NCAA Weekly, Vol. 2.5 (Bonus): The November Naismith
plus my Top Five Apple Varieties
Welcome to The Bonus, which is an occasional series that runs on this Substack. This is a free post that has some amount of NCAA analysis in it. Last week the template was five top fives; this week it’s three top fives and a top ten of my choice. Let’s get into it.
THE NOVEMBER NAISMITHS
If you’re familiar with the September Heisman, you’ll understand what I’m getting at here. Every year in college football, one player purely dominates the month of September and comes out of relatively nowhere to own the Heisman discussion. Everyone’s talking about them as the Next Big Thing. Some may even suggest they’re a top five pick in the next NFL Draft.
Then, suddenly, regression to the mean hits. They’re just okay, the public loses interest, and they gain few if any Heisman votes by season’s end. Famous September Heismans of years past include Denard Robinson, Geno Smith, Kenny Hill, and Jalon Daniels.
I’ve decided to apply this to college basketball, but team-wide. You know the teams that randomly get really hot in November, of all months? Teams that just…go off in early-season tournaments? Or have multiple great wins that surprise pretty much everyone? I’ve dubbed these the November Naismiths: teams that looked incredibly promising in November but failed to deliver on that promise the rest of the way.
My methodology I used for this was taking Bart Torvik’s Wins Above Bubble metric, looking at how they performed the rest of the way, NCAA Tournament performance, and seeing just how underwhelming the rest of the season went. I can’t promise this is a perfect list, but I can promise you just enough thought went into this to make it somewhat worthwhile.
2017-18 Texas A&M.
How it started: 7-0, 2.8 Wins Above Bubble (2nd-most), 5th in November efficiency
Texas A&M opened the season in a genuinely stunning way: beating the absolute heck out of a West Virginia team that would go on to make the Sweet Sixteen. They followed that up by beating Oklahoma State (NIT quarterfinalists) and Penn State (NIT champions) by double digits. They rose as high as #5 in the AP Poll. Everything was going perfectly!
How it ended: 22-13, 7 seed, Sweet Sixteen
Then SEC play began. A&M rolled into Alabama, lost by 22 points, and it was on from there. #5 in the AP Poll started SEC play 0-5, barely scrapped to 9-9, then lost in the second round of the SEC Tournament. They used their early-season success to get in as a 7 seed, where they…absolutely demolished 2-seeded North Carolina behind a terrific defensive gameplan. So it wasn’t that bad, but Michigan smoked them in the Sweet Sixteen. This team looked like Final Four material in November; they went out quietly in March.
How it started: 7-0, 3.5 Wins Above Bubble (most by any team in the last decade)
It’s bizarre to put these guys on here, sure. But they genuinely looked unbeatable in November. Before Kentucky collapsed due to the Nerlens Noel injury, Duke beat them on a neutral floor. Then they beat future Round of 32 teams Minnesota and VCU by a combined 27 points. Then they beat eventual national champion Louisville. Then they beat future Elite Eight team Ohio State. Many teams go an entire season without a four-pack of wins that impressive. Duke did it in the span of seven days.
How it ended: 30-6, 2 seed, Elite Eight
Again: bizarre to put these guys on here. But think about how unbeatable they looked in November. It looked like they were very obviously the best team in America. They didn’t win either ACC title (losing the regular season to Miami), lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament, and while they made the Elite Eight, that same Louisville team they beat in November beat Duke by 22 on March 31. Was this Seth Curry/Mason Plumlee team still really good? Of course. They just weren’t what we thought they were.
How it started: 6-0, 1.5 Wins Above Bubble (6th-most)
USC only beat one truly good team in November, but it was a San Diego State team that would be in KenPom’s Top 25 all season. They beat those guys by 15 on a neutral floor. Really, they could be called the 2021 Naismith: USC started 13-0 and made it to January 11 before losing a game.
How it ended: 26-8, 7 seed, Round of 64 loss
I recommend not letting the record fool you; this may have been the worst 7-loss Big Six team in modern history. USC went 11-3 in games decided by six or less despite one of the worst turnover margins by any NCAA Tournament team. Unfortunately for them, that third loss came in the Tournament to 10-seeded Miami. Luckily for USC, it’s not as if that kind of forgettable Miami team went on to the Elite Eight or anything.
How it started: 7-0, 1.5 Wins Above Bubble (7th-most)
LSU took a while to impress themselves upon everyone, but this was a team that started 12-0 and 15-1 on the strength of their defense, which had previously been LSU’s biggest weakness by far. Will Wade might have been under NCAA investigation, but he’d fixed LSU’s defense for good. It was all any commentator could discuss!
How it ended: 22-12, 6 seed, Round of 64 loss
Will Wade didn’t even get to see the Round of 64 loss, as he was fired by LSU almost immediately after losing to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. Most of LSU’s team went to play elsewhere, and they looked utterly listless in a nasty 59-54 first-round loss to Iowa State.
