College basketball always brings us great surprises in the first several weeks of the season as teams void of preseason hype emerge to be serious players on the national scene. Sometimes, they fade and are forgotten about by February. Other times — like FAU last season — they last and turn into real threats come March.
Either way, the ability of a team to rise from nowhere to surprise us in a positive way is one of college basketball's best features. There are over 10 times as many Division I programs as there are NBA teams or NFL teams. So while surprise teams emerge in professional sports leagues, they are fewer and farther between.
In college hoops, there are plenty to choose from. Nearly a month into the season, there are still 14 unbeaten teams, and plenty more have impressed or exceeded expectations while suffering a loss or two along the way.
For this week's edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are picking their top surprise teams so far this season.
Colorado State finished 15-18 last season and ranked 110th at KenPom.com, which is among the reasons the Rams were merely picked fifth in the Mountain West Conference's preseason poll. Understandably, they got zero votes in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll and thus started unranked.
But CSU is ranked now.
The Rams are up to No. 9 in my Top 25 And 1, No. 12 in the Coaches Poll and No. 13 in the AP Top 25 poll thanks to a 9-0 start highlighted by a 69-48 beatdown of a Creighton team that remains in the top 10 at KenPom. CSU has also beaten Colorado and Washington. So the Rams already have three wins over top-75 KenPom teams and could add another when they host Saint Mary's on Saturday.
Will this hold up?
I obviously have no idea.
But any team that starts the season unranked and improves 54 spots at KenPom over the first month is by definition a surprise. So Colorado State seems like a suitable answer for the question asked, especially now that the Rams are projected to win the MWC for what would be the first time in history. -- Gary Parrish
A team picked 13th in its league that sits at No. 1 in the NET, No. 2 at Torvik, No. 6 at KenPom and No. 6 in the Massey Composite? Yeah, BYU is my easy pick here. , if you'd like a little more background on how the Cougars became one of the shocks of the first month of the season. BYU, No. 14 in the AP Top 25, is 8-0 after roundhousing Evansville on Tuesday night. The Cougars are well-oiled, ranking second in assists (22.4), fifth in scoring (91.9) and seventh in rebounding (45.6).
Their average winning margin: an obscene 32.9 points, including wins over Arizona State, NC State and San Diego State. I don't think BYU finishes in the top three of the Big 12, but I do think it's cruising to a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament and will be well-positioned for its first Sweet 16 since 2011. Mark Pope is also going to become a hot property on the coaching market in three months if this keeps up. -- Matt Norlander
Clemson finished among the first teams left out of the NCAA Tournament last season, despite the fact that it was 23-10 on Selection Sunday and had gone 14-6 in ACC play. The No. 24 Tigers look determined not to let that happen again. They are off to a 8-0 start after Wednesday night's rivalry win over previously unbeaten South Carolina. Clemson's résumé includes a road win over Alabama, which should hold up better than any of its nonconference wins from last season. More opportunities are coming, too.
With TCU and Memphis up next, coach Brad Brownell's squad has a chance to make some serious noise over the next week. PJ Hall has taken his game to even greater heights, particularly as an outside shooter, while Joe Girard and Chase Hunter are providing excellent support in the backcourt. This team ranks 16th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, which makes sense considering it's No. 22 in Division I experience and No. 48 in minutes continuity at KenPom. Brownell has a savvy, veteran club that knows how to win. Perhaps it's not surprising after all that the Tigers have started unbeaten. -- David Cobb
BYU hasn't been the only surprise from the Big 12. Oklahoma was picked 12th in its league (one spot ahead of BYU) and currently sits at No. 19 in the AP Top 25 poll with a perfect 8-0 record. Last season, the Sooners finished 15-17 in Porter Moser's second season and he has them off to their best start since 2015-16, when they made a run to the Final Four after starting the season 12-0. Siena transfer Javian McCollum has been a huge addition to the program and is averaging 14.3 points in just under 29 minutes per game.
Oklahoma has victories this season over Iowa, USC and most recently, Providence. In the 72-51 win over the Friars during Big East-Big 12 Battle, McCollum scored a team-high 19 points and sophomore guard Milos Uzan scored a season-high 17 points. The Big 12 was already going to be loaded with the addition of No. 3 Houston, but BYU and Oklahoma both starting hot makes it even stronger. The next test for the Sooners is against Arkansas at the BOK Center later this week. If Oklahoma wins that game, they should rise into the top 15 in the next AP Top 25 poll. -- Cameron Salerno