going to be the most
productive freshman in the Atlantic Coast Conference but probably the leading
candidate for National Freshman of the Year, as well.
But Marcus Ginyard (9.2 ppg), Bobby Frasor (7.0 ppg and 5.2 assists
per game) and Danny Green (7.7 ppg
and 3.3 rpg) have adapted to basketball life on the major college level even
more rapidly than the most hard-core of Tar Heels’ boosters had a right to
*Memphis (7-1, No. 9): The expectation level in
Memphis has always been roof level
under John Calipari but the Tigers
advanced to the NCAA Tournament just twice during those five seasons.
Sophomore guard Darius Washington (15.4 ppg and 4.4
apg) and senior forward Rodney Carney (14.9 ppg and 4.1 rpg) are playing like the strong candidates for
spots on the All-Conference USA team that they were expected to be.
But the Tigers have won at
Alabama, handed UCLA its only loss
and defeated Cincinnati on its home
court. And they’re just an offensive rebound basket by Duke’s Shelden Williams (one in which Williams
appears to be making contact with the ball while it’s on the rim, by the way) in
Garden away from maybe being unbeaten
Why have they exceeded expectations
(well, mine, at least)? It’s because Calipari is getting contributions from his
group of freshmen that challenges those being produced by
North Carolina’s first-year
Shawne Williams (16.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg and
2.8 apg), Chris Douglas-Roberts
(11.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg), Antonio Anderson (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 3.1 apg), Kareem Cooper (7.7 ppg and 3.3 rpg) and
Robert Dozier (4.9 ppg and 6.4 rpg)
have combined to score about 49 points per game.
*Indiana (5-2, No. 18): The Hoosiers’ hopes for
a quick start to the season seemed to be dashed when forward D.J. White, the Big Ten Conference’s
Freshman of the Year last season, suffered a broken bone in a foot during an
early-November exhibition game.
But Coach Mike Davis’ team has a 26-point victory
over Kentucky and a down-to-the-wire loss to Duke already safely etched onto its
NCAA Tournament at-large bid resume, which figures to be polished even more
before Big Ten Conference play since White is expected to return to action for
the team’s final three non-conference games, beginning with the contest at
Charlotte next Monday.
Why has there been so much
productivity (86 points per game) minus White?
Well, Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth (20.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg
and 3.1 apg) has been every bit as affective – and then some – as he was
advertised during his red-shirt season for the Hoosiers.
Guard Marshall Strickland had a disappointing
junior season (when he shot .366 from the field) but is averaging 14.1 ppg and
shooting .524 and seems poised to challenge for All-Big Ten honors.
Strickland and Killingsworth have
also gotten plenty of scoring support from sophomore Robert Vaden (13.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 5.6
apg), and the perimeter is plenty deep with Roderick Wilmont (8.0 ppg and 4.2 rpg)
and the likes of A.J. Ratliff (5.8
And Australian freshman center Ben Allen (13.3 ppg over the past three games)
gives Davis a big man who can step
outside and nail 3’s (eight in those three games).
*Florida (9-0, No. 12): The Gators lost three
players, David Lee, Matt Walsh and
Anthony Roberson, who combined to
average almost 46 points per game for last season’s 24-8 team.
Yet, the Gators are not only
unbeaten but it seems likely that they could take a 13-0 record into their
Southeastern Conference opener at the
Georgia on Jan. 7.
Was it Al McGuire who once said “The best
thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores?”
Billy Donovan’s freshmen were pretty
good a year ago and are really good
now they are sophomores.
Second-year players Taurean Green, Al Horford, Corey Brewer
and Joakim Noah have combined to
average 50 points per game, with frontcourt players Horford, Brewer and Noah
teaming to grab nearly 19 rebounds per game.
And there aren’t many teams that
“share” the ball with any more willingness – and success – than do the Gators.
Donovan has five players who are averaging at least 2.0 assists per
*Michigan (7-0, No. 21): The Wolverines are one
of the six Big Ten teams in the Scout.com Top 25 right now and one of the eight
teams from the conference that would almost certainly be in the NCAA Tournament
if it were to start next week.
They were 13-18 a year ago and only
four of those wins came in conference.
Coach Tom Amaker’s team has played
consistently well, both at home and on the road (beating Notre Dame in South
Bend), and is pointing toward a game in Ann Arbor Saturday (against UCLA) that
could provide it with another high-profile victory.
And three reasons why go by the
names of Courtney Sims, Daniel Horton and Lester Abram.
Sims had a disappointing sophomore
season but, after averaging 16.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 1.3 blocks per game, has to be
rated among the elite big men in the conference.
Horton, a 6-3 guard who played only
13 games before being suspended for the remainder of his junior season for
off-the-court reasons, is easily having the best season of his college career,
averaging 15.1 ppg and 5.1 apg, while shooting .514 from the field and averaging
just 2.0 turnovers per game.
And the Wolverines had the 6-6
Abram for three games last season before a shoulder injury kept him on the
sidelines for what should have been his junior campaign.
He’s averaging 12.9 ppg and, like
Horton, is shooting better (.527) than ever.
An April inductee into the USBWA
Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s National Basketball Expert
and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at
email@example.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at