Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
December is kind of a dry month, but that didn't stop some teams from distinguishing themselves during the month. From surprise conference leaders, to out-of-the-blue contenders, here is who we thought were among the best during the December freeze.
December is an odd month because so many schools take a lot of time away from the court for those silly things we call the holidays.
Sure finals factor in a little bit, but really, this is college basketball. When have academics made a lick of difference here?
So evaluating what a team does during December is a little challenging. Many of them don't play enough games, and those that do somehow are still playing games against lower division competition. I mean, seriously. I know you have to have someone come to the game, so you schedule against local teams that don't need to travel. But Division II games in Decembers seems like the biggest cop out in terms of getting a win notched on the board.
That all said, there were a few teams that distinguished themselves during December.
Let's start with the Sycamores of Indiana State, a team that we previously called out after they opened so well in the Missouri Valley on the final weekend of the year. Indiana State went just 4-3 in the month of December, but it was the run they put together in Hawaii that was the big story.
The Sycamores took out Mississippi, lost to San Diego State, but then rebounded against Miami. That was a pretty nice three-game stretch considering that San Diego State didn't exactly destroy them. And as we said before, they did a nice job of opening the league against Illinois State.
Perhaps Jacob Padilla said it best in his response to this question:
Three of the four losses came to foes ranked at the time, including losses to New Mexico and San Diego State this month.
You see, Indiana State isn't exactly coasting through the early season, like some teams. They are trying to make a name for themselves. If they continue playing as they have been in this second month, no one will forget the Sycamores.
We already mentioned Kent State earlier this week, so we will skip over the Flashes for now. They deserve a little more love, but we waxed poetically about them for so long, I am not sure there is much more to say about the Kent State performance so far.
Another team that has stood out this month was Santa Clara, who quietly built a 12-5 record to this point in the season, which includes a loss Saturday to Gonzaga. That can be forgiven. After all, the Broncos bookended the month with losses to UCSB and then to Duke.
It was the Duke game that should put this team on the map. Were it not for a one-minute stretch where the tide really turned against them -- think turnovers, and a very poor hard foul on one of the Bronco bigs -- everyone might be seeing Santa Clara in a different light.
Kevin Foster hasn't exactly been the force that he was last season -- he is still good, but has turned into a bigger distributor of the ball this year -- yet he hasn't needed to be. The rest of the Broncos have really turned it on, and as a result, Santa Clara is looking to be at least the third best team in the WCC.
Leave aside the loss to Gonzaga, who has clearly established itself as the cream of the conference, the biggest threat to the Broncos finishing as high as No. 2 might be BYU, who has the big men to compete.
Look, no one is going to confuse the schedule that Santa Clara played with the ACC, but this is a team that is scoring at will and pushed Duke. I think that is a pretty good reason to be considered among the best this month.
Can I call out one more? How about one of the leaders in the Summit League, North Dakota State? The Bison have been excellent in conference, running out to 4-0, and that includes a win over the conference favorites South Dakota State at the end of the month.
During December, the only loss for North Dakota State came against Minnesota, only one of the top 10 teams in the country according to the computer. Outside of that, Taylor Braun has averaged 15.5/5.3/2.9, and scored a very efficient 11 points in the win over the Jackrabbits. Marshall Bjorklund might have been the best in that one though, shooting perfect from the floor (8-for-8) on his way to 20 points, his second straight reaching the 20 point mark.
Who else deserved a little mention this month? Let's ask the other writers:
Creighton -- Since the little hiccup against Boise State, the Jays have been on a roll. They went undefeated in December, racking up six more wins to bring their total to 12. The Jays still have yet to win a game by less than double digits, and scored 75.5 points per game in the month while giving up just 57. The team may have lost some firepower off the bench with Josh Jones having to end his college career prematurely, but the Jays haven't missed a beat with sophomore Avery Dingman stepping up to fill the void.
Albany - The Great Danes continued what they started by winning six of seven games during December and followed that up by kicking off the new year with a win over conference foe UMBC in expectedly convincing fashion. It appears we may have underestimated Albany's ability to take a wide open American East this season.
Texas Southern - Yes, the Tigers went 0-6 in the month of December and are now 1-13 on the season. However, they have now played three road games against top-25 opponents plus a fourth that was ranked at the time. Even more impressive, if the Tigers had managed to hit exactly one more 3-point basket during regulation of each of their games - essentially the difference between Omar Strong's 3-point shooting last season and this season - they would have at least three more wins to their credit, as they have played everyone tough - some even for more than 60 minutes.
Jacksonville State - The "Other" Gamecocks also lost only one game in December, by four points on the road at Nebraska. While that was a game they should have won, JSU is well on their way to contention in the OVC behind Darion Rackley, Ronnie Boggs and Tarvin Gaines.
Cal State Northridge - What can I say? I'm biased for Big West teams. However, for a team that was picked to finish 8th in the conference preseason, the Matadors have surprised everybody with their surging nonconference play, finishing it with a 76-71 win over Utah. Their three losses were on the road against UCLA, ASU and BYU: all very tough teams to play, especially away.