They’re playing tournaments this week from Maui to Missouri and Canada to Cancun, since this is the stage of the college basketball season that comes with Hawaiian shirts and ocean sunsets. It also means there has already been time to produce some noticeable feats.
These for instance . . .
The typewritten list of goals at North Carolina
After the No. 1 Tar Heels slumbered through three unimpressive victories, coach Hubert Davis asked the players last week to write down a few team goals. They had a list back to him by Saturday, typed, thought-out and signed by every member. On Sunday, they welcomed in a 4-0 James Madison team averaging 105 points a game and held the Dukes 41 points under their average to win 80-64. Armando Bacot had 19 points and 23 rebounds for his 50th double-double, leaving him 10 away from Billy Cunningham’s North Carolina record set 57 years ago.
“One of the things that I always say to the guys and is that I don’t call you out, I call you up,” Davis said. “And the reason why I call you up is that you expect more and I expect more of you.
“This is their team, I’m just in a position to manage it.”
The Cougars are 5-0 and giving up 48 points a game, allowing 30 percent shooting. Two key players lost to injury last season — Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark — are back and averaging 27 points by themselves.
Included in Houston’s defensive handiwork have been Oregon going 3-for-22 in 3-pointers on its own floor and Oral Roberts shooting 22.6 percent overall, missing 30 of 38 3-point attempts. The Cougars have been as dominant as anyone and might be a North Carolina loss away from their first No. 1 ranking in 40 years.
“There is not one part of the game we’re not going to get better at,” coach Kelvin Sampson said after the 66-56 win at Oregon. “We didn’t play great, but this is not the time to play great.”
Virginia’s heavy-hearted championship
The Cavaliers won their eighth November tournament in the past nine seasons by beating No. 5 Baylor and No. 19 Illinois in Las Vegas. They put away Illinois 70-61 with a 13-0 run in the final two minutes. Two days earlier they swept past Baylor 86-79 by starting the second half on a 30-5 wave. All this was done while mourning and wearing pre-game sweatshirts to remember three Virginia football players who had been shot and killed, allegedly by an ex-player, earlier in the week.
“It seems to matter,” coach Tony Bennett said of the tournament title. “But in the big picture, it doesn’t.”
The SWAC’s victory march
The league savors its wins over Power Five opponents because they usually don’t happen every day. Except this season, they almost have. By the end of the second week, SWAC teams had four victories over the Pac-12.
Florida State’s woes
Battling injuries, the Seminoles are 0-4 for the first time in 63 years. This includes leading by 17 points at halftime at home against Florida, then being blitzed 33-5 to start the second half. A program 88-8 at home from 2015 through last spring is 0-3 this season.
“It’s been a long time since we had to deal with this many losses in a row, especially at home,” said coach Leonard Hamilton, who is unaccustomed to such trouble as the ACC’s fifth-winningest coach ever. “And so we got to teach some pride in how we address that.”
The Cardinals, 338th in the nation in Division I experience according to the Ken Pomeroy rankings, started the Kenny Payne era 0-3 by losing three consecutive games by one point. Their finale last season was a one-pointer, too. That made four one-point defeats in four games, something no other Division I team had done in four decades. Before this, Louisville had four one-point defeats in its previous 464 games.
“This place is special. This program is special,” Payne said after the last loss to Appalachian State. “I need them to understand how special, and not with their words but with the way they fight and the way they play with togetherness.”
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Indiana’s road breakthrough
The Hoosiers won at Xavier, 81-79. Why that mattered is their recent history away from home.
“Back in the day we used to win on the road,” coach Mike Woodson said.
But not lately. In the past six years, Indiana went 16-48 in true road games, and 2-19 when the opponent was ranked. The Hoosiers had not won a true road non-conference game against a team that finished in the top 40 of Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings since 2001, according to calculations by The Indianapolis Star. If Woodson is to put the blueblood back into Indiana, that must change. Xavier was No. 36.
“It’s how we’re different from the past,” he said. “A lot of other teams that I’ve been a part of, we would have folded in games like that. That’s just the narrative that we’re trying to change.”
Texas Longhorns on the run
Texas’ 3-0 start — including a 19-point mashing of Gonzaga — featured a full-out attack. The Longhorns outscored their first three opponents 55-3 in fast break points.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of people were watching the game, saw who we are and what we’re about,” Tyrese Hunter said after his 26 points led the onslaught against Gonzaga.
Michigan State theater
It’s not just that the Spartans have gone from unranked to beating Kentucky and Villanova, and nearly Gonzaga. The Spartans get extra credit for dramatic flair. A shot to win was in the air at the buzzer of regulation in all three of those games. All missed, meaning Michigan State lost by one to Gonzaga, beat Villanova by two and downed Kentucky in double overtime.
Kevin Willard became the first coach in Maryland history to begin his career there 5-0. The Terrapins won all five games by at least 18 points, and that included over previously unbeaten Saint Louis and Miami.
Jim Larranaga’s landmark
Miami’s Larranaga collected his 700th win – by beating his alma mater Providence for the first time. Larranaga is keeping fast company. The only other men to hit 700 as active ACC coaches were Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Dean Smith.
All the clanging in Wisconsin games
In the Badgers’ first three games — all wins — opponents South Dakota, Stanford and Green Bay went a combined 5-for-45 from three 3-point line.
Arizona State’s zig-zag
The Sun Devils began the season by barely defeating Tarleton and losing to Texas Southern. Five days after that defeat, they hammered No. 20 Michigan 87-62 for their biggest winning margin ever over a ranked opponent.
The stat sheet is a little confusing. The Wildcats have six players averaging in double figures, 24 more blocked shots and 20 more steals, and are holding opponents under 39 percent shooting. But they have gone from pre-season No. 4 to losing two of their first five games.
While defeats by Gonzaga and Michigan State are hardly cause for alarm, it was how. Kentucky let the Spartans slip away and were shredded by 16 points by the Zags, and Big Blue Nation is easily rattled, especially eight months after the Saint Peter’s game.
“I’ll play different guys, whoever wants to fight,” John Calipari said. “But it’s a long season. It’s November."
Right, although November has a way of turning into December when questions start needing addressing. Thanksgiving week should answer a few. There are still 52 unbeatens. There won’t be that many come next Sunday.