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Inside the Bracket: Teams making early splashes

Time to digest a little turkey – and some college hoops.  Thankfully, we’ve been bombarded with a cornucopia of good basketball in the first two weeks of the season.  Knowing this weekend presents more opportunities, here are some teams making unexpected early splashes:

Oklahoma State – After surviving Akron in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Shootout, the Cowboys took down Tennessee in the semis and heavily-favored North Carolina State in the championship.  Actually, OSU dominated both games.  While the Volunteers were missing Jeronne Mayman, NC State was a full strength.  At this point, the Cowboys have moved well above the cutline on the s-curve. Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash, and Markel Brown are playing at a high level.

Colorado – We know about Arizona and UCLA, but the Pac-12 title chase could include a third team if the Buffaloes sustain their early-season momentum.  The Buffs won the Charleston Classic by beating Dayton, Baylor, and Murray State.  The victory over Baylor will get the most attention, but Murray is an NCAA-caliber team, too, and Dayton is a potential sleeper in the Atlantic 10.  We know about Andre Roberson, but sophomore Askia Booker has averaged 17.8 points through four games.  Like OSU, Colorado has climbed the s-curve quickly.

Illinois – Senior guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are enjoying new coach John Groce’s attacking style.  Paul was named MVP of the Maui Invitational as Illinois never trailed in three games, dominating USC, Chaminade (which upset Texas), and Butler (which upset North Carolina).  The Illini are averaging 11 made three-pointers and 83 points per game.  That’s a positive change for a team that often struggled to score the past two seasons.  Sophomore PG Tracy Abrams has emerged and senior Tyler Griffey is playing with renewed energy.  Illinois was an “also considered” team in our preseason rankings, but would be firmly in the Field of 68 if we were putting together an updated bracket today.

Butler – While a lopsided loss at Xavier during the Tip Off Marathon raised questions about the new-look Bulldogs, Butler upset both Marquette and North Carolina in Maui before falling to Illinois in the title game.  The Bulldogs displayed the type of physicality and toughness we’re accustomed to seeing.  As senior Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham grow in the system, Butler will continue to improve.  The trip to Maui certainly helped the Bulldogs’ at-large resume.

Wichita State – It won’t be a surprise to see two or three Missouri Valley teams make the NCAA tournament in March.  But after losing several starters, the Shockers weren’t necessarily considered a top three team in a deep league.  Beyond Creighton, both Illinois State and Northern Iowa are solid contenders, too  Yet to date, no Valley team has done more than Wichita State.  The Shockers won on the road at VCU (which upset Memphis Thursday in Atlantis), and then beat both DePaul and Iowa in Cancun.  Iowa is considered an NCAA contender from the Big Ten, and was one of the last teams “in” from our preseason bracket.

Several great matchups remain during the holiday weekend.  Next week, we get the ACC-Big 10 challenge.  If you love college hoops, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

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Categories: Current Updates, Team News
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