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Why are men’s college basketball’s most surprising teams winning in 2021

The year 2021, the 20th season of college basketball. The sport has evolved from a pure game where players score points to one that is primarily played by athletes who have professional contracts with various NBA and European teams for endorsement deals and tournament payouts.

College basketball coaching hot seat 2021 is a topic that has been on the forefront of people’s minds. The “college basketball coaching hot seat 2021” is an interesting article that discusses why some teams are surprising in college basketball.

At this time a year ago, several of the country’s greatest shocks were beginning to establish themselves as national competitors. Michigan, which was ranked No. 25 in the preseason AP poll, won its first 11 games and was definitely a Final Four contender by midseason. Alabama hadn’t quite found its stride yet, but on Jan. 2, the Crimson Tide would win at Tennessee and make a statement; the team that was chosen fifth in the preseason SEC poll went on to win the conference.

Surprisingly, not all surprise teams survive. Virginia Tech began the New Year with an 8-1 record, including victories against Villanova and Clemson; the Hokies would return to the NCAA tournament after a COVID hiatus in February, but would be eliminated in the first round as a 10-seed. Missouri began 13-3 with victories against Alabama, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oregon, but they lost seven of their last ten games and were eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the first round.

Is it possible for this year’s nonconference surprise teams to stay in the national debate throughout the season? We enquired of the college coaches who had previously faced them.

There were a few surprises that didn’t make the cut, including Providence, Seton Hall, San Francisco, Wisconsin, and TCU, but we chose to concentrate on the three largest teams who were undefeated as of Wednesday night. Then we took a brief look at three clubs towards the bottom of their respective divisions who have had a good start to the season and are hoping to keep it going.


Preseason: Sixth in the SEC preseason poll, 37th in the AP poll.

Now: 12-0 (0-0), ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press poll.

What they excel at

Simply told, LSU is a top-notch defensive team. The Tigers were No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage defense, and steal percentage defense at KenPom entering Wednesday night. In terms of defensive turnover %, 3-point defense, 2-point defense, and block percentage, they are in the top 20 in the country.

“They’re unique,” one coach observed. “You’ll feel a lot of pressure. 2-2-1. It’s not that they’re sprinting and leaping a lot or that they’re trapping you; it’s simply that they’re putting pressure on you. They don’t, however, give up anything easily. When you get to halfcourt, they’re going to switch. It makes running your business more challenging. There are no glances that would ordinarily be present. You become very dependent on your ability to make individual plays. However, you are bothered by their length and athleticism. They’re all in on that end of the court.”

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This season, Will Wade’s side hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than one point per possession, with Penn State leading the way with 0.93 points per possession.

“No one else defends like they do,” stated one opponent’s coach. “At the rim, they’re big. Length. They have bigs on the move who can transition to guards. They press you in the halfcourt and fullcourt, but when you put the ball into the post, they double you, which is a different kind of pressure. They keep the floor narrow so they don’t get stretched defensively and can get to the 3-point line in time to contest.”


Preseason: Tied for fourth place in the Pac-12 preseason poll, with votes closer to eighth than third.

Now 11-1 (1-0) and ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll.

What they excel at

Despite the fact that Arizona has been outstanding on both sides of the court for the first month and a half of the season, opposition coaches are primarily focused on the Wildcats’ offense. They are unrestricted, quick, and capable of injuring you in a multitude of ways. They were No. 14 in adjusted offensive efficiency after Wednesday night’s game against Tennessee, and they were in the top 20 in effective field goal %, offensive rebounding percentage, and 2-point percentage.

“At the top of their game, they do two things. “Their transition offense is one of those things,” one rival coach noted. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a made or a missed shot. They’re equally as effective on misses as they are on terrible shots. We anticipated it, planned for it, and tried to be as prepared as possible. However, it is distinct.


Preseason: Ranked last in the Big 12 preseason poll.

Now 12-0 and at No. 9 in the AP poll.

What they excel at

T.J. Otzelberger’s reputation as a defensive genius did not precede him into the season. His teams at South Dakota State played quickly, made a lot of 3-pointers, and were highly efficient on offense. The speed decreased at UNLV, but the offense was still superior than the defense, and his teams still attempted a lot of three-pointers.

It’s all about defense this season. The Cyclones are ranked No. 6 in adjusted defensive efficiency nationwide, with effective field goal percentage defense, defensive turnover percentage, and 3-point defense all ranking in the top ten.

“They’re athletic, tough, and really hard to play against,” one opponent coach stated. “They make it really tough to score on every possession. In a nutshell, that’s who they are. They frost and down everything [ball-screen coverages designed to keep the opposition ball handler slanted toward the sideline]. Every time they post a trap, they get caught. They do things with their athleticism to make up [ground] in scramble situations. Ball-screen coverages are jumbled together. They’re in their eighties, physically fit, and athletic. T.J. has them putting in a lot of effort.”

