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Mike Lopresti | | January 12, 2022

11 of college basketball's most surprising storylines so far this season

Johnny Davis carries Wisconsin into top 10 of Power 36 rankings

Here’s to the teams and players the pre-season forecasts didn’t see coming. Most every league has them. They are symbols of the splendid unpredictability of college basketball.

Here’s to Miami, picked to finish 12th in the ACC ...

Look who’s 5-0 in the conference, and just barged into Cameron Indoor Stadium and took down No. 2 Duke 76-74 with 15 steals — seven by Charlie Moore. The Hurricanes’ four-guard lineup has turned out to be a handful.

“We’re not very big and we’re not very bulky. We know that when we play an ACC team that they’re probably going to be bigger and more physical than we are,” said coach Jim Larrañaga. “This is a team that relies on each other, trusts each other and has confidence in each other.”

Larrañaga has become quite the Duke pest, by the way. His Miami teams are 7-7 against the Blue Devils.

RANKINGS: Click here for the latest NET rankings | AP Top 25

Here’s to Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis ...

He was nowhere to be found on the pre-season all-Big Ten team after not starting a game as a freshman. Now he’s making a strong charge up the national player of the year ballot, averaging 25.8 points and 9.2 rebounds a game in conference play. That goes with his 30 points earlier against Houston.

Here’s to Texas A&M, voted 12th in the SEC preseason poll ...

The Aggies beat Arkansas 86-81 to advance to 13-2 and 2-0 in the conference. They're putting up more than 77 points a game, even though no starter has an average higher than 10.5. Quenton Jackson is the top scorer with a 13.5 average coming off the bench. They're outscoring opponents 22.6-11 in points off turnovers.

Here’s to Michigan State, voted sixth in an unofficial Big Ten pre-season media poll ...

Did anyone really believe the Spartans wouldn’t be a factor in the end? They’re 13-2 now and 4-0 in the league, with eight of the victories away from campus. The 39.2 opponent field goal percentage suggests Michigan State is back to playing Tom Izzo defense. The Spartans had no pre-season all-conference picks but Gabe Brown looks like one now. New guard Max Christie has been named Big Ten freshman of the week three times already. No, the Spartans haven’t gone anywhere.

Here’s to Oklahoma, picked seventh in the Big 12 ...

The 12-3 Sooners have beaten three ranked teams and pushed Baylor, shooting 55.6 percent against the No. 1 Bears in Waco. They’re third in the nation in field goal percentage. There are several new faces, starting with coach Porter Moser from Loyola. Guard Jordan Goldwire played four seasons at Duke and leading scorer Tanner Groves led Eastern Washington to the NCAA tournament last spring. If Oklahoma seems like a steady bunch, no wonder. The starting lineup of four seniors and a junior have combined to play in nearly 500 college basketball games.

The Sooners shot 62 percent Saturday to beat Iowa State, though the Cyclones undoubtedly remember another stat more. They had only one free throw — their fewest in a game in four decades — and missed that one. Oklahoma’s Umoja Gibson had 10 by himself, and made them all.

POWER 36: Baylor remains No. 1, Wisconsin leaps into top 10 in latest rankings

Here’s to Providence, picked seventh in the Big East ...

The Friars are 14-2 and tied with Villanova for the league lead. They just beat St. John’s for Ed Cooley’s 300th career win, which moved him to tears. He grew up not far from campus, one of nine kids whose childhood in a low-income neighborhood was seldom easy. “When you do something you love and you’re at a place that you love and you work with people that give you the opportunity to do this, it’s amazing,” he said. “I never saw this coming at all.”

Here’s to Davidson, picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10 ...

Davidson has no graduate school, which meant several seniors with degrees and an extra year of eligibility had to look elsewhere. That included the Wildcats’ leading scorer Kellan Grady, who transferred to the bluer grass and bluer blood of Kentucky. But Davidson moved on and just won its 11th consecutive game, coming back against Rhode Island, and the 12-2 record is its best start in more than 50 years. The Wildcats didn’t even do that when Stephen Curry was burying 3-pointers for them. Included so far is a win over Alabama, their first victory over a top-10 team in 14 years. “We’re not counting the numbers,” said coach Bob McKillop, “we’re counting the experiences.”

