All the drama so far this season hasn’t at the top of the rankings, even if there have been three No. 1 teams already. True, Duke has been rolling and Michigan State is searching for its A game — “We’re still trying to find ourselves, like a lot of these teams are,” Tom Izzo was saying — and Louisville has been on fire. Well, until the Cardinals nearly blew a 22-point lead against Akron.
But we should look a bit deeper for some real plot twists.
Here are 11 teams who have spent most interesting Novembers.
Nobody out there has zig-zagged through the first month quite like the Gators.
They started the season ranked No. 6 in the nation. Then in eight days, they lost 63-51 at home to Florida State, struggled to beat Towson 66-60, and were beaten at UConn 62-59. By then, they were shooting 38.4 percent, and 24 percent from 3-point line, and confidence was fragile. A lot of new pieces, not put together yet, progress seemed to be slow.
They went to the Charleston Classic to face Saint Joseph’s and leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. played only five minutes before getting tossed for a flagrant foul. But they found a way to win 70-62, and maybe that was the turning point.
They plowed over Miami the next day 78-58 with 20 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and no flagrant fouls from Blackshear. “Our best performance, obviously,” coach Mike White said. Even better 24 hours later, when they got past Xavier 70-65 for the tournament championship. In three games in Charleston, the gang that couldn’t shoot straight average 72.6 points with 48.3 percent from the field and 40.7 from the 3-point line. The pieces, it would seem, are starting to fit together at Florida.
“It’s amazing where we were just a week ago and where we are now,” White said. “And we still have a ways to go.”
2. Utah State
The 7-0 Aggies come at opponents in waves. They just beat LSU and North Texas in the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic by outscoring the two teams in bench points 70-13, rallying from 19 points behind against LSU. They have five players averaging in double figures and have been led in a game in scoring by four different people. Their No. 15 spot in the Associated Press rankings last week was their highest in 50 years, and should go even higher.
When the Green Wave held Utah scoreless in the final 4:36 to beat the Utes 65-61 at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, it pushed their record to 5-1. Why is that a big deal? Because it was Nov. 24, and they already had more victories than all of last season’s 4-27 meltdown. “We just showed Tulane basketball is back,” said coach Ron Hunter, who is new to Tulane, just like 11 of his players. “We’re kind of learning each other that way, they’ve got to learn their crazy coach, the things he likes, the things he doesn’t like.” Hunter – you might remember him tumbling out of his chair after his son hit a buzzer-beater in the NCAA Tournament when they were both at Georgia State -- must like his transfers from Georgia, Kansas, Rhode Island and Seton Hall. That’d be Teshaun Hightower, K.J. Lawson, Christion Thompson and Jordan Walker. They are Tulane’s four leading scorers.
Something of a roller-coaster ride for the Quakers so far. First came the 81-80 opening night victory at Alabama, when freshman Jordan Dingle scored 24 points and hit the game-winner in his first college game. It was Penn’s 1791st victory as a program, but the first ever on a SEC court. Later came a thumping at Lafayette. Then last Saturday at 81-75 victory at Providence, a team they had not beaten since 1975. Meanwhile, in other Ivy League intrigue, there is . . .
The Bulldogs won their season opener over Stony Brook in overtime. The lost the third game of the season, to San Francisco, in overtime. They won their fifth game of the season, a 100-89 shootout against Siena, in three overtimes, the longest Yale game in 63 years. There were 21 ties and 23 lead changes. Spot a trend here?
So Monday’s seventh game with Western Michigan might not be settled in 40 minutes. By the way, Yale lost its sixth game, 58-56 to Penn State, after leading for 37:30, by as many as 16. The Bulldogs went 3-for-11 from the free throw line, which didn’t help. So that 3-3 record has a lot of drama in it.
And the football team beat Harvard.
6. Missouri State
If only basketball were like horseshoes, where close counted. The Bears are 3-4 with the four defeats by a total of nine points. They lost by one point at the buzzer to Little Rock, by four to Miami, were beaten Sunday by Buffalo by one point, on two free throws with 5.7 seconds left. And then there was the three-point loss at Xavier, the Musketeers getting considerable help from a rather iffy Missouri State technical foul in the last minute. Lamont West was called for flopping after missing a shot, even though replays showed his arm was hit.
