The men's college basketball season turns a month old Dec. 25. That puts us 79 days away from Selection Sunday (scheduled right now for March 14). I combed through the daily scores of the first month of the season to identify some of the most high-profile wins from November and December that will stand up in March when NCAA tournament selections and seeding will be on the top of mind.
Here are some of the biggest wins from the first month of the season.
San Diego State 73, then-No. 22 UCLA 58 (Nov. 25)
San Diego State was the last undefeated men's basketball team in the country last season when the Aztecs took a 26-0 record into Feb. 22, 2020. Despite losing All-American Malachi Flynn and big man Yanni Wetzell from last season's team that went 30-2, San Diego State proved early this season that its more than a one-hit wonder.
The Aztecs opened the season with a 15-point win over UCLA, which was ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time and finished second in the Pac-12 regular-season standings in the 2019-20 season. The Bruins are 5-1 since, so the Aztecs' season-opening win may only look better as the season progresses.
In the latest AP poll, San Diego State is the first team outside the top 25 with 146 votes, after additional wins, most notably, over Arizona State, Pepperdine and UC Irvine. The Aztecs are ranked No. 39 in kenpom.com through Dec. 21, not too far behind UCLA at No. 30.
No. 1 Gonzaga 102, then-No. 6 Kansas 90 (Nov. 26)
Through its 20-plus-year climb to its current position, Gonzaga reached a first-ever program achievement of being ranked preseason No. 1 in the AP poll this season. The 'Zags first backed up their ranking in their season opener against Kansas in Fort Myers, Florida, when they broke the 100-point mark and beat the Jayhawks by 12 after shooting a remarkable 77 percent from 2-point range.
Kansas has since rattled off seven straight wins, including victories over Texas Tech, Creighton and Kentucky, so this Jayhawks team is no joke. And Gonzaga beat it by double digits. After the loss, Kansas has since climbed to No. 3 in the AP poll and we'll find out whether Kansas or Baylor is the best team in the Big 12 (and perhaps the second-best team in the country). Gonzaga's win over Kansas should age well, especially if the Jayhawks, like the Bulldogs, contend for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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San Francisco 61, then-No. 4 Virginia 60 (Nov. 27)
The Dons were responsible for the first show-stopping upset of the season when they knocked off then-No. 4 Virginia just two days after losing to UMass Lowell by eight points. Playing in "Bubbleville," San Francisco made 13-of-28 3-pointers against Virginia and held on for a one-point win.
San Francisco has since lost to quality opponents in Rhode Island, California and Oregon — all away from home — but this is still a team that ranks No. 71 on kenpom.com through Dec. 21, and the Dons should be one of the top three or four teams in the West Coast Conference this season.
Virginia Tech 81, then-No. 3 Villanova 73 (OT) (Nov. 28)
Last season, Virginia Tech upset preseason No. 1 Michigan State in the first round of the Maui Invitational in Mike Young's sixth game at the school. In the Hokies' second game this season, they upset preseason No. 3 Villanova in Bubbleville in overtime, despite having lost leading scorer Landers Nolley in the offseason.
Virginia Tech made 10-of-20 3-pointers in the game, grabbed nearly 30 percent of the available offensive rebounds and recorded an assist on more than half of its made baskets. Through eight games, the Hokies are 7-1 with additional wins over top-100 kenpom.com teams Clemson and South Florida, after being picked to finish 11th in the ACC preseason poll.
Richmond 76, then-No. 10 Kentucky 64 (Nov. 29)
While Kentucky started 1-5 this season, Richmond was the first team to beat the Wildcats and they did so emphatically, winning by 12 points in Rupp Arena. Richmond only made 28 percent of its 3-pointers, but Kentucky shot an even worse 0-for-10, as one of the preseason favorites in the A-10 imposed its will on an SEC power.
Through seven games, Richmond is 6-1, with its only loss coming on the road against a talented West Virginia team.
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Then-No. 8 Michigan State 75, then-No. 6 Duke 69 (Dec. 1)
Michigan State lost its two best players in the offseason — point guard Cassius Winston and big man Xavier Tillman — so there were understandably questions about what the Spartans would look like this season, especially in a loaded Big Ten. They answered many of those questions when they went to Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium in the Champions Classic and won 75-69 thanks to a dominant second half.
Michigan State had five players score in double figures, led by sophomore Rocket Watts (20 points) and junior Aaron Henry (14 points), and the Spartans' bench gave them some valuable minutes and production. Through Dec. 21, the team ranks No. 14 nationally in offensive efficiency.
