Ranking the Biggest Underachievers of the 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season So Far
We are a few weeks into conference play in college basketball, which gives us enough of a sample size to see which teams should be considered legitimate contenders for their league titles and which will end up far down in the standings.
There are plenty of surprises near the top of several conferences, but just as noticeable are the absence of schools that were expected to be in the hunt.
For most, the season is not lost, as almost every conference invites every team into its postseason tournament. However, the slow start has put many perceived top teams into an early bind.
Here's our look at some of the biggest underachievers in college basketball so far during the 2013-14 season. The teams that made this dubious list were projected, either by their conference's coaches or media, to finish among the top few spots in the league standings, and their ranking is based on the difference between their expected performance and what's occurred to this point.
10. SE Missouri State Redhawks
Record: 10-9, 2-4 Ohio Valley
What was expected: Southeast Missouri State was picked to finish tied for first in the OVC's West Division.
Why they're struggling: The Redhawks brought back a talented frontcourt, and the addition of junior college All-American wing Jarekious Bradley made this look like the program's best team since their lone NCAA tourney appearance in 2000.
But while SEMO is scoring well, it's defending very poorly. Opponents are shooting 45 percent and averaging 77.6 points per game, and the Redhawks are in jeopardy of finishing in the bottom half of the Ohio Valley. That could require them to win four games in the conference tournament to get the league's automatic NCAA bid.
9. Lafayette Leopards
Record: 4-13, 0-6 Patriot
What was expected: Lafayette was picked to finish second in the Patriot League.
Why they're struggling: The Leopards, who lost to Bucknell in the conference title game last season, have been unable to overcome the loss of leading scorer Seth Hinrichs, a 6'7" junior guard who was averaging 20.4 points per game before suffering a knee injury. He was supposed to be out only two weeks, but it's been more than a month. Without him, Lafayette has lost eight straight and is off to its worst start in the Patriot League in coach Fran O'Hanlon's 19 seasons.
8. Northwestern State Demons
Record: 5-11, 1-4 Southland
What was expected: Northwestern State was picked to finish first in the Southland Conference.
Why they're struggling: The Demons are once again running-and-gunning, as they did last season when they made the NCAA tournament. But after allowing 72 points per game and 42.6 percent shooting in 2012-13, this year, opponents are scorching the nets for a Division I-worst 90.6 points per game and 48.4 percent shooting.
NW State went 15-3 in the league last season and brought much of its team back. But the lack of defense has led to a woeful start, with the only conference win coming against a 1-17 Lamar team that still managed to top its scoring average by 18 points.
7. St. John's Red Storm
Record: 10-8, 0-5 Big East
What was expected: St. John's was picked to finish fifth in the retooled Big East Conference.
Why they're struggling: Despite a talent-laden team thanks to coach Steve Lavin's strong recruiting skills, the Red Storm have only been good enough to barely win a majority of their games. They played Syracuse, Villanova and Wisconsin tough, but lost each time.
St. John's ended a five-game losing streak with a victory Saturday over Dartmouth, making it 2-0 against the Ivy League, but the young roster hasn't managed to play cohesively. D'Angelo Harrison has looked strong, but he's not getting enough support from the rest of the team.
6. Temple Owls
Record: 5-11, 0-5 American
What was expected: Temple was picked to finish fifth in the American Athletic Conference.
Why they're struggling: Fran Dunphy's team has struggled mightily in its first year since sliding over from the Atlantic 10, despite having four players averaging double figures in scoring.
After losing 74-68 to Big 5 rival La Salle on Saturday, the Owls have already surpassed the loss total from last year's team that made the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Temple has had to go with a very limited roster at times because of injuries, the latest being a concussion to point guard Will Cummings. Cummings hurt his head in a Jan. 11 home loss to Memphis and has missed the Owls' past two games.
With losses already to the league's projected bottom-feeders, it will be difficult for Temple to get out of the cellar.
5. Duke Blue Devils
Record: 14-4, 3-2 ACC
What was expected: Duke was picked to finish first in the ACC.
