CBT Monthly Awards: Duke is Team of the Month, UCLA disappoints


With November in the books, we have a pretty good sample size to make snap judgments about what we’ve seen. The College Basketball Talk staff got together to share their thoughts on the first month of the college hoops season.



Team of the Month:

David Harten: Duke – You can’t argue with a team that’s beaten THREE top-5 teams in a row. Just can’t. Doesn’t matter if it’s obvious.

Rob Dauster: Duke – There really is no argument here. They’ve beaten three top five teams, plus Minnesota and VCU.

Dan Martin: Duke – As everyone else has said, the Blue Devils came into the month with some doubters, and you can bet most of those have now become believers. Three wins over Top-5 wins are impressive on an NCAA Tournament resume, but to do it in the first month is unmatched.

Raphielle Johnson: Duke – I still think Indiana’s the best team currently but it’s the Blue Devils who have the best resume. They win as a result of that.

Eric Angevine: Indiana – Four years ago, the notion of Indiana being a #1 team again was absurd. Even the preseason No. 1 ranking felt a bit premature this season. But Tom Crean and his team — not just Cody Zeller, but the team — have taken all of the pressure on, played some tough games and made it through November unscathed.


Player of the Month:

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee, Duke – Plumlee No. 2 showed he can be the headlining act for a national contender. Whether it be he’s aggression on the boards or his improvement from the free throw line, Plumlee has his name in player of the year contention

Rob Dauster: Mason Plumlee, Duke – . He finally went from prospect to player. The most dominant big man in the country is the early player of the year favorite after averaging 20 and 11 through the first month.

Raphielle Johnson: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – Mason Plumlee will get a lot of love in this category and rightfully so, but McCollum deserves some as well. Nation’s leading scorer and also became the all-time leading scorer in Patriot League history last month.

Dan Martin: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – For variety’s sake, if it’s not Mason Plumlee, take a look at what McCollum has done: 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He is showing that he made the right choice in coming back to school and has Lehigh off to a 5-2 start.

David Harten: Jeff Withey, Kansas – The Jayhawks’ 7-footer is averaging 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and leading the nation at 6.2 blocks per game in 28.8 minutes per. Not to mention he’s rattled off the second triple-double in program history in a win over San Jose State with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks.

Eric Angevine: Jack Cooley, Notre Dame – Jeff Withey certainly had a stellar month, but for night-in, night-out production, I’m going with Cooley. The Irish always thrive with a spiky-headed brawler in the paint, and Cooley is that guy. One thing I really, really like about Cooley is that he hits his free throws, which is crucial for someone who lives around the basket.

Troy Machir: Jack Taylor, Grinnell College – Think about this: It took Mason Plumlee seven games to score as many points as Jack Taylor scored in one game. Taylor scored 138 points in ONE GAME? This isn’t even a discussion. November belonged to Jack Taylor.


Freshman of the Month:

Eric Angevine: Ben McLemore, Kansas – He’s the Jayhawks’ second leading scorer (13.8 ppg), and he may overtake Jeff Withey (14.2) in that department sooner rather than later. He’s also averaging 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a steal and a block per game. That’s heady stuff for a freshman in Bill Self’s system.

Troy Machir: Ben McLemore, Kansas – Nothing about this kid’s play has been “freshman-like”. Through a month of play, there aren’t many Big-XII players, freshman or not, who are playing better than him.

Terrence Payne: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – Ask to take a big role with injuries, hasn’t disappointed for the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – He’s got Oklahoma State ranked despite the fact the lost two players to season ending injuries. Impressive.

Raphielle Johnson: Jahii Carson, Arizona State – Herb Sendek said the Sun Devils would play faster and they have, with Carson being the biggest reason why they’ve been successful. He’ll only get better as the season wears on too.

David Harten: Anthony Bennett, UNLV – He’s averaged 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds and anchored the front line for the Runnin’ Rebels in the early part of the season. His rise to prominence in college basketball took less time than his announcement ceremony.

