A year ago at this time, some of the biggest surprises in the country were starting to cement themselves as national contenders. Michigan, picked No. 25 in the preseason AP poll, won its first 11 games of the season and was clearly a Final Four threat midway through the season. Alabama hadn't quite hit its stride just yet, but the Crimson Tide would win at Tennessee on Jan. 2 and make a statement; the team picked fifth in the preseason SEC poll wound up winning the league.
Not all surprise teams last, though. Virginia Tech entered the New Year at 8-1 with wins over Villanova and Clemson -- the Hokies would back into the NCAA tournament following a COVID pause in February and lose in the first round as a 10-seed. Missouri started 13-3 with wins over Alabama, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oregon -- but the Tigers lost seven of their final 10 games and lost in the first round of the dance.
Do this year's nonconference surprise teams have what it takes to remain in the national conversation all season? We asked the college coaches who have faced them thus far.
There are plenty of surprise teams that didn't make the cut here -- Providence, Seton Hall, San Francisco, Wisconsin, TCU -- but we decided to focus on the three biggest ones who were unbeaten entering Wednesday night. And then we took a quick look at three teams picked near the bottom of their respective leagues who have gotten off to a hot first month and hope to sustain it.