Michigan State and College Basketball's Surprise Teams
All of these teams were excluded from the preseason Top 25 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll but find themselves currently ranked.
Each team has players who have stepped up and helped take them from being unranked, to Top 25 teams.
In this slideshow, I will examine the teams' top players and their schedules to help determine if these teams are the real deal, or just pretenders.
The only Ivy League school in the Top 25 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll is the Harvard Crimson, who is 13-2 on the season and ranked No. 25.
They have had one big win on their schedule—against the then-No. 20 Florida State Seminoles—and lost to the UConn Huskies, who were ranked No. 9 at the time and are now No. 16. The rest of their schedule looks to be pretty easy, with no currently-ranked opponents.
Led by junior forward Kyle Casey (averaging 11.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and senior forward Keith Wright (averaging 10.8 PPG/7.4 RPG), Harvard looks to be in good shape for the rest of the season. They should finish with only a handful of losses on the season.
San Diego State Aztecs
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With a 13-2 record, the San Diego State Aztecs are currently ranked No. 22 on the Top 25 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
Led by junior guard Chase Tapley (16.9 PPG) and sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin (15.1 PPG/6.0 RPG)—and with wins against the then No. 23-ranked Arizona Wildcats and the then No. 23 California Golden Bears—the Aztecs have found their way into the Top 25.
Unfortunately for them, both of the ranked teams they beat now find themselves out of the Top 25, and both teams they played who are currently ranked (Baylor Bears and Creighton Blue Jays) handed them losses.
It’s hard to argue that the Aztecs have beaten any great teams yet this season, but they will have the chance to prove themselves, as they are set to play the No. 12-ranked UNLV Rebels twice through the rest of their season.
Other than the games against the Rebels, the Aztecs have a rather easy schedule the rest of the way and will need to win with consistency to remain in the Top 25.
Creighton Blue Jays
The No. 21, 13-2 Creighton Blue Jays have beaten no ranked teams and have none on their entire schedule. Their weak schedule may be their only downfall.
With only two losses, the Blue Jays have had great contributions from sophomore forward Doug McDermott (25.2 PPG/8.3 RPG) and senior guard Antoine Young (11.5 PPG).
McDermott has proven to be one of the great players in college basketball and his statistics are ridiculous. I expect the Blue Jays to ride on his coattails for the rest of the season, and he could be similar to a Stephan Curry-type player come March.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
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The Mississippi State Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll with a 13-3 record.
Their success this season has largely been due to the great play of senior guard Dee Bost (16.2 PPG) and junior forward Arnett Moultrie (averaging a double double per game, with 16.2 PPG/11.3 RPG).
But the Bulldogs are lacking in big wins and strength of schedule. They beat Arizona when they were ranked No. 16 and Texas A&M when they were ranked No. 18, but neither team remains in the Top 25.
Other than that, the only ranked team they have played is the Baylor Bears, who were ranked No. 7 when they played them and have now climbed up to the No. 4 spot. The game was tight and Baylor escaped with a two-point win.
We will have to wait until later in the season to see what the Bulldogs can do against ranked teams, when they play the No. 19 Florida Gators and the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats.
That’s not to say the rest of the season will be a breeze. The Bulldogs will be tested by the Vanderbilt Commodores, ranked No. 7 in the preseason, and the Alabama Crimson Tide, who were ranked No. 19. The Bulldogs will have to play the Tide twice.
Kansas State Wildcats
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The Kansas State Wildcats are currently ranked No. 18 and have a 12-2 record on the season. The Wildcats are led by junior guard Rodney McGruder (13.2 PPG/5.1 RPG), and have had big wins this season against the then No. 21 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 9 Missouri Tigers.
They lost to the then No. 15 Kansas Jayhawks and the unranked West Virginia Mountaineers.
The rest of the season will be tough for the Wildcats. It includes two games against the undefeated No. 4 Baylor Bears, a game against the No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks and a game against the ninth-ranked Missouri Tigers.