Dan Martin: Isaiah Austin, Baylor – Austin is a versatile forward who, even in his first game of the season, showed he can play. He had 22 points in 17 minutes against Lehigh before spraining his ankle and is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.


Game of the Month:

Troy Machir: Indiana 82, Georgetown 72 OT – The best team in the country was pushed to the brink by a then un-ranked team with no seniors on the roster. The ebbs and flows of the game is what made it so special. The final score doesn’t properly reflect the quality of basketball we were treated too.

Eric Angevine: Duke 76, Louisville 71 – The Indiana-Georgetown OT tilt was also on my radar, but Duke vs. Louisville had too many story lines and too much drama to ignore. Imagine how much better it would have been if Dieng had been there to counter Plumlee. Nonetheless, it was the biggest chance at a statement game in the top five that we’ve seen so far, and Duke made the statement, which was”Yeah, we’re still Duke.”

David Harten: New Mexico 86, Davidson 81 – The Lobos survived 86-81 after Wildcats went up early on a bevy of threes — up 25-11 at one point and 45-31 at half — before Tony Snell, who went for 25, went ham and brought them back late in the second half and The Pit was rocking super hard for Marathon Madness.


Most Surprising Team:

David Harten: Colorado – Look at the Buffs! A 6-0 start with wins over Baylor and Murray State. Andre Roberson is clocking 10.8 points and 11 rebounds per and they’ve gotten production from Askia Booker (team leader at 16.8 ppg, 3.0 apg), Spencer Dinwiddie (14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Josh Scott (14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

Raphielle Johnson: SMU – Honestly I thought this team would be on the receiving end of beatings on a regular basis, Larry Brown or not. They’re 7-1, and regardless of what some may say of the opposition that’s a major improvement from last season.

Eric Angevine: Oklahoma State – While we were all waiting around to see if Baylor, West Virginia or some other team was going to rise up and challenge Kansas in the Big 12, it turned out that the Smart money was on the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Michigan – We knew the Wolverines were going to be good, but did anyone think they could put together an argument for being the best team in the country? For my money, Trey Burke has been the best point guard in the country.

Dan Martin: Illinois – The Illini were chosen to finish ninth in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll, but new head coach John Groce has his team 8-0 and ranked 22nd in the country. Their first real test, though, comes Dec. 8 against Gonzaga.


Least Surprising Team:

Eric Angevine: UCLA – Why did we expect them to be any different? For the past few years, this once-proud program has been on the rocks due to an apparent lack of discipline and a failure to retain top players. Nothing has changed, yet, but I’d be surprised if we see the same head coach in Bruin Blue next season.

Raphielle Johnson: UCLA – Talented but when you’re mixing skilled rookies with vets and no proven leader, things can get interesting. 5-2 isn’t a bad record, but I’m not buying this group as a bonafide contender right now.

Terrence Payne: UCLA – Bruins had potential through the roof entering the season. Without Shabazz Muhammad for the majority of the summer and fall and relying on a core of freshmen, it’s not surprising the Bruins and Ben Howland are off to a rocky start.

David Harten: UCLA – There was so little margin for error that you figured one thing going wrong would deflate the whole thing. Then the nail-biter over James Madison, the UC-Irvine loss and Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb left the team. That margin has been reached.

Dan Martin: Kansas – It never seems to matter what pieces Bill Self has in Kansas. They still end up competing. Even after losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to the pros, Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore lead the Jayhawk attack in 2012-13.

Troy Machir: Indiana – They were the best team in the country before the season began, and after the month, nothing has changed. They are still the best team in the country. I’m not surprised at all.


Bandwagon you are jumping on:

Dan Martin: Michigan – The Wolverines won the NIT Tip Off in New York over a solid Pittsburgh team and pesky Kansas State squad, then beat No. 18 NC State. I really like Michigan’s trio of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III. Hardaway, Jr.’s transformation into a full player is key for coach John Beilein’s team.

