Winners and Losers in College Basketball During November

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent INovember 30, 2012

Winners and Losers in College Basketball During November

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    The end of November means the conclusion to the first month of college basketball action, which is decidedly better news for some teams than others.

    Four weeks into the schedule, some of the preseason’s top players and programs are still riding high, but others are wondering: “What just happened?”

    One team firmly in the latter category is the Wisconsin Badgers, formerly No. 21 in your preseason poll.

    Bo Ryan’s squad closed November with its third loss in seven tries, and even a grueling opening schedule does little to excuse the Badgers’ erratic start.

    Read on for more on Wisconsin’s woes and the rest of the teams and players who lost (or gained) the most in the past month.

Loser: Mitch McGary

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    Ranked 27th among all recruits in the nation by ESPNU, Mitch McGary was supposed to be a vital part of Michigan’s best team in years.

    The 6’10” center was expected to pump up the Wolverines’ anemic inside game, but rather than pumping up, he’s been sitting down.

    McGary has played only 14.3 minutes per game, showing a flair for rebounding but little else of note.

    The game-changing minutes he was predicted to play have instead gone to less-ballyhooed classmate Nik Stauskas (76th in the same ESPNU rankings).

    With 13 points per game at small forward, Stauskas is outstripping even Glenn Robinson III among the team's freshmen.

Winner: Indiana

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    It wasn’t always pretty, but Indiana survived the season’s first month with its perfect record intact.

    For the nation’s preseason No. 1, always the team with the biggest bull's eye on its chest, that’s far from a negligible accomplishment.

    Moreover, Indiana hasn’t just been fattening its record on North Dakota State and Sam Houston State.

    Wins over Georgetown (now No. 20) and No. 14 North Carolina will give the Hoosiers a boost come Selection Sunday, even if they fall from the top of the polls before then.

Loser: North Carolina State

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    For the first time in recent memory, N.C. State entered the year as the favorite in the always-stacked ACC.

    Neither that status nor the Wolfpack’s No. 6 ranking survived a trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

    A loss to then-unranked Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico was the first blow to N.C. State’s elite status, but it wasn’t the last.

    The Wolfpack couldn’t get the job done in Ann Arbor against third-ranked Michigan, leaving them at a pedestrian 4-2 and light-years behind streaking Duke for the psychological edge in the conference race.

Winner: Shabazz Muhammad

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    Forget the fact that Shabazz Muhammad’s UCLA team is a dismal 2-2 with him on the floor.

    The fact that Muhammad got on the floor in November at all is a huge victory for the second-ranked freshman in this year’s recruiting class.

    An NCAA investigation that was initially projected to cost Muhammad a 10-game suspension wound up sidelining the 6’6” small forward for only three games.

    Since his return, he’s made a valiant effort to live up to his gargantuan hype, averaging 16 points and six rebounds a night.

Loser: Lehigh

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    There are a lot of teams that wouldn’t mind a 5-2 start, but Lehigh—coming off last March’s Cinderella win over Duke—could have done so much more.

    The Mountain Hawks had two chances for a statement win in November, and they got their doors blown off both times.

    First, Baylor rang up 99 points on Lehigh in a 22-point romp in Waco, and then Pitt handed C.J. McCollum and company a 25-point beatdown in the preseason NIT.

    Those big-game struggles are all the more grating because McCollum, the nation’s leading scorer at 26.3 points per game, has been so brilliant for a team that now seems ill-positioned to take advantage of his transcendent play.

Winner: Erik Murphy

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    Patric Young was the breakout story of 2011-12 for Florida, and now frontcourt mate Erik Murphy is getting his turn in the spotlight.

    The 6’10” senior is the Gators’ second-leading scorer with 12.8 points per game, and at 40.9 percent he’s shooting three-pointers nearly as well as star Kenny Boynton.

    Murphy is also a key contributor to the surprising Florida defense, which has gone to more zone looks to capitalize on the length and skill of the Young-Murphy tandem down low.

    Thanks in large part to Murphy’s efforts, the Gators are holding opponents to 48.4 points per game, second-best in the country.

Loser: Wisconsin

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    Before preseason No. 21 Wisconsin had even played a game, it lost guard Josh Gasser to a season-ending knee injury.

    That bad news for the Badger backcourt turned out to be an even worse omen for a dreadful start to the season.

    Wisconsin tumbled in the polls with a blowout loss at Florida, then dropped out of them altogether by losing to Creighton at the Las Vegas Invitational.

    The ACC/Big Ten Challenge served up the worst ignominy yet, as Wisconsin fell in Madison to an unimpressive Virginia team, tying for the most losses of any Big Ten team in the opening month.

Winner: Illinois

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    Most of the holiday tournaments went to fairly predictable champions (Duke at the Battle 4 Atlantis, Kansas at the CBE Classic...), but the Maui Invitational was an exception.

    Illinois wasn’t even expected to make a dent in a Big Ten loaded with ranked teams, but the Illini swept the field in Hawaii as part of a 7-0 start.

