The college basketball season is halfway gone and there are some coaches who have some ‘splainin to do.
Each college across the NCAA has a pretty good idea of how its season should play out before the season starts. Some schools have national championship aspirations. Some schools aspire to watch the tournament on TV.
The point is that before the season starts, schools are already positioning themselves for ranking and prestige. This helps getting nationally televised games, which helps with exposure. Exposure leads to better recruiting.
In the Big East, for example, the coaches of the league each cast a vote predicting how the league standings will play out. This year, they picked a tie between Syracuse and Connecticut. While they may have been spot-on with Syracuse, UConn is stumbling a little bit.
But they’re not the only ones.
Plenty of schools get high preseason rankings, whether from the national pollsters or from their own conferences. Many live up to the hype and many are just hype.
Now, bear in mind that these are just predictions. If a team doesn’t live up to the ranking, it doesn’t mean that they are a bad team, just not as good as advertised.
Here’s a list of the this season’s biggest offenders (in no particular order).
Florida State was picked to finish third in the ACC and, on the strength of a 5-0 start, got themselves a No. 20 ranking in the Coaches Poll.
Then they ran into an upstart Harvard team.
After averaging almost 77 points per game, the Seminoles managed just 41 points against the Ivy League school from Cambridge.
Including the Harvard loss, FSU dropped three straight, adding UConn and Michigan State. Florida State would also fall in an 18-point beat down by Florida. None of these losses are bad losses, although you would expect the team picked third in the talented ACC would be able to grab a win in at least one of those games. But the real disappointment started with a two-point loss on December 30 to a bad Princeton team and then, eight days later, a 20-point loss to a bad Clemson team.
While Florida State has not managed one quality win, it has found a way to do something I don’t remember another team doing, losing two games in one season to the Ivy League.
The Pittsburgh Panthers started the season as the No. 10 team in the nation.
But something funny happened at the start of the season. Pitt, which enjoys one of the great home-court advantages in all of college basketball, suffered a 10-point loss at home to the Long Beach State 49ers.
Pitt has been hit by the injury bug, but this loss stood out as a sign of things to come.
Pitt would rip nine straight wins against much lesser opponents, but would bookend the streak with another home loss. This time to Wagner.
Pit has now fallen out of the rankings for the first time in two years and has managed to drop four straight, including a three-point loss to DePaul, and has started the Big East schedule 0-3.
Rutgers heads to Pitt on January 11, unafraid.
Villanova started the season with the promise of a good recruiting class and a few votes in the polls. They were only expected to finish around eighth in the Big East, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the deepest conference in the NCAA.
The Wildcats opened up with a 106-70 whipping of Monmouth.
Over the next 14 games, Villanova would not even cross the 80-point barrier. It took an 87-71 win over DePaul to break that streak and get the Wildcats back to .500 at 8-8.
Villanova has been beaten up by crosstown foes, Temple and St. Joe’s, but that’s not the worst of it.
Just like Pitt, Villanova enjoys a very tough home court, but that didn’t prevent Stan Heath and his South Florida Bulls from punching Villanova in the face with a 17-point win at the Pavilion.
That should never happen.
Washington is a tough team to figure out. Despite the fact that they usually start their seasons off a little slow, they got a little love in both polls and looked to be one of the better teams in a Pac-12 that just isn’t that good.
The pressure of being a team that “also received votes” must have got to them as indicated by its 5-4 start.
But all didn’t have to look bad. The four losses were tough games against Saint Louis, Nevada, Marquette and Duke. The Huskies only lost to Marquette and Duke by two and six respectively, so they could lick their wounds and know that they have the talent to run with the big dogs.
They then went on to get beaten by South Dakota State.
Yes, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Washington has talent, but is too undisciplined to be worth a second look from any teams worth their salt.
Texas A&M started out the season ranked No. 19.
They began 8-1, with the only hiccup being a loss to Mississippi State.
They’ve now lost four of their last five, including losses in College Station to Rice and Iowa State.
The Aggies have no quality wins, and if they continue the path they are on now, they will have a tough time making the NIT.
It's been a tough year for coach Billy Kennedy with his illness and Jamal Branch transferring. It doesn't look to get any easier.
Before I begin, Louisville is not a bad team. They are well coached and play tough. They just aren’t the team they’ve been advertised to be.
Louisville battled through injuries to start the season 12-0. They convinced the AP and Coaches Poll voters to move them up to No. 4 in the nation and even received a couple first-place votes as recently as two weeks ago.
This on a résumé that included wins against UT-Martin, Lamar, a Butler team that lost everyone from last year, Arkansas State, Ohio, Long Beach State, IUPUI, Fairleigh Dickinson and Western Kentucky.
