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Here Are 5 College Basketball Teams That Are Really Impressing So Far This Season

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We are past the halfway point of the 2013-14 college basketball season and there are a handful of teams that are far exceeding the early season expectations of pundits, the polls, and basketball fans nationwide. There are a few teams that have simply surprised everyone thus far, and it's probably time to dish out a little praise.

These few teams are dominating on the court despite being overlooked before the year began or after injury threatened their chances for success. It doesn't matter to them where they were ranked in the preseason poll or after early-season struggles -- they have just come out and balled their way into, or back into, the national spotlight.

Take a look at five of the most surprising teams of the year; so far. 

5. Villanova (19-2):

The Wildcats began the year far from the minds of the general public. They weren’t even sniffing the Top 25 in the preseason poll but made their presence known early as they rattled off 11 consecutive wins to start the year. Their first loss came at the hands of No. 2 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Brutal. The ‘Cats only other loss is to Creighton, who is currently in first place of the Big East Conference. Villanova currently sits at No. 9 in the AP Top 25 and comes in at No. 4 in the RPI. Wow -- that's especially impressive for a team that started the year nowhere near the Top 25. 

Villanova is an experienced squad, so expect it to continue this surprisingly dominant run. The leading scorers and rebounders, senior guard James Bell and junior forward JayVaugh Pinkston, have been too much to handle for almost every team on the schedule this year. The Wildcats’ quality win list includes wins over No. 2 Kentucky, No. 23 Iowa, Marquette and on the road at Butler. That’s a lot to brag about and quite surprising.

4. Cincinnati (20-2): 

The Bearcats are currently ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25 and also find themselves at No. 22 in the RPI -- quite the accomplishment for a squad that began the year receiving only one vote for the preseason AP Top 25 and no votes for the USA Today Coaches Poll. How did the Bearcats climb their way into the Top 25? Well, they won their first seven games but then stumbled in consecutive games. Since those two losses, Cincinnati is riding a 13-game winning streak, vaulting them into first place of the American Conference.

Cincinnati is led by their all-time great senior guard Sean Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is averaging a staggering 19.1 points per game on the year and is coming off of a season-high 29 points against Temple. Nobody predicted that the Bearcats would be this dominant this year. They boast wins over No. 18 Memphis and No. 12 Louisville; their most recent win. The Bearcats traveled to the KFC Yum! Center and defeated Louisville in front of its home crowd...talk about a statement win in a statement season for Cincinnati.

3. Michigan (16-4):

The Wolverines are an anomaly on this list. They began the year ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25 with huge expectations coming off of a loss in the national championship game last year. But, after five weeks of play they were sitting with an underwhelming 6-4 record and had just lost their All-American sophomore forward Mitch McGary to a season-ending back injury. Michigan completely dropped out of the AP Top 25 rankings that came out on Dec. 16. Season over, right? At the very least, any expectations of a special year were gone. But somehow, at this moment Michigan is ranked 10th and boasts a No. 13 ranking in the RPI. How did UM climb back so fast?

Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, the greatest Canadian currently in all of college hoops (sorry, Wiggins), continued to develop into a leader for the Wolverines; and it has shown on the court. His deadly accurate shooting (he's hitting over 46% of his threes) is the chief factor behind his impressive 18.5 points per game. Michigan has won 10-straight games -- there isn’t a hotter team in the country than the Wolverines, other than Syracuse and Wichita State of course. Michigan won three consecutive games over Top-10 conference opponents -- in an eight-day span, it beat No. 3 Wisconsin (in Madison), No. 10 Iowa, and No. 3 Michigan State in East Lansing. That's certainly nothing to sneeze at.

2. Massachusetts (17-4):

The Minutemen are one of the best stories in all of college basketball. No one saw them having this much success this year but will it continue all the way into the NCAA tournament? I say yes. Before the year began, UMass could not be found receiving votes for the Top 25 in any poll; it was simply on nobody's radar. Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis were the only teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference receiving any national attention. Well, not anymore. Massachusetts currently sits at No. 21 in the AP Top 25 (although a drop may come after the loss to St. Joe's) and are ranked ridiculously high in the RPI, coming in at No. 8 after winning their first 10 games and then seven of their next 10.

Massachusetts’ surprising season is the result of its two star players. Senior guard Chaz Williams, one of the most consistent scorers in Minutemen history, is averaging 15 points per game for the third-straight year. His success was expected but when his play was paired with junior center Cady Lalanne's...well, the result has been obvious all year. Lalanne is averaging far more points per game than he was a season ago and has been dominating the paint all year. The Minutemen have wins over No. 19 New Mexico, Boston College, LSU, Nebraska, Clemson, Providence and Richmond -- certainly a good haul of wins for a team that wasn't expected to do much.

1. San Diego State (19-1):

The Aztecs are the most surprising team in college basketball this season. In 2012-13, San Diego State had a good year but suffered 11 losses over the course of the season. Not this year -- they are currently poised to receive the highest seed in the school’s NCAA Tournament history. The Aztecs are ranked No. 5 in the AP Top 25 and are No. 18 in the RPI. They have only suffered one defeat on the year and it was to No. 6 Arizona, which only suffered its first loss last night in a heartbreaker. Since that loss, the Aztecs have won 18 consecutive games and they have looked good doing it. No, scratch that...they’ve looked great.

Senior guard and heart and soul of the team Xavier Thames has elevated his game to a new level this year and his play is the cornerstone of it. His three-point shooting has steadily improved, and Thames is also playing the best defense of his career. But he's not doing everything by himself -- forward Winston Shepard is chipping in 12.9 points per game and senior forward Josh Davis has absolutely owned the boards, pulling down 11.6 rebounds per contest. The Aztecs owned a brutal non-conference schedule in which they defeated No. 20 Creighton, No. 25 Marquette, and Washington at home.

People wondering if San Diego State could win on the road were silenced on Jan. 5 when the Aztecs marched into Allen Fieldhouse and defeated No. 16 Kansas, one of the best teams in the country. The Aztecs are in first place of the Mountain West Conference and have their eyes set on a 30-win season (!!!) and a historically-high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, there is a lot of basketball left to be played this year and as San Diego State has already proven; anything can happen.