Back at it off the Thanksgiving hiatus, and since there wasn't a Preseason NIT "Postgame Shootaround," I'll try to compensate for everything that happened over the weekend in this post, which features some observations and pleasant surprises after the first month of this season.
Player of the Month: Kemba Walker (UConn)
Not enough can be said about Walker's evolution as he entered his junior campaign, and it's still hard to comprehend that he's done so much so early. The point guard from the Bronx is averaging 30 points per game for the undefeated Huskies, who upended Michigan State and Kentucky on their way to the Maui Invitational championship.
Freshman of the Month: Terrence Jones (Kentucky)
In a rookie class headlined by Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger, the Wildcat that almost signed with Washington has proven he belongs in the group of impressive first-year players. John Calipari is no doubt thankful for Jones' 21-point, 10-rebound nightly average, which is supported by shooting 50% from the field and nearly three blocked shots per contest.
Most Improved Player: Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova)
When I spoke to Jay Wright at Big East media day last month, he was excited about Mouph's return after missing nearly half of his freshman season due to having contracted hepatitis. Wright had every reason to be pumped up for his big man's return, as Yarou has given 'Nova a style that hasn't been on the Main Line in quite some time with their guard-heavy lineups. The sophomore from Benin may only be averaging just under eleven points per game, but backs it up with 8.5 rebounds a night and a 60% shooting percentage.
Breakout Player of the Month: Justin Brownlee (St. John's)
Unless you're Red Storm coach Steve Lavin, you probably didn't have the "Johnny quicker picker upper" atop your list of players to watch in Queens. That's why the 6-7 senior has proven nearly everyone in the country wrong. Brownlee almost singlehandedly won the Great Alaska Shootout after D.J. Kennedy didn't have the tournament he had hoped for, and he shows no sign of easing up anytime soon. (For more on Brownlee, click here for this feature article written by my colleague Tim Dimas of WSJU Radio and JohnnyJungle.com)
Definitely NOT Overrated: Tennessee
I was convinced of this in person Friday afternoon when the Vols outmuscled and outplayed Villanova to win the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, and they gave VCU more than just a fight in their semifinal on Wednesday. Despite his shortcomings and criticism, Bruce Pearl can coach; and his players are more than happy to prove themselves on the court. Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum are two of the most under-the-radar scorers in the country; and if he stays beyond his freshman season, Tobias Harris could become one of the greatest players in not just Tennessee history, but SEC history as well.