Ranking the 10 Most Underrated Teams in College Basketball Right Now
The college basketball hierarchy for 2013-2014 is starting to fall into place, but some teams are still not getting their due.
Based on this week's Associated Press and USA Today polls, a number of teams seem underrated, either because they are ranked too low or are unranked entirely.
Some of the underrated teams are likely to show up in the polls in the next few weeks, while others may drop back because of the stiff competition they will face in their conferences.
Our list of the 10 most underrated teams is based on their results and potential relative to their current ranking. It is presented in ascending order, with the most underrated team listed last.
Texas beat out Drexel for the final spot on our list, and the Dragons would have been the choice if they had not lost Damion Lee for the season with a knee injury.
Texas was picked to finish eighth in the 10-team Big 12 by the conference's coaches, but there are indications the Longhorns may be considerably better than that.
If they don't finish better than eighth, it may be the end of the line for Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose job may be in jeopardy despite his run of success in his first 12 seasons.
Barnes can still coach, and his squad is 8-1.
The Longhorns have beaten no one of significance, but their only loss was to BYU on a neutral court, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
Texas does not deserve to be ranked at this point, but the Longhorns soon may be lurking around the Top 25 if they continue to develop. Freshman Isaiah Taylor has given them room to grow in the backcourt. The Longhorns' problem is that they don't have much of a perimeter threat.
The Longhorns may lose both their upcoming games against North Carolina (Dec. 18) and Michigan Sate (Dec. 21). But how they perform in those games may indicate whether they are undervalued.
Voters in the polls are having trouble believing Missouri is for real. Despite a 10-0 record that includes a nine-point win over UCLA, the Tigers barely made the USA Today Top 25 this week at No. 25.
Missouri's Dec. 21 game against Illinois in St. Louis will provide a better gauge for the Tigers, who have proven once again they are a terror on their home court. Missouri has won 25 straight home games, the longest active streak in the nation, and every team in the Southeastern Conference will have trouble winning in Columbia, Mo., this season.
The question is whether the Tigers can win on the road. They have not played a single game on their opponent's home court this season, and Frank Haith's squad has a history of playing poorly on the road.
Guard Jordan Clarkson, a transfer from Tulsa, has given the Tigers a big lift so far, and perhaps he will be the answer to Missouri's road woes.
We are still waiting to see whether Missouri can change its pattern of road failures. Based on what we know now, though, the Tigers must be considered an underrated team.
Overrated when it was ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, Kentucky is now underrated at No. 19 in the Associated Press poll and No. 21 in the USA Today Top 25.
The Wildcats' ranking has slipped because they lost three games. But all three losses were to ranked teams away from home: No. 5 Michigan State, No. 12 Baylor and No. 14 North Carolina.
With so much freshman talent on the squad, Kentucky figures to improve as the season goes on. Its record should benefit from playing in the Southeastern Conference, which does not have as many elite teams as the Big Ten or Atlantic Coast Conference.
However, the defensive flaws the Wildcats showed in their loss at North Carolina on Dec. 14 are troubling. It makes you wonder whether this season's Kentucky squad will eventually mesh the way the 2012 group did or slip into oblivion as the 2013 Wildcats did.
Baylor's results and talent suggest it should be ranked in the Top 10. But the Bears are only No. 12 in the Associated Press poll and No. 15 in the USA Today rankings.
The Bears' past propensity to sprinkle in poor performances along with their impressive showings has not yet surfaced this season. Baylor is still apt to produce some inexplicable duds, and perhaps that is what voters in the polls are expecting.
It has not happened yet, however, so they remain undervalued.
Baylor beat Colorado and Kentucky at neutral sites in Dallas, and the Bears' only loss was to No. 2 Syracuse in Hawaii. That resume is better than several teams in the current Top 10.
Isaiah Austin—a possible first-round pick in the next NBA draft, according to DraftExpress—is only fourth on the team in scoring, and Brady Heslip—a starter the previous two seasons—is coming off the bench.
Those results and that talent certainly make this team seem underrated at the moment.
The public seemed to lose respect for Dayton when it suffered an inexplicable road loss to Illinois State on Dec. 7.
Without question that was a bad loss, and the Flyers did not receive a single vote in either Top 25 poll this week.
However, the Flyers did beat Gonzaga in Maui, then lost to Baylor by just a point the next day and buried Cal 82-64 the day after that. That impressive three-day run in Hawaii has to mean something.
