Originally Published: December 10, 2012

One Month In, It's Too Early To Pass Judgment

By Myron Medcalf

He has a ring. Yet the old doubters and the negative vibe they created still bother him.

Ernie Myers earned that national-title jewelry in 1983 as a member of Jim Valvano's Cardiac Pack at North Carolina State. Myers said Valvano -- much like his famous speech at the 1993 ESPYs -- told his players to fight, even when some of their supporters began to doubt their potential.

That Wolfpack squad was nationally ranked in the preseason polls and returned a senior core of Dereck Whittenburg, Sidney Lowe and Thurl Bailey. The moment Whittenburg suffered a foot injury in mid-January 1983, however, the mojo changed. The Pack lost three of its next four games and most folks wrote them off.

"We felt like we could play with anybody early in the season but when Whittenburg got hurt, everybody essentially thought the season was lost," Myers told ESPN.com. "There was a mood. You'd walk on campus … it was that vibe."

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Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina State was counted out at several points during the 1982-83 season.

NC State recovered in time to make a run when it mattered. Whittenburg returned after missing 14 games. And the Wolfpack beat Houston 54-52, winning it all on Lorenzo Charles' buzzer-beating dunk.

Myers knows how long it can take a team to jell, especially when injuries affect lineups.

Folks back then wrote off the Pack far too early, just as it's too early to judge programs now that we've officially reached the one-month mark in the 2012-13 season.

So I listen to Myers when he questions those who've already dismissed Kentucky, a team packed with pro prospects but recently dismissed from the AP Top 25 after a back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor.

"It's where you end up; it's always where you end up," he said.

And I listen to Myers when he praises Indiana but also acknowledges that the Big Ten's gauntlet could make the Hoosiers look less invincible.

"You never know what that team will look like a month or two from now if they get smacked in the mouth," he said.

There's always a temptation to assess programs in early December even though some of their respective identities won't materialize for weeks, maybe months. It's a dangerous prognosis because we just haven't seen enough basketball yet.

But we do it anyway. I'm as guilty as the rest.

I've probably been too dismissive of squads such as UCLA, North Carolina and Baylor, and probably too high on teams such as Indiana, Arizona and Michigan.

It's so easy to get amped off a string of games and put a team on a premature pedestal. It's so easy to leave it there when it fails to meet those unfair projections.

Patience. We all need it.

I think Indiana and Duke are the top two teams in the country right now. Still, this season's field lacks one truly great team in my opinion. There are a bunch of squads that seem as though they're on a similar level. And more teams that might be one player or one month away from restoring lost faith in its chances of salvaging the rest of the season.

Kentucky is still searching for its footing, but I can't remember the last time John Calipari had so many future pros and failed to figure it out. I haven't dismissed NC State either. C.J. Leslie & Co. made it work late last season and could do it again this year.

But Illinois, 10-0 after Saturday's 85-74 win at Gonzaga, could crack in the Big Ten. Creighton has to slide through a multitude of notable contenders in the Missouri Valley, including Wichita State -- possibly the league's best team. The Zags face Baylor and Kansas State in the coming weeks. Arizona nearly crumbled at Clemson on Saturday. The young Wildcats could get crushed by Florida this Saturday. The Gators are that good. Arizona is that unproven.

The uncertainty is the sport's glow. Turn on the TV, any night of the week, and you may see something unexpected, something surprising. With so much parity this season, and every season, there's just no way that one month will tell the full story about 2012-2013. It will feel so distant once the NCAA tournament begins.

We'll look back and wonder what this first month meant, if anything, for the season's most significant chapter.

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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMany remember the 2004-05 Heels as one of the best teams of the past decade. What they don't remember is an early-season loss to Santa Clara.

A month into the year, North Carolina's eventual 2005 national champion still wondered what it was. The Tar Heels opened that season with a 77-66 loss at Santa Clara. Raymond Felton missed that game.

But that wasn't the problem, according to former starter Jackie Manuel, now an assistant with UNC-Greensboro. The Tar Heels were overconfident, he said, so they suffered a shocking loss on their way to the Maui Invitational.

"Coach [Roy] Williams, when we got on the plane heading to Maui, he told us, 'I'm going to let you all know now, you're not in Maui until I say you're in Maui, and when we get off this plane, you all are going to study hall, you all are going to lift weights and then we're going to practice,'" Manuel said. "And those two days were probably one of the worst two days, as far as practice, that we've ever had because he got into us real good."

Despite the NBA-level talent on their roster, the Tar Heels continued to provide ammunition for their skeptics with surprising losses, including one to Georgia Tech in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. But Manuel's team regrouped and beat Illinois to win the national championship.

He said players ultimately recognized that the NCAA tournament was their last chance to make history at a school that swims in it. So they turned up their swagger at the right moment. But really, Manuel said, they had finally figured out who they were and what they could accomplish.

That wasn't the case with every North Carolina team. Manuel was a member of the 2002-03 Tar Heels, who started 5-0 and won the Preseason NIT but ultimately finished the season 19-15 and missed the NCAA tournament.

