We are a few days into December, and in a couple of weeks most people will have forgotten about football and moved on to our indoor sport.
But we didn't spend almost a month of basketball watching for nothing. In the next couple of days, we will run down the best of the mid-major class over the first month of the season (sure, a little late, but maybe next month we can start on time).
To kick it off, we have the best teams of the month.
I think that we all can agree that Gonzaga has been the class of the field so far. Undefeated and rolling through almost all of the competition it faced, the Zags look like the Final Four contender that some college experts pegged them as at the beginning of the season.
Until the game against Boise State, Creighton looked as if it could be the same. Doug McDermott had the team playing around him so well, it looked like the Bluejays could make quite a run without a loss, even into the Missouri Valley season. But the defense from last season reared its ugly head, and the Broncos took advantage.
That is by no means a reason to count out the Jays. It is just another data point. Creighton will be competing near the top all the way through this year, and one loss won't change that.
I think if there is a third impressive team, it would have to be Wichita State. There was some doubt that the Shockers could put together all of the transfers, all of the talented freshman, and what was left over from last year to make a cohesive unit. Well, they managed, and are looking really good doing it. I was wrong about the Shockers. This might be the team in the Valley that can challenge Creighton.
As Chris Hondros said when he picked the Shockers as one of his three top teams from the early season:
Sitting at No 12 in the RPI rankings right now and still undefeated, who knew?
I would guess all the fans would say they did. But really? It was hard to see Cleanthony Early blossoming into the Division 1 level even though he was a junior college all-american. Consider my skepticism privileges revoked.
My pick for surprise team though is Bucknell, who is looking really tough on the back of Mike Muscala. The forward deserves much more praise than he gets in the national media for what he is able to accomplish. It is too bad we have to wait until March to get much love for this kid.
The Bison are 8-1 and the only loss was by three to Penn State. This is a team that we could see as a surprise contender come the NCAA Tournament. They are currently No. 39 in the Pomeroy rankings and No. 62 in the MRI. They have enough marquise games left that they could put themselves in position for a decent seed, and possibly at-large consideration should things fall though in the Patriot conference tournament. There is that pesky Lehigh team to deal with.
Who else did the writers here pick?
- How about Western Kentucky? They were not expected to be a pushover this season, but they also were not expected to be this good compared to the rest of their conference this quickly. We shall see how they do in what is a veritable murderer's row in their schedule - at Murray State, at VCU, and home against Louisville. But first, they get to face my second team of the month...
- Southern Illinois. This team was supposedly thin on talent even before the season started and players began dropping like flies for a variety of reasons. And yet, here they are with wins in four of their first five games. I know it's early and it isn't a lot, but heck, they almost beat Saint Louis.
- San Francisco. This season was supposed to be all about Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU out west, with perhaps a dark horse in Santa Clara. It's early, but the Dons are right in the mix, having knocked off fellow upstart Columbia as well as Big West contender Montana in their last two games.
Nick's Honorable mentions: Columbia, Hawaii
- Florida Golf Coast . Sitting at 6-4 with wins over Da U and Toledo, and showed up somewhat against Duke and Iowa St.
- Western Michigan - team predicted to finish 3rd in the MAC West, is starting strong with Ohio, starting 5-1
Chris also selected Wichita State here.
Anthony Salom (Miner Rush), who gave us our "surprises" for the month:
- Boise State. Where did the Broncos come from? They're currently off to a 6-1 start, and they own a win, on the road, against a top 20 team in Creighton. Not to mention, their only loss came at No. 15 Michigan State, by 4. Yes, I realize the Mountain West isn't exactly a mid-major, but the Boise State basketball program certainly isn't a major program. With the exposure that the MWC gets, these guys may be able to make their way into the tourney this year.
- SMU. The Larry Brown hire figured to do wonders for the Mustangs, especially as they head into the Big East next year, but who would have thought they'd be sitting at 8-1 with wins at TCU and over Utah. Granted, they aren't great wins, but pretty solid for a team that was basically rebuilt in a couple months' time. Look out for them moving forward.
- Illinois-Chicago. Maybe I'm late to the party, but these guys came out of nowhere for me. They currently sit at 6-1, with their only loss coming by 7 at the Pit against New Mexico. Most recently, they knocked off Northwestern, on the road. They've still got a couple of tough test in the non-conference, but with a new look Horizon Conference, they could be the class of the league.