Ten observations from November …
The turkey’s just about digested. So is a weekend of football … and college hoops. This opening month we’ve seen Jams, Invitationals, Tip-Off’s and Classics. We’ve seen some great finishes, surprise blowouts, even a little feel of March Madness. But what’s it all mean? To members of the NCAA Selection Committee, every game counts. Wins in November count as much as those in February. What’s harder to gauge is how early performance will predict later success. In 2001, Ball State sent shock waves through Maui before losing to Duke in the final … yet the Cardinals missed the NCAAs and finished well off the pace in the Mid-American Conference. Last year, who would have guessed that Georgetown would be in the NIT after opening Big East play with a win at Connecticut? Early is early. But here are 10 observations from November …
1. Florida and Syracuse serve notice. The Gators’ wins over Florida State and Michigan State may mean that Kentucky and Tennessee aren’t locks to run away with the SEC east. As for the Orange, a preseason loss is ancient history after wins over Cal and Carolina in New York. Can they keep it going in December?
2. The West Coast Conference may not be a one-bid league. Gonzaga beat Wisconsin and Cincinnati enroute to the Maui title. Portland topped UCLA and Minnesota in Anaheim, and tipped Oregon at home. Overall, WCC teams own additional wins over Oklahoma, Stanford, and San Diego State.
3. The SEC is much improved. See Florida above – not too mention the early success of Alabama and Mississippi to go along with talent-rich Kentucky. Figure in Mississippi State, South Carolina and LSU and the conference is on pace to earn multiple bids.
4. Mid-Majors missed opportunities. Siena, Butler, and Creighton all missed early chances to put key wins on their resumes. Butler still has chances with Georgetown and Ohio State. Siena has games at Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech. Creighton, on the other hand, lost at Dayton and then dropped all three games in Orlando, missing chances with Xavier and Michigan.
5. The Big Ten was a bit shaky. Michigan State and Purdue will be fine. Same for Ohio State. But the next tier of teams hasn’t excelled early: Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern and Wisconsin. To be fair, Minnesota and Northwestern are missing key players. Michigan let a couple slip away in Orlando, and Illinois’ young guards didn’t handle late-game situations well in Las Vegas. Wisconsin was steady. Still, not an ideal first month.
6. Xavier is struggling. New coach and new system. But there has to be some early concern. Good news is the Muskies have plenty of chances to post key non-league wins in December. As for the A-10, Dayton’s win over Georgia Tech is the most notable.
7. The Pac-10 could be this year’s SEC. Consider that UCLA – picked third in the league – has lost to Cal-Fullerton, Portland, Butler and Long Beach State. California got waxed during its stay in New York, and Oregon State has struggled. Washington is solid, but early results suggest the possibility of just two or three bids in 2010.
8. The ACC is a mixed bag. Duke has looked the sharpest. Carolina is young, but loaded on the interior. Maryland underperformed in Maui. Florida State has surprised. Clemson is inconsistent, and Georgia Tech is talented but inexperienced. And we don’t really yet have a feel for Miami or Wake Forest.
9. We need to keep all the November tournaments. Otherwise, we’d have to spend the first month watching a series of cupcake games hoping for an occasional stunner.
10. Nothing will stay the same. My guess is we’ll see plenty of changes and surprises from our first in-season bracket on December 8 until our final one on Selection Sunday.
Keep track of key wins and losses under Team Capsules. And as always, send a rebound.