There were 1,121 games between Division-I teams in December. Here are the wildest things that happened during the month:

Biggest Upsets

3. December 31: #154 Georgia Tech 75, #4 North Carolina 63 (6.8%) It’s rare that you get a home upset in this section, but the Yellow Jackets were pretty large underdogs against UNC even while enjoying whatever home-court advantage currently exists in college hoops. The Tar Heels scored just 0.81 points per possession, which was easily their worst output of the season, and their most pathetic performance over their last 63 games against Division-I teams. We should acknowledge Josh Pastner’s ability to coach up a defense. Tech ranks 49th in adjusted defensive efficiency at the moment, continuing a trend for Pastner where his teams are solid on the defensive end regardless of talent level.

2. December 11: #345 Savannah St. 93, #174 Oregon St. 90 (OT) (3.9%) We’ll never know if Savannah State would have been better if they were still playing Horace Broadnax’s defense-heavy possession-sparse basketball. But for one night, it all came together. True, the Tigers knocked off the worst power-conference team playing without its star player, and they did by playing at a conventional pace. The 74 possessions were the fewest in a Tigers’ game this season, even with the extra five minutes of action. (more…)

When an upset happens in the first week or two of the season, it’s usually the result of one or both participating teams being misunderstood in some way. Before Arkansas State won at Georgetown the first week of the season, it was with the thought that the Red Wolves were a below-average Sun Belt team and that the Hoyas were an above-average Big East team.

Based on how each team has played since then, it’s clear our information prior to that game was wrong. Entering Sun Belt play, Arkansas is in a virtual tie in the ratings as the second-best Sun Belt team while Georgetown is coming off a double-digit loss in its conference opener to Marquette and projected to have a losing record in the Big East.

To me, it doesn’t make the outcome of that game any less of an upset. Based on what we knew – or thought we knew – at the time, the result was very unexpected. The upsets in the first week or two of the season are usually due to misinformation while upsets later in the season are more due to pure fluke than an incorrect world view. (more…)

In the absence of an imminent court-rushing, coaches not shaking hands at the end of a game is a serious breach of post-game etiquette. Fran McCaffery’s refusal to follow decades of hoops tradition and not offer parting pleasantries to Brian Jones Tuesday night was caused by another breach of etiquette – when the winning team has the ball and the shot clock is off in a lopsided game, the time to play basketball has ended.

When North Dakota’s Corey Baldwin stole the ball from Nicholas Baer with a few seconds left, he violated one of the unwritten rules of the game. McCaffery overreacted by a few orders of magnitude, but in most cases the coach of the offending team would feel obligated to apologize to the opposing coach in the handshake line for such actions by his players. (more…)

If you watched one game on Saturday, I’m guessing it was Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina. But if you watched other games you probably saw a lot of points being scored in those contests as well. Looking at all days since the 2000 season where at least 50 games were played, Saturday featured more scoring than any of them.

Highest scoring average by day (min 50 games, since 2000 season)

1 12/17/16 75.43
2 11/16/15 75.33
3 11/12/13 74.05
4 11/17/00 74.04
5 11/19/16 73.99

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Comps are back

I have a love/hate relationship with player comps. There are clearly some good things about them but some of the utility in identifying a player’s group of comparables is removed by the human tendency to first match players based on things like race, ethnicity, or even hair style. While I haven’t studied it, I expect that even comparables among African-Americans are influenced by skin color. (more…)

Late Thursday night, Saint Mary’s suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of UT-Arlington, reducing the number of unbeatens nationally to eight. Going back to the 2000 season (because that’s as far back as my database goes) that’s the fewest number of unbeatens at this point in the season.

Perhaps equally interesting is that there are just two unbeatens in the top ten of today’s ratings. So this particular group seems to be weaker than the normal crop of unbeatens. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will have a bunch of carnage in the coming weeks. The strength of the group is one part of the equation and the strength of their schedule is the other part.

It seems likely that Gonzaga will make it to a January 14 game against Saint Mary’s without a loss. They actually have about a 1 in 30 chance of getting through the regular season unblemished if the current ratings are to be believed. But none of the other seven have a one percent chance to do so. (more…)

There hasn’t been much talk about the player of the race yet. I know it’s the first week of December, so it’s highly premature to discuss such matters, but that’s never stopped anybody before. Last year at this time many people had already narrowed the race to Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine. The problem this season is that there weren’t any obvious pre-season candidates, and nobody has really emerged.