Why they're struggling: It's hard to consider a team currently ranked 18th in the latest Associated Press poll to be "struggling," but Duke tends to be held to a higher standard. The Blue Devils are outside of the Top 10 for the first time in several years, and the reason is simple: bad defense.
Duke is allowing teams to shoot 44.7 percent from the field, which ranks in the bottom third of Division I. The Blue Devils remain an efficient scoring team, dropping more than 82 points per night, but the early success of freshman Jabari Parker caused some to expect that kind of output every game, and when he started to struggle, it led to some offensive efficiency issues.
Duke is also falling into a pattern similar to 2012-13, where it struggles mightily on the road. The Blue Devils are 0-2 in true road games, losing at Notre Dame and Clemson, and they still have to visit Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh, Syracuse (those last two in a six-day span next week) and rival North Carolina.
4. Marquette Golden Eagles
Record: 11-8, 3-3 Big East
What was expected: Marquette was picked to finish first in the Big East Conference.
Why they're struggling: The Golden Eagles reached the Elite Eight last season, and even with the loss of dynamic guard Vander Blue (who left early for the NBA but wasn't drafted), there looked to be enough talent and toughness to make them the early front-runner in the new Big East. But a rigorous nonconference schedule, which included losses to New Mexico, Ohio State, San Diego State and Wisconsin, seems to have sapped the fire out of this team.
Marquette blew a 12-point lead at Butler on Saturday, eventually losing in overtime by 12. Coach Buzz Williams told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he thinks the team still has a run in it, but in order for that to happen, the Eagles will need to start shooting better. They shot 30.8 percent against Butler, making just four of 24 three-pointers.
Maybe the run Williams was talking about began Monday night, when the Eagles won 80-72 in overtime at Georgetown.
3. Oregon Ducks
Record: 13-4, 1-4 Pac-12
What was expected: Oregon was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 Conference.
Why they're struggling: The Ducks were looking like the poster child (along with Iowa State) for how to successfully blend transfers with recruited players when they got out to a 13-0 start and reached No. 10 in the rankings. It's been all downhill since.
The warning signs were there before the losses, with Oregon's almost complete lack of defense turning most games into track meets. It needed triple digits to beat both BYU and Ole Miss in overtime, but then it allowed 100 to Colorado and 96 to California.
Then Oregon's offense suddenly stopped working, with Sunday's 80-72 loss at Oregon State resulting in the Ducks shooting just 38 percent. Top scorers Mike Moser and Joseph Young have gone cold from the field, while the defensive breakdowns are still there.
2. Baylor Bears
Record: 13-5, 1-4 Big 12
What was expected: Baylor was picked to finish second in the Big 12 Conference.
Why they're struggling: All of the momentum gained from a 12-1 nonconference start (which included wins over Colorado and Kentucky and a strong effort in the Maui Invitational title game loss to Syracuse) has evaporated now that league play has arrived.
The conference-opening loss at Iowa State was understandable, but since then, the Bears have lost to Texas Tech and Oklahoma, with different parts of their game breaking down. At Tech, it was a lack of passing, leading to a season-low five assists, and in the home loss to the Sooners, it was woeful free-throw shooting (10 of 20) and late breakdowns on defense.
A third straight loss, Monday at Kansas, has the Bears in a deep hole.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
Record: 11-7, 1-4 ACC
What was expected: North Carolina was picked to finish third in the ACC.
Why they're struggling: The Tar Heels' problems began before the season even started, when P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald were suspended indefinitely for "impermissible benefits" that included the use of luxury cars. Their absence forced Roy Williams to shuffle his lineup, with the results being less than stellar. While Marcus Paige has more than doubled his production from a year ago, the rest of the team seems stuck in a funk, particularly when it comes to three-point shooting.
North Carolina has made just 59 three-pointers in 17 games, the second-fewest in the country. Last season the Heels averaged more than seven made threes per game.
UNC was ranked 12th in the Associated Press' preseason poll, but since then, it's been an up-and-(mostly) down roller coaster that's seen the team beat the likes of Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State but also fall to Belmont, UAB and Wake Forest. The Heels avoided their first 0-4 start in ACC play with a win Saturday over equally struggling Boston College, but then got blown out Monday at Virginia.