Coach Dana Ford took the blame for all the near-misses on his radio show: “It’s on us. We have to make those plays. If they can get us to the last two minutes like they have in all four of our losses, I have to make sure I’m able to bring these guys home.”
7. Nicholls State
In the first 11 days of the season, Nicholls State took Illinois to overtime and lost when the Illini got to shoot 20 more free throws. Then the Colonels forced 21 turnovers to win at Pittsburgh 75-70, “They really just took it us,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said that day. Then they pushed LSU before losing in the end by 10.
Clearly, here was a team the big guys did not want to play. But then the Colonels lost the other day in Jamaica to North Carolina A&T. Oh, well. They beat UMBC, which makes a 3-4 record.
The Blue Demons are 6-0. The last time that happened was the second Reagan administration, 33 years ago. And it hasn’t all been fruit cups on the schedule. They charged into Iowa City and blew away the Hawkeyes by 15 points, and also won at Boston College with a 47-28 rebounding edge. They have thrived so far with 50.9 percent shooting. Three different players had games where they took at least six shots and made them all. That had happened only 11 times before in all DePaul’s history. So imagine the hopes being flamed at the moment. The Blue Demons haven’t seen the NCAA Tournament in 15 years.
Never mind that season-opening loss at home to San Jose State, a team that had not won on the road in two years. Or the 15-point whipping at Bucknell. Hofstra was just getting started.
Come with us to last week, and Black Thursday in the Pac-12. That’s when Utah, UCLA and Washington State all lost to opponents who had never before beaten a current Pac-12 team. Coastal Carolina romped over Utah 79-57 with a 26-9 second half spree. Omaha wiped away a 15-point deficit on the road with a 50-29 second half to roll past Washington State 85-77.
And it was the day Hofstra showed up in Pauley Pavilion. In whipping UCLA 88-78, the Pride got 86 points from their starting lineup and 56 from two players – Desure Buie’s 29 and Jalen Ray’s 27. They didn’t seem too unsettled by the aura of Pauley. They had seven turnovers. “It’s almost hard to put this into words,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “We got exposed,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin mentioned.
Hofstra stayed west and beat Cal State Fullerton 79-57. That pushed the Pride to 4-2, scoring 85.7 points a game with five players averaging in double figures.
Nova Scotia’s gift to Delaware is guard Nate Darling. He just became eligible this season after transferring from UAB and has led the Blue Hens in scoring in all five of his games, going for 37, 27 and 28 points the past three games, and is among the nation’s leaders in 3-pointers. Three years ago, Martin Ingelsby took over a program coming off a 7-23 season. Now the former Notre Dame point guard has the Blue Hens 6-0 for the best start this century.
The college basketball earth shook on Nov. 12 in Rupp Arena, when Evansville showed up in Rupp Arena and picked off No. 1 Kentucky 67-64. John Calipari could only admit afterward, “They out-toughed us.” It is the signature upset of a month that included: LSU pressured into 26 turnovers and a loss at VCU, Belmont putting 100 on Boston College, Southern Utah over Nebraska, Radford holding Northwestern to 17 points in one half, Boston University over South Carolina et. al.
The road after that for the Aces has been a little less exhilarating. The Evansville team that muscled Kentucky on its own court before the disbelieving eyes of Big Blue Nation? Six days later, the Aces lost 59-57 at home to SMU, getting out-rebounded 47-25. The defense that allowed Kentucky only 37 percent shooting? East Carolina and George Washington both topped 50 percent in two more Evansville losses. The Aces regained their balance a bit by surviving Morgan State in a 115-112 three-overtime marathon over the weekend. K.J. Riley, the senior who tormented Kentucky with 18 points and then went into a scoring slump, has put up 28 and 36 points the past two games. “This shows what we are capable of when we play the right way,” coach Walter McCarty said.
They’re 4-3, and 2-3 since Lexington. But they’ll always have Nov. 12. Lots of teams are leading interesting lives this month.