Early winners and losers

The college basketball season is a nine month journey that starts on campus in August and ends with a birth of a national champion in April. There are three distinct trimesters through the process:

Solomon Hill and Arizona continue to improve.

1) Conditioning, “Midnight Madness” and the first six weeks of the season

2) Conference play

3) March Madness- conference tournament play and the “Big Dance.”

The first trimester of the college basketball season is coming to a close. We look at a dozen pre-season contenders and recap their first 12 weeks and the steps they have made so far.

Winners

Duke
Pre-season No. 6 Current No. 1
The Blue Devils are back. Defensive has improved dramatically from a year ago went from No. 70 nationally in defensive efficiency to eighth in the nation this year. Assists are up from 12 per game to 17 per game. Beat three of last year’s Final Four teams already. Great mix of experience and untapped potential. A probable top seed feasting on subpar ACC. The Blue Devils are shooting 41 percent from behind-the-arc, best by a Duke team in a decade.

Michigan
Pre-season No. 5 Current No. 2
The B1G is loaded and the Wolverines may very well be the team to beat. The Burke-Hardaway backcourt is the best in the nation combining for 33 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds per game. Offensive and defensive efficiency up. Three Wolverine freshmen are making an impact, including former Five-Star camper, Nik Stauskas, a top national prospect in the 2012 class who is averaging 13 points per game while shooting 50 percent from field goal range and an outstanding 54 percent from behind the arc. Schedule has been light but win versus a good Pitt team stands out.

Syracuse
Pre-season No. 14 Current No. 3
The Orangemen lost a quartet of contributors from last season’s 34 win team. Head coach Jim Boeheim has taken three players who averaged 10, 11 and 16 minutes per game last year and has doubled their minutes and is getting great production to the tune of All-American-type production out of Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland. Schedule has been favorable but the San Diego State victory combined with difficult Big East slate make for solid RPI. Best defensive efficiency of the past decade out of any Syracuse team – No. 2 in the nation and top five in three key defensive categories.

Alex Poythress and the young Cats have struggled at times this season.

Arizona
Pre-season No. 16 Current No. 4
Last season was a disaster in Tucson with the ‘Cats failing to make the NCAA tourney. This season has been a pleasant surprise. Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill continue to evolve producing 26 points per game, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game. Impact transfer Mark Lyons leads the team in scoring and big shots, downing the Gators in a signature win. The freshmen trio of Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski are getting better each game. The rest of the Pac-12 has underwhelmed which gives Arizona an opportunity to have a very impressive record going into March.

Losers

Kentucky
Pre-season No. 3 Current Not-Ranked
The Wildcats have already surpassed last season’s loss total with defeats at the hands of Duke, Notre Dame and shockingly Baylor at Rupp Arena. There will not be another undefeated conference play campaign this year as Florida and other SEC hopefuls may have some revenge on Kentucky this season. Let’s be honest though as this is a team no one wants to see in March. The young ‘Cats are shooting a higher percentage from the floor and averaging four more assists per game than last year’s squad. But there’s cause for this as Kentucky isn’t getting to the free-throw line the same way as they did last year- 3 percent less.

North Carolina
Pre-season No. 9 Current No. 23...about to be Not-Ranked
The Tar Heels saw four standouts from last season’s squad move on to the NBA. Despite the significant losses, optimism was high with James Michael McAdoo, a preseason Wooden candidate, who only received 15 minutes a game a year ago was forecasted to blossom into a lottery-level NBA draft pick. Dexter Strickland, PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock returned all receiving quality burn last season. Impact freshmen Marcus Paige, JP Tokoto, Brice Johnson and Joel James all expected to contribute. The results early on have been less than stellar as UNC has losses to Butler, Texas and Indiana and was fortunate to beat East Carolina at the Dean Dome. Get this, the Tar Heels are shooting a decade-worst 47.2 percent from the field.

Baylor
Pre-season No. 19 Current Not-Ranked
Baylor lost three players to the NBA from last season’s team. Still, there were big expectations fueled by the Big 12’s top guard, Pierre Jackson, 3-point specialist, Brady Heslip and impact freshmen forwards Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers. Sandwiched in between the Bears shocking win at Rupp Arena are home losses to College of Charleston and Northwestern. Baylor also fell to Colorado on a neutral floor. The Bears are struggling from behind the line, shooting just 32 percent from three-point range.

Florida State
Pre-season No. 25 Current Not-Ranked
The ACC champion did come into the season having to replace three starters, however having All-ACC performer, Michael Snaer, a host of JUCO All-Americans and contributors from last year, the Seminoles looked poised towards another strong campaign. The early report card is in and it’s not pretty. Losses in Tallahassee to South Alabama and Mercer serve as optimism to conference foes.

Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports.com’s coverage of college basketball. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein

Already have an account? Sign In