College Basketball’s 15 Most Surprising Teams Entering Conference Play

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Most Surprising Teams So Far

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Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville all got a bunch of hype entering the 2013-14 college hoops season. That is all fine and dandy, but let’s shift our attention to some of the teams who did not get as much hype. Let’s take a look at college basketball’s 15 most surprising teams entering conference play.

Most of the teams are going to be ones from power conferences. That tends to be the case when the power conference teams play tougher schedules. Still, there are plenty of mid-majors who have gotten the nation’s attention early on and some of those teams will be featured in this article.

Missouri and Pittsburgh both have very impressive records and some would say that each team has exceeded expectations. With that in mind, both teams have played relatively easy schedules and both teams entered the season with quite a bit of talent.

If either one ends up winning their conference, then I will be surprised. I doubt that will be the case. However, there are those things called miracles.

Still, the Tigers and Panthers barely missed the cut. For what it’s worth, both have pretty good resumes and could find themselves in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

Some people may be surprised by the Colorado Buffaloes, but Tad Boyle has done work ever since becoming the head coach. The Buffs entered the season unranked, which is really the only surprise that I have seen with this team. If anything, they were very underrated entering the year.

Many of these teams are currently in the top 25, so they have clearly impressed the poll makers. Some may have even climbed all of the way to the top 10.

Well, the season is really starting to heat up, so read on to see college basketball’s 15 most surprising teams entering conference play.

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Massachusetts Minutemen

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Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 12-1

Preseason Ranking: Not ranked

Current Ranking: No. 19 in both major polls

The VCU Rams and Saint Louis Billikens were supposed to battle it out for an Atlantic 10 title. That still may be the case, but I am sure not many people expected the Massachusetts Minutemen to be the favorites entering conference play.

This team has already knocked off LSU, New Mexico, BYU and Providence. Their lone loss came against the Florida State Seminoles by five points.

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George Washington Colonials

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 12-2

Preseason Ranking: Not ranked

Current Ranking: Not ranked

George Washington probably was not expected to make the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but they sure do look like a tournament team so far. The team has already beaten Creighton and Maryland.

Consider the Colonials a dark horse to win the A 10 Conference.

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Florida State Seminoles

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Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 9-4

Preseason Ranking: Not ranked

Current Ranking: Not ranked

Florida State has its fair share of losses, but it also has a couple of quality wins on its resume. The Seminoles knocked off the VCU Rams when they were ranked No. 10 and the Massachusetts Minutemen when they were ranked No. 22.

For what it’s worth, they only lost to Michigan by two points in overtime and just barely lost to Florida by one point.

After losing leading scorer and clutch specialist Michael Snaer, Florida State was not even supposed to compete in the ACC this year.

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Villanova Wildcats

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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 13-1

Preseason Ranking: Not ranked

Current Ranking: No. 8 in AP; No. 10 in USA Today

Villanova has easily been one of the most surprising teams in college hoops so far. With the talent that it had coming back, its success should not really be that big of a deal. I mean, the Wildcats did upset three top five teams (at the time) last season. Two of those teams ended up making the Final Four.

Well, so far they have beaten Kansas, Iowa and Providence. Their only loss came against Syracuse, who is ranked No. 2 in the country.

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San Diego State Aztecs

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 12-1

Preseason Ranking: Not ranked

Current Ranking: No. 13 in AP; No. 15 in USA Today

San Diego State lost its top two leading scorers from last year’s team, but it has arguably been better.

The Aztecs have beaten three out of the four ranked opponents they have played this year, which includes Creighton, Marquette and Kansas. A win against Washington also gives them a boost. The only loss was the one against Arizona--the No. 1 team in the country--on Nov. 14. This team has been red hot ever since.

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Baylor Bears

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 12-1

Preseason Ranking: No. 25 in AP; Unranked in USA Today

Current Ranking: No. 7 in AP; No. 9 in USA Today

As you can see, the Baylor Bears have climbed up the rankings quite a bit. That tends to happen when a team only has one loss on the season and has played the likes of Colorado, Kentucky and Syracuse.

The Bears only lost one of those contests and it came against the Orange. Once again, Syracuse is ranked No. 2 in the country. C.J. Fair and co. are kind of a big deal.

One victory that should not go unnoticed is the win over Dayton. The Flyers have a great resume, but we will get to them later.

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Iowa State Cyclones

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Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 13-0

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

Current Ranking: No. 9 in AP; No. 7 in USA Today

This has to be one of the most surprising teams of the season so far. Iowa State made the dance last year, but they lost a bunch of talent. Luckily, Melvin Ejim came back and he has been one of the best players in the country so far. Yeah I said it.