So with the kPOY as a guide, I offer some initial thoughts. Villanova’s Josh Hart is currently leading the kPOY race. He is averaging 17 points per game and is fresh off a triple-double against Saint Joseph’s. Villanova is going to be ranked at the top of the human polls today from what I understand, but I suspect it’s a hollow ranking.

If you polled 25 random national media guys on who they thought would win the national title, Villanova would get zero votes. But Villanova has been very good so far, and if the Wildcats are this good the rest of the season I suspect that Hart will get some consideration for the more traditional player of the year awards. But fair or not (and it’s not), Villanova is not a glamorous team, and fair or not (it’s not), I suspect that will hold Hart back to some extent.

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There were 1,062 games between Division-I teams in November. Here are the wildest things that happened during the month:

Best Comebacks

3. November 21: #110 Winthrop 84, #71 Illinois 80. (0.5%)

Illinois jumped out a 14-2 lead and tried to keep a solid Winthrop team at arm’s length the rest of the way. Winthrop scored the next nine points and then the game entered a prolonged equilibrium state. The Eagles led just once in regulation, at 27-25, and Illinois never led by more than ten. The Illini were up 70-60 with 2:53 left on their home court before the system became unstable. Illinois couldn’t get to the free throw line over their final six possessions which were terminated by a missed shot, turnover, offensive foul, turnover, missed shot, and missed shot. Winthrop outscored Illinois 14-10 in overtime to pull of the upset.

2. November 23: #314 Utah Valley 88, #205 Denver 85. (0.3%)

The Wolverines trailed 54-27 with just under a minute left in the first half at Magness Arena. It certainly helped that UVU plays at the third-fastest pace in the land. It also helped that Denver’s first-year head coach, Rodney Billups, prefers to play at a much faster pace than his predecessor, Joe Scott. In fact, this game didn’t even come down to a last-second shot. Utah Valley wiped out the entire 27-point deficit with 3:58 to spare and made enough free throws down the stretch to get the victory.

1. November 28: #261 High Point 62, #333 Morgan State 61. (0.2%)

High Point’s score by ten-minute segments in this one went 8, 11, 12, and 31. The Panthers didn’t score for the first six minutes and never led until the very final basket, a three-pointer by Anthony Lindauer that went through the net as the buzzer sounded. High Point trailed by 20 with nine minutes left and was down 58-45 with 1:35 left and Morgan State headed to the free throw line. Obviously, the comeback was incredible, but I’m also impressed that according to the play-by-play, High Point made 45 substitutions in the final 90 seconds.

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College hoops teams have produced enough data so far this season to evaluate statistical trends across the basketball universe. And yet again, it’s clear that shooting has never been better.

After an awesome weekend from the free-throw line, the national average for free throw percentage rose to 69.78% in games involving two D-I teams. The season-long record was set…last season at 69.96%. But shooting numbers always improve as the season progresses, so that figure will get shattered by season’s end. For instance, through 11 days of basketball action last season, the average was 68.47%. Once players shake the rust off, it’s almost certain this will be the first season since Naismith was dealing with unruly kids at the Springfield YMCA that players collectively shoot better than 70% from the line. (more…)

For the first 11 years of his coaching career, Horace Broadnax ran a tight ship. Savannah State was a reliably slower-than-average team that deployed all of its resources on the defensive end. They were basically the San Diego State of the MEAC. So when they played really good teams early in the season, the results on offense were sometimes disastrous. You may remember the time Savannah State scored an NCAA-record four points in a half. Or the time they didn’t score until there was 4:02 left in the first half. Or the games where they allowed 39 points or 41 points, and still lost.

I could go on. Point being you knew what you were getting from Savannah State over the past decade. Low-possession, defensive minded games that were difficult to watch in non-conference play but worked well enough when the Tigers played teams on their own level. The 2012 and 2013 seasons were the glory years of SSU basketball. That 2013 season, in particular, was a doozy: The Tigers ranked 293rd in tempo, 337th offensively and 22nd defensively on their way to an overall ranking of 208th. (more…)