Terrence Payne: Michigan – Very talented team, led by a stellar backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke is making a strong case to be the best floor general in the county, while Hardaway showing huge confidence in his game.

Rob Dauster: Georgetown – That zone is going to be a nightmare for everyone, and Markel Starks gives them a veteran back court leader.

Raphielle Johnson: Arizona – Wildcats go ten deep without much of a drop off (if any). Sean Miller’s got his best team since arriving in the Old Pueblo, and that includes the Elite 8 team in his second season.

Troy Machir: Cincinnati – Sean Kilpatrick has got to be somewhere near the top of the Wooden Award watch list after a month of play. Bearcats lead the country in rebounding and are seventh in points per game. They’ve also played much better non-conference opposition than in years past.

David Harten: Minnesota – I expected the Golden Gophers to be good, but they’ve been solid without much out of Trevor Mbakwe, who is making his way back from a torn ACL. Besides a loss to (my team of the month) Duke, they’ve rattled off wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State and earned a Top 25 ranking.


Bandwagon you are jumping off:

Raphielle Johnson: Drexel – Bruiser Flint’s team is tough but not particularly deep. And after losing Chris Fouch for the season it’s difficult to see the Dragons winning the CAA.

Eric Angevine: North Carolina – I know, I just bought them cheap for Cyber Monday, but it wouldn’t be the first time I pulled something disappointing out of the discount bin (I’m looking at you, DVD of Neverending Story 3). Rob’s right – there’s no distributor in Chapel Hill, and you can’t run the system without one.

Rob Dauster: St. Mary’s – Matthew Dellavedova is a stud, but he doesn’t have enough support around him.

David Harten: Baylor – Tons of talent, not a ton of discipline. A loss to Colorado wasn’t too bad, but the loss to College of Charleston was. They could turn it around, but they’ll have to do it in games against Kentucky, Northwestern and BYU.

Dan Martin: Memphis – Many thought this was going to be “The Season” for Memphis, but perhaps they’ll need to iron out some more wrinkles before everything comes together in Tennessee. A disappointing Battle 4 Atlantis now has the Tigers at 4-2 and averaging 14 turnovers per game.

Terrence Payne: Memphis – Tigers were suppose to be a factor this season, hasn’t shown it thus far. Josh Pastner still trying to get it all together, but in the mean time can sell the fans on a highly-touted recruiting class coming in.


Stat of the Month:

Raphielle Johnson: Mason Plumlee is now Duke’s all-time leader in dunks with 149. Robert Brickey was the previous record holder with 147.

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee is just under 80 percent from the free throw line to start the year. Compare that to 53 percent last year, 44 percent as a sophomore, and 54 percent as a freshman.

David Harten: Siena’s O.D. Anosike averaging almost as many rebounds as points. The 6-8 senior lead the nation in the stat at 12.5 per game last season, but he’s taken it to new heights this year. The Saints’ big man is averaging 14.4 points and 14.1 rebounds through five games.

Eric Angevine: Cal State Fullerton is shooting the lights out. 54.4% from inside the arc, 79.6% from the stripe, and a stunning 50% from deep. If the Titans manage to locate some defense over the next few weeks, they could actually be dangerous.

Dan Martin: Larry Drew II is averaging 8.1 assists and just 1.3 turnovers per game this season for UCLA. With so many bashing coach Ben Howland for announcing Drew II as his point guard, the former UNC guard is producing.


Final Four Picks after one month:

Eric Angevine: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Florida
Rob Dauster: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Missouri
David Harten: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Michigan
Raphielle Johnson: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Gonzaga
Troy Machir: Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga
Dan Martin: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Michigan
Terrence Payne Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga

Troy Machir is the Managing Editor of Ballin’ is a Habit and can be found on Twitter at @TroyMachir

VIDEO: Leonard Hamilton gives awkward response when asked about Florida State not fouling

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Michigan outlasted Florida State in an ugly Elite Eight game on Saturday night as the Wolverines won 58-54 to advance to the Final Four.

