So maybe the NWF State men's basketball team entered the season with too much fanfare.
Sporting News and the NJCAA picked the Raiders as their the preseason No. 1, thanks to a stacked recruiting class and a returning core that included Jared Wilson-Frame, Daryl Edwards, Jeromy Rodriguez and Teehjay Bogan.
This publication, too, predicted a national title for the Raiders.
That still may happen, of course, the Panhandle Conference slate and Region 8 tournament two key barometers and roadblocks that loom ahead. But for now, 14 games into the season, the 12-2 Raiders don't resemble national title favorites.
A 95-88 loss to fifth-ranked San Jacinto was the first dose of humility. The next setback came in a 13-point loss to seventh-ranked Eastern Florida State College on Dec. 11.
"We played in a couple of big games and lost them both," NWF State head coach Steve DeMeo said. "We have to be better."
The ceiling at The Arena, though, is hardly collapsing on the 24th-ranked Raiders. This is still a deep crew outscoring foes 99-71 and shooting 56 percent from the floor - with eight players averaging nine-plus points a night.
This is still a defense forcing 20 turnovers a night and holding foes to 41 percent shooting.
But come Jan. 11, that'll mean little when they open conference play against Pensacola State.
"I definitely know the guys are excited for league play," DeMeo said. "I've been here for four years and it's as good as it's ever been with Tallahassee (ninth) and Chipola (23rd) ranked and Pensacola and Gulf Coast every night presenting a challenge. If we don't bring our 'A' game, we'll lose on the road for sure and maybe even at home."
Speaking of As, there weren't many in the midseason grades we doled out to players and coaches.
MIDSEASON REPORT CARD
Joe Cook-Green, 6-4 freshman guard: C-plus.Slowed by Achilles injury last year, the New Zealander is still finding a backcourt role for NWF State with 1.9 points per game over just 7 minutes per game.
Ron Freeman, 6-6 sophomore wing: B-minus. The former Kansas State product appears to be on the cusp of breaking out but has yet to develop into that dominant scoring threat. His shooting percentages indicate he could be just that, shooting 49 percent from the floor and 52 percent from beyond the arc for 2.2 threes a night and 9.6 points per game. Freeman, also averaging 4.8 rebounds, just needs to find consistency. He needs to be able to take over games.
Stanley Davis, 6-2 freshman guard: C. The Tallahassee native has a lot of lot of room to improve, starting with his conditioning and frame. But, DeMeo pointed out, he's a team player.
Jared Wilson-Frame, 6-5 sophomore guard: B. The Pittsburgh commitment has drastically improved his shooting percentages - 57 percent from the floor and 50 percent from beyond arc en route to 2.7 threes a night. He's averaging 13.8 points per game, a figure that could easily be 20 points a night if not for NWF State's depth. Defense, getting to to the rim and foul line and improving on the 3.5 rebounds per game are areas where he can improve. We haven't seen the best of "The Beard" yet.
Daryl Edwards, 6-4 point guard: B. Another efficient scorer who, when he catches fire, is unconscious. He's averaging 13.2 points per game on a 59-percent clip from the floor and a 58-percent clip from beyond the arc, resulting in 2.5 threes a night. Defense, rebounding and moving without the ball remain areas that he needs to improve.
Andres Feliz, 6-2 freshman guard: B-minus. He's shooting well from the floor (59 percent), en route to 12.3 points per game, but just 15 percent from beyond the arc. He needs to work on his conditioning and develop a quicker shot release.
Jeromy Rodriguez, 6-7 sophomore forward: A-minus. He does the dirty work in the frontcourt, averaging a team-high nine rebounds in only 24 minutes per game and 1.5 steals and a blocks a night. All the while he's developed into NWF State's most efficient scorer, averaging 14.6 points per game on 61 percent shooting.
Malik Petteway, 6-7 sophomore forward: B-minus. He has a great feel for the post and is averaging 8.8 points on 60 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. After a strong start he's slowed down of late, and he needs to do a better job of finding the ball.
Teehjay Bogan, 6-5 sophomore guard: B. Bogan has transformed from a guy that didn't play last year to a starter. He understands his role and doesn't try to do too much, averaging nine points a game on 52 percent shooting from the floor and 1.4 threes a night on a 45-percent clip. A true team player, he just needs to work on his defense and rebounding.
Casey Ponder, 6-6 freshman forward: A-minus. Embracing his role as a bench player and a workhorse in practice, Ponder understands his role and brings great energy to the club.
Andrew Gordon, 6-10 freshman center: C-plus. The big man's brought off the bench to clean up the boards and convert easy looks, and he's been decently efficient with 4.3 points on 77 percent shooting and 4.8 rebounds in only 13 minutes a night. But the Raiders need him to be a big man who can close games and rebound more.
Karim Ezzedine, 6-9 freshman forward: B. DeMeo expects Ezzedin to bring incredible energy off the bench, a role he's fully embraced. In just 11 minutes he's averaging 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He just needs to work on his outside shot and continue to be that sparkplug.
Steve DeMeo, head coach: B-minus. DeMeo said the Raiders aren't as far along as he'd like at this point of the season. Transition defense, guarding the ball, defensive rebounding and getting 50-50 balls are just a few of his complaints that he blames squarely on coaching. He'd also tell you the Raiders have to do a better job of winning the big game after losses to fifth-ranked San Jacinto and seventh-ranked Eastern Florida State.
But at 12-2, a B-minus? For the 2015 Coach of the Year? A national champion? In championship-or-bust environment, high grades are hard to earn.
Rory Kuhn, assistant coach: A-minus. DeMeo likes to joke that people around campus like Kuhn more than him. Kuhn networks with everyone - NWF State students, other athletes, staff, administration and the public. "He makes sure we're well respected on campus," DeMeo said. His friendliness translates to him being, as DeMeo called it, "a common voice for the players when things may not being so well." He's also level-headed, so when the New York native says something, players listen. That's why he's proven so invaluable in player development to some of NWF State's biggest names like current FSU guard Benji Bell, Jalen Jackson and Brandon Austin.
Jake Williams: B-plus. DeMeo commended the Tennessee native for his scouting and administrative abilities. Williams, DeMeo said, is young but full of good ideas, a coach that's grown leaps and bounds with the program in both player development and recruiting. He lends a fieriness to the sideline that is both constructive and integral to the team dynamic.
Tevin Baskin: B. In his first year at collegiate coaching level, Baskin has become a resource for his experience as both a former NJCAA and Division I player. His work comes primarily with the wing and post players, and he's carving out a role in other recruiting areas. "He's further along than I could have imagined," DeMeo said. "He's a sponge that wants to get better as a coach and his message gets across to the players."