Unbeatens beginning to fall and ranked teams enduring road struggles — it must be February in college basketball. This week, the Top Freking 10 expands with my five surprises and disappointments of the season.
1. THE FOOTBALL SCHOOLS
In their respective histories, Michigan and Texas have combined for 17 national championships…in football. Both schools have enjoyed years of college basketball prominence — Rick Barnes has taken the Longhorns to 14 NCAA tournaments in his 15 full seasons, while John Beilein guided the Wolverines the national championship game just last season. But, the reality is these two schools are known more for Darrell Royal and Bo Schembechler, than Kevin Durant and the Fab Five. However, each school’s football programs struggled in 2013, winning just eight (Texas) and seven (Michigan) games, respectively — clear disappointments for both. Luckily for the Longhorn and Wolverine footballers, the basketball teams are picking up the slack. Playing without 2012-13 national player of the year Trey Burke, first-round pick Tim Hardaway Jr. and preseason All-American big man Mitch McGary, Beilein has Wolverines tied for first place in the Big Ten. Barnes has guided a no-name squad to within one game of the Big 12 lead and sports a six-game conference win streak — with wins over four schools that are currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 — heading into Tuesday night’s game at TCU. Memo Texas and Michigan fans: Don’t spend money on those spring football tickets just yet; you might have to save up for a trip to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.
2. OVERLOOKED POINT GUARDS
Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis, ranked as the fifth-best point guard in the Class of 2013 by ESPN, isn’t exactly a diamond in the rough, but the Canadian has proved to be better than expected. Ennis reminds me of Chris Paul in the sense that when the game enters its final quadrant, the ball is always in Ennis’ hands, and he seems to always make the right decision. Factor in that Ennis has the nation’s fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio — he’s only turned the ball over more than twice in a game once this season — and it won’t be long before Ennis is rocking argyle sweaters and appearing in State Farm commercials. Arizona’s T.J. McConnell isn’t even the best guard in the Wildcat backcourt — that distinction belongs to Nick Johnson — but the Duquesne transfer has done well feeding Johnson and star freshman Aaron Gordon. McConnell’s 2.86-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio has to make Sean Miller — his coach, a fellow Pittsburgh native and a former point guard — quite proud, especially since Zona is 21-1.