March 7, 2010

Which team overachieved most this season?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a current topic in the sport.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: As the regular season ends today, which team do you think has overachieved the most or been the biggest positive surprise?

I remember meeting about our rankings for the 2009-10 season. More than one person in the meeting, myself included, believed Syracuse would struggle without Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris. Boy, were we wrong. Everyone missed on Syracuse, so I guess that's comforting. We tend to think the great coaches are great mainly because they have great players. Certainly, that's true - Wesley Johnson is an All-America - but Syracuse's season proved why we can't take Hall of Fame coaches like Jim Boeheim for granted.


I thought Syracuse had a chance to be a fringe top-25 team - and I mean fringe, as in 24th or 25th. Instead, the Orange are a legitimate pick to win the national title. Wesley Johnson was supposed to be good - but not this good. The big men were expected to be so-so complementary players; instead, Rich Jackson, Arinze Onuaku and Kris Joseph have developed into a solid trio and are guys coach Jim Boeheim can count on to rebound, defend and (surprise) score. Andy Rautins is a big-time "glue guy" who also happens to be a 3-point threat, a great passer and a solid defender. And the two-headed point guard of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche has made almost everyone forget Jonny Flynn. Syracuse doesn't have great depth, but going seven deep is just fine in the NCAA tournament - especially when all seven average between 8.1 and 15.6 points. Only the most ardent Syracuse fan - you know the type, the ones who say Syracuse is going to win it all every season, regardless - could have expected a team this good this season.


I'll pull the alumni card and give props to the Baylor Bears. Scott Drew's squad was picked to finish 10th in the Big 12 this season after losing Curtis Jerrells, Henry Dugat and Kevin Rogers to graduation. But now they could finish as high as third in the league with a potential to earn a No. 4 or a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. Drew has always done well in recruiting, but the difference this year is that he's stepped up his coaching. Baylor still likes to play run-and-gun basketball on the offensive end but, defensively, the Bears are as good as they've been during Drew's tenure. Tweety Carter, Ekpe Udoh and LaceDarius Dunn are all worthy of some sort of all-conference honors. Baylor is talented enough to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.


Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised by New Mexico's season since the Lobos won a share of the Mountain West title last year, but it seems as though they sneaked up on everyone. In the preseason media poll, New Mexico was picked to finish fifth in the nine-team MWC. The Lobos instead won their first outright league championship since 1994. A team that traditionally has struggled to win away from home owns a 10-2 road record and has won its lone game at a neutral site. The Lobos also own a 6-0 record against ranked teams. It's no coincidence that the nation's most surprising team also has perhaps the nation's most surprising player. Who expected Darington Hobson to have this kind of year in his first season with New Mexico? Hobson, a College of Eastern Utah transfer, is on track to become the first New Mexico player to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists.


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