The Cyclones’ offense does not depend on 3-pointers as much as past Otzelberger teams, but they do have five or six players who can hit shots from the outside. They also have Izaiah Brockington (Penn State) and Gabe Kalscheur (Minnesota), both Big Ten transfers who have scored 30 points in a game this season, and Tyrese Hunter, a promising rookie point guard.


Preseason: Ranked 13th in the ACC preseason poll.

Now 11-1 (1-0), with a solitary defeat to LSU.

Wake Forest seems to be as good as the second- or third-best team in the ACC, which is crucial for the remainder of the season. The Demon Deacons had just one defeat on the season, a 19-point road triumph against Virginia Tech in early December to start league play. With Alondes Williams (Oklahoma) playing like an All-ACC player and Jake LaRavia (Indiana State) making an impact in the first month, Steve Forbes has relied heavily on transfers. Daivien Williamson (East Tennessee State) and Dallas Walton (Colorado) have both started every game, while Khadim Sy (Ole Miss) has started two.

Forbes has a squad that competes on both ends of the court, plays fast, and is very efficient inside the arc. As proven by his 70 points in two games last week, Williams has the ability to take over games.

“They’re fantastic. Aside from their height, agility, and skill, I believe their ball movement and shooting ability are undervalued “one of the opposition coaches said. “I believe they will have to continue to work by committee in the future. They’ll keep scoring, but they’ll have to keep defending like this: 41% from 2, 30% from 3, and forcing 15 turnovers a game “”Hey, he’s very good.”

Is there a team from the NCAA tournament? LaRavia has been out for the previous two games, and his return will be crucial for the upcoming road trips to Louisville and Miami. Only Duke and perhaps North Carolina are plainly better than Wake Forest right now, given how terrible the top of the conference is.

“On Selection Sunday, they’ll hear their name called if they remain healthy. They’re all skilled, but Forbes is a top-notch coach. He’s the ace in the hole for them.”


Preseason: Ranked last in an unofficial Big Ten media survey before to the start of the season.

Now 10-1 (1-1), with the lone defeat coming against Michigan State.

Ben Johnson has done an outstanding job as Minnesota’s first-year head coach, leading the Gophers to road victories at Michigan and Mississippi State, as well as a neutral-court triumph against Western Kentucky. While other teams on this list have done it with high-major transfers, Johnson’s key players have primarily come from the mid-major levels. Jamison Battle (George Washington) has been one of the top transfers in the NCAA, while Payton Willis (Charleston) is a fantastic backup. Eylijah Stephens (Lafayette), Luke Loewe (William and Mary), and Sean Sutherlin (New Hampshire) have all made significant contributions.

The Gophers control the pace, keep the ball in their possession (for the most part; more on that later), and have two big-time scorers in Battle and Willis. Do they have enough talent outside of those two to win the Big Ten consistently?

“Aside from Willis and Battle, I believe they need to find other ways to score,” one coach stated. “Those players might struggle if they don’t make shots.”

Is there a team from the NCAA tournament? Given the roster change last spring, the Gophers are likely the greatest surprise on this list. They’ve also had a string of tight games, despite the outstanding road victory at Michigan. They handled the ball well against Mississippi State, Michigan State, and Michigan, but they turned the ball over 28 times against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

One opponent coach said, “I don’t believe they’re an NCAA tournament squad.” “I’m not a fan of their abilities. They play at an extremely sluggish pace, resulting in a very narrow margin of error. They also have the ability to turn it over.”


Preseason: Ranked last in the Big East preseason poll.

Now 9-1 (0-2), with the lone defeat coming against Loyola Chicago.

The most important thing for the remainder of the season is to stay healthy. Due to COVID-19 difficulties, the Blue Demons’ first two Big East games were canceled, resulting in forfeits under Big East regulations. That explains why they have just one defeat overall and two in the Big East.

Tony Stubblefield has the Blue Demons clicking on the court. They have lots of size, their up-tempo attack puts defensive pressure on opponents, and they feature former Valparaiso transfer Javon Freeman-Liberty, one of the best players in the Big East.

“They are in possession of two keys. First and foremost, there’s Javon Freeman-Liberty. Freeman-only Liberty’s other ball handler is Jalen Terry, thus they must be outstanding to play at a championship level “one of the opposition coaches said. “The second thing they must do is bring their physicality to the game. They have a lot of length and athleticism at every position on the court, and they’re at their finest when they can show it off. Blocking shots, pressure defense, forcing turnovers, transition offense (particularly off turnovers), and offensive rebounding are all things that can help you win. When they include this into the game, they will be able to compete with anybody.”

Is there a team from the NCAA tournament? The Blue Demons’ progress has been difficult to ignore, even if they lack Minnesota’s trademark victories and Wake Forest’s high-major track record. They’ve also beaten Louisville on the road, Rutgers at home, and taken a very talented Loyola Chicago squad to the wire before losing.

If Freeman-Liberty receives regular assistance and DePaul returns to where it was before to the COVID difficulties, the Blue Demons have a chance to compete for a spot in the Big East’s top half.

One coach said, “They have the appearance of an NCAA tournament squad.” “They have elite size at every position on the court and play a style of play that can travel.”

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