However, there are two other players who are averaging 15 or more points per game on the team.

The Cyclones have taken out Michigan, BYU, Iowa and Boise State. Them and Baylor will go head-to-head on Jan. 7.

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Dayton Flyers

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Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 12-3

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

Current Ranking: Not Ranked

Dayton entered the spotlight by knocking off the Gonzaga Bulldogs earlier in the season. Gonzaga was ranked No. 11 at the time. Dayton then played Baylor very tough and only lost by one point.

The Flyers have also beaten California and Ole Miss.

At this point, it would be a surprise if this team did not compete for a conference title.

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Illinois Fighting Illini

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Ben Woloszyn-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 13-2

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Current Ranking: No. 23 in AP; Unranked in USA Today

Illinois made the dance last year, but it lost some of its best players. Apparently, losing some talent means nothing to this team.

It did gain Rayvonte Rice. If you don’t know him yet, you better get to know him real soon. Well, not literally, but he is a beast on the court and is a must-watch.

The Fighting Illini have already beaten UNLV, Missouri and Indiana. They had a slim chance of making the dance entering the year--based off of their talent--but they are now a top 25 team and continue to increase their tournament seed.

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Kansas State Wildcats

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 11-3

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

Current Ranking: No. 25 in AP; Not Ranked in USA Today

Here is another team that lost its two best players from last season. Luckily for Kansas State, it has a great head coach in Bruce Weber.

There is really nothing special to say about this team. It has only beaten Ole Miss, Gonzaga, George Washington and Oklahoma State. Okay, so I lied.

The Wildcats have a very impressive resume so far. Anytime a team is able to knock off Marcus Smart and co., they are more than likely having a good season.

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Texas Longhorns

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Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 11-3

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

Current Ranking: Not Ranked

So what if Texas just lost to Oklahoma. It beat North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That was basically when the Tar Heels were on top of the world.

The Longhorns are much better than expected and it would not be a surprise--at least now--if they ended up beating a couple of elite teams in the Big 12.

If a team can beat the Tar Heels on their home court, then they can basically beat any team, anywhere. Just saying.

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Cincinnati Bearcats

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Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 13-2

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

Current Ranking: Not Ranked

Sean Kilpatrick is good at basketball. You don’t need me to tell you that. Let’s let his numbers do all of the talking. He is averaging 18.6 points per game and is shooting 36.4 percent from behind the arc. Needless to say, he is having the type of season that could win him AAC Player of the Year.

As for Cincinnati, it has beaten North Carolina State, it ended Pittsburgh's perfect season and it just got done beating Memphis. The win over SMU is not too shabby either.

Losses against Xavier and New Mexico will not be looked down upon whatsoever, as both teams could wind up in the dance.

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Oregon Ducks

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Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 13-1

Preseason Ranking: No. 19 in AP; No. 18 in USA Today

Current Ranking: No. 17 in AP; No. 13 in USA Today

Up until the game against Colorado, the Oregon Ducks were undefeated. Their best wins have come against Ole Miss, Illinois and BYU.

Say what you want about this team’s defense, but it has arguably the best offense in the country. Even if you have another team in mind, the Ducks still have a top five offense no matter what people say. They are averaging 89.4 points per game, which is good enough for third best in college hoops.

Although it may seem like the team has not moved up the rankings all that much, they were ranked in the top 10 last week and were undefeated for a very long time.

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Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking: 11-3

Preseason Ranking: Not ranked

Current Ranking: Not ranked

Wake Forest just got done beating the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Demon Deacons have a solid record and have only lost to Kansas, Xavier and Tennessee.

This is a team that finished with a 13-18 record last season. Well, they have almost matched those 13 victories already.

I doubt Wake Forest wins the ACC, but it has been pretty good so far and beating North Carolina should have everyone’s attention.

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Wisconsin Badgers

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David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 15-0

Preseason Ranking: No. 20 in AP; No. 21 in USA Today

Current Ranking: No. 4 in AP; No. 4 in USA Today

St. John’s. Florida. Saint Louis. Virginia. Marquette. Iowa. Those are some of the teams Wisconsin has beaten already.

Sam Dekker is a very talented player and he has been great in his second season in college basketball. Bo Ryan is one heck of a coach and the Badgers are one of the best teams as a result.

Forget the hype that Michigan and Michigan State had entering the season, Wisconsin could be the best team in the country and its undefeated record is evident of that.

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