It has been a season of surprises so far in men’s college basketball. The top four teams in the preseason AP poll had 13 combined losses entering Wednesday, while the current top five features two teams that weren’t even ranked in the preseason top 25.
As marquee neutral-site games and early-season tournaments fade from memory and conference play takes center stage, though, some of the November and December upstarts will begin to fade. It happens every season. Minnesota started last season 10-1 — before winning just three of its final 19 games. DePaul was initially 9-1, and finished 15-16 overall.
But some have staying power. Arizona was picked in the middle of the pack of the Pac-12 last season but earned a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament after winning the league. Iowa State went from last in the preseason Big 12 poll to the Sweet 16.
We decided to look at a few of the more uncertain surprising teams around the country, some of the most difficult teams to gauge at this point in 2022-23. Specifically, three from the top six leagues that were picked in the bottom half of the conference in the preseason and yet had fewer than expected losses: Missouri (two), Kansas State (one) and LSU (two). Throw in New Mexico, the last team to lose a game this season, and you have four of the biggest surprises in the country.
High-end surprises like Purdue and UConn? We know they’re very good. But to get a better feel for the aforementioned quartet, we reached out to coaches who have faced them this season. Are they for real? Or are they simply in a good run of form?
Kansas State Wildcats
Key results: Wins against Texas, West Virginia and LSU; loss at Butler
Preseason ranking: 10th in the Big 12
Why they’re for real: Well, they just scored 116 points at No. 6 Texas on Tuesday, the most points an unranked team has ever scored in a road win over a top-10 team, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. We could probably just end the argument there — but we won’t.
First-year head coach Jerome Tang has one of the most experienced teams in the country, headlined by nine former Division I transfers and a couple of junior college imports.
“I’m not sure why people are so surprised,” one opposing coach said. “They have a talented roster and a really good staff that has them playing with confidence.”