    John Groce’s team hasn’t played an especially tough schedule, though wins over Butler and Georgia Tech count for something.

    The hero of the roster, unsurprisingly, has been senior combo guard Brandon Paul, who’s scoring 18.3 points a game and spearheading the nation’s top three-point-shooting offense (90 treys in seven games).

Loser: Gorgui Dieng

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    As if Louisville hadn’t suffered through enough injuries last year, the Cardinals find themselves with another key contributor sidelined early in 2012-13.

    Center Gorgui Dieng will be on the shelf four-to-six weeks, thanks to a broken wrist suffered against Missouri last weekend.

    Dieng is expected back for the heart of the conference schedule, but recovering from any kind of injury in the physical Big East is no easy task.

    Surprisingly, the junior shot-blocker had seen his numbers dip even before he went down, swatting just 2.0 shots per game after rejecting 3.2 a night for last year’s Final Four squad.

Winner: Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    In Ann Arbor, whatever preseason buzz wasn’t occupied with high-powered freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III was spent singing the praises of sophomore PG Trey Burke.

    Lost in all the hype was junior shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr.—until the games started.

    Hardaway Jr. leads the Wolverines with 17.8 points per game, and he’s also pulling in 6.2 boards a night (second on the roster to Robinson).

    Most strikingly, he’s rediscovered his three-point stroke, raising his long-range accuracy from 28.3 percent a year ago to 36.7 percent so far in 2012-13.

Loser: Memphis

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    At 4-2, Memphis has “earned” its victories against the pitiful quartet of North Florida, Samford, Northern Iowa and Tennessee-Martin (a combined 8-19 on the year).

    When faced with an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent, the No. 16 team in the preseason polls has proved to be a collection of paper Tigers.

    Memphis dropped its Battle 4 Atlantis opener against always-dangerous Virginia Commonwealth by a decisive 78-65 score, then went out the next night and got ripped by Minnesota.

    Andre Hollins’ 41 points in the latter game just made an ugly pair of losses (and an ugly start to the year) look even worse.

    With such a slow opening month, Memphis now faces a virtual must-win at home against Louisville on Dec. 15.

Winner: Mason Plumlee

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    When Duke’s Mason Plumlee opted to return for his senior year, there was little doubt that he would be one of the ACC’s top big men.

    Still, it was far from a sure thing that he’d be in the position he now occupies: leading contender for Wooden Award honors.

    Duke’s only low-post threat, the 6’10” Plumlee has dominated all comers, posting eye-opening averages of 19.9 points and 11 rebounds per game.

    As overwhelming as he’s been on offense, it feels like he’s underachieving on the other end of the floor, with “only” 1.7 blocks a night.

Loser: Baylor

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    “Charleston” is a dirty word in Waco these days.

    The Baylor Bears suffered their first loss of the season at the Charleston Classic (falling to Colorado), then came home and got upended by a nondescript College of Charleston squad.

    They’ve won four games to go along with those head-scratching losses, but it hasn’t been enough to keep the preseason No. 18 Bears from falling out of the national rankings.

    They’ll have plenty of chances to reclaim their Top 25 status—starting with Saturday’s visit to No. 8 Kentucky—but Pierre Jackson and company still have their work cut out for them heading into December.

Winner: Oklahoma State

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    Left out of the preseason polls, Oklahoma State has skyrocketed to No. 15 in the AP rankings. The Cowboys grabbed national attention with their performance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, defeating a tough Tennessee squad as well as then-No. 6 North Carolina State.

    Le’Bryan Nash has put his lackluster freshman campaign behind him, averaging 19.2 points and 6.4 rebounds a game in the early going.

    He’s getting plenty of help from this year’s star freshman, 6’4” PG Marcus Smart, who’s piling up 13.4 points and a team-high seven rebounds per contest to go with his 5.8 assists a night.

Loser: Myck Kabongo

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    It’s a good bet that few players are regretting a return to school as much as Myck Kabongo is right now.

    Regardless of whether he would’ve been a high pick in June’s draft, it’s hard to imagine a potential NBA situation for Kabongo as bad as his current state of limbo.

    The sophomore PG has yet to appear in a game this season as the NCAA investigates the possibility that he received improper benefits.

    Sitting on the sidelines would be painful enough for Kabongo under any circumstances, but watching his would-be Big 12-contending team lose to Chaminade and USC can only have compounded the frustration.

Winner: Duke

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    One win against an opponent ranked in the top five would make a fine month of November, even for a team as strong as preseason No. 8 Duke.

    The Blue Devils, though, overachieved with a vengeance, notching three such victories through their first seven games of the season—and only one of those came with the benefit of a home crowd.

    After knocking off then-No. 3 Kentucky, then-No. 2 Louisville and No. 4 Ohio State, Coach K’s squad has emerged as a front-runner for the national championship.

    The senior-laden Blue Devils won’t have it easy, though, with four more ranked foes still on the schedule (including two meetings with arch-nemesis North Carolina).