College Basketball Teams in Trouble Heading into February
Is it possible for a college basketball team to be in trouble before half of the conference season is complete? Absolutely.
A team can be on a losing streak, still not have an identity to impose on its opponents and run into a tough stretch of upcoming games. Or sometimes a young team can simply lack leadership, and they don't have the necessary components to get them over the hump.
Consequently, this can hurt the confidence of a team moving closer to March where there isn't enough time to recover.
Granted there is a lot of basketball left to be played, and there have been numerous phenomenal runs in the past. However, now is the time when you see some teams make improvements and some that continue to dig a bigger hole.
These are the teams that will be particularly vulnerable heading into February.
Remember when Illinois was one of the hottest teams in college basketball through the first seven weeks of the season? The Fighting Illini steamrolled to a 12-0 start, including victories over Butler in Maui and Gonzaga on the road.
Since then, Illinois has dropped six of their last nine by an average of 14 points per game.
Illinois has struggled getting easy baskets during its rough stretch. They have settled for several jump shots and only average 10.7 assists per game (305th in NCAA). Furthermore, in the Illini's six losses, they have shot the ball under 39 percent in each affair.
The schedule going forward is no picnic either. Illinois' next four games will be at Michigan State, back home for Wisconsin, Indiana and then back on the road to Minnesota. The Illini will also have vigorous road tests at Michigan and Ohio State toward the end of the season.
If the Illini aren't careful, they could be looking at a monstrous hill to climb in March.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Illinois to make some noise before the Big Ten Tournament, but the conference does not offer many easy wins.
The Fighting Illini have gone from a Top-10 team right into the heart of the bubble.
For a program that has taken substantial strides, this year is going in the exact opposite direction.
In the last four seasons, Florida State has earned a bid to the NCAA tournament while winning its first ACC Tournament in school history last year.
Now the Seminoles sit at 11-8 and 3-3 in the ACC with many challenges ahead.
There isn't much for this Florida State squad to lean on. Michael Snaer and Okaro White are the only players averaging over 10 points per game, and the Miami Hurricanes held the two Seminole stars to 10 points combined in Florida State's 71-47 loss.
In ACC play, Florida State has been out-rebounded in every game and ranks 11th in the conference at 33.1 rebounds per game.
It appeared momentarily that Florida State made its move after earning back-to-back road wins against Clemson and Maryland in the beginning of January. However, the Seminoles stubbed their toe in three of their next four games, including a loss where they only scored 36 points against Virginia.
Essentially, there aren't many strengths for this team to use on a consistent basis.
Florida State has vital showdowns at home against Maryland and Duke this week. If the Seminoles want to make it back to the dance for a fifth year in a row, they can't afford to lose both contests.
It's hard to imagine a defending national champion struggling this much heading into February.
The Wildcats are 13-6 and 4-2 in the SEC but have only recorded two wins inside the RPI top 100 (Maryland 65th, Tennessee 79th).
This young Kentucky team is simply inconsistent. When one issue is resolved from a previous game, another one arises.
When Kentucky fell 64-50 against Notre Dame, the Wildcats only took 47 shots and were forced to play at the Irish's slower pace.
In Kentucky's next game against Baylor, the Wildcats increased their field-goal attempts to 71, but shot an atrocious 29.6 percent from the floor and struggled with Baylor's perimeter defense.
Just last week, the Wildcats blew an 11-point lead against Alabama by taking eight minutes to make a field goal to start the second half. Alabama also stole the ball 10 times on Kentucky's 13 turnovers.
While the Wildcats continue to try and grow as a unit, their chances are limited considering the weakness of the SEC this season (ranked eighth in conference RPI). Even though they should be able to get Top-20 wins by the SEC tournament, the Wildcats only have four games left against ranked opponents, and their résumé is weak as it is.
This is a crucial week for Kentucky with road games at Ole Miss and Texas A&M. If the Wildcats turn in a pair of losses, their players might be on track for watching second- and third-round tournament games at home.
After opening the Pac-12 Conference with three straight road wins and a home victory over Colorado, Washington looked like a conference contender for the regular-season crown.
All of a sudden, the Huskies have dropped three straight conference games, including losses to Utah and Oregon State. Utah and Oregon State's only Pac-12 wins this season have come against Washington.
What happened to the Huskies?
Their defense disappeared. Washington gave up at least 74 points in its last three losses on an average of 55 percent shooting. This is hardly the trend a team wants to see heading into February with two of its losses coming against teams that have combined for a .500 record overall.
While the Huskies do shoot three-pointers at 37 percent (first in the Pac-12), they only play six guys over 15 minutes per game, and that is a tough thing to do in a conference that has teams like Oregon, Arizona and UCLA.
Washington, now 4-3 in the Pac-12 and 12-8 overall, has back-to-back home games against Arizona and Arizona State. Both Arizona teams are 5-2 in the Pac-12 and a combined 33-6 overall.
If the Huskies don't turn it around this week, they will have 10 losses overall heading into Los Angeles to face UCLA. That is certainly not the momentum you want going into the second half of conference play.
For those who still haven't caught onto the program head coach Leon Rice has turned around in the 2012-13 season, you have missed out on some great basketball.
Boise State began the season with a 13-2 record that included a 13-point win at Creighton, and the Broncos took Michigan State down to the wire in East Lansing. The Broncos average 76.7 points per game (29th in NCAA) and shoot the rock efficiently at 47 percent (28th in NCAA).
On top of that, Boise State ranks 20th in the NCAA in three-pointers made at 8.4 per game and ranks sixth in three-point percentage at 40.9 percent.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, they are facing a similar problem like the Washington Huskies. Boise State has dropped three of its last four, and defense has been the issue. The Broncos gave up 91 points in their loss to Air Force and took a 16-point loss at Nevada. While Boise State does play at a fast pace, they still have been giving up way too many easy looks inside.
The Broncos now play at Colorado State, come back home for UNLV and then travel to San Diego State. The Rams are undefeated at home and the Aztecs' only home loss was to the Rebels.
This is a daunting stretch of games for Boise State considering its defensive problems as of late.
One thing helping the Broncos is that the Mountain West is the second-ranked conference in the RPI. New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV continue to play great basketball, while teams like Colorado State, Air Force and Wyoming have proved to be teams to contend with in the conference.
However, if Boise State finishes in the bottom half of a conference with only nine teams, it's going to be difficult to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. This could be a year in the Mountain West where the teams beat up on each other, but it seems that Boise State isn't a complete enough team to finish in the upper half of the conference.