I know it might sound crazy, but the NCAA Men’s College Basketball season has hit the halfway mark! While not all teams have played half of their schedules due to some Corona Virus related delays, nearly every team has played double-digit games at this point, making right now a great time to both reflect and look back at what has happened, and more importantly, look forward to the end of the regular season and into March Madness, to see what is happening next.
All week long here at TheSportsGeek, we are going to take a look at what you can expect the rest of the way out for Men’s College Hoops. In today’s article, we are going to show you five under the radar teams that you need to keep your eye on, that could end up busting your brackets in March! We will kick things off with a trip down to Tuscaloosa, where the Alabama Crimson Tide are convincing people that they aren’t just a football school!
Alabama Crimson Tide (12-3)
Well, after seeing what Alabama did last night in Baton Rouge, to the LSU Tigers, the Alabama Crimson Tide might not be a secret much longer. In my preseason SEC preview, I mentioned that the Alabama Crimson Tide were being criminally underrated and that they could absolutely win the regular season league title. People laughed at me then, but they aren’t laughing now.
Entering play last night, Alabama was ranked for the first time this year, coming in at 18th in this week’s AP Poll, and they celebrated their first national ranking of the season by breaking the all-time SEC record for threes made in a game, when they knocked down 23 of them enroot to blowing out LSU 105-75. The win was their 8th straight, and the Tide are now 7-0 in SEC play, with a full 2-game lead in the loss column over LSU, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee for first place.
Record Night on the Bayou.
— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) January 20, 2021
Alabama head coach Nate Oats has the Tide playing a unique brand of basketball that has led to a lot of success in SEC play. Alabama doesn’t shoot any midrange shots. They either score in the paint, from beyond the arc, or at the free-throw line. 48% of their shots from the field are from deep, and when they get hot, they can run any team, out of any gym. We saw that last night at LSU, and we saw that last weekend when they ran up the score on Arkansas, blowing out the Razorbacks by 31 points.
Kenpom has the Tide ranked 10th this morning after their back-to-back shellacking of the best the SEC has to offer, and Alabama just might run away with the league title in the second half. It is hard to say that a team that is leading a talented, high-profile conference, like the SEC, is under the radar, but remember, this team has spent a total of one week in the top-25, so there are a lot of folks out there that haven’t seen them play yet this year and don’t realize that they are Final Four level good.
A couple of dates to circle on your calendar are January 26th, when Alabama hosts Kentucky, January 30th, when the Tide travels to Norman to play Oklahoma, and February 6th, where Alabama plays at Missouri, potentially with a shot to all but wrap up the league title against the Tigers. Can Alabama add a college hoops title to the college football championship they just won?
Colorado Buffaloes (11-3)
There might not be a more talented team in the nation that nobody is talking about right now than the Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffaloes have yet to appear in the top-25 nationally, but with their recent 4-game winning streak, they are sitting just outside of the top-25, coming in at 27th this week. Colorado didn’t do themselves any favors in the non-conference, as with the exception of the true road game in Knoxville, against the Tennessee Volunteers, they scheduled very light in the non-conference.
All 6 of their non-league wins came against teams ranked outside of the top-100. That lack of competition made it hard for the Buffs to get noticed, but now that they are playing quality teams in the PAC-12, this team is showing that they can play with, and beat, top teams. Colorado has wins over USC, Oregon, and Stanford this month and the Buffs have slowly snuck up the PAC-12 standings, currently tied with USC for 3rd place in the league.
𝐏𝐚𝐜-𝟏𝟐 𝐏𝐥𝐚𝐲𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐖𝐞𝐞𝐤
— Colorado Men’s Basketball (@CUBuffsMBB) January 18, 2021
McKinley Wright is the senior leader point guard that every team wishes they had, and he is making a legit case for All-PAC-12 honors. Wright leads the team in scoring, assists, and steals and does everything on the basketball court. He is a true point guard that loves to set his teammates up and makes everyone on the floor around him better.
In his last two games, wins over Cal and Stanford, Wright averaged 13.5 points and 10 assists a game. Wright is a 4-year starter and would love nothing more than to make a deep run in March to finish out what has been a fantastic career in Boulder.
Speaking of Boulder, the Buffaloes currently rate out as having the best home court advantage in the nation. All of the Buffaloes losses have come on the road, and when you look forward on the schedule for Colorado, there are a lot of potential wins still to be had. Of their final 6 road games, 4 of them come against Washington, Washington State, Cal, and Oregon State, all teams ranked outside of the top-100. And when you look at their home games, they get a chance to avenge their league losses to Arizona and UCLA, as well as a home game against USC.