The Cardinals' three “quality wins” would come from a Vanderbilt team that has struggled at times but is playing better of late, the College of Charleston and Memphis, another team ranked higher than they deserved to start the season.
Louisville has lost three of its last four, but losing to Georgetown by three and Kentucky by six isn’t necessarily a blemish, even though the Georgetown loss came at Louisville.
The loss that’s mind boggling is the home loss to Notre Dame.
Louisville is having a big problem at the end of its games with sloppy play and turnovers. A team ranked No. 4 has to win those games at home.
So is Louisville bad? No. They’re a good squad, just not who we thought they were.
UCLA started the season as the No. 17 team in the country and a favorite to win the Pac-12.
They proceeded to begin 0-2 with an 11-point loss to Loyola Marymount and a 20-point loss to Middle Tennessee. This is unacceptable for a team with the pride and pedigree of UCLA.
In the midst of this disappointing 9-7 season, Coach Ben Howland dismissed his leading scorer and rebounder from last year, Reeves Nelson, for insubordinate behavior.
UCLA may be able to be competitive in a Pac-12 that stinks, but the reality is that the Pac-12 may only get one team in the tournament, and it most certainly will not be UCLA.
I don’t want to pick on the Pac-12 too much so I’ll be brief.
Arizona was supposed to be much better than they are and were the preseason No. 16 team in the NCAA. Of their five losses, four are against quality opponents, but losing to UCLA should have never happened.
Arizona is good for two things:
- Keeping bad teams in games
- Losing close games to better opponents.
Arizona is just another sloppy team in the Pac-12 without a quality win on its schedule. They are undersized and rely too heavily on the three.
The Pac-12 has been losing players to the draft and graduation. It’s just a bad time for the conference right now.
Let’s move on.
There was a lot of buzz around Memphis to start the season. By week three, the Tigers were the No. 8 team in the polls.
Memphis couldn’t live up to its ranking, though, with losses to Georgetown, Michigan, Murray State and Louisville. None of these are bad losses, but Memphis was supposed to be better than this and was the Las Vegas favorite against both Michigan and Murray State.
Memphis’ biggest problems are that it can’t rebound and its defense leaves something to be desired.
This isn’t a bad team, per se, it’s just not worthy of a No. 8 ranking. Memphis may be able to beat some quality teams, but without being able to get on that glass, there won’t be many.
Florida is an interesting team because it is still ranked in the top 15, but its only quality win is against Texas A&M.
They started the season as a top-ten team, but haven’t shown that they deserve the ranking, which is why it’s puzzling that they are still hovering around that area. Their most recent loss to Tennessee should knock them down at least a few notches, one would think.
The Gators have played a tough schedule, losing to Ohio State and Syracuse, but their losses to Rutgers and Tennessee are not top-ten worthy.
The Syracuse loss, while only by four points, was not indicative of how the game actually played out and exposed Florida's fatal flaw. They have too many guards and not enough size. They also live and die by the three.
This hasn’t prevented them from scoring at a high clip, but against taller teams in the SEC, they will need to shoot at a high percentage to win games and won’t be able to withstand a poor shooting night from beyond the arc.
Florida’s rebounding numbers are not bad, but they are a little misleading. Florida shoots a lot of threes, which creates a lot of long rebound chances, and often gets in three-point battles, causing long rebounds on the defensive side.
Teams running their offenses from the paint should drop Florida from the rankings sooner than later.
Xavier started out the season nicely with a string of wins and built themselves up to the No. 8 spot in the rankings.
Their December 10 win against Cincinnati would prove to be a turning point. After the now-infamous fracas with the crosstown Bearcats, Xavier would respond by losing five of its next seven games while Cincinnati would run off seven straight wins.
This included losses to Oral Roberts, Long Beach State, Hawaii and La Salle.
Whether this is penance for Tu Holloway shooting off his mouth during and since the brawl, or just a team lacking focus, Xavier is in trouble. The suspensions should not have been a factor in their losses, and even at full strength, they look like a shell of what they were to start the season.
Xavier can turn it around, but for right now, as radio personality Tony Bruno would say, they stink out loud.
Coming off its improbable national championship season, UConn looked like it was still loaded, even with the departure of Kemba Walker. Now the Huskies seem to be a little more hype than hustle.
It started with their puzzling loss to UCF, which seemed to be an anomaly at the time. They bounced back with a few quality wins against Florida State and Harvard, but now those wins don’t seem so good.
UConn barely escaped Tampa with a three-point win against South Florida but would not do so well in the Garden State.
Connecticut has started 2012 by going an unthinkable 0 for New Jersey, losing to Seton Hall and Rutgers.
Word on the street is Princeton is licking its chops.
UConn has some issues it has to work out, and most likely will, but that doesn’t mean that their three losses are any less disappointing.
You’re better than that, Huskies.