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Knight-led Red Raiders top surprise teams


Jan. 10
Every year, a few teams come out and surprise everyone. Last season, coach Al Skinner and Boston College came through. Nobody predicted Troy Bell and the Eagles to win the Big East, but they paid a visit to Shock City, baby! This season, BC has shown consistency and met almost every challenge.

Texas Tech's Bob Knight would get my vote for midseason coach of the year.
Boston College plays with so much emotion and intensity. Bell, last season's Big East player of the year, is making a run for national player of the year this season. He had a big-time, 36-point performance against Villanova earlier this week.

Last season Mississippi also became a team to watch in the tough SEC. Coach Rod Barnes' team did a great job defensively in making it to the Big Dance.

This season, there likewise have been a number of surprise stories. It's time to look at some of them (record entering this weekend):

Coach Bob Knight would get my vote for midseason coach of the year. Remember, the Red Raiders won just nine games last season. Now Tech will be facing the best of the best in the Big 12. Look at their next four games: Oklahoma (away), Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma!

The Red Raiders got a good win over Texas A&M on the road. Knight put his stamp on this program immediately. Texas Tech has been effective playing the motion game, executing offensively and defensively. Knight's team has played aggressively while creating a fan frenzy in Lubbock.

Who would have dreamed that coach Ben Howland's team would be 15-1? The Panthers got a big-time victory at Boston College, snapping the Eagles' 25-game home-court win streak. Pittsburgh also has impressive W's over St. John's and at Ohio State.

Brandin Knight has been an impact player in leading Howland's squad. He totaled 44 points in the wins over Boston College and St. John's.

What about the job coach Jim Harrick has done! D.A. Layne leaves for the NBA early (what a mistake, as he wasn't even picked), yet the Bulldogs have been super.

Georgia got great performances from Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams, combining for 50 points in the big W at Kentucky. That was just the third time the 'Dogs beat the Wildcats in Kentucky. Harrick's club has been in Shock City all season long; nobody would have believed that this club would be 13-2. The Bulldogs also have wins over Georgetown, Minnesota and Georgia Tech.

OK, we can label some of the wins as cupcakes, but you have to give coach Rick Stansbury credit. Mississippi State rallied from a 21-2 deficit to beat Kentucky. Mario Austin is tough to stop inside.

Coach Perry Clark's team has been a pleasant surprise, with solid wins over Indiana, Georgetown and LSU. Miami's success is impressive considering that the team doesn't really enjoy a home-court advantage. Clark's 'Canes can't wait to get to Ryder Center, an on-campus facility seating 7,000, next season.

This team has lots of talent: John Salmons, Darius Rice, James Jones, Elton Tyler and Marcus Barnes. Clark's team has played well despite recent losses to Connecticut and St. John's. Salmons gives Miami a versatile player with a lot of experience.

Coach Tom Crean's team has been surprising people all season, starting with three solid wins at the Great Alaska Shootout (over Tennessee, Indiana and Gonzaga). The Golden Eagles got a big-time victory this week at Louisville in Conference USA play.

That was especially important since Marquette had a few stumbles after the great start. Dwyane Wade has been one of the positive players that people across America don't know much about. He can really sky with the best of them.

A lot of people thought this season would be the demise of coach Herb Sendek. His team has responded, and the Wolfpack could make a run at the Big Dance for the first time since 1991. N.C. State has quality road victories at Syracuse and Virginia.

The combination of experience and youth has really worked well in Raleigh. Anthony Grundy has stepped it up on the perimeter. Former New York City high school phenom Julius Hodge has been an important contributor and as advertised is a slashing wing player.

Coach Jay Wright's team has lost three times, and all three defeats came in overtime. Wait until next season when Wright welcomes a super recruiting class, led by 6-foot-9 star Jason Fraser of Amityville, Long Island.

College basketball can surprise you -- but that's half the fun, watching the shocks! It can amaze you. In many cases, teams stay together, develop familiarity and then compete and perform at a high level. Others often lose their so-called superstar to the NBA early, and it changes the complexion of their squad. Keep an eye on these surprise teams to see if they can keep it going!

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