Under the radar teams
I was sitting at the Broken Egg restaurant just after Christmas when a college basketball fan came up to me and asked an interesting question.
"Dickie V, where is the love for Oklahoma State?" the fan said.
I sat back for a second and agreed. Travis Ford's team has been pretty solid early on. I told the fan we had to see what happened in Big 12 play because the Cowboys have not faced too many challenges.
This conversation led me to think about other teams that have been under the radar a bit during the first two months of the season.
Here is the list I came up with, a dozen squads off to hot starts (includes records entering Tuesday, Dec. 28):
CENTRAL FLORIDA (11-0)
Donnie Jones, the former Florida assistant, has done a super job with the Knights. It helps to have the son of Michael the Magnificent, Marcus Jordan, but Central Florida has put together an impressive win streak. Just look at W's against schools from the power conferences, beating Florida of the SEC, South Florida of the Big East and Miami of the ACC. Add a hard-fought win at Massachusetts and this team can challenge for the Conference USA crown.
OKLAHOMA STATE (11-1)
This team was picked eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll. The Cowboys' lone loss came to Virginia Tech on a neutral site. Wins have come over Murray State, Tulsa, Stanford, Missouri State and Alabama. Marshall Moses has been a major factor and deserves more publicity. Oklahoma State has a big-time challenge at Gonzaga on New Year's Eve.
Mick Cronin's squad hasn't faced much competition, but a 34-point win over Dayton was an eye-opener. The Bearcats have been overshadowed because the Big East is loaded. We will see how Cincinnati fares against the likes of Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown and company. This team will score a few surprises.
The Commodores have a win over North Carolina. They lost in overtime at Missouri and fell by 3 points on a neutral court against West Virginia. Kevin Stallings' squad has received little ink but could be dangerous in a wide-open SEC East. Florida has slipped a bit, Tennessee had a recent three-game losing streak and Kentucky is young.
ST. MARY'S (10-2)
Coach Randy Bennett does a nice job with the Gaels. St. Mary's had a good win early against St. John's and the Gaels will make another run at an NCAA berth.
WASHINGTON STATE (10-2)
Even with a loss to Butler in the final of the Diamond Head Classic, coach Ken Bone has done a superb job. Klay Thompson may be the premier player in the Pac-10, and a blowout of Gonzaga showed how good this team is. Look at the win over Baylor -- the Cougars will be heard from in the conference!
COLORADO STATE (8-3)
The Mountain West is an underrated league, though San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and New Mexico have been getting more ink. Keep an eye on Tim Miles' Rams, winners of the tournament in Cancun. Beating Mississippi and Southern Mississippi en route to the title was impressive.
UTAH STATE (11-2)
Stew Morrill's club always contends in the WAC. This season is no exception, though you hear very little about this team until the tournament rolls around.
CLEVELAND STATE (13-1)
Coach Gary Waters has done a very good job. The Horizon League is not going to be a cakewalk for Butler this season. Cleveland State's lone loss came against Bob Huggins' West Virginia club.
John Beilein's teams are usually dangerous when the expectations are not high. The schedule has not been that tough, but the Wolverines gave Syracuse a big-time battle in Atlantic City. This team could sneak up on a few people in Big Ten play.
BOSTON COLLEGE (10-2)
You see a loss to Yale and you start to wonder. Then you realize that Steve Donahue's team has a seven-game win streak and the resume includes W's over Texas A&M, Maryland, California, Indiana and Providence. There was no shame in losing to Wisconsin. The Eagles have an underrated star in Reggie Jackson, and I am not talking about Mr. October. My friends, the people down in ACC country know how good this young man is.
GEORGE MASON (9-2)
Jim Larranaga's squad has won seven in a row, and its losses came against NC State and Wofford, the latter in overtime.
These 12 teams have put up good numbers early. Can they keep it up in conference play, when the competition gets stiffer? For now, they have been flying under the radar, baby!
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