Tuesday marks the 39th day of the college basketball season. Incredibly, almost every NCAA Division I team has either played one-third of its regular season schedule, or is coming up on the mark in the next few days.
“It’s early” still applies, but not as much as it did a few weeks ago. With teams compiling 10-, 11-, 12-game samples, preliminary lists of NCAA Tournament at-large contenders can reasonably start to form. It’s a large pool-a very large one-and of varying depth now and of which will be determined as the season goes on. it’s late enough now, though, where we can at least start identifying teams that have realistic hopes of at-large qualification, depending on their performance in the next 2 1/2 months.
SMU and Stanford are two such teams, two of many that have at least some kind of at-large hopes. How strong? We’ll find out over the next few months, but while their game was just one of 30-plus that each team will play this year, it unquestionably left a positive impression for one team and the opposite for the other, the type of result that could be the difference if these two are competing for a spot in March.
The Mustangs rolled to an emphatic 72-49 rout in Dallas, and if anything, the final score of this one is kind to Stanford, for this was a domination from the start. SMU led 30-7 halfway through the first half, 44-12 at one point and 48-19 at halftime.
SMU’s starters outscored Stanford’s 59-16. The Mustangs shot 52.9% to the Cardinal’s 33.3%, and the hosts also hit 11 three-pointers. Whether it was Sterling Brown (16 points, six rebounds), Semi Olejeye (13 points, seven boards), Shake Milton (11 points, nine assists) or Ben Moore (10 points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots), SMU was superior in almost every way in this game, to the level that can’t be accounted for just by location.
We’re still finding out a lot about not just at-large contenders such as these, but the teams they play. SMU has wins over Pittsburgh, TCU and Stanford, losses to Michigan and USC (plus Boise State). It’s a group that could come late February could have five teams in competition for an NCAA bid, or none of them. Stanford’s wins include Seton Hall, Harvard and Colorado State among others, the losses including Kansas, Saint Mary’s and Miami (Fla.). Likewise, that’s a group that could include 4-5 NCAA teams…or 1-2.
There’s a lot to learn yet about both of these teams, and so many others. Still, we’ve learned enough now to start drawing a few conclusions, with many more to come. And they’re coming faster than you think.
- Florida State played an early afternoon game and imposed its athleticism in the second half for a 76-68 win over stubborn Samford. The Seminoles trailed late in the first half and led by just one before Xavier Rathan-Mayes got a friendly roll on a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer for a 31-27 lead, and FSU pushed the tempo in the second half to take control.
- Another nationally ranked ACC team got more of a battle at home than many may have anticipated, as Duke needed a big second-half run to gain command against Tennessee State, eventually prevailing 65-55. Luke Kennard scored 24 for the Blue Devils, who shot just 37.3%, and considerably less if you take out Kennard’s 7-for-10 marksmanship. Great effort by Dana Ford’s Tigers, and you can bet this one probably turned heads for some who are just learning about the ultra-young TSU head coach. Also, touted freshman Harry Giles made a brief debut for Duke, playing four minutes off the bench and missing his only shot attempt.
- Notre Dame defeated Colgate 77-62, but the most notable part of this guarantee game came beforehand, when Fighting Irish guard Matt Farrell’s older brother Bo surprised him on the court, having come home from serving as a first lieutenant in the Army.
- Johnny Jones takes a lot of shots at LSU, so it should be noted that he has his team at 8-2 after a 75-65 win over a tough College of Charleston team. It’s certainly fair to question whether the Tigers are better off this year without the Ben Simmons circus than they were a year ago.
- Oral Roberts may well be the best 3-10 team in the country. The Golden Eagles have had narrow misses this year against Creighton, Michigan State and Mississippi- literally could’ve easily won all three games-but ORU finally picked up a nice win, handling Arkansas-Little Rock 63-48.
- Colorado earned a road win, holding off Air Force 75-68 with a balanced attack of five players scoring in double figures.
- Loyola Marymount also won on the road, defeating Colorado State at the buzzer 69-66 on a three-pointer by Brandon Brown. Nice win for the Lions, while the Rams continue to be a mystery.
- New Mexico State is a team that should start being paid attention to. The Aggies are now 11-2 after an 85-79 overtime win over UC Irvine.
- Finally, Mississippi State drubbed Southern Mississippi 86-44. Ouch.
- The games start early, with Georgia Southern at Winthrop at 11 a.m. Eastern time and Louisiana-Monroe taking a trip to Coppin State for a 2 p.m. tip.
- The night’s TV schedule starts with Eastern Washington going to Xavier (6:30 p.m., FS1). Other early offerings include Georgia at Georgia Tech for their rivalry game (7 p.m., ESPNU) and UNC Charlotte-coming off a flogging against Florida on Saturday-now taking on Maryland in Baltimore (7 p.m., ESPN2).
- North Dakota State comes off a big win over its in-state rival and now travels to take on Arkansas. Also, NDSU’s rival North Dakota could pull a surprise when it travels to Iowa (9 p.m., Big Ten Network).
- Arizona State won at Creighton last year, and now the Sun Devils host the Bluejays (9 p.m., ESPN2).
- Princeton is at Monmouth in a game that looked really good before the season but still is intriguing even with the Tigers’ injury troubles. It’s not on TV, but it should’ve been.
- Northeastern looks to follow up its win at Michigan State when it faces 9-1 Oakland, which also has games coming up against Michigan State and Georgia.
- SMU plays back-to-back nights, hosting Albany in a game that could be better than expected. Never doubt the Great Danes’ ability to compete on the road.
- New Mexico goes to Arizona, a tough trip but one that could turn a season around for the Lobos if they can get it done. Another MWC/Pac-12 matchup has Fresno State at Oregon.
- One more city rivalry as Portland State is at Portland, with the Vikings looking to add the Pilots to their list of wins over WCC teams that already includes Pepperdine and San Francisco.
Enjoy your Tuesday. Five more shopping days until Christmas.