Texas and Doug McDermott were among the key storylines last month
For most teams, January is the first normal month of the college basketball season.
No breaks for finals. No trips to far-flung locations for tournaments in front of sparse crowds. And no wild fluctuations between the caliber of competition in non-conference schedules.
Now that those teams and players have hit that stride, our college basketball staff takes a look at the most impressive players of the month and the biggest surprises.
Who was the Player of the Month in January?
Mitch Light: I didn’t overthink this one; it’s Doug McDermott from Creighton. The frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors, McDermott was sensational during January, averaging 26.1 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field. He started the New Year with a 30-point, 10-rebound performance in a win at Seton Hall and capped it off with a season-high 39 points — including the game-winning three with 2.5 seconds remaining — in a 63–60 victory over St. John’s.
David Fox: Even though McDermott is a virtual certainty for National Player of the Year, my top player of January is one of the few players in the Big East who can match McDermott’s scoring prowess. Bryce Cotton of Providence has been one of the most underrated players in the country, but the Friars are on the precipice of their first NCAA bid in a decade thanks to Cotton’s play of late. Cotton averaged 21.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in a month that saw Providence beat Georgetown, Creighton and Butler. Even more, Cotton has been a workhorse, averaging 41.1 minutes per game thanks to a double-overtime game against St. John’s in which he played all 50 minutes.
Braden Gall: Few players had as good of a start to the 2014 calendar year as Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick. First of all, the Bearcats went 9–0 in conference play during January, highlighted by wins at Memphis and Louisville. Kilpatrick scored 18 in the road win over the Tigers and 28 in the road win over the Cardinals. On the month, the Cincy sharpshooter averaged 20.1 points and 4.8 rebounds and shot 86 percent from the foul line. In addition, he had just nine turnovers in the final seven games of the month.
What team surprised you the most in January?
Mitch Light: Anyone who watched Virginia in the month of December has to be stunned that the Cavs are off to such a fast start in the ACC. In a four-day stretch in early December, Virginia scored 38 points in a loss at home to Wisconsin and lost at Green Bay. Then after closer-than-expected wins over Northern Iowa and Norfolk State, Virginia was blasted by 35 points at Tennessee. Since that debacle in Knoxville, the Cavs are 8–1, with the only loss coming by three points at Duke. The emergence of sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon as a consistent scorer has been a huge key. Since failing to score in 21 minutes in the loss at Tennessee, Brogdon has averaged 15.2 points, with a low of 11 against Florida State and a high of 18 against Virginia Tech. Virginia is done with Duke and North Carolina, and only has to play Syracuse once — at home. Don’t be shocked if this team stays in the ACC title hunt until early March.
David Fox: Texas is perhaps the biggest surprise of any team since conference play began. With a new athletic director and diminishing results in recent years, Rick Barnes appeared to be on his last legs with the Longhorns. Entering the season, the Horns did not have the look of a team ready to compete in a deep Big 12. The roster had been shed of most of its high-profile recruits — and it’s worth mentioning those prospects didn’t really pan out, anyway. In reality, though, Texas shed itself of malcontents and egos. The Longhorns have become a legit team in the Big 12 and a threat to advance in the NCAA Tournament thanks to the out-of-nowhere emergence of Jonathan Holmes, the arrival of freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor and development of Cameron Ridley.
Braden Gall: Have to go with Texas in this case. Rick Barnes entered this year squarely on the hot seat needing a big season to save the day. And with one upperclassmen on the entire roster, the odds were stacked against the Texas head coach. But he has rallied his troops behind the development of a freshman point guard and two monsters in the paint. The very young and very inexperienced Horns now sit alone in second place in what many consider the best league in the nation. They have crushed Kansas at home, handled Baylor and West Virginia with ease on the road, beat Kansas State and Iowa State at home to top four ranked teams in a row for the first time in school history.