By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
November is always about overreaction in college basketball.
It shouldn’t be.
November is a foundation for what is built to get to March. The season is long, and what looks good or bad in the first month sometimes has a different look when the end of the season nears.
No team is perfect in November. Even the most experienced teams are chasing an identity. The month exposes flaws and sometimes hides strengths.
November is the month of guarantee games, of multi-team events. Teams look good one night and flawed the next. That lends itself to the overreactions that come with not realizing that while the season’s clock is ticking, the clock just started to run.
I think back to — and I’ve written about this a few times — Iowa’s 93-78 home loss to DePaul on November 11, 2019.
It was an ugly loss on what looked like an ugly day for the Iowa program. Earlier that day, highly-touted in-state recruit Xavier Foster chose to commit to Iowa State over the Hawkeyes just two days before the fall signing period again. And then when DePaul came to Carver-Hawkeye Arena that night and absolutely worked the Hawkeyes, the social media wrath was at full song.
Iowa fans criticized coach Fran McCaffery for losing Foster, for losing an ugly game, and just who were these Murray twins, the sons of a former Iowa player who were about to sign with the Hawkeyes, and why was McCaffery signing them in the first place since they only had one Division I offer before Iowa got involved?
By the end of the season, the Hawkeyes were on the way to the NCAA tournament had it not been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Keegan Murray came to Iowa and became the No. 4 overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft. Kris Murray leads the Hawkeyes in scoring this season at 21 points per game. Foster left Iowa State and is now at SMU, where he averages 0.7 points per game.
Consider the last two weeks for Iowa. The Hawkeyes won 83-67 at Seton Hall in the Gavitt Games on November 16. Ten days later, Iowa lost 79-66 to a TCU team that had started the season in the national rankings, and the only reason the Horned Frogs weren’t currently ranked was because they had lost a 64-63 buy game to Northwestern State on November 14.
November is a month when good teams get scared and sometimes stumble. Iowa’s women’s team was No. 4 in the nation and was taken to overtime by Drake on the Bulldogs’ home floor before winning. Iowa State’s women’s team was No. 7 in the nation and nearly lost on the road to Northern Iowa.
November is a month when teams can build a resumé. Drake is 6-0 with three neutral-court victories to win the Paradise Jam tournament. Iowa State had wins over Villanova and North Carolina on a neutral court in Portland over the weekend.
The month’s best moments can be fleeting. Western Illinois opened the 2015-16 season by winning at Wisconsin on opening night, spoiling the Badgers’ first game after they lost to Duke in the NCAA national championship game. The Leathernecks won their first five games in November, then won five games the rest of the season and didn’t qualify for the Summit League tournament. They also earned the distinction of being one of those rare teams that won its final game of the season — the Leathernecks defeated South Dakota at home after they had been eliminated from qualifying for the conference tournament.
Seasons are never won in November, and rarely are they lost. It’s a time when teams figure out who they are, and they have to do that more efficiently these days, considering how conference schedules bleed into December. The Missouri Valley Conference opens with two games this week. Iowa opens Big Ten play on December 11 at home against Wisconsin after a three-game stretch of playing Georgia Tech, Duke and Iowa State.
It’s why Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter met with his team for an hour after Saturday’s 88-64 loss to Youngstown State. The Leathernecks opened the season with a win at Illinois State, but had just lost their third consecutive game and didn’t look good in the process. The time to fix whatever problems the Leathernecks had was then.
It’s what you do in November. It’s why you take results for what they are — the first pieces in a puzzle that won’t be completed until March.
And it’s why you don’t overreact if the key pieces are still in the box.
Photo: Iowa forward Kris Murray (24) drives the hoop as Seton Hall forward KC Ndefo (13) defends during he November 16 game. (Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire)