10 CBB Teams That Need to Make Huge Improvements Against the Top 25
If you want to win championships, the old saying is true: "To be the best, you have to beat the best."
And in college basketball that means that you are not only going to come out on top against the cupcakes and underdogs on your schedule. You'll also need to win your fair share of games against teams that are in the Top 25.
The following 10 teams must do a better job in the 2012-13 season than they did last year against ranked opponents. You might be surprised, as I was, how poorly some of these teams did last year against the Top 25.
Some of these teams won their conference regular-season titles. Others cut down the nets at their league's postseason tourney.
Still others made deep runs in March Madness, but they still didn't do well when they faced teams that were listed in the polls.
To accomplish their ultimate goals this year, these 10 will need to "get it done" against the Top 25.
Tom Crean (pictured) and the Indiana Hoosiers had a breakthrough season in 2011-12.
They knocked off Kentucky at home in early December.
They made a good showing in the Big Ten regular season (11-7) and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Every time that the Hoosiers played a ranked team at home (Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State), they beat them.
Unfortunately, every time they faced a ranked opponent on the road, they lost.
Going 4-5 against Top 25 teams is not horrible. Things could be much worse.
But if you are trying to win the Big Ten and make a serious run at the Final Four, as the Hoosiers are, you need to find a way to take care of business against your quality opponents at home and on the road.
The Louisville Cardinals fought through the 2011-12 regular season.
They caught fire and won the Big East Tournament and stayed hot as they battled all the way to the Final Four.
While Rick Pitino's (pictured) crew ended up 26-9 and ranked No. 4 in the final rankings, it struggled at times against ranked opponents.
In the Cardinals' pre-conference games, they beat Vanderbilt but they lost to Bluegrass state rival Kentucky.
In regular-season league play, they didn't beat a single ranked opponent. The Cardinals lost to Georgetown, Marquette, Syracuse (twice).
Fortunately for Pitino's peeps, they got hot at the right time and road that all the way to New Orleans.
This year, Louisville is one of the favorites to come out on top in the Big East and make a serious run at the national title.
To do so, the Cardinals will have to take down some of their ranked opponents throughout the 2012-13 season.
Cuonzo Martin (pictured) had some monstrously big shoes to fill when he took over for Bruce Pearl at Tennessee.
Not only did Pearl become a fan favorite because of a larger-than-life personality, but he also won a bunch of basketball games.
But his departure was chaotic, and because of player departures, Martin had a huge immediate challenge to put a competitive team on the court.
He pulled things together, and the Vols made a solid showing in the SEC (10-6) on their way to playing in the NIT.
Tennessee lost all three of its pre-conference games against ranked opponents (Duke, Memphis and Pitt), before beating UConn in a January contest.
The Vols evidently had Florida's number last year because they beat them both in Knoxville and Gainesville.
But, they lost to Mississippi State and Kentucky (twice).
Martin has almost everyone back. His team has bought into his "D first" mentality. And it should be able to do better against the teams that are better in '12-13.
Josh Pastner (pictured) is one of the best young coaches in college basketball.
He took on the ridiculous challenge of following John Calipari at Memphis.
And so far, Pastner and his Memphis Tigers have continued to have good success in Conference USA.
In three seasons, the 35-year-old head coach has posted a 75-29 record and made it to the post-season every year.
Last year, the Tigers won the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles.
But, they came up short in every game that they played against a ranked opponent.
They lost to Michigan in Maui, and they got beat by Louisville and Georgetown in December.
For a team that is on the rise, the Tigers need to prove that they can do more than beat up on lesser teams.
They need to knock off Louisville or a Tennessee this fall to announce their arrival into the upper tier of college basketball.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Travis Ford (pictured) and the Oklahoma State Cowboys had a challenging 2011-12.
After starting his time in Stillwater with three consecutive 20 win seasons, Ford and the Boys went 15-18 last year and ended up in seventh place in the Big 12.
The only ranked opponent that they beat last year was Missouri in a late-January upset.
Otherwise, OSU struggled against Pitt, Kansas (twice), Baylor (twice) and Missouri (in their second matchup).
