Ranking the 10 Most Disappointing Teams in College Basketball in 2013-14
The 2013-14 college basketball season is hitting that transition period, where the regular season ends and the postseason begins. Most everyone is still alive for a shot at the NCAA tournament, if not one of the second- or third-tier tourneys available after the season.
And while so much can still happen between now and early April just outside Dallas (site of the 2014 Final Four), for a good number of the 351 Division I teams this season has felt like a major disappointment.
Some, though, have taken that disappointment to another level.
(Note: Records are through Tuesday's games.)
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
What went wrong: Notre Dame was picked to finish fifth in the ACC in its inaugural season, but the inconsistencies showed up early when the Fighting Irish lost at home to Indiana State their third game.
But things really took a turn downward when leading scorer Jerian Grant, a junior averaging 19 points per game, was suspended in late December for academic reasons. Notre Dame managed to overcome that loss briefly, upsetting Duke in its ACC debut on Jan. 4, but since then it has gone 5-12 with only one victory over a team with a winning record.
Notre Dame could still get an invite to the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com tourney, even with a losing record.
9. UNLV Runnin' Rebels
What went wrong: UNLV was picked to finish second in the Mountain West Conference, despite losing No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett early to the NBA. A roster heavy on size, thanks to Khem Birch and Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith, had the Runnin' Rebels as a trendy pick to make a big splash in 2013-14.
Then UNLV was manhandled by 21 points at home by UCSB and its own big man, Alan Williams, while also losing at home to Arizona State and Illinois. The Rebels then dropped their first two league home games, to Air Force and Nevada, all but negating whatever advantage they'd have to hosting this month's MWC tourney.
UNLV had won 8-of-11 heading into Wednesday's visit from San Diego State, and while the chance to take the MWC's automatic bid at home is still very possible, it might be the only way the Rebels make the Big Dance.
8. St. John's Red Storm
What went wrong: Two of the 10 coaches in the Big East felt St. John's was talented enough to win the Big East this season. And while the talent is there, and usually has been on Steve Lavin-coached teams, for the most part, the on-paper abilities haven't translated to scoreboard results.
The Red Storm were just good enough to lose to both of the good teams it faced during nonconference play, as well as to Penn State. The same has followed suit in league play, with St. John's starting off 0-5, but a six-game win streak that included an upset of Creighton kept it in the NCAA picture.
St. John's visits fellow disappointment Marquette (see later slide) on Saturday in a game that, other than the Big East tourney, might serve as the last best hope for either to make a realistic case for an NCAA berth.
7. Oregon Ducks
What went wrong: Oregon was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 this season but then moved up a few expectation pegs with an unbeaten nonconference run that included wins over BYU and Georgetown and at Mississippi.
Then league play came, and suddenly the Ducks fell apart. Despite still scoring seemingly at will, Oregon's inability to have any sort of defensive presence led to a five-game losing streak and a 3-8 start in the Pac-12. Six straight wins have followed, though, including a double-overtime win at UCLA last week that Oregon tried to give away.
The Ducks host league regular-season champ Arizona on Saturday, a game that could erase most of what's gone wrong this season or expose their flaws to another national audience.
6. Missouri Tigers
What went wrong: Missouri was picked to finish third in the SEC this season but was part of a group of several hopefuls in the league trying to be part of the small upper tier that only Florida and Kentucky seemed to belong in. And despite a 10-0 start that included a win over UCLA, the Tigers quickly showed their flaws once the conference slate began.
Missouri entered this week ranked 300th in Division I in assists per game, at 10.9, and the inability to share the ball was evident in going 2-6 in SEC road games. The Tigers have one more chance to impress in Saturday's finale at Tennessee, but without proper ball movement, they might have to settle for the NIT.
5. Marquette Golden Eagles
What went wrong: Marquette was picked to win the revamped Big East this season by the league's coaches, a product of the Golden Eagles' run to the Elite Eight last season and several returning stars. A tough nonconference schedule was expected to help steal the Eagles for another deep run, but instead it exposed them.
Marquette entered the Big East at 8-5, and conference play hasn't been much better. It has only one win streak of more than two games, while overtime losses to Butler, Villanova and Tuesday's double-OT setback at Providence were among the many missed opportunities that will keep Marquette out of the NCAA field unless it wins the Big East tourney.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
What went wrong: Ohio was picked to finish third in the Big Ten after a tough loss to 2013 tourney darling Wichita State in the Elite Eight. DeShaun Foster might have been gone, but Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith were all back for another deep run.
But a 15-0 start to the season didn't look as great after further investigation, save for a win at rival Marquette, which makes the 7-8 mark since then a lot more understandable because of the lack of tests the Buckeyes faced early.
Yet OSU has managed to beat a lot of solid teams in Big Ten play but has also strangely lost twice to Penn State and heads into Sunday's finale against Michigan State looking at no better than a No. 6 seed in the conference tournament.
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys
What went wrong: Oklahoma State was so stacked this season, it was considered to be the first major challenge to Kansas' streak of Big 12 titles in some time. The Cowboys were picked as co-champs in the preseason poll, a first for the conference.
And OSU was as high as No. 5 in the nation, sitting sixth when the conference schedule began...with a loss at Kansas State. It was still a top-10 team in late January when the bottom fell out in the form of a seven-game losing streak that included three games without star Marcus Smart because of his suspension for confronting a fan in the crowd in Lubbock.
OSU has won four straight since Smart's return, including a victory over league champ Kansas on March 1, but if the Cowboys can't win Saturday at Iowa State, they'll be the eighth seed in the 10-team Big 12 tournament.
2. Pittsburgh Panthers
What went wrong: Pittsburgh was picked to finish sixth in the ACC in its first season after leaving the Big East, but a 16-1 overall start that included a 4-0 beginning to league play increased expectations.
But the Panthers are 6-7 since then, a skid that's inexplicably featured five home losses (most recently a 74-67 setback Monday to North Carolina State) and now puts them firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble after seeming like a lock a month ago.
Looking closer at Pitt's season, a weak nonconference schedule—the only matchup with a certain NCAA tourney team ended in a loss to Cincinnati—inflated what has ended up being a mediocre team.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
What went wrong: A year removed from being a defending NCAA champ that lost in the first round of the NIT, Kentucky once again was stacked with the nation's best collection of freshman talent and assurances from John Calipari that this team wouldn't disappoint.
There was even fleeting talk of a 40-0 team, a notion that went away in the Wildcats' third game of the season. Losses to Baylor and North Carolina led to some doubts, but with SEC play still to come, there was still a chance to show this Kentucky team was different.
But it needed to rally in the second half Tuesday to win at home against a 17-loss Alabama team, a few days after losing at 11-19 South Carolina and five days since a home loss to Arkansas.
And while Calipari cites his assertion that the 2013-14 Wildcats are the most overanalyzed team in college basketball history as the reason for many of the struggles, the situation can really be chalked up to one simple explanation: A team full of freshmen will, very often, play like freshmen.