ISO Spotlight: Biggest Surprises at the holiday break

We're not quite at the midpoint of the season, but we are at the holiday break, which gives us a good chance to sit back and reflect on the season. Let's take a look at the biggest surprises this season.

Texas is very good despite injuries

Texas was never going to be "bad," but with Charli Collier in the WNBA now, there were a lot of questions heading into this season.

A trio of highly-rated freshmen were supposed to help move Vic Schaefer's team into its next phase, but two of those players — Aaliyah Moore and Kyndall Hunter — have missed significant time. Moore was a starting big before her injury, but the duo of DeYona Gaston and Lauren Ebo has provided the team with some solid frontcourt production with Moore out.

Freshman Rori Harmon has thrived as the starting point guard, averaging 11.7 points and 5.1 assist, and transfer Aliyah Matharu has given the team a huge scoring punch.

Texas probably shouldn't be this good with these injuries, but the team is finding a way.

Sam Houston is struggling

In November, Sam Houston announced that head coach Ravon Justice was taking a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons. Her absence is being felt.

Sam Houston has just two wins against Division I opponents, and those wins were against the two worst teams on its schedule by Her Hoop Stats rating.

The Bearkats have played a pretty tough schedule, but they aren't even hanging that close with teams. UT-Arlington beat them by 18, for example.

Faith Cook is shooting 24.1 percent against Division I teams. The WAC is stronger than the Southland was. Mikayla Woods, a UTSA transfer who I expected big things from, hasn't played yet.

This team is starting to feel like the pre-Justice era Bearkats.

Tarleton's having its best start of the Misty Wilson era

This is the eighth season for Misty Wilson as Tarleton head coach and the second year for the team in Division I. It's also Wilson's best start:

The team has won three games in a row against Division I teams, beating Oral Roberts, Northwestern State and Incarnate Word. While that isn't an elite group of teams, the fact that Tarleton already has four wins against Division I teams after having just five all of last year is a great sign for this program.

Iyana Dorsey leads the team at 10.3 points per game, while players like Malaya Kendrick and Jurnee President are providing some strong contributions.

In my preseason WAC preview, I picked Tarleton to finish 10th. I'm not sure how much higher than 10th this team could realistically finish, but I do think they'll win some games against teams in the top half of the conference.

Are UIW and HBU really Southland contenders?

UIW and HBU were popular preseason picks to contend in the Southland, but...well, things haven't gone so well.

UIW is 2-5 against Division I opponents. HBU is 1-6.

UIW has a Her Hoop Stats rating of 316th. HBU is slightly better at 298th. Houston Baptist's only Division I win was against Hartford, a winless team that has really struggled.

UIW has some slightly interesting wins, as it handed Western Illinois one of its only two losses.

But if UIW was a contender, it probably shouldn't have lost to UTSA. Both teams lost to a UTRGV squad that won't finish very high in the WAC.

Let's not totally write these teams off, but things don't look great.

Texas Tech is surviving without Vivian Gray

Injuries have limited Vivian Gray to three games, but Texas Tech is 7-4, with some impressive wins over New Mexico and UNLV, both teams in the top 100 in HHS rating. Sure, the team has lost its last two games to LSU and Ole Miss, but those are two good teams that each have just one loss on the season.

For more on Texas Tech, check out this week's Stock Up, Stock Down.

Gary Blair has new tricks in his final season

The Aggies are 10-2, losing to Texas and, surprisingly, to TCU.

But this might be Gary Blair's best coaching job. N'dea Jones, Ciera Johnson and Aaliyah Wilson all graduated last season, leaving this team really heavy on guards and light on bigs.

So, what did Blair do?

He adapted.

The most-used lineup for this team per CBB Analytics features Jordan Nixon, Destiny Pitts, Kayla Wells, Qadashah Hoppie and Sydnee Roby. The second-most used lineup is the first four and Aaliyah Patty.

What's notable about those first four names is that they're all of the guard variety. The team's most-used lineup last year had Wells in that kind of two/three role with Aaliyah Wilson. Now, Wells and Hoppie are playing the three/four role. The team is sizing down, and it's mostly working. This isn't the kind of team that Blair probably wants to have, but he's taking this guard-centric squad and he's making it work.

Baylor shooting threes

Data provided by Her Hoop Stats goes back to the 2009-10 season. 

Over that span, Baylor averaged between 8.3 and 14.1 3-point attempts per season.

This year, the team is averaging 20.3 per game.

That's what happens when you have a new head coach who is coming from the professional ranks, where 3-point shooting has become a vital part of the way basketball is played in a way that goes beyond how college teams often use the shot.

This probably shouldn't surprise people who knew what Nicki Collen was bringing, but it probably surprises some people who've gotten used to Baylor pounding teams inside over recent years. The Bears can still do that with NaLyssa Smith, but the way the team approaches the game has fundamentally changed with Kim Mulkey gone.

(LSU is at 10.6 3-point attempts per game, but the Tigers haven't traditionally been a team that takes a lot of threes anyway, so you aren't necessarily seeing a Mulkey effect there.)

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