They started slowly, dropped out of the Top 25 and, after an embarrassing 71-56 loss to San Francisco, the DePaul Blue Demons were a team coming up way short of expectations.
But since that loss on Jan. 2, DePaul is 11-2 and threatening to crack the rankings again. The Blue Demons bring their 17-6 record, including six consecutive victories, to the Florida Suncoast Dome on Sunday for a game against 16th-ranked Florida State.
"They seem to have fun," DePaul coach Joey Meyer said earlier this week. "Practices have been upbeat. The players are confident. They're playing hard and competing. We're definitely getting better. Look at tapes of them now and of a month ago. There's no comparison."
Sunday's game is an important one for the Blue Demons. Although they're in first place in the Great Midwest Conference after their last-minute victory at No. 19 Cincinnati on Thursday, the first-year league does not get an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
So DePaul will have to be judged as an at-large team. A victory over a ranked opponent would certainly help. After FSU, DePaul plays St. Louis, Marquette and Notre Dame before the Great Midwest Conference Tournament at Chicago Stadium.
Last season, DePaul finished 20-9 but failed to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, four starters returned, including 6-foot-7 senior forward David Booth and 6-10 senior center Stephen Howard. It is a quick, experienced team that likes to run.
On TV: Sunday's games involving FSU and DePaul, and No. 5 Arizona and Temple at the Florida Suncoast Dome will be televised nationally by ABC, but there is also another big game on CBS. Seventh-ranked Indiana plays at sixth-ranked Ohio State for the Big Ten lead.
There are two keys in the game. One is Ohio State's Jimmy Jackson, who scored a career-low seven points in a 92-86 loss to Iowa on Tuesday.
"My teammates got me the ball in good position, I just couldn't make a shot," Jackson said. "The points don't bother me. I'd be happy with no points and a win. But what bothers me is that my shooting took us out of the game. "
Another factor will be guard Jamaal Brown's ability to guard Indiana's Damon Bailey. In three career games against OSU, Bailey is shooting 57 percent from the field. "I hate to say it, but Damon Bailey is the hardest player for me to guard," Brown said. "I don't know what it is. I guess he moves well without the ball. It doesn't look like he'd be really flashy."
He's no bully: When Oklahoma State beat Kansas recently, there was a point in the game where Oklahoma State's Cornell Hatcher was sprawled out on the court. Kansas coach Roy Williams walked over to Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton to ask which one of his players had decked Hatcher. Sutton didn't see the incident, but he was impressed with Williams for asking: "It was very classy. I didn't see the player, but it was a great example of sportsmanship."
Psychology: Kansas leads the Big Eight, but the Jayhawks are continually bothered by poor free-throw shooting. They reached the NCAA title game last year despite that problem. This year, they are seventh in the Big Eight from the line, hitting only 61 percent.
Richard Scott decided before the season to find a sports psychologist, and David Cook has helped several Kansas players. Alonzo Jamison has improved from 49 percent last year to 72 percent. But it hasn't done much for Scott, who was hitting 35 percent from the line going into January and is only 12 of 42 (29 percent) since then.
Self-appraisal: After Minnesota's 71-67 victory over Indiana last week, coach Clem Haskins nearly injured himself patting himself on the back. "I don't mean to toot my own horn, but Clem Haskins should get credit for doing one hell of a job for preparing his team to play a top five team and the No. 1 team in the conference. The credit needs to go to my staff and Clem Haskins for doing one hell of a job. If you guys can't understand that, we've got one hell of a problem."
Haskins had his own problems a few days later when the Gophers lost to lowly Illinois.
Quote marks: USC coach George Raveling, on comments made by Arizona coach Lute Olson that a road trip to Duke would be "a walk in the park" compared with Arizona's visit last weekend to Stanford and California: "A walk in what park? Central Park? Lute's been in Tucson too long."