10 College Basketball Teams with Identity Issues

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2013

10 College Basketball Teams with Identity Issues

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    Great college basketball teams have a strong sense of who they are and why they are great.

    Even though the best teams don't all get it done in the same way, they usually are very comfortable in their strengths and their weaknesses.

    As we close out January and get ready for the final weeks of the college hoops' season, lets take a quick look at 10 teams who are struggling with identity issues.

    They are programs who have either been up-and-down this season (...or maybe just down) and are trying to pull it all together before it is too late.

South Florida Bulls

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    A year ago, South Florida was an emerging program with a nice pair of NCAA Tournament wins and an overall record of 22-14.

    Now, turn the clock ahead to this year, and the South Florida Bulls (10-9 overall) are 1-6 in the Big East and in last place in the conference.

    Their sole Big East win, strangely enough, was against Georgetown.

    Stan Heath, the USF head coach since 2007, may be on the hot seat soon.

    In his first five years in Tampa, the Bulls have posted sub-.500 records three times, with this season being a strong possibility to make that four in six years.

    Heath may not be fully to blame. The USF program has struggled and the roller coaster ride doesn't seem like its coming to an end anytime soon.

Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Penn State basketball? Who knew that they had a hoops team in Happy Valley?

    Between an illustrious football program and all of the controversy that has surround it over the last year, is there the slightest chance for PSU basketball to gain some positive recognition?

    ESPN.com writer and PSU grad Dana O'Neil expressed her opinion about the insignificance of the Penn State Nittany Lion hoops' program:

    For years the basketball team has been a little sister of the poor stepchild to football, a winter afterthought given all the tending and care of a vegetable garden positioned in the middle of a nuclear field. Administrative support waffles between tepid applause and casual indifference.

    The dirty little truth is, whether the team is good or bad, the university profits thanks to the hefty paycheck doled out by the Big Ten Network. And so the university pays little attention to and cares less about the program.

    Coming into the Big Ten didn't help Penn State's hoops' challenges. They have generally finished in the bottom third of the conference.

    Last year, Pat Chambers posted a 12-20 record in his first year at the helm.

    This year, Penn State is winless in their first eight conference games and 8-12 overall.


Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Kevin Stallings has been building the Vanderbilt Commodores basketball program since he arrived in 1999.

    Over the last six seasons, the Commodores made it to the NCAA Tournament five times.

    And Stallings had a group of exceptional players that were together for most of the last four years.

    Three of those players (John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli) are now playing in the NBA.

    Three more (Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang) graduated, leaving Vandy with virtually having to start from scratch again.

    VU is struggling through the initial year of rebuilding, going 8-10 so far, winning two of their first six conference games.

    It may take Stallings a few years of solid recruiting, but he has more than proven his ability to get things done in the SEC.

Utah Utes

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    Over the last three and a half decades, Utah basketball has been one of the most successful college hoops programs in the West.

    Multiple deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, 7 Sweet Sixteens, 1 Elite Eight and 1 Championship Game appearance.

    Over the last seven seasons, the Utah Utes have only one season (2008-09) when they won over 20 games.

    During the last three seasons, Utah only won a total of 33 games.

    And this year, in their second season in the Pac 12, the Utes are 9-11 (1-7 Pac 12; currently 12th place).

    Head coach Larry Krystkowiak, a nine-year NBA vet, has a big job ahead of him.

    Restocking the program won't be easy. Freshman forward Jordan Loveridge (pictured; 12.7 PPG; 7.4 RPG) is a good start. Larry K will have to add a lot more players to get the Utes out of the Pac 12 basement.

UConn Huskies

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    Jim Calhoun took over the Connecticut men's hoops program in 1986 and made it into a national powerhouse.

    26 years and a lot of success: three national championships, seven Big East Tournament championships, and a 618-233 record.

    Now, Calhoun has retired and left the program in the capable hands of Kevin Ollie.

    But, what kind of teams will Ollie have? Will they look like the UConn teams that tore up opponents and made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament almost every year? What will characterize an "Ollie team?"