The end of the game left a lot of viewers puzzled.

With the Seminoles in the midst of a furious rally, the team seemingly gave up in the final seconds. Down by four points with 11.8 seconds left, Florida State didn’t foul to extend the game as Michigan ran out the clock for the win. Since the Wolverines struggled from the free-throw line and missed two front-ends of one-and-ones in the final few minutes, the Seminoles fouling to extend the game seemed like a potential strategy.

Many viewers, as well as the broadcast crew working the game, wondered aloud why the Seminoles wouldn’t attempt to foul in that spot.

So Dana Jacobsen of CBS asked Hamilton about the final seconds of the game in a postgame interview.

An awkward interview ensued.


No. 3 Michigan outlasts No. 9 Florida State to advance to Final Four

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Michigan struggled to generate consistent offense, but the Wolverines held off No. 9 seed Florida State for a 58-54 win on Saturday night during the West Regional final in Los Angeles.

The No. 3 seed Wolverines (32-7) are headed back to the Final Four under head coach John Beilein for the first time since 2013 and for the eighth time in program history.

Making things look easy during a Thursday night blowout win over Texas A&M, Michigan made 10 first-half three-pointers to cruise to victory. During the Elite Eight, Michigan couldn’t generate any consistency from the perimeter. Only shooting 18 percent (4-for-22) from three-point range, Michigan missed ten straight three-pointers at one point as they had to grind out a win in an offensive struggle. Redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews paced the Wolverines with 17 points, while junior big man Mo Wagner chipped in 12 points despite an 0-for-7 shooting night from three-point range.

Even though Michigan has been known as a traditionally offensive-minded team under Beilein, it has been consistent defense that has the Wolverines advancing to San Antonio. Outside of the barrage of three-pointers Michigan hit against the Aggies on Thursday, this is a team that has struggled offensively during most of the 2018 NCAA tournament.

A year ago, Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16 behind a potent offense that had veterans like Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and D.J. Wilson. When all three of those guys moved on this offseason, the Wolverines became a more focused  team on the defensive end. The offseason saw Michigan hire assistant coach Luke Yaklich, as he became the team’s defensive coordinator. Point guard Zavier Simpson took over for Walton as the sophomore’s defensive-minded approach also aided in Michigan’s transformation into a two-way team.

It hasn’t always been pretty during the past few weeks, but Michigan is playing some of its best ball of the season right now. And the team’s offense isn’t even knocking down shots. Holding Florida State to only one field goal over an 11-minute span was the cushion that ultimately helped Michigan prevail when its offense couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter. That 11-minute stretch on defense was also something that last season’s Michigan team could not have pulled off.

Florida State (23-12) did its best to hang around despite having major offensive issues of their own. The Seminoles found themselves trailing by three points with under a minute left, but they couldn’t get over the hump in the final few possessions. Senior forward Phil Cofer (16 points) and junior guard P.J. Savoy (12 points) were the only two double-figure scorers for Florida State as they shot 32 percent (16-for-50) from the field and 25 percent (4-for-16) from three-point range.

The Seminoles were down by four with under 15 seconds left but they opted not to foul to extend the game. Michigan surprisingly ran out the clock as Florida State’s comeback (and season) ended in underwhelming fashion.

Michigan advances to next weekend’s Final Four in San Antonio as they’ll take on No. 11 seed and national darling Loyola.

Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean gets her piece of the net

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Loyola-Chicago’s hero — their 98-year old chaplain, Sister Jean — got her reward for being the good-luck charm that got the Ramblers to the Final Four.

Think about this:

  • The Ramblers beat Miami on a game-winning three with 0.3 seconds left
  • They beat Tennessee on a jumper with 3.6 seconds left that bounced off the rim, the backboard and the rim again before going in.
  • They needed a three with 7.6 seconds left to help them hold off Nevada in the Sweet 16.
  • A senior that never averaged more than 8.3 points and that had a season-high of 14 points against something called Eureka this season went for a career-high 23 points to get the Ramblers to the Final Four.

