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.

via The 10 most surprisingly good teams this season in college basketball – CBSSports.com.

Penn State gets votes in AP Top 25 hoops poll

Penn State's D.J. Newbill dribbles around Duquesne's Micah Mason during PSU's win over Dukes on Wednesday. (AP/Abby Drey)

Dave Jones:

Penn State will be listed among “others receiving votes” in today’s fresh Associated Press college basketball poll. The Nittany Lions (10-1) received three total points from a 25th-place on the ballot of The Roanoke Times‘ Doug Doughty and a 24th-place ballot from Paul Zeise of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to the AP, this is the first time in four seasons that the Nittany Lions have received votes in the poll. The last time was the 2011 team that eventually reached the NCAA tournament; it received 14 ballot points (not in the top 25 but 35th overall) in the Jan. 31, 2011, poll two days after upsetting No. 15-ranked Wisconsin to go 12-8 (5-4 in the Big Ten). The Lions have not been ranked in the AP Top 25 since the 1996 team finished the regular season at No. 18….

via Penn State gets votes in AP Top 25 hoops poll | PennLive.com.

Shep

Jones: Biggest win of Chambers era?

Dave Jones:

To those who don’t know much, a 6-point home win over Akron wouldn’t seem like anything to get excited about. But that’s why they don’t know much.

Penn State’s 78-72 defeat of the Zips was as impressive a win as the Nittany Lions have had in the Patrick Chambers tenure of three-plus seasons. That might sound absurd considering the Nittany Lions swept Ohio State last season and have beaten a couple of ranked Big Ten teams otherwise. But it’s true….

via Penn State's 15-0 blitz to start second half cuts down tough Akron club, 78-72 | PennLive.com.

Down 4 twice in the last 27 seconds


Bad body language from the training staff after the 16.4 timeout.

City of Basketball Love:

When Penn State coach Pat Chambers and his staff first got a look at Mike Watkins in April 2013 – while watching Watkins’ Team Philly squad play during the first ‘live’ recruiting period of the year – they quickly saw potential.

Potential is a word used often in the basketball world. Potential, ceilings and other modifying words are sometimes even overused when talking about a high school basketball prospect.

But, to put a “ceiling” on Chambers’ 2015 recruiting class would be selling its potential short. The Nittany Lions officially received a National Letter of Intent from each of their three 2015 commits. With Philly’s own Watkins leading the way, Chambers and the Lions will also welcome in a couple of players from the DMV area in Josh Reaves and Deividas Zemgulis.

Reaves and Zemgulis made Chambers’ 2015 almost complete (there’s still one scholarship open), but it was Watkins that got the ball rolling – committing to Happy Valley in June of 2013, just a few months after the PSU staff had a chance to look at him.

“I felt like there was a lot of potential,” Chambers, speaking on the record for the first time about the class, said of Watkins. “I know that’s a scary word for us in college. But that’s what we have to do, we have to evaluate early and we have to recognize what we like and then go after it.”

“You never know with different kids,” he added. “Sometimes certain kids will commit and sometimes certain kids are really into the romance and the recruiting aspect of it. I think he felt very comfortable here. He trusted us, he liked us. We built an incredible relationship with him over the past couple years, so I knew we would get to the finish line. When he committed it was huge because he’s the best big man in the state.” …

via On signing day, Pat Chambers ‘fired up’ for 2015 class | City of Basketball Love.

Sports Info:

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State men’s basketball coaching staff has inked the best recruiting class in the program’s history with the signing of three elite high school student-athletes to NCAA National Letters of Intent. The trio is rated as the No. 28 class in the nation by 247 Sports, marking the first Top 30 group to head to Penn State.

Josh Reaves (Fairfax, Va./Oak Hill Academy), Mike Watkins (Philadelphia, Pa./The Phelps School) and Deividas Zemgulas (Kaunas, Lithuania/ St. Mary Ryken (Md.)) will join the Nittany Lions for the 2015-16 season.

“We are ecstatic about the direction of our program,” Patrick Chambers, Nittany Lion head coach, said. “The diversity of this class is something that really excites me. Our staff has worked so hard over the past three years, especially in the Philly and DC areas, to get our program to this level. Welcome Josh, Mike & Davis – We look forward to your arrival!”

Reaves and Watkins are both ranked among the Top 100 players in the country by ESPN with Reaves holding the No. 81 spot and Watkins coming in at No. 89.

Josh REAVES | 6-4 | 185 | G | Fairfax, Va.

  • Ranked No. 81 in 2015 ESPN Top 100 recruits
  • ESPN four-star recruit
  • Earned First Team All-Met honors at Paul VI Catholic High
  • Played three seasons at Paul VI, leading team to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title as a junior
  • Transferred to Oak Hill Academy (Va.) for senior season
  • Played with AAU team “Team Takeover”

Chambers on Reaves: “Josh is a high-level player whose versatility on the floor makes him a guy who I expect to be a stat sheet stuffer for us. His athleticism and speed make him an excellent defender, which allows him to get out in transition and attack the rim – where he is at his best!

Mike WATKINS | 6-8 | 225 | F | Philadelphia, Pa.

  • Ranked No. 89 in 2015 ESPN Top 100 recruits
  • ESPN four-star recruit
  • Played three seasons Math, Civics & Science Charter, leading team to PIAA Class A championship game with 17 points, 17 rebounds in final
  • Transferred to Phelps School for senior season
  • Played with AAU team “Team Philly,” making appearance in 2014 Pitt Jam Fest final … Same AAU program as PSU junior Brandon Taylor
  • Sixth player from the Philadelphia-area brought in by Patrick Chambers in the last 3.5 years

Chambers on Watkins: “Mike is an elite athlete who will provide us another rim protector. He excels at running the floor in transition and is a phenomenal finisher. It’s great to have another Philly product in our program.”

Deividas “Davis” ZEMGULIS | 6-6 | 220 | F | Kaunas, Lithuania

  • Played with Lithuanian U16 team at the European Championships in August 2013 before coming to the U.S. as exchange student
  • ESPN three-star recruit
  • Helped St. Mary Ryken (Leonardtown, Md.) to appearance in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference quarterfinals in 2014
  • Scored more than 13 points per game in 29 contests at St. Mary Ryken
  • Played with AAU club team “Threat 220”

Chambers on Zemgulis: “Davis brings us a bigger wing who is a premier three-point shooter with unlimited range. His competiveness and toughness are things our staff loves about him. His high basketball IQ will help us from day one.”

via Nittany Lions Add Three to Men’s Basketball Program – Penn State Official Athletic Site.

Black Shoe Diaries:

The four star shooting guard is officially a Nittany Lion.

via Penn State Basketball Recruiting: Josh Reaves Signs Letter of Intent – Black Shoe Diaries.


Three good ones to sign this week.

Black Shoe Diaries:

Well, here we are. It’s November 12, 2014, National Signing Day, and Mike Watkins will officially be a Penn State Nittany Lion, either today or one day over the next week. He’s also now a composite four-star recruit, as is his fellow class of 2015 signee Josh Reaves. …

Add in Deividas "Davis" Zemgulis, another DMV kid via Lithuania who will be, at worst, a serviceable role player and, at best, the lights-out shooter Penn State basketball has craved since Danny Morrissey and Mike Walker left. Combined, you have the best recruiting class in program history.

via College Basketball National Signing Day: Penn State to Sign Historic Recruiting Class – Black Shoe Diaries.

▶ Penn State Men's Basketball – Patrick Chambers Press Conference (11-11-14) – YouTube.