"I don't think the judgment should start happening until February, late January," he said. "Then you can start judging a team and seeing how things are going to go with that team. But November, it's still early. People are still trying to work out the kinks, trying to build rotations. There's some teams that are trying to get that chemistry going. It's real early."

And that's why I will enjoy the coming months of college basketball. Because I know myths -- many concocted within my own mind -- will be shattered. Some teams will shock. Others will disappoint.

We'll all know more soon enough. But how much do we really know right now?

After only a month, it's just not wise to kill any team's vibe.


Three teams I still believe in …

Iowa: Yes, the Hawkeyes lost to Wichita State and Virginia Tech in back-to-back games. At the time, however, few knew how good both teams were. The Shockers are ranked nationally and Virginia Tech could have been prior to Saturday's loss at West Virginia. Iowa could still be a dangerous squad in the Big Ten. Its defense has made dramatic strides since last season. Aaron White is one of the most underrated leaders in America. Since giving up 95 points to the Hokies in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Hawkeyes have been more disciplined. They could rise again once Big Ten play begins.

Kentucky: Three Wildcats (Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress) are ranked in the top 10 of Chad Ford's top 100 NBA prospects. So Kentucky doesn't have a talent problem. It has a youth problem, a point guard problem, an inexperience problem. The Cats were not as good as they thought they were and now they know it. But I think falling out of the Top 25 takes some of the pressure off this young team. It's the perfect platform for a turnaround. They just need Ryan Harrow to evolve into a leader and a trustworthy point guard.

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack is a good team now. But the question is whether it's as elite as the preseason rankings assumed. NC State looked ordinary in its losses to Oklahoma State and Michigan, but it's still one of the nation's most versatile and talented teams. Its defense has been suspect (No. 95 in defensive efficiency), but it has been tougher in the past two games, wins over UConn and Cleveland State. C.J. Leslie's on-again/off-again pattern is always a concern, but he has been more consistent in recent outings. With Leslie dialed in, the Wolfpack can move up the rankings again.

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Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsArizona is unbeaten, but will face its toughest test by far against the fifth-ranked Gators.

Three teams I'm not sold on quite yet …

Arizona: The Wildcats finished strong in their toughest test of the year Saturday. But they were on the ropes multiple times in that 66-54 win at Clemson in Littlejohn Coliseum. Their reliance on youth was evident. Freshmen Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett struggled down the stretch. Mark Lyons (20 points) was unstoppable in the final minutes but Sean Miller will need big plays from his youngsters in similar situations. Yes, Arizona earned that win. But the Wildcats also looked like a team that could get whipped by Florida on Saturday.

Georgetown: Ugh. What more can you say about No. 15, gulp, Georgetown? The last few weeks have been tough for John Thompson III's crew. The Hoyas scored 37 points in a one-point win over Tennessee and two games later, they had only 46 as they scraped by Towson. Yes, that Towson. This is the same Georgetown team that tussled with Indiana, the nation's most efficient offense, and scored 78 in regulation on UCLA a few weeks ago, right? There's just no flow right now for the Hoyas. They can lock down any team in the country (fourth in defensive efficiency), but that won't matter in the future if they're struggling to put up 50 against the Big East's best.

Illinois: Kudos to the Illini for Saturday's 85-74 victory at Gonzaga. The Illini went to Spokane and beat a deep Zags squad. Illinois is a team that takes more 3s (265) than every team in the country that's not named VMI. Yet, they needed a monster performance from Brandon Paul (35 points) to pull off that victory. This is the same Illinois squad that required a late 3-pointer to beat Gardner-Webb a few weeks ago. In that game, Paul scored 13 points. The Illini also squeezed by Hawaii in overtime. Don't get me wrong. This is a great and unexpected start for John Groce's team. But I'm not going to get too excited until I see what this squad does in a few weeks against Missouri and then, the Big Ten. Stay tuned.

The Weekly Forecast

By Myron Medcalf

A quick look at the temperature of college basketball as we head into a new week:

The state of Indiana

Hot: The Hoosiers are still rolling. Notre Dame hasn't lost since Nov. 16. And Butler is on a four-game winning streak entering its clash with Indiana this weekend.

Cold: Purdue registered only 44 points in Saturday's three-point loss at Eastern Michigan. Matt Painter's squad recorded 18 turnovers and went 14-for-47 from the field.

The state of Wisconsin

Hot: After suffering a lopsided, 82-49 loss at Florida, the Golden Eagles bounced back with Saturday's 60-50 win over in-state rival Wisconsin. It was their fourth win in their past five games.

Cold: Wisconsin lost its fourth game of the year Saturday, a condition its Division I colleagues around the state understand well. Green Bay (3-5) has won one game since Nov. 16. Milwaukee has lost six of its past seven games.

Coaches in Year 1

Hot: No coach in Illinois modern basketball history has gotten off to a better start than John Groce has in his first 10 games. The former Ohio head coach has led the Illini to an undefeated start, a mark anchored by Saturday's win at previously unbeaten Gonzaga.

Cold: Dan Hurley has been a winner at every stop. But he'll clearly need more time to transform a Rhode Island team that's just 2-7 entering Saturday's matchup against SMU and new head coach Larry Brown.


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