Matt Norlander at CBSSports.com:
With the season now 31 percent of the way complete (yes, already) it’s time to look at who’s come out of nowhere to be fairly good.
Which teams not only have put up nice records, but also put themselves in great spots to reach the NCAA Tournament with a few good Ws? And specifically, what teams are doing this despite the majority of us sports writin’ hacks not expecting it even four weeks ago? See, that’s one of my favorite parts of November-to-December college basketball: the surprise clubs.
Every year we get a batch of programs that surge from the high grass and make us take notice. So this crop is just that. The criterion: Have one loss or less to this point in this season after not receiving a single vote in the Associated Press’ preseason poll.
With that in mind, here are the 10 most surprising teams in college basketball to date. We’ll go with the unbeatens first, then the one-loss teams, and list them in alphabetical order….
Penn State (10-1).
Best wins: vs. George Washington.
Best player: D.J. Newbill. Far and away. I think Newbill is so good/valuable that not getting a First Team Big Ten honor this year would be a shock. He’s tremendously effective for how many minutes he plays. Newbill’s averaging 21.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists. I don’t think any team on this list needs a player more than PSU needs Newbill.
Best guess for March: Outside looking in.
Breakdown: With a 39 RPI, Penn State’s doing all right for itself. The team hasn’t had a start this good since 1995. But KenPom is way down on PSU, putting it at 91 right now. When you see how I could only list a singular victory in the plural “best wins” category, you see why. It’s been a blessed start for Pat Chambers’ team, but the group hasn’t proven to be top-80 in offense or defense despite playing the 296th-hardest schedule in the country. Not a positive sign. A run is possible, for sure, but I’ve gotta wait a couple more weeks before believing the Nittany Lions are anything more than a nice, late-fall success story.