The first month of the college basketball season has been filled with surprising upsets, impressive individual performances, and great non-conference competition. Through the first dozen or so games, there are teams that have exceeded expectations, and some that have come up short. The first month of the season is a time to build your tournament resume by playing tough non-conference games and beating the teams you should beat.
There have been a few teams that have climbed in the rankings after their wins despite a tough schedule and some teams that have disappointed despite not facing tough competition. These are the winners and losers for the first month of the season, mostly taking into account preseason expectations and early season strength of schedule and record.
Creighton entered the season as No. 22 in the AP poll and as the third Big East team ranked in the top 25. They are in the top 10 now, and have been there for the past three weeks. Their early season win against No. 9 Wisconsin was very impressive, and they continue to show their offensive prowess in their other games. They are fifth in the country in points per game and in the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com. Their backcourt tandem of Marcus Foster and Maurice Watson Jr. have played as well as any backcourt in the country, with Foster averaging 19.1 ppg and Watson Jr.leading the country with 9.1 apg. The Bluejays have impressed in the early season and will have a chance to continue to build their resume once they get into Big East conference play.
UCLA has moved all the way up to No. 2 in the AP poll, and they have been one of the most fun teams to watch this year. The Bruins have six players averaging more than 10 points a game, and four averaging more than 15 points a game. They are shooting 56 percent as a team from the field and 47 percent from three, and they lead the country in both categories. They are second in the country in points per game and third in offensive efficiency. Their last two wins against Kentucky and Michigan have thrust them into the conversation for the best team in the country. Freshman Lonzo Ball is in conversation for Player of the Year, and he might not even be the best freshman on his own team. UCLA is really good and are super fun to watch. That sound you hear is Bill Walton screaming with excitement.
Baylor has probably been the biggest surprise this year, and they continue to impress despite a tough schedule. They already have wins over four ranked teams, and three of those were top-10 wins. Baylor is getting it done with experience as their top six scorers are all upperclassmen, and with top 20 efficiencies on offense and defense. Their resume already looks March-ready and they will continue to build through Big-12 play. Baylor’s jerseys make them hard to miss, and their fine play is backing it up.
Michigan State gets props for tough scheduling, but tough scheduling does no good if you do not win any of those games. Michigan State has fallen quite a bit from their preseason No. 12 ranking after losses to No. 10 Arizona, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 20 Baylor and No. 5 Duke. While Michigan State was competitive for a while in their losses, their inexperience ended up costing them. At times this year, Michigan State has had to revert to playing four freshman at a time due to front court injuries. Senior Gavin Schilling has been out the entire season and now stand-out freshman Miles Bridges is suffering from an ankle injury. The Spartans do not have another ranked team on their schedule for another month, and maybe by then they will be healthy and ready to compete in the Big Ten.
Syracuse lost some serious talent from last year’s Final Four team, but they still found themselves in the preseason top 20. After four wins to start the season, the Orange hit a wall and have lost three of their last five, including a beatdown at the Kohl Center. Their zone has yet to round into form and players such as freshman Tyus Battle, senior Tyler Roberson, and sophomore Tyler Lydon are not playing up to expectations. The schedule does not get much easier before ACC play with a tough games against Georgetown coming up. Syracuse will have to sure up their zone and get better production from their stars if they are going to compete in the ACC this year.
UConn is another team that found itself in the preseason top-25, but has fallen out after lackluster play and some bad losses. They lost their two games at the beginning of the season to Wagner and Northeastern and also have losses to Oklahoma State, No. 13 Oregon, and Ohio State. The Huskies have struggled to score this year, and they rank 184th in the county in adjusted offensive efficiency. Two of their top four scorers have played in less than half of the games so far, and they struggle to find scoring off the bench. UConn only has one more ranked team on their schedule, so they will have to play well against a weak American Conference if they want to get back into the tournament discussion.