Playing Panic or Patience with Struggling NCAA Basketball Teams
With one-third or more of their schedules behind them, NCAA basketball teams that got off to slow starts are running out of chances to turn things around. The beginning of conference play will reinforce the need for some teams to throw in the towel on a miserable season, but other fanbases will find their patience rewarded in the latter part of the schedule.
One program that is squarely in the former camp is the Florida State Seminoles. Getting blown out at home by a very good Florida team is one thing, but losses on the same floor to South Alabama and Mercer have revealed some serious problems for Michael Snaer and company.
Let's take a closer look at FSU’s downward spiral and nine more struggling teams whose problems may or may not warrant pushing the panic button just yet.
That Purdue would be worse off than last season was almost a given after the graduation losses that hit the Boilermakers roster. That observation, though, did little to prepare the team or its fans for the nightmare that 2012-13 is turning into.
Purdue lost its opener at home to unsung Bucknell and then dropped six of its first 12 games overall (including a road defeat at lowly Eastern Michigan).
The Boilermakers have mostly played competitive basketball, but with junior Terone Johnson providing the only reliable offense, scoring has been very hard to come by.
Freshman A.J. Hammons offers a glimmer of hope in the post, but the 7’0”, 280-lb youngster will have to learn to use his size more effectively before he can handle Big Ten post play.
9. West Virginia
Despite the graduation of superstar PF Kevin Jones, West Virginia appeared to have a fair amount of firepower entering the season.
The arrival of touted transfers Juwan Staten (Dayton) and Aaric Murray (La Salle) looked like it would keep the Mountaineers afloat in the race for an at-large bid.
Murray has played solid defense (7.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a night), but the offense has been wretched. Staten’s anemic 11.1 points per game lead the roster, as do his appalling 2.8 assists per contest.
Unable to score against the Davidsons and Duquesnes of the world, the Mountaineers are going to get squished against the far superior defenses (and offenses) of the Big 12.
Even with two first-round NBA draft picks gone, Washington had reason to think that 2012-13 wouldn’t be a total loss. The defending Pac-12 champions still had the explosive C.J. Wilcox and a few other key contributors from last year’s team.
Unfortunately, as 2013 opens, the Huskies also have five losses, including home defeats at the hands of Albany and Nevada.
Senior PG Abdul Gaddy has looked awful in running the offense. Wilcox is scoring in bunches (on 15 shots per game) but contributing little elsewhere.
Most worrisome of all, there’s no help coming from a disastrous bench corps that’s getting all of 6.9 points per game from its top scoring threat, Andrew Andrews.
The defining quality for Baylor’s 2012-13 season has been inconsistency. The same team that snapped Kentucky’s 55-game win streak at Rupp Arena also lost on its own home floor to the College of Charleston.
The Cougars aren’t even the only team to embarrass the Bears in Waco, where unheralded Northwestern also escaped with a win. Pierre Jackson is having to carry too much of the offense by himself now that Cory Jefferson’s hot start has leveled off.
It really doesn’t help that Brady Heslip—a junior who should have been a steadying influence on this very young team—has seen his three-point accuracy drop by 10 percentage points from a year ago.
Like much of the rest of the Baylor roster, Heslip has the requisite talent, provided he can only start putting things together.
6. Florida State
The Florida State Seminoles took a good shot at breaking the land-speed record for falling out of the Top 25. FSU opened the year ranked 25th in the AP poll before losing its opener to South Alabama on its home floor.
A December loss to Mercer showed that the ‘Noles’ problems were more than just a fluke. Graduation losses have hit them hard on both ends of the floor, costing them top distributor Luke Loucks and shot-blocking specialist Bernard James.
With no viable prospects to take over either role, Florida State is in for a long season in the tough ACC.
Had it not started the season ranked No. 17, Memphis would feel a lot better about its current position.
After all, two of the Tigers’ three losses came at the hands of current No. 5 Louisville and No. 9 Minnesota, and the third was courtesy of a very tough Virginia Commonwealth squad.
Still, two of those teams were unranked when they took down Josh Pastner’s squad, and Louisville had to rally from a 16-point deficit for its win. Those circumstances have made Memphis’ 9-3 record look substantially worse than it is.
Despite the lack of a true go-to scorer, the Tigers offense has been on par with last year’s squad.
Meanwhile, JUCO transfer Geron Johnson and unheralded senior D.J. Stephens have led an opportunistic defense that’s shut down some very tough offenses (notably Ohio and Oral Roberts).
A rocky start notwithstanding, Memphis is looking just fine to thrive against a typically nondescript field in Conference USA.
There’s no mystery as to the source of Texas’ unexpected early-season woes. The suspension of sophomore leader Myck Kabongo (which will last through mid-February) has left the team without its floor general and a first-rate scoring option.
Although the young Longhorns frontcourt has shown signs of life, ranking 28th in the nation in rebounding has meant little with the offense sputtering.
The loss to Division II Chaminade in Maui was the season’s nadir, but falling to a dreadful USC team the next night comes in a close second.
Freshman Javan Felix has played admirably in Kabongo’s absence, but by the time the sophomore returns, Texas will have dug too deep a hole for his presence to matter.
Opening the season at No. 13 in the national polls will make any losses look like unacceptable ones. Of course, when you’re UCLA, any loss to a program as little known as Cal Poly is unacceptable, period—and doubly so at Pauley Pavilion.
Aside from that disastrous outing, though, the Bruins have fallen to two very strong opponents in Georgetown and San Diego State. More importantly, last week’s upset of No. 7 Missouri shows that Ben Howland’s very young lineup may finally be jelling.
Putative star Shabazz Muhammad, back from his season-opening suspension, is up to 19.6 points per game, with the surprising Jordan Adams providing 17.7 more.
Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson’s struggles have been largely offset by a spectacular start from Larry Drew II, who’s averaging 8.6 assists against just 1.7 turnovers a night.
It’s not like Wisconsin hasn’t found some good teams to lose to.
The Badgers have fallen to No. 13 Florida and No. 16 Creighton along with a pair of inconsistent squads (Marquette and Virginia), which they caught on good days. Still, 9-4 is not how Bo Ryan’s team is used to entering conference play.
The culprit has, as usual, been an offense that can go from 60-to-zero in no time. Wisconsin opened the year with an 87-point outburst against Southeast Louisiana and then managed just 56 points against the Florida Gators three nights later.
In almost any other year, the Badgers’ blowout win over a good California team would be reason enough to expect a solid Big Ten showing.
This season, however, the conference has so much offensive talent that Wisconsin’s usual 50-40 wins will be much harder to come by.
Despite an uncharacteristic 8-4 record, John Calipari’s latest crop of freshmen is showing signs of developing into a serious contender.
Against Louisville on Saturday, the Wildcats saw a furious comeback fall just short in the second half. Their earlier loss to Duke had followed a similar pattern.
Kentucky has shown flashes of both smothering defense (led, of course, by shot-swatting Nerlens Noel) and explosive offense (keyed by sniper Kyle Wiltjer and combo guard Archie Goodwin).
With all four of its losses coming against teams that have spent time in the Top 25 this season, it’s hard to consider UK anything like a lost cause heading into SEC play.