Today's column is the first in a Surprise Teams series, in which I list a surprise team from each conference. Some, like Texas are, are positive surprises, while others, like Louisville, have been disappointing..
Vermont (3-7) – The Catamounts were by no means expected to roll in the AE, but we had them projected at 3rd in the conference, and most had them in the top half. Instead, they’ve lost 4 of 5, including a bad home loss to bottom feeder Delaware. The problem has been depth. There’s virtually no production outside of Mike Trimboli and Marqus Blakely
George Washington (3-5) – GW has been one of the country’s underrated programs in recent years, but things aren’t looking to good for 2008. The Colonials are coming off a 12 point loss to Binghamton, following a 32 point shellacking by Virginia Tech. The biggest key to GW’s blunders has been the horrendous start by senior Maureece Rice. Coming off a season in which he averaged 15 ppg on 45% shooting, Rice is down to 9 ppg on 33%. He also has more turnovers than assists, half as many rebounds, and half as many steals. Eeek.
Maryland (6-5) – No one thought the Terps were going to be great this year. But we had them pegged at 47th in the country, on the fringe of making the Big Dance. Instead, the Terps are 100 spots lower in the RPI, sitting at 141st. The latest debacle was a home loss to Ohio, a team that then went to Kansas and lost by about 100 points, just their 4th non-conference home loss in 19 years. Its not like Maryland has no talent, and with teams like Delaware, AU, and Savannah State coming up, a new winning streak is almost certain.
Kennesaw State (1-7) - Too be honest, the A-Sun is mostly going according to plan. Belmont is at the top as expected, followed by ETSU and Jacksonville, just as CHN predicted. For some reason though, we did put Kennesaw State 5th.. and they’ve been absolutely atrocious, one of the bottom 20 teams in the nation
Texas (11-0) – I personally had the Longhorns rated higher than most other pundits, but I didn’t see 11-0 coming. Honestly, I did see 10-1 because outside of the road trip to UCLA, their schedule has been mostly soft (no disrespect to Tennessee). That will change this week with a road trip to Michigan State and then a game against Wisconsin. Except for the squeaker against the Bruins, Texas has been winning big, outscoring opponents 84 to 62. Individually, things have all gone as planned: Augustin’s manning the point like a champ, Abrams is knocking down threes, James is hitting the boards, and Atchley improves every week.
Louisville (6-3) – Like Texas above, I really thought Louisville would be for real.. but they’ve simply been really disappointing. Granted, they’ve faced some adversity with more Padgett injuries and the suspension of Derrick Caracter, but no one has looked particularly sharp. Even in home wins to Miami (OH), Marshall, and Old Dominion, not exactly murderers row, they’ve often been down at half and had to work overly hard to pull off wins. Basically, it comes down to the fact that they have no true dominant point guard, no one’s hitting threes, and their bigs have been injured or suspended. Not a good combination.
Portland State (7-5) – This is admittedly an odd choice for this list. The Vikings have the 2nd best record amongst Big Sky teams, and we projected them to be 2nd.. so nothing exciting going on there. Last year, they started with the exact same 7-5 record as this year. What is surprising though is that the Viks have an early RPI of 68, a highly impressive number for a Big Sky team. The reason has been neutral court wins over decent teams like IUPUI and Akron, and competitive losses to Colorado State and Washington State.
UNC Asheville (8-3) – The great record is somewhat deceiving because 3 of the wins have been against D2 squads. Still, the Bulldogs started last year 1-10 against D1 teams, so .500 is a substantial improvement. The one name you may know on UNCA is Kenny George, a huge 7-6 center who has actually been contributing this year. After averaging just 5 and 4 last year, the Chicago native is averaging 11 and 9. More importantly, he’s been a force on D with 5.8 blocks per game including 10 against Campbell.
- More surprises coming soon!