No. 1 Gonzaga 87, then-No. 11 West Virginia 82 (Dec. 2)
In case there were any questions about Gonzaga (there weren't, nor should there have been) even after Gonzaga's season-opening win over Kansas, the 'Zags back it up with a 23-point win over Auburn, then a five-point win over a strong West Virginia team on a neutral floor. The Mountaineers have one of the strongest frontcourts in the country thanks to Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, but both players had foul trouble against Gonzaga, with Tshiebwe fouling out. The Bulldogs scored 32 points in the final 10 minutes to seal the win.
No. 2 Baylor 82, then-No. 5 Illinois 69 (Dec. 2)
The Bears coasted to victory in their first two games against Louisiana (a 112-82 win) and Washington (86-52), but Illinois provided much stiffer competition, as indicated by the Illini's No. 5 ranking at the time. Baylor led by just one point at halftime but it was simply too powerful for Illinois as it pulled away to a 13-point win, highlighted by an 18-point game from Adam Flagler off the bench.
The Bears rank third nationally in offensive efficiency and No. 11 defensively through Dec. 21, and their win over Illinois is their best to date.
Marquette 67, then-No. 4 Wisconsin 65 (Dec. 4)
This season's rivalry game between Marquette and Wisconsin was decided at the buzzer on freshman Justin Lewis' game-winning tip-in after a missed free throw. Lewis scored a game-high 18 points, showing the potential of a Golden Eagles team that's in its first season without All-American Markus Howard. Marquette is just 5-4 through its first nine games but it has already beaten Wisconsin and Creighton (on the road), so it has two marquee wins already. If the Golden Eagles find themselves on the NCAA tournament bubble, those wins could certainly help their NCAA tournament case, and if they can become more consistent, they've proven they can beat some of the best teams in the country.
Then-No. 3 Iowa 93, then-No. 16 North Carolina 80 (Dec. 8)
With respect to Iowa's first three opponents of the season, the Hawkeyes' first big test came in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against North Carolina, which couldn't keep pace with the Hawkeyes. Four of Iowa's five starters scored at least 16 points, led by Jordan Bohannon's 24 points and seven 3-pointers. The Hawkeyes shot lights-out, making 17-of-40 3-pointers (42.5 percent) as the country's No. 1 offense showed its merit against one of the best teams in the ACC.
Then-No. 6 Illinois 83, then-No. 10 Duke 68 (Dec. 8)
Illinois was ranked in the top 10 in the preseason AP poll and through a challenging early schedule, the Illini have gone win-loss, win-loss, win-loss.
They held off a solid Ohio team at home, then fell to Baylor.
Then they beat Duke on the road by 15, following in Michigan State's footsteps of winning in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Ayo Dosunmu had 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists as Illinois made 63 percent of its threes and 56 percent of its 2-point attempts.
Since then, Illinois lost to Missouri, then beat Minnesota, before losing to Rutgers. But a massive road win at Duke will always be a reminder of what the best version of Illinois looks like.
Missouri 81, then-No. 6 Illinois 78 (Dec. 12)
The aforementioned Missouri win over Illinois was the Tigers' fifth win of the season, which also includes Missouri wins over Oregon, Wichita State and Liberty. The Tigers are undefeated, ranked in the top 40 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and now ranked No. 14 in the AP poll. While Missouri only made 5-of-21 3-point attempts and committed 18 turnovers, the Tigers made 62 percent of their shots inside the arc, rebounded 31 percent of their available offensive rebounds and crashed the glass hard defensively to pick up another signature win.
No. 1 Gonzaga 99, then-No. 3 Iowa 88 (Dec. 19)
This was a rare clash between the No. 1 and No. 2 offenses in the country and Gonzaga prevailed, and by double digits, too. The 'Zags made 52 percent of their 2-point attempts and half of their threes, as five different players scored in double figures, led by freshman Jalen Suggs's 27 points. Iowa is ranked No. 4 in the country. Gonzaga is the only team to have beaten the Hawkeyes so far, and as long as Iowa is in contention for a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga's win over Iowa will continue to be a reminder of the sport's hierarchy.
Then-No. 19 Rutgers 91, then-No. 13 Illinois 88 (Dec. 20)
Through the first month of the season, Rutgers has shown that last season's 20-11 record, and undefeated mark at home, wasn't a fluke. The Scarlet Knights are 6-0 and 2-0 in the Big Ten after wins over Syracuse, Maryland and Illinois — the last of which is Rutgers's most impressive win to date.
Ron Harper Jr. scored 28 points with nine rebounds, while Jacob Young added 24 points. Rutgers ranks No. 15 nationally in terms of defensive efficiency and No. 23 offensively. The Scarlet Knights sit alone atop the Big Ten standings through Dec. 21, showing that they'll have a say in the final standings of arguably the deepest conference in the country.