It is an international effort. Among the eight in the rotation are natives of Korea, Austria, New Zealand, England ... and Michigan State. Spartan transfer Foster Loyer has become a key Davidson weapon.

Here’s to Tulane, tied for ninth in the American Athletic Conference pre-season poll ...

Never mind the 3-6 start. The Green Wave just beat Cincinnati, Memphis and South Florida to go 3-1 in the league and 6-7 overall. Jalen Cook’s 19.4 average is the highest in the nation for a freshman. It has been a lively journey for Tulane. Nine of its 13 games have been decided by five or fewer points, or in overtime.


Here’s to Oakland, picked sixth in the Horizon League ...

The Grizzlies are 11-4 overall, 5-0 in the league, beat Oklahoma State and hung around until the end against Michigan State. It is easy to understand why. Jalen Moore leads the nation in assists per game, and Marquette transfer Jamal Cain is one of only two players in the country averaging a double double — 21.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. He was named to neither the first nor second all-league teams before the season. He will be at the end, though.

BRACKET SEASON: Here are the latest March Madness predictions ahead of 2022

Here’s to San Francisco, picked fifth in the West Coast Conference ...

True, the WCC preseason poll is usually only two candidates. No. 1 Gonzaga. No. 2 Everybody else. But still, coming from the middle of the pack to a 14-2 record is notable. The Dons are not far from perfect, losing to Grand Canyon by one point and chasing Loyola Chicago to the wire last week in their arranged-at-the-last-minute meeting in Salt Lake City. As the schedule now stands, they won’t see Gonzaga until late February.

Here's to the West...

The latest Associated Press poll reflects a possible shift in the geographical epicenter of power in college basketball. From 1998-2021, teams from the Eastern time zone won 21 of 23 national championships. A Pacific zone team hasn't won a title since 1997. But in the current AP poll, the top six spots -- Baylor, Gonzaga, UCLA, Auburn, USC and Arizona -- belong to Central or Pacific zone teams. USC had another game COVID-scrubbed, meaning the 13-0 Trojans have played once in 23 days. But they've still climbed to No. 5, their highest spot in 47 years. 

Here’s to college basketball at large ...

COVID roams the land, wiping out games by the score. And still, the surprises and drama keep coming. Saturday alone, there were 11 overtime games and 20 others decided by one possession.

Texas Tech’s two leading scorers were injured, but the Red Raiders still upset Kansas, outscoring the Jayhawks a shocking 44-18 in the paint. Wake Forest edged Syracuse in overtime, putting the Orange’s record at 7-8. This is the latest Syracuse has been under .500 in Jim Boeheim’s 46 years. Wake was picked to finish 13th in the ACC but is 10-0 at home, has won three overtime games and is limiting conference opponents to 39.6 percent shooting.

Kentucky pushed past Georgia with 17 assists from TyTy Washington Jr. and a 29 point-17 rebound performance from Oscar Tshiebwe. No Wildcat has had a stat line like that in nearly 30 years.

Colorado State took its 11-0 record to San Diego State, and lost by 30 points. That leaves Baylor and USC as the last unbeatens. Colorado State went into the game second in the nation in shooting at 51.8, third in 3-point shooting and averaging 82 points. Against the San Diego State defense, they shot 27.9 percent, went 3-for-20 from behind the arc, and managed only 49 points. “We say from day one when you get here,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said, “you’re going to defend and rebound if you’re going to play for San Diego State.”

North Carolina defeated Virginia 74-58 to snap — can this be possible? — a seven-game losing streak against the Cavaliers. Armando Bacot had 29 points and 22 rebounds. Sean May is the only other Tar Heel ever to get 20 rebounds in the Smith Center, and the place has been open for 36 years.

Seton Hall outlasted Connecticut 90-87 in a Big East overtime showdown when Kadary Richmond produced 25 of his 27 points after halftime, outscoring the Huskies by himself 17-7 in one stretch.

Saint Louis made 25 of 26 free throws to edge Iona 68-67 as former Kentucky guard Travis Ford beat his old coach Rick Pitino.

Five ranked teams lost to unranked opponents over the weekend. Even No. 1 Baylor had to come from nine points behind to beat TCU. Virus or not, college basketball never runs out of sudden turns in the road. Those preseason polls seem an eternity ago.

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