As we enter March Madness, some teams that looked like a championship squad at one time this season now face an uncertain fate.
Be it an easy schedule or recent bad losses, these teams are anything but a lock for a long tournament run this year. If anything, it's almost certain they'll exit the tournament early.
Take the Duke Blue Devils, for example. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team currently ranks third in the latest poll, but has suffered two bad losses in less than two weeks. Unless the ship can be righted now and into the ACC Tournament, the team's future does not look bright.
The same can be said for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Despite a high ranking, their defense is hit-or-miss and they have no signature wins. Moreover, the West Coast Conference does not exactly provide much competition, save for St. Mary's, and Gonzaga could easily be exposed when it's time to play with the big boys.
These two teams aren't the only contenders potentially destined for an early tournament exit, but fans should prepare accordingly given recent events.
Don't get me wrong. This year's Michigan Wolverines are a fine and balanced squad that, along with Indiana, have helped make the Big Ten the conference to beat in this year's tournament.
Unfortunately, this team has a lot of work to do if it wants to even dream of getting past the Sweet Sixteen, if they even get that far.
Despite solid production from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan has too many bad losses this month. From losing an overtime stunner to unranked Wisconsin Feb. 9 to being upset by Michigan State Feb. 12, not to mention giving Penn State its first conference win Feb. 27, the Wolverines have looked like anything but a team that deserves a high seeding.
The road doesn't get any less bumpy for Michigan down the stretch. They are due to face Michigan State again on Sunday, and close out the regular season against Indiana March 10, with a trap game against Purdue taking place in between.
Long story short, Michigan has to win at least two of those games, and handily, before making even more noise in the conference tournament. Otherwise, all of the team's hard work this year will have been for naught and they will find themselves upset quickly in the Big Dance.
A few weeks back, it looked like the Duke Blue Devils were well on their way to another long tournament run. The team's attack was in full swing on both sides of the floor, and Mike Krzyzewski was in line for another excellent season.
Sadly, the wheels have fallen off this month. In less than two weeks, Duke has lost to two unranked opponents, Maryland on Feb. 16 and Virginia on Feb. 28. To add insult to injury, both losses came on the road.
It doesn't get any easier for the Blue Devils either. The team's next game is at home against No. 5 seed Miami March 2, followed by another home game against Virginia Tech before closing out the season with a visit to Chapel Hill.
Needless to say, if Duke wants to be taken seriously once the Big Dance begins, they need to win all three of those games. Losing just one would prove them to be overrated and, barring a massive statement in the ACC Tournament, a team destined to exit the tournament early once again.
Everyone's going nuts about Gonzaga, who seem destined to be No. 1 this week following Indiana's loss to Minnesota, but don't get so excited just yet. Keep in mind that the team has no signature wins and has a weak defense, not to mention that they play in the fairly easy West Coast Conference.
Yes, Kelly Olynyk is a solid big man and surefire Player of the Year candidate, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the Bulldogs are definitely going to be over-seeded and will be in for a surprise when it comes time to face teams from tougher conferences like the SEC, Big East and others.
Granted, I could be completely wrong about Gonzaga. For all we know, they could run the table in the tournament and win it all, silencing any and all critics.
Until they can prove able to keep up with the bigger teams, however, it's hard to see this team getting past the Sweet Sixteen.