    With the talent that he brings to campus, it won't be long before we will have answers to all of those questions.

USC Trojans

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    After the mid-season firing of USC Trojan's head coach Kevin O'Neill, USC is officially a program in transition.

    They are playing out the remainder of the 2012-13 season with interim head coach Bob Cantu guiding the team.

    It has been a grim couple of years in Troy.

    O'Neill won a total of 35 games during his first two seasons, before the bottom dropped out last year when USC finished the 2011-12 season 6-26, only winning one Pac 12 game.

    It doesn't make sense to me how USC can't put a high quality team on the court on an annual basis.

    With the talent base in SoCal, and the national reputation of the school, you would think that getting things done in L.A. would be a cinch.

    Hiring the right coach who can leverage all the advantages of 'SC is key.

    This should be one of the premier jobs to fill when the college coaching carousel begins to spin.

4. Texas Longhorns

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    The Texas Longhorns, under the leadership of Rick Barnes, have had huge success.

    In Barnes' 14 years at UT, the Horns have made it to the NCAA Tournament every year, with two trips to the Sweet Sixteen, two trips to the Elite Eight and one Final Four appearance (2002-03).

    But, unless there is a Longhorn basketball miracle, this streak will end this year.

    Texas is currently 9-10 with a 1-5 Big 12 record.

    The fact that Barnes' team is virtually all freshmen and sophomores would have presented a big enough challenge, but then the Horns lost sophomore PG Myck Kabongo for most of this season because of NCAA violations.

    Barnes is used to reeling in top level recruits to replace those who have gone on to the NBA, but this team lacks the elite talent that he usually brings in bunches to Austin. 

    The eyes of Texas are upon you, Rick.

3. UCLA Bruins

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    UCLA is the epitome of a young, inexperienced team.

    At times, the UCLA Bruins step up and beat quality opponents like Missouri, Colorado and, most recently, Arizona.

    At other times, UCLA overlooks "lesser" teams and gets beat (See games against Cal Poly and Arizona State).

    ESPN.com's Peter Yoon talked about the Bruins' loss to Arizona State (after beating Arizona two days before) this way:

    This type of inconsistency is what you get with a young team still trying to find its way. For every impact win, a bad loss is lurking around the corner. And while Arizona State (16-4, 5-2) isn't exactly a pushover, the inability to back up the big win Thursday makes it a bad loss for UCLA.

    The players even acknowledged their lack of focus. After the ASU loss, Freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad sighed:

    There was no motivation. Going into this game, we were like, 'This is a trap game and we have to play hard because we just got a great win off of Arizona,' and then we come out here and not play as hard.

    The talent is on this roster. The Class of 2012 alone should be able to knock off most of the Bruins' opponents.

    But, it's nearly impossible to force a team to grow up.

2. Kentucky Wildcats

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    John Calipari knows what it's like to attempt to instantly combine elite-level talent.

    He's been doing it ever since he arrived in Lexington in 2009.

    This year's team doesn't have the swagger or skills of his other Kentucky Wildcats squads.

    Future NBA Draftees? There's a bunch of them. Freakish athleticism? All over the place, but the Wildcats haven't meshed and they are slogging their way through the 2012-13 season.

    No disrespect to Ryan Harrow, but they are missing a strong PG that can run the show.

    Right now, on CBSSports.com, Kentucky's RPI is a mediocre 62, right behind North Dakota State, South Dakota State and St. Mary's.

    A lot can change in a year.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Lose four NBA Draft picks in one year, and you have some holes to fill.

    But at a school like North Carolina, where McDonald's All-Americans not only fill the starting five, but also come off the bench, you should not have much of a drop off.

    This year's UNC Tar Heels have been on a roller coaster ride.

    Statistically, they are still one of the top teams, but North Carolina is dangerously close to not making it to the NCAA Tournament.

    They seem to be missing focus and determination. They lack inside strength. Everyone seemingly wants to shoot jumpers.

    Their 13-6 (3-3 ACC) record reflects a team that is good enough to beat most teams, but not so good that they can just show up and overwhelm everyone.