December is a crucial month for many teams with hopes of grabbing key non-conference victories to prove their worth heading into conference play.
With the first month of the college basketball season officially closed, many teams across the country have proved their legitimacy and placement into the upper echelon (or NCAA Tournament-worthiness) of college basketball.
Entering December, there are many NCAA Tournament-hopeful teams that have a crucial month ahead — and much more to prove — whether that be through tougher competition or simply getting back on track.
Here, we will discuss five teams that have the most to prove this December in the 2023-24 college basketball season.
Saint Mary’s Gaels
Simply put, November was not kind to Randy Bennett and Co. Entering the season ranked 23rd in the AP Top 25 — and picked to finish above Gonzaga in the WCC Preseason Poll — the Gaels have been nothing short of underwhelming to open the season. Standing at just 3-4, Saint Mary’s has welcomed the defeats by a home loss to Dillon Jones and Weber State, two blowout losses to Xavier and San Diego State in Las Vegas and most recently, a home loss to an improved Utah Utes squad.
What has been the issue with the Gaels? Saint Mary’s has struggled to efficiently and consistently shoot from the floor and has struggled immensely from the free throw line. Leaving points on the board is the last thing a team wants to do when they are struggling to put points on the board in the first place.
Nonetheless, Saint Mary’s remains one of the nation’s best defensive teams, posting a 94.2 adjusted defensive efficiency, according to BartTorvik. This will be exactly what Randy Bennett’s squad needs to hang their hat on as they enter a crucial month ahead.
In the life of mid-majors, opportunities to grab quality wins diminish as the season goes on. The Gaels will have eight more non-conference matchups in December, all against teams that are .500 or better as of Dec. 1. Although their upcoming eight games do not feature any more power-five programs, a road tilt against Isaiah Stevens and Colorado State, a neutral site games against Boise State and UNLV and home matchups against quality mid-major opponents such as Missouri State and Kent State present a wonderful opportunity for Bennett to improve his team’s metrics and get the Gaels back on track.
Don’t count the Gaels out just yet. With a lot to prove — and eight quality non-conference matchups on deck — the month of December will be extremely telling regarding the direction the Gaels take heading into WCC play in January.