November's games set the stage -- so what now for an encore, December?
November was meant to show us if trying to get to the rim through the dark and ominous Kentucky Wildcats forest was really going to start feeling like the Blair Witch Project. Well?
By the end of the month, Kentucky’s seven opponents owned a sub-arctic 27.9 field goal percentage and 44.6 scoring average. One of every 5.6 shots was getting swatted. Kansas might have put up 76 points a game against everybody else, but managed only 40 against the Wildcats. Providence’s LaDontae Henton might have come in averaging 28 points his previous four games, but he scored three against Kentucky.
The question now is if anyone can withstand John Calipari’s two-platoon pounding, and have any legs left in the final minutes. “As the season goes on,” he assured, “there will be teams that play eight or nine guys that can take this.”
November was meant to show us if a young Duke team was going to come fully armed out of the Mike Krzyzewski laboratory. Well?
The four freshmen ended the month combining for 45.9 points a game, and Jahlil Okafor, the most renowned of them, was shooting 63.6 percent from the field. The Blue Devils were outscoring the opposition 90.4-59.1, and eight different players had scored in double figures in a game. Guard Quinn Cook had six turnovers in 215 minutes. In seven victories, Duke had trailed a total of 48 seconds.
November was meant to show us if Wisconsin -- nationally ballyhooed, for once -- would come back with the same blue collar approach and lunch pail work ethic. Well?
The Badgers just muscled their way through a converted ballroom to win the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Kentucky is No. 1 in this week's Associated Press poll, with nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster. Wisconsin is No. 2, with none.
November was meant to show us the opportunity for rebirth a new season brings. Well?
Once, he was the world’s most discussed college basketball player, his name Googled globally. Now, he is just another guy in the Georgia State rotation, averaging 28 minutes and eight points a game. And overjoyed to be there.
Kevin Ware. The famous shattered right leg is healed now, 20 months after it exploded on national television. He has transferred from Louisville, and if the questions about that day have stopped -- will they ever stop? -- they have at least slowed at his new school.
“I feel good about not being bothered about it. I don’t say that in a bad way,” he said the other day. “But now I can focus on what’s important. It was a tough thing being ‘that guy.’ You don’t want to be `that guy.’ I’m just a college athlete who wants to play basketball. I’m just getting the rust off, trying to find my way back into the game.”
He said he has no leftover pain from the leg, “and once my timing is completely back, that’s when I know I’ll be back 110 percent.
“I think I’ve matured a lot, with everything I’ve been through, both negative and positive. It’s changed me as a man, and I’m thankful for it.”
There are steps in the process. Georgia State was in Indianapolis last weekend to play IUPUI, and the team bus went by Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the injury that altered his life. Ware had not seen it since the day he was carried away in the ambulance.
“Just looking out the window and seeing that stadium brought back a lot of memories,” he said. But the moment was also a reminder that it was all in the past. “I definitely needed that.”
November was meant to show us the variety, promise and sporadic goofiness of the early season. Well?
The SEC lost four games on opening day, including Mississippi to Charleston Southern and Missouri to UMKC, which has not had a winning season in nine years.
Holy Cross upset Harvard, its first win against a ranked opponent in 37 years.
Temple shot only 22.9 percent but still beat American, since the final score was 40-37. The same day, High Point won 100-99 in four overtimes against CSU Bakersfield, in a game that had 29 ties and 24 lead changes.
USC was upset by Portland State, mostly because the turnover differential was 23-4.
For the month, Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos had an assist-turnover ratio of 38:4, and the Zags had the look of owning all the pieces to be genuine national contender. “I think we may be different than years past,” coach Mark Few mentioned.
The new Big East, coming off a disappointing first year, went 48-12 for the month, including Butler overpowering North Carolina with 29 offensive rebounds.
The penthouse of the ACC was glitter and gold, with Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, Syracuse, et. al. But before we sanctify the conference, what of the lower floors, where Wake Forest lost to Delaware State, Pittsburgh to Hawaii, Florida State to Northeastern and Clemson to both Winthrop and Gardner-Webb?
San Diego State lost to Arizona for the third time in 12 months. The Aztecs have only six defeats since the start of last season, and half of them have come against the same team.
Indiana upset ranked SMU, and the Hoosiers seemed well on the recovery road from a turbulent offseason. Four days later, they lost at home to Eastern Washington.
Army started 5-0 for the first time since 1976, when it was coached by a young guy named Mike Krzyzewski. Army finally lost last weekend ... to Duke and Mike Krzyzewski.
Rutgers scored 26 points against Virginia, its lowest output in a game since 1942-43. The Rutgers football team topped that total six times this season. But then, nobody has scored more than 56 points yet against the Cavaliers.
Florida, with three defeats all last year, took its third loss this season on Nov. 28. The roster was so thinned by injury and suspension, Billy Donovan sometimes had only six active scholarship players and was starting a former student manager. The Gators ended the month without breaking 70 points in a game. The last time that happened through six games was 1949.
Wichita State ran its regular season winning streak to 35 games. Not even missing their first 18 3-point attempts of the season stopped the Shockers.
Cornell was 4-4 by the end of the month, and led by double digits in the second half against Penn State and Drexel, before losing by one and two points. So the Big Red could easily be 6-2. Why this is important is the fact that last season, Cornell went 2-26.
Louisville took a 29-0 lead against Savannah State, gave up seven points the first half and won 87-26. Next was Rick Pitino’s 700th victory; 45-33 over Cleveland State. So the Cardinals allowed 59 points in their last 80 November minutes.
Northern Iowa started 7-0 for the first time since 1963.
Old Dominion guard Aaron Bacote went 1-for-16 and scored only 10 points in a four-game slump. The next game was a little better. He made all eight shots for 31 points in to upset VCU.
George Mason made its only three 3-pointers of the game in the final 19 seconds to rally from six points behind and beat Ohio. The third was Jalen Jenkins’ 75-footer at the buzzer.
By the end of November, 32 teams were averaging 80 or more points a game, led by BYU at 95.7. Fifty teams were averaging under 60 points a game, with Grambling State at the bottom at 45.0. Thirty teams were unbeaten, and 13 teams still had not won.
November was meant to get us ready for the good stuff in December. Well?
Ohio State at Louisville on Tuesday. Duke at Wisconsin and Wichita State at Utah on Wednesday, Texas at Kentucky on Friday, Gonzaga at Arizona on Saturday. The good stuff is here.