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Pick 6: College hoops’ early season surprises
Question of the Day
A decade ago, Butler beating North Carolina would have been huge news, an upset that sent shockwaves throughout college basketball.
When the Bulldogs knocked off the Tar Heels at the Maui Invitational last week, it barely registered a blip.
An upset? Sure, but Butler did play in consecutive NCAA championship games a couple years ago, so it wasn’t totally surprising.
In fact, it wasn’t even the most remarkable thing that happened in Maui.
Here’s a look at the unexpected twist at Maui and some of the other early-season surprises in college basketball so far:
Illinois wins in Maui: The Maui Invitational typically has one of the most talented fields of any tournament all season, with a list of recent champions that includes Duke, North Carolina, UCLA and Connecticut. Add the Illini to that list. A team that missed the NCAA tournament for third time in five seasons after an ugly collapse last year, Illinois was expected to be in rebuilding mode under new coach John Groce. After beating Hawaii on a buzzer-beater, the Illini turned the Maui Invitational into a walkover, beating Southern California, Chaminade and Butler by double digits to cruise to a title few expected them to win.
UCLA: The Bruins had a disappointing start to last season and lost one of their key players when Reeves Nelson was dismissed from the team. It’s starting to feel like 2011 all over again in Westwood. UCLA opened the season No. 13 in the AP preseason poll and got good news when the NCAA cleared prized recruit Shabazz Muhammad to play by the fourth game. The past couple of weeks haven’t gone so well. The Bruins needed overtime to beat UC Irvine by one at Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 13, then lost Cal Poly _ yes, Cal Poly _ at home by two. Worse yet, junior guard Tyler Lamb said last weekend that he’s transferring to another school to get more playing time and center Joshua Smith announced on Wednesday that he’s quitting the team. UCLA needs to get it straightened out soon or coach Ben Howland could be out of job.
Memphis in the Bahamas: Another year of preseason hype for the Tigers and another year of struggling to live up to them. Memphis was ranked in the Top 25 preseason poll for the third straight season and was considered the favorite to win Conference USA in their final year in the league. Coach Josh Pastner has been criticized for not being able to lead the Tigers to a win in the NCAA tournament and has taken more heat for their nearly winless run through the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Memphis opened with predictable wins over North Florida and Samford, but suffered a 13-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Tigers followed with a loss to Minnesota and needed a tight win over Northern Iowa to keep from coming home without a win in the Bahamas. Chances are Memphis will turn it around and get back to the NCAA tournament, but 3-2 is not how the Tigers envisioned starting the season.
Jahii Carson. We know, the Arizona State redshirt freshman was touted as one of the nation’s best newcomers. Still, it would have been hard to predict the impact he’s had on the Sun Devils. A 5-foot-10 point guard who’s not exactly bulging in the biceps, Carson has been dominant at times, blowing past defenders with his quick first step and exploding to the rim with his bouncy legs. Playing with a confidence that belies his age, Carson looks like he’s been at Arizona State for six years, not six games. He leads the Sun Devils with 19 points and 5.5 points per game, and became the fourth freshman in school history to score 30 in a game when he hit that mark against Creighton in the Las Vegas Invitational last weekend. The national spotlight is starting to shine in his direction and it’s likely to get brighter.
Boise State beats Creighton: The Broncos are known more for their football program and were coming off a 13-17 season in 2011-12. Boise State opened this season 4-1 _ its only loss was by four to Michigan State _ but still wasn’t expected to beat Creighton and its All-American, Greg McDermott. The Bluejays opened the season in the Top 25 and went into Wednesday’s game ranked 11th after a pair of impressive wins over Wisconsin and Arizona State at the Las Vegas Invitational. Boise State went right at the Bluejays in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday night, beating them 83-70 after Derrick Marks scored a career-high 35 points, including 18 straight in the second half. It was arguably the Broncos’ biggest upset as a program and their first road win over a ranked opponent since 2005. It also was Creighton’s first regular-season November home loss since 1989.
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