Winners and Losers of the 2020 CBB Season So Far

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2020

Winners and Losers of the 2020 CBB Season So Far

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    North Carolina coach Roy Williams
    North Carolina coach Roy WilliamsRyan M. Kelly/Getty Images

    As the 2019-20 men's college basketball season heads into the new year, teams are also approaching the midway point of the campaign. That overlap provides an optimal time to review some of the most notable results to date.

    Yes, winning teams find themselves with a "winner" label. And, yes, the opposite is also true. However, the featured teams fit at the extreme ends of those self-evident categories.

    While the opening half guarantees nothing about the future, programs know whether they're in a comfortable spot or preparing for an uphill battle the rest of the way. March seems like something in the distance, but it often arrives far quicker than anticipated.

Winner: Auburn Tigers

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    Samir Doughty
    Samir DoughtyKathy Willens/Associated Press

    Last season, Auburn led the country in three-pointers and steals. That aggressive mentality helped the Tigers advance to the Final Four, where they lost to eventual national champion Virginia.

    This year, they're playing differently. That's no problem considering Auburn is 12-0 despite ranking 135th in threes and 197th in steals.

    But allow head coach Bruce Pearl to summarize the team.

    "Auburn basketball is not going to be as pretty this year," he said after a stretch of close calls against Furman, Saint Louis and NC State, according to Justin Ferguson of The Athletic.

    Clearly, though, the Tigers are still effective. And that's far more important than aesthetics.

Loser: Basically the Rest of the SEC

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    Tennessee coach Rick Barnes
    Tennessee coach Rick BarnesJoe Robbins/Getty Images

    Arkansas is 11-1 and recently toppled Indiana on the road. That's good. Kentucky has that ugly letdown to Evansville and fell to Utah but defeated Michigan State and Louisville, so that's decent. Beyond Auburn, that's about all we have for you.

    Otherwise, the SEC is mostly a mess.

    Florida and LSU swiftly exited the Top 25 because of early losses, and Missouri slipped off the radar after a slow start. Tennessee's slide to end 2019 removed the Vols from the poll. Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss entered 2020 with 8-3 or 9-3 records yet held a combined 2-8 mark against Quadrant I and II teams.

    Texas A&M is among the worst power-conference teams in the nation, losing to Fairfield while edging Troy, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas Southern by a combined 10 points. Alabama, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are no better than average.

    Maybe this perception will change. But there's not a whole lot of promise in the SEC right now.

Winner: Payton Pritchard's Rise for Oregon

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Though we're working to confirm Payton Pritchard isn't an 11th-year senior, he's developed into a National Player of the Year candidate for a thriving Oregon program.

    One game into Pac-12 play, the Ducks' only losses have come opposite top-ranked Gonzaga in overtime, versus North Carolina when star freshman Cole Anthony was available and against a 12-win Colorado team on the road. They've picked up quality victories against Memphis, over Seton Hall and at Michigan along the way.

    Entering Thursday's loss to Colorado, Pritchard was averaging 18.5 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 39.7 percent from three, helping the Ducks boast the nation's fifth-best perimeter rate at 41.7 percent.

    Oregon has climbed from 15th in the preseason AP poll to a No. 4 ranking, which matches the best in school history.

Loser: North Carolina's Rough End to 2019

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    North Carolina surged to a 6-1 record while prized freshman guard Cole Anthony averaged 20.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals. It wasn't always pretty, but the Tar Heels seemed on their way to another productive year.

    That expectation is suddenly on hold.

    Ohio State and Virginia both downed UNC, which failed to score 50 points in either game. Then a torn right meniscus sidelined Anthony. Losses to Wofford and Gonzaga followed, and the Heels entered the New Year with five losses in their last eight games.

    Fortunately for the Tar Heels, their ACC schedule doesn't include a current Top 25 team until February. More importantly, Anthony is slated to return sometime in January or early February.

    North Carolina should be able to rebound, but the 8-5 start is certainly a forgettable one.

Winner: Juwan Howard's 1st Season at Michigan

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    Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

    Juwan Howard is off to a magnificent start at Michigan.

    The former Miami Heat assistant left the NBA to lead his alma mater, and the Wolverines have exceeded expectations with a 10-3 start. Yes, they encountered a rough stretch in December with losses to Louisville, Illinois and Oregon, but a squad once thought of as a bubble team has positioned itself to finish well above the cut line.

    Most notably, though, Howard has transformed Michigan into a top destination for key recruits.