If the Wildcats can steal a couple of wins against these ranked opponents and continue to play well against unranked ones, look for them to climb higher in the Top 25.
The Virginia Cavaliers are currently ranked 17th in the nation and are 14-1 on the season. But, their schedule so far has been rather easy with only one game against a team in the Top 25—Michigan—who was ranked No. 15 at the time, and are now ranked 13th.
The Cavaliers won the game 70-58, but the rest of the season will prove to be tough, with two games against the No. 3 UNC Tar Heels and another against the sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils.
If the Cavaliers can find a way to win a couple of these games, they could climb up the rankings.
Led by senior forward Mike Scott (16.5 PPG/8.9 RPG) and sophomore guard Joe Harris (12.3 PPG), the Cavaliers are somewhat of a wild card team.
Murray State Racers
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The Murray State Racers, ranked No. 14 on the Top 25 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, are currently 16-0, but have only beaten one ranked team—a win against the Memphis Tigers who were No. 20 at the time and have since fallen out of the Top 25.
The Racers are led by junior guard Isaiah Canaan (averaging 18.7 PPG) and senior guard Donte Poole (averaging 13.3 PPG). The rest of the Racers' schedule features no ranked teams, so it’s not unrealistic to think the Racers could finish the season with only a few losses.
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The UNLV Rebels fall in at No. 12 on the Top 25 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
With a 16-2 record on the season, the Rebels have beaten a variety of tough competitors, amassing wins against the UNC Tar Heels when they were ranked No. 1, and Illinois, when they were No. 19.
The Rebels are led by senior guard/forward Chace Stanback (14.8 PPG) and sophomore forward Mike Moser (averaging a double double with 14.2 PPG/11.1 RPG).
The rest of the season looks pretty easy for the Rebels, except for two games against the No. 25 San Diego State Aztecs. I expect the Rebels to finish strong, largely due to their weak schedule for the rest of the year.
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The Hoosiers have been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season. With a 15-1 record and their only loss coming at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans, the Hoosiers are currently ranked No. 8 and have proven they are a force to be reckoned with.
With big wins over then No. 1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats team and the then No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, the Hoosiers have proven they have the ability to take down big-time opponents.
The Hoosiers are led by freshman forward Cody Zeller (14.5 PPG/6.5 RPG) and junior forward Christian Watford (13.7 PPG/5.6 RPG). Watford played a huge role in the win over Kentucky when he hit a game-winning, buzzer-beater three from the wing.
The Hoosiers face a tough road ahead, consisting of games against the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines, all of whom are currently ranked in the Top 25.
If the Hoosiers continue to perform at the level they have, they should make it through the rest of their tough schedule with reasonable success. The Hoosiers have proven they are able to win close games and make clutch shots, two very important characteristics for a team when March rolls around.
Michigan State Spartans
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Michigan State has a 14-2 record on the season, with their losses coming in their first two games of the season against the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils. Both were ranked in the Top 5 at the time.
Since then, the Spartans have been superb.
They have made the climb all the way up to the No. 7 spot on the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Leading Michigan State on the court is senior forward Draymond Green, who they rely heavily on for scoring and rebounding (averaging 15.6 PPG/12.5 RPG).
The Spartans also receive help in the scoring department from sophomore guard Keith Appling (12.5 PPG) and senior guard Brandon Wood (Averaging 10ppg). Let’s not forget about their tough and talented coach, Tom Izzo—the winning-est coach in Michigan State history—who coached in the national championship game in 2009 and returned to the Final Four in 2010.
The Spartans will have to keep performing like they have been for the rest of the season. They have a tough schedule ahead, which includes playing the Ohio State Buckeyes twice, the Michigan Wolverines twice and the Indiana Hoosiers—all teams ranked in the Top 25.
With Green’s experience and their talented coach at the reigns, Michigan State went from unranked to a serious threat in college basketball.