She earned this piece of the net.

The Atlanta Falcons are trying to recruit Sister Jean from Loyola

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The Atlanta Falcons are American sports’ most cursed franchise now that the Chicago Cubs have won a World Series.

Hell, Atlanta sports in general are a minefield of terrible losses, blown seasons and heartbreak.

Which is why the Falcons, who may or may not have blown a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, are trying to get Sister Jean on their payroll:

Stay away, Falcons.

Sister Jean is ours.

Sincerely, College Basketball

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago advances past Kansas State, to Final Four

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Sister Jean strikes again!

Ben Richardson, a senior guard who’s never averaged more than 8.3 points in a season, broke double-figures just four times during his senior year and had a season-high of 14 points that came in a game against something called Eureka, scored went 6-for-7 from three and scored a career-high 23 points for No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago as college basketball’s latest Cinderella finished off their run to the Final Four with a 78-62 win over No. 9-seed Kansas State.

A No. 11-seed is the lowest-seeded team to ever reach a Final Four, and Loyola is just the fourth No. 11-seed to get to the Final Four. LSU did it in 1986, George Mason made it in 2006 and VCU reached the Final Four out of a play-in game in 2011.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win was that it was never really in doubt. Kansas State led 3-2 for 17 seconds in the first half … and that’s it. The Ramblers opened the game on a 15-5 run, took a 36-24 lead into the break and led by as many as 23 points in the second half.

Perhaps this is what says it all — The Ramblers emptied their bench to let the walk-ons get some run.

In the Elite Eight.

Their bench players dribbled out the clock to send them to the Final Four.

For a team that needed game-winning jumpers in the final 10 seconds in the first three rounds of the tournament, Kansas State was the lowest seeded team that the Ramblers played in the tournament. I guess it’s fitting that they were the game they finally won comfortably.

And to be frank, this is the postseason run that we all needed this year.

Let’s start with the basics: Nobody wants to see Kansas State in the Final Four. I’m sorry Kansas State fans, but that’s the truth. This run has been fun, it might have saved Bruce Weber’s job and I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for the fight and the grit that guys like Barry Brown Jr., Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed play with.

But if you are going to give me the choice between seeing a miracle mid-major run to the final weekend of the college basketball season or a middling power conference program that happened to get hot against a lucky draw in the NCAA tournament, I’m taking the mid-major.

Every. Single. Time.

And I guarantee that I’m not the only one.

If we’re not going to get a blueblood, give me the little guy.

Especially when they are being led to glory by a 98-year old nun named Sister Jean.

That is the other part of this: Everything about this Loyola-Chicago team is good. They are what makes college basketball so special. They are why this event is the best sporting event in America. And they are making this run in the tournament in a year where the sport has been marred by scandal after scandal.

There was the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball that resulted in assistant coaches at four programs getting arrested. There was the arrest of the three UCLA players that turned into an international incident covered by TMZ, CNN and FOX News when LaVar Ball stood up for his son and got into a war of words with Donald Trump. There were the accusations that were levied at Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo that he covered up sexual assaults committed by players within his program. There were the reports that leaked before the start of the NCAA tournament that tied players at myriad programs with taking impermissible from a disgraced NCAA agent, and then the controversy surrounding a report that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment of $100,000 for Deandre Ayton.

Anyone paying attention to college basketball from afar would think that the sport is an absolute cesspool, and whether the fact that it is may or may not be true depending the way that you view amateurism and the ability of college athletes to earn money off of their likeness, the bottom-line is this: College basketball’s public image has never been worse.

Until now.

Now we have a team from the Missouri Valley — a league that Wichita State and Creighton left because it wasn’t good enough — heading to the Final Four. We have a mid-major program whose most famous member is their 98-year old chaplain. We have a program with a head coach that is so far from the glitz and glamour of $3,000 suits that he wears outfits that look like this.

This is why college basketball is the best.

Because things like this can happen.

Tonight, we are all Ramblers.