Tad Boyle’s Buffs have depth, versatility and experience. They also have an intangible that might make this year’s teams one of his best yet.https://t.co/ZMQ48ZlWXh
— Colorado Men’s Basketball (@CUBuffsMBB) January 19, 2021
If Colorado can remain elite at home and pick up wins over the top of the league and take care of business against weak teams on the road, the Buffaloes are going to hit the PAC-12 tournament on fire. Kenpom has the Buffs projected to finish 20-6 overall and 14-5 in league play, which would likely see them as a 4 or 5 seed in the Big Dance.
If you are buying stock in a team right now, the Buffaloes are a team to look at as they have a lot of the ingredients in the recipe for success. They have an uber-experienced senior points guard. They win a lot at home. They lead the nation in free throw percentage at an absolutely absurd 81% as a team, and the schedule lays out well for them. Don’t be shocked when Colorado finishes the season playing well and the Buffaloes are a dark horse Final Four team when the brackets are released on Selection Sunday.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-3)
It was a strange offseason for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They picked up the highest-rated recruit in school history when the consensus top prep player in the country, Cade Cunningham, decided to head to Stillwater, which immediately put the Cowboys on the national radar. But then the NCAA slapped them with a postseason ban, which wiped them right back off of most people’s view of teams to watch.
But with the recent COVID-19 related disaster that schools are trying to work through, the NCAA has yet to review the Cowboys appeal, and if they don’t get to it in time, OSU gets to go dancing. And I’ll tell you what, nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to see the Cowboys in their bracket if they find a way to stay eligible.
The Cowboys have been absolutely fearless on the road this season with true road wins at Texas Tech, at Marquette, at Wichita State, and at K-State. They also have a home win over Big 12 royalty, the Kansas Jayhawks, in their last game. The biggest test of the season comes in the Cowboy’s next game, at home against Baylor, and if OSU can knock off the undefeated Bears, you are going to have to fight with millions of casual fans to jump on the Cowboys bandwagon. I say, why not jump on now?
Introducing the only Big 12 player with 3⃣ weekly awards in 2020-21 – @CadeCunningham_.
— OSU Cowboy Basketball (@OSUMBB) January 18, 2021
It is hard to live up to the hype of being the number one freshman in the country, but not only has Cade Cunningham lived up to those lofty expectations, he has exceeded them. In a league that is chalked full of potential NBA lottery picks, Cunningham leads the Big 12 in scoring at nearly 18-points per game. He also leads the Cowboys in assists and blocks and is second on the squad in rebounds at over 6 per contest.
Cunningham is almost certainly going to be the top pick in next year’s NBA draft, and it would be an absolute shame if we didn’t get to see him play in the NCAA tournament. I am all about holding teams responsible for cheating, and if the Cowboys deserve to be punished, they should be held accountable, but maybe the NCAA can make a COVID-19 related expectation and let the Cowboys dance this season and suspend them next year. In a year where so few things have gone right, let’s hope we get to see Oklahoma State and Cade Cunningham get a shot to play meaningful games in March. Maybe the Cowboys don’t deserve it, but the fans certainly do.
Duke Blue Devils (5-4)
I know, I know, the Duke Blue Devils are an easy punching bag. The Dukies are always one of the most hated teams in the nation, and a lot of people out there are really enjoying the fact that they aren’t playing very well right now. But Coach K is way too good of a coach, and there is way too much talent on this roster, for Duke to struggle much longer. It’s going to pain a lot of people, but the Blue Devils are poised for a big second half.
Duke has seen their season decimated by COVID-19 related delays and injuries. The Blue Devils have played just two games in over a month, and they have looked rusty, to say the least. After missing 3 weeks of action, Duke returned to beat Boston College and Wake Forest at home, before losing on the road at Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.
Casual fans are quick to write off the Blue Devils as dead, and their 5-4 record right now isn’t good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament. But when you take a closer look at this Duke schedule and roster, it’s hard not to see Coach K turn things around sooner rather than later.
More Proof This Is The Weirdest College Hoops Season Ever: UK, Duke And UNC Aren’t Ranked For The First Time In Nearly 60 Years https://t.co/JgMBH6gOD3 pic.twitter.com/B2OJZSMmKW
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) January 18, 2021
Duke’s four losses came to Michigan State and Illinois, two teams that also haven’t lived up to their preseason hype, but are undeniably talented, and the two conference road games at Pitt and Virginia Tech. While we aren’t used to seeing Duke lose to teams like Virginia Tech and Pitt, those two teams are a combined 20-4 and are both much better than they are getting credit for this season.