Things are looking up for Okie State, with pre-season All-American candidate Marcus Smart arriving to lead the team from his backcourt position.
If Smart and Le'Bryan Nash can mesh well, Ford may see things brighten up a bit as they jump into '12-13.
Jamie Dixon (pictured) has had huge success as the head coach of the Pitt Panthers.
In nine seasons, Dixon has posted a 238-77 record. Nice.
But, 2011-12 was his most challenging year to date. Not nice.
The Panthers were ranked No.10 in the preseason and then stumbled through most of their schedule.
Pitt finished the regular season 17-16, with a 5-13 record in the Big East.
If it wasn't for winning the CBI Tournament, their overall record (22-17) would have reflected their disappointing season.
The only game that the Panthers won against a ranked opponent was a home game against Georgetown in late January.
They ended up losing the other five games against Top 25 teams.
However, Dixon will have the Panthers ready to rumble in '12-13.
Freshman center Steven Adams, a 7-footer from New Zealander, looks to lead Pitt back to where they are used to being...challenging for the Big East title.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Tubby Smith (pictured) and the Golden Gophers had an up-and-down 2011-12.
They started off the season by winning 12 of their first 13 games...then they started playing in the Big Ten.
The conference season might have turned out differently if their talented big man, Trevor Mbakwe, had not gone down with a season-ending injury after seven games.
Minnesota only won six of its 18 conference games, good for ninth place.
The Golden Gophers only won one game all year (an early January victory at Indiana) against a ranked opponent. That means they were 1-8 versus Top 25 teams. Yuck!
With Mbakwe returning (granted a medical exception), along with seniors Rodney Williams and Julian Welch, Tubby's team looks to be competitive again as long as everyone stays healthy.
Rick Barnes (pictured) saw last season coming.
Even though he probably hoped for the best, Barnes knew that 2011-12 was going to be a rebuilding year.
Honestly, the Longhorns played decently (20-14; 9-9 Big 12; made it to the NCAA tournament) for a team that had to rely on J'Covan Brown and a bunch of freshmen.
But, the bottom line was that Texas did not beat a single Top 25 team last year. The Longhorns lost to North Carolina in pre-conference, Kansas and Baylor twice, and Missouri three times. Ouch!
The good news for Barnes and the Horns is that all of those freshmen are now sophomores.
Myck Kabongo may be the best PG in the Big 12. Plus, four 4-star recruits are coming to campus, with three of them being 6'10".
No one can accuse Barnes of making it easy on his youngsters.
Texas has what may be the toughest pre-conference schedule in the nation, with December games against Georgetown, UCLA, UNC and Michigan State.
But, by the time the Longhorns' Big 12 schedule begins, they will not back down when they go to Lawrence or Waco.
Mark Turgeon (pictured) is hard at work getting Maryland back to a place of conference and national relevance.
His first year in College Park was a challenge, going 17-15 (6-10 ACC).
More specifically, the Terrapins lost all seven of their games against ranked opponents.
They lost to Alabama in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and then dropped their conference games to Virginia, Duke (twice), and UNC (twice). That's rough!
Maryland opens against Kentucky, but then it could race through the rest of their pre-conference schedule without losing another game.
Even though the Terrapins have a nice core returning and a quality recruiting class arriving, they still need to step up to knock off the Wolfpack, the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels or any of their other Top-25 foes.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Mark Gottfried and the NC State Wolfpack put it all together at the right time last year.
In Gottfried's first season in Raleigh, they went 24-13 (9-7 ACC) and advanced to the Sweet 16.
Not bad for a program that had underperformed for five previous seasons under Sidney Lowe.
This year's team is loaded with experience and talent and has been ranked in the Top 10 in preseason polls.
To fulfill that prediction, the Wolfpack are going to have to do a better job against ranked opponents.
Until March Madness, NC State did not win a single game against a Top-25 team.
The Wolfpack lost to Vanderbilt and Syracuse in pre-conference play, and they couldn't beat UNC, Duke, Virginia or FSU in ACC contests.
The opportunity is here. The roster is stocked. Now the Pack just needs to take care of business in those BIG games.
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