At this point in the season, it's common to hear critics accuse college basketball insiders of overhyping teams that have failed to justify the preseason buzz about their respective programs, while also questioning the lack of attention for teams that have already surprised us.
That's college basketball.
But we think we can explain some of the hits and misses across the landscape thus far.
Why we overhyped five struggling contenders
With Sunday's 56-47 loss at Virginia, a Williams UNC team has failed to score 50 points in consecutive games for the first time (per ESPN Stats & Info). That's not pretty. But let's be honest: The Tar Heels don't have a lot of talent. Not typical North Carolina talent, anyway.
Ask yourself this question: Other than Anthony, which player wows you on this UNC team? Anthony, who will likely secure a top-five slot in next summer's NBA draft, is averaging 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals and 3.8 turnovers per game and is shooting at a 35.5% clip from the 3-point line. But he's also taking 33 percent of his team's shots when he's on the floor, per KenPom. Joel Berry II, Marcus Paige, Kendall Marshall and Coby White never approached that number because they all had help, and most of them played alongside NBA prospects.
In ESPN's current mock draft, Anthony is the only NBA prospect listed on UNC's roster. The Tar Heels are not a great offense when he's on the floor (0.97 points per possession) but my goodness, they're unwatchable the few minutes he spends on the bench each game (0.83 PPP). This just appears to be an ordinary team (in UNC terms) with one extraordinary player trying to lead the program to wins each night.
During Butler's 76-62 victory over Florida on Saturday, the Bulldogs seemed to enjoy Florida's odd approach on offense. Multiple Florida possessions ended with Blackshear, a 26 percent 3-pointer shooter this season, missing deep shots from beyond the arc. You could see Butler's welcoming gaze as if the Bulldogs were collectively thinking: "They're gonna try to beat us like this? Be our guests."
Opposing teams have made just 26.5 percent of their 3-point attempts against the Bulldogs this season, a top-10 mark. But that wasn't the issue. If you watched the game, you could see that Florida's offense didn't have any rhythm or flow. In 2018-19, the Gators had a middle-of-the pack SEC offense with an assembly that couldn't hit 3-pointers. That was before adding an average 3-point shooter who did his best work at Virginia Tech as a co-star. Perhaps we thought Blackshear (Florida is averaging 0.99 points per possession with him on the floor, 0.93 when he's on the bench, per hooplens.com) alone could help Florida overcome its problems from last year.
Kentucky: It was easy to forget John Calipari has only had a handful of special one-and-done teams
Kentucky isn't the only preseason top-10 squad to suffer an early upset (see also: Duke). Since that night when they fell to Evansville in Lexington, however, the Wildcats have only knocked off a slate of sub-100 teams (Utah Valley, Mount St. Mary's, Lamar, UAB, Fairleigh Dickinson). Have they improved? A late December back-to-back stretch against Ohio State and Louisville will answer that question.
Kentucky's best teams of the Calipari era (2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017) were brilliant. The rest? Solid teams with potential. This latest Kentucky group will likely fall into the latter category. Nothing sexy about this group. Five-star freshman Kahlil Whitney's struggles continue. And you're lying if you thought Nick Richards would be the team's leading scorer at this point in the season.
Too often, we say "Kentucky" and assume national title. Even if that's not the case this year, we had every reason to gasp when the Wildcats lost to Evansville. But maybe that was a sign that we'll probably see a good -- "good" is relative in Lexington -- but not great team under Calipari in 2019-20.
Michigan State: We thought MSU would continue to withstand issues, remain invincible
Midway through the 2018-19 season, Michigan State lost Joshua Langford. Nick Ward, Kyle Ahrens and Cassius Winston all battled through injuries too. Although the Spartans wrestled with injuries and played in a Big Ten that sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament, the adversity didn't stop them from losing just one game between Feb. 5 and the Final Four last year (14-1). They were one of the best offensive teams in the country. And they seemed unstoppable for stretches of the season.
Thus far, in losses to Kentucky, Virginia Tech and Duke (and a close call against Seton Hall), Michigan State did not look like the national title favorite and No. 1 team it had been entering the season. There are fewer veterans to rely upon in tight games. Xavier Tillman is encountering new pressure. Winston is carrying more of the weight. The margin for error is not as wide. Plus, this team practiced in the offseason with Langford, who suffered an injury that jeopardizes his 2019-20 season.
Everything seemed to go right last season for Michigan State, despite the adversity the team faced. This year has not been as fortuitous.
