College Basketball: Which Contenders Can Rebound From November Struggles?
With November complete, we've already taken a look at which college basketball teams have done the most to start building their resumes in the season's first three weeks. Now, we'll turn our attention to those who stumbled out of the gate to various degrees and will spend the next three months aiming to make up for it.
For a sport whose broad appeal is hyper-focused on what happens in March, it bears noting that all of these regular-season games matter on a tournament hopeful's resume.
Since the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee removed "record in a team's last 12 games" as one of their criteria for placement in the bracket several years ago, every game on a team's resume has the theoretical potential to carry equal weight.
This means a huge win over a ranked opponent in November can, and will, be cited in the same breath as a equally impressive win in February or early March.
The flip side, of course, is teams just finding their footing in the first few weeks of the season can sometimes drop "lay up" games, or miss opportunities for signature non-conference wins. From the minute the season tips, teams know they have a finite number of opportunities to rack up top-50 and top-100 wins, so even this early, there are several teams around the country feeling some heat entering December.
Here's a look at some of the notable teams who've experienced setbacks, and what that might mean for their tournament prospects come March.
Just a month ago, UConn finished one point behind Cincinnati as the favorite in this year's AAC preseason coaches' poll. Seven games later, UConn is in the process of laying out an unfortunate template for how November can threaten to destroy a team's season.
The Huskies lost two damaging games at home to Wagner and Northeastern, who are currently outside the top 150 of our recently released nERD NCAA Basketball Team Rankings. Two sub-100 losses at home could easily be a resume feature setting UConn apart from its peers in a very bad way when the Selection Committee meets.
UConn subsequently traveled to the Maui Invitational, a tournament full of opportunities for big non-conference wins. The Huskies walked away 1-2, with their only win coming against Chaminade. They missed chances to bury their bad home losses with wins over Oklahoma State or Oregon (albeit without Dillon Brooks at full strength).
If the Huskies were to get hot in American conference play and emerge as one of that league's top two or three teams, a case could still be made for their tournament chances. But the most foreboding element to the Huskies' outlook is their terrible injury luck.
Sophomore Terry Larrier, along with freshmen Alterique Glibert and Mamadou Diarra, have all been ruled out for the season. The Huskies still have a talented group led by Jalen Adams, Amida Brimah, and Rodney Purvis, but they currently face perhaps the biggest uphill climb of any team in the country after an outright disastrous November.
If one were to craft a sales pitch for the realigned Big East, Georgetown would have likely been touted with Villanova as holdover programs from the classic Big East group who have won national championships and would continue to be nationally relevant.
The Hoyas, however, have failed to uphold their end of that bargain, and the hot seat is only getting warmer for head coach John Thompson III.
In its first big matchup of the season, Georgetown ceded a five-point advantage with under 30 seconds left at home to regional rival Maryland. A home loss to the Terrapins is by no means a resume killer, but the mental lapses responsible for that defeat did nothing to help the thought of Georgetown being an NCAA Tournament team after missing the Big Dance two of the last three seasons.
For an unfortunate encore, the Hoyas took one of the worst losses of any NCAA Tournament hopeful to date, when they fell by six points to Arkansas State, a sub-150 team in KenPom's efficiency power ratings.
Georgetown did manage a win against a depleted Oregon squad in Maui, but the Hoyas' chances to stand out in the Big East aren't looking too good at the moment. Creighton and Butler have joined Villanova and Xavier in the Associated Press' Top 25, and all four could leave Georgetown in the dust by season's end.
After winning their first three, Texas lost three straight to close November, including a home loss to UT Arlington. Texas' first two losses, to Colorado and Northwestern, are by no means "bad" losses, especially considering Northwestern's improvement thus far.
UT Arlington, meanwhile, is currently the top-ranked KenPom team in the Sun Belt Conference, and could very well be an NCAA Tournament team.
But the early-season skid now marks the second-straight season where Shaka Smart's Longhorns have started no better than .500 in their first six games.
The Longhorns are among the nation's youngest teams after losing five seniors from last year's team, so there's certainly plenty of potential for in-season growth, especially given Smart's strong coaching track record.
Another chance for a quality non-conference win comes this Tuesday at Michigan, but it's likely that this year's group, much like last year's, will have to largely build their resume from within the Big 12 in order to reach the NCAA Tournament.
It's not often you see a coach publicly apologize to his own team. But that's what Hall of Famer Tom Izzo did in the midst of his young Spartans' early-season struggles that have extended to include losses to Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, and Duke.
All those losses are perfectly reasonable given the level of competition and amount of travel Michigan State has done. Each of those opponents are KenPom top-25 teams, and only Arizona currently sits outside the top 10.
Like Texas, Izzo's group is young, and should be better by the time conference play rolls around. Buoying their hopes for a turnaround, the Spartans did manage to pick up a victory against Wichita State in the Battle 4 Atlantis that should stand out as a signature win by season's end.
Assuming Miles Bridges and company improve enough to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, the Spartans should be fine as far as a spot in the tournament goes -- they just won't be the second seed they were last year with Denzel Valentine.
Izzo has proven he can do plenty of damage in his bracket, regardless of his team's seeding, though.
Indiana has perhaps the two best wins of the young season -- a season-opening overtime win over Kansas in Honolulu, and this past Wednesday's home win over North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. So why, exactly, are the Hoosiers on this list?
Well, there's still the matter of that pesky loss at Fort Wayne, dubbed as the first big loss taken by any team viewed as a contender for a one- or two-seed at this point in the season. Since the loss is more than offset by those two huge aforementioned wins, Indiana is perfectly fine at the moment.
They still appear to be a favorite to take home the Big Ten title, and if they do, they very well could be in the conversation for a one-seed.
However, that Fort Wayne loss, perhaps a hazy, pre-Thanksgiving memory by the time mid-March rolls around, could be the factor in preventing the Hoosiers from earning that honor if their competitors can boast cleaner resumes come Selection Sunday.
It was a bold step for Indiana to play a road game against a small, in-state competitor. It's a move many teams of the Hoosiers' prestige usually avoid, and head coach Tom Crean should be commended for scheduling that game.
But, for this season at least, it's a reminder that even those early November games can really matter in the end.