Dayton relies on its depth, with nine players averaging better than 11 minutes a game but no one averaging more than 13.2 points per contest.
With four upcoming home games before a road game against Mississippi, Dayton has a chance to improve its 8-2 record heading into Atlantic 10 play. The Flyers will be a threat to win a conference title in what is developing into a strong league.
Princeton did not get a single vote in either the Associated Press or USA Today polls this week. No one is claiming the Tigers are Top 10 material, but they should receive more respect than they are getting at the moment.
Princeton is a team that could be a nuisance in the NCAA tournament, if it can beat out Harvard for the Ivy League title, that is.
Princeton is 8-1, and its road victories over Bucknell, Rutgers and Penn State should not be dismissed as insignificant. The Tigers' only loss was a three-point road defeat against Butler, which is 8-2. T.J. Bray, Princeton's leading scorer and rebounder, missed that game at Hinkle Fieldhouse with an wrist injury. He is back now, and the Tigers are unbeaten with him in the lineup.
More than half of Princeton's shots are three-point attempts, which means the Tigers are capable of beating more talented teams if they are shooting well. It also means they are vulnerable to upset losses if they are missing.
Pittsburgh has not beaten anybody of note, but it is undefeated heading into its Dec. 17 game against Cincinnati and should be getting more credit.
The Panthers are unranked in both polls, but that may change pretty soon. They will suffer their share of losses in their first season in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference, but they will not be a pushover for anyone.
Pittsburgh beat a decent Stanford team by 21 points on a neutral court on Nov. 26 and has not had any slip-ups against other teams.
The Panthers cannot match the talent of many of their opponents, but that is often the case for Jamie Dixon's team, which relies on toughness, rebounding and defense.
This is an experienced team led by two fifth-year seniors, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.
Massachusetts (9-0) has some nice wins over New Mexico and BYU, but nothing that catches the nation's attention. That's why the Minutemen are only No. 22 in the Associated Press poll.
However, this team, coached by Derek Kellogg, could be considerably higher within a few weeks. It's an experienced team that seems to have all the pieces.
Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery was impressed after his team was taken apart, 80-56, by the Minutemen on Dec. 14. After the loss, Montgomery spoke to Kellogg, per the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo! Sports):
I told Derek at the end of the game that they're going to make a serious run in the (NCAA) tournament, barring injuries. Just so many options. When your 3 and 4 men can shoot like theirs, with (Raphiael) Putney and (Sampson) Carter, it's matchup problems. And that opens up for (Cady) Lalanne. Good team. They can score with the best of them. I like their pieces.
The most intriguing player may be Lalanne, a 6'10" player averaging 15.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
2. Iowa State
Iowa State is unbeaten, leads the nation in scoring at 90.9 points a game and has wins over Michigan and Iowa. Yet the Cyclones are ranked only No. 17 in the country.
Granted, both those big wins were at home and were by narrow margins. However, the Cyclones are gaining confidence and should remain undefeated until they face Baylor on Jan. 7. The game against Baylor also will be played in Ames, Iowa, giving the Cyclones a good chance to win that game and move up in the rankings.
Iowa State's schedule certainly has aided its ascent, but when a team gets rolling, it can sometimes achieve more than its talent would seem to permit. Iowa State may be on that kind of roll.
Forward Melvin Ejim is the team's star, but the addition of guard DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall, and Dustin Hogue, a junior college transfer, have provided balance. The Cyclones have five players averaging double figures in scoring.
1. St. Mary's
With the loss of three starters, including three-time All-Conference selection Matthew Dellavedova, the Gaels were expected to experience a decline this season.
However, coach Randy Bennett seems to suffer similar personnel losses every year and always manages to challenge Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title.
The Gaels are 8-0 but remain unranked, primarily because of the modest preseason expectations and the fact that they have not beaten any ranked opponents. However, their road victory over Boise State indicates this St. Mary's team is Top 25 material.
Boise State's only other loss this season came on the road against Kentucky, and the Broncos are particularly tough to beat on their home court. The Gaels handled the Broncos in Boise on Dec. 14 by taking control of the game in the first half and holding off the inevitable Boise State rally for an eight-point victory.
Somehow, Bennett had turned Brad Waldow into a standout frontcourt player when early indications suggested he had no talent.
The Gaels are not a Top 10 team by any means, but being left out of the Top 25 makes them one of the most underrated teams in the country.