How it started: 6-0, 1.6 Wins Above Bubble (5th-most)
Probably not what any Tennessee fan wants or needs to see right now, but Rick Barnes started off his final season at Texas by ending 2014 11-2 and pulling off an excellent neutral-site win over Iowa in the process. Texas looked like a legitimately very good team for the first two months of the year, peaking at #7 on KenPom.
How it ended: 20-14, 11 seed, Round of 64 loss
And then the rest of the year happened. Texas lost 12 of their final 20 games in the second-worst collapse of Barnes’ tenure with the Longhorns. This one was turnover-driven: a defense that was awful at forcing turnovers was combined with an offense that couldn’t stop giving the ball away. It all led to one of the best starts under Barnes being squandered. However, this season gave Barnes a fresh start at Tennessee where he’s been very successful, so who’s to say this was a bad thing?
How it started: 6-0, 1.4 Wins Above Bubble (8th)
Coming off of a tremendous 2020-21 season in which BYU got a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, 2021-22 looked like more of the same. They demolished Oregon by 32 on a neutral court before everyone knew Oregon was bad. They beat Utah on the road. They’d start 17-4, getting as high as 2.5 Wins Above Bubble, which would’ve been the 32nd-best figure in America had it held. That’s a team who’s an 8 or 9 seed. Not bad at all!
How it ended: 24-11, NIT quarterfinals
An absolute collapse. BYU went 7-7 in their final 14 games, peaking with an atrocious road loss to 279th-ranked Pacific and a WCC Tournament demolition at the hands of San Francisco. Similar to Texas, BYU couldn’t force any turnovers and suddenly started giving the ball away at an alarming rate.
How it started: 6-0, 2.2 Wins Above Bubble (2nd)
UMass beat LSU, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Clemson in a season where all of those wins meant something. They started 16-1, and Derek Kellogg was getting serious run as the Next Big Head Coach. UMass was poised for its best season since John Calipari left and got as high as 13th in the AP Poll.
How it ended: 24-9, 6 seed, Round of 64 loss
Well, what happened was that luck finally caught up with Massachusetts. That 16-1 start was driven by a truly hilarious 7-1 performance in games decided by six points or less. The rest of the way, UMass would still manage a 6-3 performance in said games, but their defense collapsed down the stretch. It all resulted in Tennessee blowing them out in the Round of 64 in a game where UMass looked utterly lifeless. They haven’t touched the NCAA Tournament since.
Now we’re getting to the heavy hitters.
How it started: 7-0, 1.6 Wins Above Bubble (3rd)
This was more about Miami beating several okay teams than actually standing out, but 7-0 is 7-0, and it got them to 15th in the AP Poll. The most impressive win was a road comeback over Florida. They’d even start December by beating Illinois at home to move to 8-0.
How it ended: 25-13, NIT runner-up
The first sign of trouble was a 13-point home loss to Green Bay right after that Illinois win. The next sign was an astounding 28-point home blowout at the hands of Eastern Kentucky. Miami essentially never recovered, blowing their hot start and top-15 hopes before January even began. They made a couple of mini-runs to get back on track, the best of which was beating future national champion Duke on the road, but it didn’t materialize in a Tournament bid.
2017-18 Arizona State.
How it started: 6-0, 1.8 Wins Above Bubble (3rd)
This is another one where it may as hell have been the December Naismith, too. Arizona State had recently hired Bobby Hurley, and it looked like he’d already turned things around. The Sun Devils pulled off Quadrant 1 wins over Kansas State and Xavier on a neutral court. They saved their best for December, though: a 95-85 road win at future Final Four team Kansas. Arizona State was 12-0, the last undefeated team in America, and #3 in the AP Poll.
How it ended: 20-12, 11 seed, First Four loss to Syracuse
This was perhaps a sign of things to come. Arizona State didn’t even manage a .500 record in Pac-12 play and got outshot and outrebounded by conference opponents. They lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament by double digits to a bad Colorado team, and it was mildly controversial that they even made the field of 68. The First Four loss was merely icing on the cake.
How it started: 7-1, 3.4 Wins Above Bubble (second-most in the last decade)
I’m not sure that people reading this today would know just how big this Duke team was. This was the group with Austin Rivers, both Plumlees, Ryan Kelly, and Seth Curry. Quinn Cook came off the bench. That’s an insane collection of talent on a college roster. Naturally, they demolished a bunch of good teams: Belmont (14 seed), Michigan State (1 seed), Michigan (4 seed), Kansas (2 seed), and only lost to Ohio State (2 seed). They ended November #3 in the AP Poll, and it was frankly deserved.
