Kentucky is about what everybody thought Kentucky would be. Same goes for Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville and most of college basketball's biggest brands. But there are schools out there that have spent the past two months becoming pleasant surprises.
Which teams am I talking about?
I'm talking about projected bad teams that are good. Or projected good teams that are great.
Here are five that qualify.
The Bears are the nation's biggest surprise given that they're 17-1 and ranked sixth in the AP poll after receiving exactly zero Top 25 votes in the preseason They've beaten Louisville, Oregon, Xavier, Iowa State, Michigan State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State; that's seven top-50 KenPom victories. And Baylor is doing this even though Scott Drew has zero consensus top-50 national prospects on his roster - and zero sure-bet future NBA players.
The Bulldogs were unranked in the preseason and picked sixth in the Big East. Now they're 16-3, ranked 13th in the AP poll and walking around as the only team to beat top-ranked Villanova this season. And, keep in mind, this is a program that was in the Horizon League just five years ago. So Chris Holtmann has them completely adjusted to a higher level. A trip to a third Final Four in an eight-year span is definitely a possibility.
The Horned Frogs were picked dead last in the preseason Big 12 poll - behind Texas, Oklahoma State and everybody else. Regardless, they're 14-4 with wins over MVC leader Illinois State and the Iowa State team that just played Kansas to the buzzer. Jamie Dixon's turnaround has been impressive and quick. And there's no reason to think things will get anything other than better going forward.
Not only was USC picked seventh in the Pac-12, the Trojans lost a key rotation player (Bennie Boatwright) five games into the season. And yet they're still off to a 16-3 start featuring a win over SMU. Could it all fall apart in late January/early February? Yeah, maybe. But so far, so good. Andy Enfield is overachieving with a roster that shouldn't have 16 wins already.
Most basketball people assumed UCLA would be good. But this good? I don't think anybody saw this coming, because here's the truth: Lonzo Ball has been better than expected. Bryce Alford has been better than expected. TJ Leaf has been better than expected. And the byproduct of those things, and some other things, is that UCLA is way better than expected. The Bruins were picked third in the preseason Pac-12 poll. Now they're on their way to earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they'd be undefeated still if not for Dillon Brooks' buzzer-beater last month.