Texas Tech: Assuming Chris Beard would find a way again
At Big 12 media day in Kansas City, Texas Tech's head coach admitted his team had endured some challenging moments in early practices following last year's run to the national title game. Still, Beard had won at every level and is known as a master at reloading, thanks in part to his ties to the junior college ranks. But we probably should have expected a bit less from a Texas Tech team that lost four starters, including lottery pick Jarrett Culver.
Last year's team was praised for owning the best defense in America, but it also ended the year possessing one of the nation's most reliable offenses. The latter has become a concern for a Texas Tech team that has scored 61, 76 and 60 points during its current three-game losing streak. The Red Raiders do not own a win over a top-200 team on KenPom. Yes, the defense is still legit, but Beard's crew will need time to find any semblance of the cohesive offense that helped Texas Tech last season.
Why we undervalued five surprising teams
Baylor: Bears' overall depth was overlooked
The news of Mario Kegler's suspension and subsequent departure (he turned pro after averaging 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 2018-19) seemed like season-altering news in September, even for a Baylor team welcoming back Tristan Clark from last year's knee injury.
Scott Drew weathered tough times a year ago, however, when injuries plagued his starting backcourt. He's a proven overachiever who finished 10-8 in the Big 12 with the league's most efficient offense, even though Makai Mason and King McClure missed eight conference games combined and Clark missed all but two Big 12 matchups. With the addition of transfers MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell, Baylor had the manpower to progress. The Bears probably deserved more praise as a possible Big 12 contender entering the season.
Auburn: The Tigers lost key players, but really didn't have to reload
It's never easy for a Final Four team that loses its top three scorers (Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke), and the 43.2 points per game combined they produced. But Bruce Pearl's squad had a secret. While the team's nucleus fueled the most impressive run in the country, Anfernee McLemore, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley -- three players bouncing back after rocky 2017-18 seasons -- seemed positioned to return to form.
Samir Doughty's All-American campaign (he's averaging 18.5 PPG and is shooting 38.8% from the 3-point line) was unexpected. But he has had help from Purifoy (10.4 PPG) and Wiley (11.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG), two players who missed the 2017-18 season due to suspensions and struggled to hit their collective stride last season. McLemore's 2017-18 season ended when he suffered a severe ankle injury. He's beginning to look like the player we watched two years ago. Auburn is off to a surprising start, but the veterans it brought back have played a role in the Tigers' post-Final Four strength.
Michigan: Too focused on Juwan Howard's inexperience
John Beilein's successful run helped him attract the attention of executives at the next level and secure the head-coaching gig with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Any successor without a strong reputation as a head coach would've faced scrutiny at Michigan. But Howard's arrival focused on the former Michigan star's ties to the school more than his potential as a leader. He had never been a head coach, though he did reach the NBA Finals as an assistant with the Miami Heat. And in the post-LeBron James years, he was an assistant who helped the Heat reach the playoffs twice in five years.
Beilein's gift was his ability to mold unheralded players. And by all accounts, Howard possesses the same skill. Just ask James. "Absolutely the right choice and I hope it becomes a done deal ASAP!!" James tweeted once the Michigan rumors grew. "One of my favorite people I've ever met at the age of 16 and been around since then." Howard has guided big man Jon Teske, who is nearly averaging a double-double. Howard didn't have head-coaching experience, but he has won with the same skills that helped Beilein build a national title contender in Ann Arbor.
The Buckeyes entered the 2019-2020 campaign as the No. 18 team in the Associated Press preseason poll. They entered this week as the No. 1 team in KenPom's rankings. Did we miss something? Kind of.
Last year, Wesson missed three games (all losses) during a March stretch that might've catapulted the Buckeyes into a higher seed in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. That late stumble shifted the narrative on Wesson, who had emerged as one of the Big Ten's best players. Wesson has started this season with a connection rate on 45 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 14.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG and 1.6 BPG for an undefeated Buckeyes team that lost momentum during his suspension late last year.
Ohio State returned the bulk of its key players and now could be the favorite to win the Big Ten. Ohio State might have received more hype as a national title contender if Wesson hadn't lost those three key games a year ago.
Tennessee: Didn't consider Rick Barnes' track record in following successful seasons
Last year, Tennessee rose to the No. 1 spot in the national polls with Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams leading a team that topped the SEC with a 56% clip inside the arc in league play. Both turned pro, and the Vols also lost Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander. That's a quartet of talent Tennessee could not replace.
But Barnes has a history of maintaining the mojo after big seasons. Twelve times, Barnes has won at least 24 games; has won at least 22 games the following year nine times. At Texas, he won 31 games and reached the Elite Eight in the 2007-08 season, the year after Kevin Durant turned pro. Barnes is a proven winner. And he has Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons and John Fulkerson -- four players steeped in Barnes' culture -- to help him after last season's remarkable season.