Which surprise teams are for real?
Wichita State, Villanova among programs to believe in this postseason
We've seen a good many surprises in college basketball this season. Whether it was a seven-game losing streak for Oklahoma State, Michigan State losing three Big Ten games at home or Kentucky going from No. 1 in the preseason to No. 25 in March, 2013-14 has not lacked for unexpected occurrences.
Speaking of the unexpected, today I want to focus on teams that have been surprisingly successful. Specifically, I want to consider whether we can believe in these teams or whether they're just flashes in the hoops pan, so to speak.
Now, what's a surprise team? Certainly Virginia qualifies, but since I just declared the Cavaliers a legitimate Final Four threat, we'll move on to other unexpected seasons.
To help clarify which teams really have been surprises, I'll be working from the preseason AP Top 25. Four of the teams listed below were unranked by the pollsters in the preseason. And all the fifth team did was go 31-0, so let's start with that bunch ...
Wichita State Shockers
Gregg Marshall's team doesn't qualify as a complete surprise, naturally. Put it this way: It must have been hard for the Shockers to sneak up on opponents in 2013-14 when they had "2013 Final Four" as the first bullet point on their résumé.
That being said, recording the first undefeated regular season of any Division I team in 10 years represents a surprising level of domination, even from a Final Four team. Is Wichita State really this good?
Yes, as long as we agree on what "this good" means. There have been several great teams over the past decade, and not one of them emerged from the regular season undefeated. I don't suppose the Shockers are better than, say, Kentucky was in 2011-12, even though the Wildcats had the temerity to lose (gasp!) a game in the regular season. But the salient point is simply that Wichita State is indeed good enough to win the 2014 national championship.
Many observers have pointed out, correctly, that the Missouri Valley Conference was unusually weak this season. But even allowing for that fact, Fred VanVleet, Cleanthony Early and company compare quite well statistically with recent Final Four entrants. I say believe in the Shockers.
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ESPN Insider's experts took part in a college basketball draft, selecting the lineup (plus coach) that could win them a 40-minute game. Analytics guru Ken Pomeroy evaluated the results.