Some of this Season’s Surprising Teams

21 Jan

In this season of unpredictability there have been quite a few surprising programs thus far.  Here are just a few of them.

Beginning in the SEC, Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks were picked to finish smack dab in the middle of the conference, seventh out of 14 teams.  On January 21st they are second in the conference (4-1) and are 17-1 overall.  Currently ranked 24th in the country South Carolina has exceeded preseason expectations by a longshot and with only two games remaining against current top 25 teams , at #10 and conference leader Texas A&M on Feb. 6 and welcoming #23 Kentucky to town a week later the Gamecocks can really rack up some wins before the SEC Tournament.  Despite going only seven deep on most nights South Carolina still has four players in double figures led by senior Michael Carrera and junior Sindarius Thornwell at 12.1 per game.

In the ACC, while the conference is pretty deep the surprise has to be Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers.  Even though the Tigers are 12-7 overall they are third in the conference at 5-2.  They began conference play with a loss at North Carolina, no shame in that, then reeled off five straight wins with victories over Florida State, Syracuse, #16 Louisville, #9 Duke and #8 Miami before being stopped by #13 Virginia.  With only a home rematch with Virginia remaining on its schedule in terms of ranked opponents Clemson has time to reset itself, build on a successful first half and ready itself for March.

Outside of the power six conferences there are a couple of teams that are having fantastic seasons that deserve to be highlighted.  In the Sun Belt Conference the Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock are 15-2 and 5-1 in the conference.  During their non-conference slate The Trojans went 10-1 under first-year coach Chris Beard including wins over Tulsa, DePaul and San Diego State.  In fact they won 10 straight before falling to a team knows well, Texas Tech, a place he used to serve as an assistant.  After the loss they then won five straight to begin conference play before falling to second-place Arkansas State by three on Monday.  UALR does it with success on the defensive end, allowing over 60 points just three times this season and over 70 just twice.

At 14-4 and undefeated in the Ohio Valley (5-0) the Tennessee State Tigers could be a team to watch.  While their 9-4 non-conference record is far from gaudy with losses to Illinois State, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State and Ohio and their best win being arguably over Lipscomb, they are 12-2 since a pre-Thanksgiving loss to MTSU.  Coach Travis Williams, who has been with the program since 2009 has a senior-laden squad with five of his seven seniors seeing significant minutes has gotten off to a fantastic start in the OVC and has done so quietly and in the shadows of bigger conferences and schools.

With post-season play not that far off, these are just a few teams to keep an eye on to see if they can finish the season as strongly as they started it.

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