    While keeping longtime commitment Zeb Jackson (ranked No. 61 nationally), Howard and Co. added pledges from Isaiah Todd (No. 12), Hunter Dickinson (No. 34) and Terrance Williams (No. 84). Michigan, which last signed a top-10 class in 2012, currently owns the fourth-rated haul behind Kentucky, Duke and UNC.

    Howard has turned the bridge year into a success, and he's laying the foundation for a prosperous future.

Loser: Michigan State's Fall from No. 1

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    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    I can practically hear Michigan State fans screaming to chill out. Don't worry, we're not worried about Tom Izzo's squad.

    Nevertheless, the preseason No. 1 team immediately dropped from that perch because of a season-opening loss to Kentucky. Later, the Spartans lost to Virginia Tech at a neutral site and started far too slowly in an 87-75 loss to Duke at home.

    Heading into 2020, MSU has a 1-3 record against Quadrant I foes. That's not the mark of an excellent team.

    Joey Hauser's denied waiver, Joshua Langford's foot injury and Cassius Winston's family tragedy have impacted a freshman- and sophomore-heavy rotation. All those factors are legitimate ones.

    But for the Spartans to be viewed as a true championship contender, they'll need to start performing at a higher level.

Winner: DePaul Blue Demons

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    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    In his second stint as DePaul's head coach, Dave Leitao has the Blue Demons on the verge of a breakthrough.

    Last season, they finished with the program's first winning record in 12 seasons. And thanks to a 12-2 start in 2019-20, DePaul is on track for its first NCAA tournament appearance in 16 yearsand its first bid since joining the Big East in 2005.

    Kansas transfer Charlie Moore is propelling the team, averaging 16.2 points and 6.5 assists. Paul Reed has become a two-way star with 15.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, while Jaylen Butz and Jalen Coleman-Lands are also scoring in double digits.

    DePaul is by no means a March Madness lock, but Quadrant I and II victories over Iowa, Minnesota and Texas Tech have provided the Blue Demons with a sturdy resume entering 2020.

Loser: Davidson Wildcats

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    Davidson coach Bob McKillop
    Davidson coach Bob McKillopJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    Davidson fell just short of reaching March Madness last season but returned four double-digit scorers, including Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson. Preseason expectations pegged the Wildcats as a tourney-bound team in 2020.

    While that proverbial ship hasn't sailed, Davidson isn't working from a position of strength anymore.

    Through a dozen games, the Wildcats hold a middling 6-6 record with a problematic 1-5 mark against Quadrant I and II opponents, and that includes a 13-point loss to Charlotte.

    Davidson might end up needing an Atlantic 10 tournament title to reach the Big Dance, and that's something we didn't expect.

Winner: San Diego State's Undefeated Start

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Led by Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn, the Aztecs have surged to a 14-0 record while securing a few noteworthy wins.

    San Diego State knocked off BYU on the road in early November and closed the month with neutral-site victories over Creighton and Iowa. All three stand as Quadrant I wins, and they may remain that way considering all three teams already have at least 10 wins.

    Flynn is averaging team-best marks of 15.5 points and 5.1 assists, while Matt Mitchell, Yanni Wetzell and Jordan Schakel are all providing 10-plus points per game.

    The Aztecs seem destined to have a two-month battle with Utah State for the Mountain West crown.

Loser: Fans Looking for Superstar Freshmen

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    James Wiseman
    James WisemanJoe Murphy/Getty Images

    Even in the last two years alone, the sport has enjoyed a run of must-watch freshmen. Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett captured a national audience in 2018-19, and Trae Young shot 30-footers while Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III thrived in 2017-18.

    If you asked casual fans to name a superstar who is a draft-eligible player for the first time this year, would they point out an active player? Or even one in America?

    Look no further than the 2019 recruiting rankings, per 247Sports.

    No. 1 James Wiseman left Memphis to prepare for the NBA draft. No. 2 Anthony Edwards and No. 7 Scottie Lewis play for Georgia and Florida, a couple of SEC afterthoughts. No. 3 Isaiah Stewart, No. 8 Jaden McDaniels and No. 9 Nico Mannion often play on a channelthe Pac-12 Networkmany viewers can't even access.

    Anthony, the No. 4 recruit, is hurt. No. 5 RJ Hampton decided to head overseas along with LaMelo Ball. No. 6 Vernon Carey Jr. and No. 10 Tyrese Maxey are playing well, but they're not household names.

    Perhaps that will change in the second half of the season, but fans looking for a player-driven bandwagon must search a little harder.

              

    Recruiting information via 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. All references to Quadrant I-IV games are from WarrenNolan.comFollow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.