College basketball: What we learned from an exciting November
As the calendar turns, we pause to consider what November produced in college basketball:
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A slightly red-faced Big Ten, after going an historically bad 3-11 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the 11 defeats by an average of nine points.
Numbers across the statistical spectrum, from Florida putting up 99.5 points a game, to Virginia allowing only 50.1.
Arizona dropping like the cliff divers of Acapulco, going from a No. 2 ranking to a three-game losing streak in about 60 hours.
No doubt as to the No. 1 team. Sign in, Duke.
The Blue Devils won nine games in 20 days while traveling 8,500 miles. They had to be road-weary, but it didn’t show with the way they kept crunching opponents at the end of victories. They outscored Texas, Florida and Indiana 56-19 in the last five minutes of regulation and overtime.
“We have a lot of heart, and when it comes game time at the end there, we tend to turn it up,” Grayson Allen was saying after the Indiana win. “It’s just that will to win that gets us through.”
Before that, they beat Michigan State 88-81 in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, with 25 offensive rebounds, perhaps the month’s most stunning display of muscle.
All this, as the starting quintet – Grayson and the Four Freshmen – provides 86.3 percent of the points. Marvin Bagley III is now fifth in the entire ACC in career double-doubles with seven. He has only played nine games.
Those four freshmen, by the way, represent a combined 73 years – or only three years more than Mike Krzyzewski by himself.
Leads didn’t mean much in November. On opening day, Texas A&M fell behind West Virginia by 13, but won by 23. The trend was set.
Duke rallied from 16 down to beat Texas and two days later, 17 down to beat Florida. That gave the Blue Devils two of their seven biggest second half comebacks in school history in three days.
Wichita State roared from 18 behind to beat California by 10, then blew a 16-point lead and lost to Notre Dame. The Irish won the Maui Classic with a victory in which they led for only 22 seconds.
Villanova was down 15 but beat Tennessee by nine. Arizona State fell behind Xavier by 15, then scored 73 points in 23 minutes and won 102-86. Ohio was down 18 to Indiana State but ended up winning in four overtimes. Ole Miss trailed South Dakota State by 20 points at halftime, made it all up, then lost in overtime 99-97.
Then there was Washington State. Down 22 to Texas Southern, 20 to Saint Joseph’s, 10 to Seattle, nine to San Diego State. The Cougars won them all, and now a program that returned one starter this season and had not received a single vote in a poll for seven years is 6-0.
Among the other numbers of November...
Arizona won its first three games by an average of 30.3, then lost in three days at the Battle 4 Atlantis to North Carolina State, SMU and Purdue. The Wildcats led only 3:32 in the second half the entire tournament. Purdue, enduring its own upset issues, beat them by 25 in a truly rare matchup: Two top-25 teams playing for seventh place.
Purdue beat Louisville to go 10-7 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, one of only two Big Ten schools with a winning record in the event. The other? Nebraska.
Highlights from tonight's big win over Notre Dame at rocking Breslin Center. https://t.co/GVInto6jsd— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) December 1, 2017
Michigan State closed the month by playing two top-10 teams from the ACC in five days – North Carolina and Notre Dame – and crushed them by a combined 36 points, while outrebounding them 94-57 and holding them to 33.9 percent shooting. Tom Izzo had never beaten top-10 opponents back-to-back in the regular season.
Somewhere, James Naismith winced as St. John’s beat UCF 46-43 in a game both teams shot under 28 percent. The UCF football team scored six more points in its game that week.
Kansas met South Dakota State, Texas Southern and Oakland – all picked to win their leagues – and won by a combined 120 points. The Jayhawks’ average victory margin of 33 points for the month Steph Curry led the nation, this with a roster of only eight scholarship players.
Alabama lost to Minnesota 89-84, but the Tide’s last 10:41 might have been the most impressive stretch of play anywhere this season. They outscored the Gophers 28-22 with only three players on the floor, due to ejections, fouls and injuries. Freshman Collin Sexton scored 40 points, something no Alabama player had done since 1979. The rest of the starting lineup scored 15.
Kentucky, starting five freshmen, began the season needing a rally from 12 points behind to beat Utah Valley in Rupp Arena. John Calipari’s kids appeared to be learning their roles as the month ended, but someone has to step up to shoot from the outside. The Wildcats are 342nd in the nation in 3-pointers a game.
Wake Forest started 0-2 for the first time in 38 years. One loss was to Georgia Southern, who was 0-10 all-time against ACC teams from the state of North Carolina. The other was to Liberty, who hadn’t won a road game against a Division I non-conference opponent in five years.
When Oklahoma freshman Trae Young wasn’t scoring, he was passing so someone else could. He left November as the nation’s leading scorer at 28.8 and third in assists at 8.8.
Villanova, whose team picture is in the dictionary next to the word “consistency,” won an in-season tournament for the fifth consecutive year. The Wildcats left November 7-0, allowing only 62.9 points a game. That’s worth noticing, since they were 23-1 last season when giving up 65 points or less.
Virginia was even harder to score against, holding four opponents under 50.
All was well in south Florida, where Miami is the only school ranked in the top 10 of both the Associated Press football and basketball polls. The Hurricanes are 6-0, having trailed only 20 minutes and 46 seconds all season, and never in the second half. They have had five players reach double figures in five of their six games.
Stephen Curry probably interrupted his own 3-point NBA barrage to notice his old school, Davidson, hit 26 of them in its opener. The Wildcats lead the nation in 3-pointers per game, and assist-turnover ratio.
New Mexico had 40 assists on 55 baskets in a 147-76 win over Northern New Mexico.
Appalachian State beat Toccoa Falls by 101 points, the sixth 100-point margin game in NCAA history,
Florida’s offense has gone thermonuclear – the Gators have scored 108-plus points four times – because of new faces. Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson is averaging 21.7, Rice transfer Egor Koulechov 17.7.
Creighton beat Northwestern and UCLA, the first time in school history the Bluejays had back-to-back wins over ranked opponents. After 11 days of the season, unranked teams were 3-80 against ranked foes. Creighton accounted for two of the three. They Bluejays went for the trifecta against Baylor but lost 65-59.
When NC State upset Arizona, it was only the Wolfpack’s second non-conference regular season win over a team in the top two in history. The other was 1958.
If Arizona State wins against San Francisco Saturday, the Sun Devils will be 7-0 for the first time since 1980. They can serve as a testament to the value of experienced guards. Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice together average 58 points and have more than 200 career starts. The guy coaching them undoubtedly appreciates that. Bobby Hurley was a guard who started 139 games at Duke.
18 undefeated teams remain— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 1, 2017
Missouri’s preseason hype was inspired by the arrival of freshman sensation Michael Porter Jr. He played two minutes, scored one basket, then needed back surgery and was probably lost for the season. But the Tigers are still 6-2 and getting nine points a game, plus team-leading rebounds and blocked shots from a freshman named Porter. His brother Jontay.
Remember Ben Howland? The only coach not named John Wooden to lead UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours now has Mississippi State 6-0, its best start in 14 years. The Bulldogs ended the month with a 35-point night from Tyson Carter in an 83-59 win over North Dakota State – the most points for a Mississippi State player in 22 years.
Finally, North Carolina’s Luke Maye hit one of last season’s biggest shots when he beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight. That gave him 33 points in the regional, and made him the first non-starter to win a regional MVP in 21 years. Then he scored only two points in the Final Four. But he’s gone for 20-plus in five of the Tar Heels’ first seven games. Know who never did that for North Carolina?