Jalen Johnson was expected to be the leader on the floor for the Blue Devils, and the 5-star recruit has played just 6 total games and missed basically all of the loss to Virginia Tech, playing just 4 minutes. But Johnson finally looks healthy, and in his last game against Pitt, he dropped a career-high 24 points.
He filled up the stat sheet in that one with 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks, and 2 steals without turning the ball over a single time. In his first-ever college game, he dropped 19 and 19 on Coppin State, and if he is healthy and on the floor, Duke is going to win more than their fair share of games.
Big night from @Jalen_J23 in the loss…
😈 24 points
😈 8-14 FG
😈 15 boards
😈 7 dimes
😈 4 blocks
😈 2 steals
😈 6th Blue Devil to go 20/15/5 in ACC era pic.twitter.com/HkscTdQ8kZ
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) January 20, 2021
The ACC is down a bit this year, but the league is still one of the best in the nation, and the Blue Devils are going to have plenty of opportunities to win games against solid competition. Duke is going to have to play catchup after missing so much action, and they play a stretch coming up with 4 games in just over a week’s time.
That stretch starts at Louisville, then home against Georgia Tech and Clemson, then on the road at Miami. None of those teams have close to the same level of talent as this Duke team does, and if the Blue Devils run the table and win all four of those games, they are going to be right there inside the top-25 once again. I know most of you out there hate to hear it, but expect big things out of the Blue Devils in the second half.
BYU Cougars (11-3)
When you talk about West Coast Conference basketball, it’s hard not to fixate on the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags have their best team in program history, and they are going to threaten to go undefeated this season. So, yeah, the Zags deserve the lion’s share of the love in the WCC, but don’t sleep on the BYU Cougars.
BYU is the 2nd best team in the WCC, and while they weren’t able to stay competitive with Gonzaga in Spokane a couple of weeks ago, they have rebounded nicely to establish themselves as a team that needs to get an at-large look into the NCAA tournament.
BYU already has 6 wins over the top-100, with quality victories over St. John’s, Utah State, Utah, San Diego State, St. Mary’s, and San Francisco. Similar to Duke, BYU missed time to Corona Virus concerns, and at one point, they had 3 consecutive conference games get canceled.
They were actually on a plane to Pepperdine, when their game with the Waves was canceled, and mid-air, they decided to head to Spokane to play the nation’s top team in Gonzaga. They lost that one handedly, but it’s hard to fault them too much, as there aren’t many teams in the country that when they see a game canceled, pick up the phone and call Mark Few and the nation’s top team, to play the Zags on no notice.
After losing to Gonzaga, the Cougars won back-to-back games, both coming on the road, at St. Mary’s and at San Francisco. The Dons and the Gaels are both quality teams this year, and winning those two games on the road tells me that BYU is going to have a real shot at running the table in the WCC. The final game of the season for the Cougars is at home against Gonzaga, and while they are going to be heavy underdogs in that one, the Cougars have a history of beating really good Gonzaga teams in the past.
ROAD SWEEP 🧹🧹 pic.twitter.com/Lq9I1mz9Cd
— BYU Basketball (@BYUbasketball) January 17, 2021
Last year the Zags went into Provo 27-1 and ranked #1 in the nation, and BYU beat them. In 2017, the Bulldogs made it to the final game of the regular season undefeated before again losing at BYU. In 2015, BYU knocked off a 29-1 Zags team, once again in the final game of the regular season, with the Zags ranked #1 in the nation. I guess Gonzaga should stop scheduling BYU as their final game of the year if they want to go undefeated?
I’m not saying that BYU is going to beat the Zags, but history shows us that it absolutely can happen. You can expect the Cougars to rack up a bunch of wins, and if they hit the final game of the regular season at 21-3, where I project them to finish, they might not even need to spoil the Bulldog’s run at history to get into the Big Dance. Keep your eye on Mark Pope and BYU, as they just might shock the world, again.
There you have it, folks, 5 teams that you need to watch in the second half of the NCAA Men’s Basketball season. With the NCAA announcing earlier this week that the entire tournament is going to be played in a semi-bubble in Indianapolis, we can confidently say that we are going to see the tournament played out this season, after last year’s event was canceled last minute. Thanks for reading, and make sure you swing by TheSportsGeek’s college hoops betting page, where we bring you free high-value betting picks each and every day!