How it ended: 27-7, 2 seed, Round of 64 loss
Sure, 27 wins. Sure, 2 seed. But this was a group that simply didn’t live up to the November hype at any point after November. They needed multiple furied comebacks to escape potentially horrible losses. They were outside of the top 60 defensively. What’s most important, by far, is that they became the second 2 seed to lose to a 15 seed in the previous decade. This team, with this collection of talent, barely led for even 10 minutes against a 15 seed. That’s my #1 collapse.
FIVE BIGGEST UPSETS (SO FAR)
This has been a tremendous start to the season for bad, horrible losses. It’s been so good that Tennessee’s excruciating defeat to Colorado doesn’t even crack the top ten. No, there have been some all-timers this year. To boot: in the first 11 days of the season, we already have as many upsets that had a 5% or lower chance of happening as we had in the entire 2021-22 season.
We’re heading towards what looks like a very unpredictable season, which is exciting and terrifying. Here’s the top five so far, per KenPom.
November 7: Stetson 83, Florida State 74 (3.1% chance of happening). Florida State simply may be bad, while Stetson might be alright. Still: this should never happen.
November 7: Florida Gulf Coast 74, USC 61 (2.8% chance of happening). USC basically shot like garbage, but still: how are you losing this game?
November 13: Southeastern Louisiana 76, Wyoming 72 (1.8% chance of happening). Wyoming’s best player is out for several weeks, so I’d be willing to cut a little bit of slack here. However, even so, Wyoming should be beating teams like this with relative ease.
November 14: Maine 69, Boston College 64 (2% chance of happening). Seeing Earl Grant do this while Pat Kelsey seems to have something cooking in Grant’s old job at Charleston…not ideal.
November 14: Northwestern State 64, TCU 63 (0.5% chance of happening). This is merely the second-biggest upset KenPom has recorded in the last 14 years, only behind Stephen F. Austin beating Duke in 2019. This could end up being less bad by year’s end - NWSU beat Illinois State on the road yesterday - but it’s still an awful look for a preseason top 15 team.
WILL’S TOP FIVE APPLES (THAT I HAVE HAD MORE THAN ONCE)
5. Granny Smith. Dramatically underrated apple. This is one of the main two available at basically every grocery store, hotel breakfast, Dollar General, etc. in America. The problem is that everyone associates it with its horrific counterpart, Red Delicious, perhaps the worst apple variety in existence. Granny Smiths work pretty much everywhere and have a unique taste. Quit being a child.
4. McIntosh. I never felt a particular way about McIntosh until we bought a 20-pound box with McIntosh in it from the Apple Truck last fall. It saves in the fridge incredibly well and consistently tastes good.
3. Fuji. I admit that I cannot eat many of these because they’re so darn sweet. But: they’re generally cheaper than either of the top two here and they add a tremendous amount of flavor in the middle of the workday.
2. Pink Lady. For a long time, these were significantly cheaper than #1 and could be better depending on where you got them, but I’m afraid those days have passed. Still, these are worth the investment and take a remarkably long time to turn brown.
1. Honeycrisp. Well, obviously. The only apple I’ve ever had that could reasonably contend for this spot was a SweeTango, but I’ve only had that once. Honeycrisp is spendy for a reason: at your average supermarket, it is guaranteed to be the best variety you’ll find.
HIGHEST-LEVERAGE WEEKEND GAMES
All rankings and spreads are via KenPom.
Friday, November 18: #33 Oklahoma State (-5) vs. UCF, 7:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network. Oklahoma State’s already taken one killer loss at home against Southern Illinois in a game they really should’ve won. UCF is far from bad, but part of living on the bubble is not losing games like this. Oklahoma State feels like a true 50/50 NCAAT team.
Friday, November 18: #34 Penn State vs. #26 Virginia Tech (-1), 12:00 PM ET, ESPN2. This is simply a tremendous offensive battle that I’d recommend watching regardless. I’m all in on Penn State making their second NCAA Tournament in 20 years.
Friday, November 18: #32 Villanova at #19 Michigan State (-6), 8:00 PM ET, FOX Sports 1. Few opportunities for a get-right game have ever been as important to Villanova in the last two decades. They could erase all of the sting of the Temple loss and the awful Delaware State performance with a win here. By the same token, Michigan State could solidify themselves as a serious top-15 group with a win.
Saturday, November 19: #44 Maryland vs. #31 Saint Louis (-1), 1:00 PM ET, ESPN News. Look: this is an awful slate of college football on Saturday. Just watch this instead of whatever you were planning on watching. Maryland’s going to live on the bubble for the entire year, I’m convinced, while Saint Louis should have two opportunities this weekend to beat potential NCAA Tournament teams.
Sunday, November 20: #3 Houston (-4) at #35 Oregon, 9:30 PM ET, ESPN. I think this Oregon team is significantly worse than 35th right now and might get blown off their home court, but similar to Villanova, this win alone would solve a lot of problems they have resume-wise.
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