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December 1, 2009

Things to remember from November

The first month of the season is over, and November didn't always go quite like we expected. Indeed, there were a number of surprises.

Here are a dozen things to remember from November:

The Orange are rolling along. Syracuse figured to struggle -- at least in the early part of the season -- as it replaced NBA lottery pick Jonny Flynn at point guard. But Scoop Jardine and freshman Brandon Triche have done a great job running the Orange's offense. Syracuse won its first six games, including an 87-71 rout of North Carolina. What looked like a borderline NCAA tournament team before the season instead is shaping up as a legitimate Final Four contender.

Oklahoma is struggling. The transition from Blake Griffin being the go-to-guy to Willie Warren being "the man" has not been seamless. The Sooners are 3-3 and haven't faced a sure NCAA tournament team. The losses have come at VCU and to San Diego and Houston in Alaska. Maybe a return to Norman will help, but it's tough to see this team challenging Kansas and Texas in the Big 12 based on its November performance.

What's up with the Bruins? UCLA's lack of returning starters and plethora of preseason injuries figured to result in a slow start, but we never thought the Bruins would be losing to the likes of Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. The Bruins will have to scratch and claw their way to an NCAA tournament bid after losing four of their first six games.

Oregon State looks bad. Oregon State should be thankful for UCLA's early season woes because the Bruins are keeping the Beavers from being the most disappointing team in the Pac-10. After winning the College Basketball Invitational last season and landing a solid recruiting class, Craig Robinson's team headed into this season as a potential NCAA tournament team. But the Beavers sure didn't look like NCAA contenders in stunning early season losses to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sacramento State.

Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich are not carrying Kansas. Preseason All-Americans Collins and Aldrich are second and fourth, respectively, on the Jayhawks in scoring. Instead, freshman Xavier Henry is Kansas' top scorer. This could be an aberration, though, as Aldrich and Collins were the top two scorers in the Jayhawks' only test thus far, against Memphis.

Florida is off to a 6-0 start. The Gators were pegged as an NIT team at the start of the season, thanks to the loss of Nick Calathes. But Florida sure looked like an NCAA tournament team when it defeated Michigan State 77-74 in Atlantic City, N.J. The Gators also demolished Florida State, holding Solomon Alabi to eight points and six rebounds. If the Gators can beat the Spartans, can't they contend in the SEC East?

The WCC shows well in preseason tournaments. Gonzaga beat Colorado, Wisconsin and Cincinnati on the way to the championship of the Maui Invitational, but that was only part of an impressive showing from the West Coast Conference in the preseason tournaments. Portland reached the final of the 76 Classic by beating UCLA and Minnesota. Even San Diego had a nice showing in the Great Alaska Shootout with wins over Oklahoma and Houston before falling to Washington State in the final.

The Red Storm are making some noise. St. John's has posted only one winning record over the past six seasons, and its chances of turning things around this year seemed dim after a preseason injury to Anthony Mason Jr. But the Red Storm have done just fine without Mason, who led the team in scoring in 2007-08 before missing most of the 2008-09 season with a foot injury. St. John's is 5-0 and won the Philly Hoop Group Classic by knocking off 2009 NCAA tournament teams Siena and Temple.

A surprise CAA team is off to a good start. Picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association, William & Mary has gotten off to a 4-2 start that includes a 78-68 win at Wake Forest, which marked the Tribe's first victory over an ACC team in 25 years. A rash of injuries left William & Mary with only eight players against Wake Forest, yet the Tribe still pulled off the upset. William & Mary also beat Richmond, which is expected to be a contender in the Atlantic 10

Washington State sophomore Klay Thompson leads the nation in scoring. Thompson looked like a potential breakout player after an impressive freshman campaign, but he is exceeding expectations by leading the nation in scoring. Then again, it's easy to see why Thompson - the son of former long-time NBA player Mychal Thompson - is averaging 28.3 points per game. First, he's taking more than 17 shots per game. Second, he's played teams like Mississippi Valley State, Alaska Anchorage and Nicholls State.

Northwestern is 5-1 despite losing Kevin Coble for the season. The Wildcats - who are the only team in a Big Six league never to play in the NCAA tournament - lost 67-54 to Butler in the first game without Coble, who led Northwestern in scoring last season. But they recovered quickly despite losing Coble for the season to foot surgery. Northwestern has won four in a row, including victories on back-to-back days against Notre Dame and Iowa State.

In the SEC, the West isn't the best. Arkansas has lost to East Tennessee State, Morgan State and South Alabama. Auburn has lost to Missouri State and UCF. Mississippi State, which opened the season in the top 25, has lost to Rider and Richmond. At least the SEC East looks to be much better than it was last season.

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