The teams that come out of the woodwork and surprise everyone are quite often the most talked-about ones. Sometimes, the big conference teams that falter get the same kind of attention as well. Here's a look at the top-rated conferences (RPI rankings) and one team in each conference that didn't live up to expectations.
This was a tough one. The Texas Longhorns have struggled in a big way lately, after being touted as Final Four contenders by many as early as the pre-season. My pick here though, goes to Oklahoma. I love Jeff Capel and yes, replacing Blake Griffin was going to be a chore. But, the recruits they had coming in, along with Willie Warren and Tony Crocker, were supposed to make that transition a bit easier. Instead, the Sooners have fallen far down the Big 12 ladder. Warren has struggled with injuries but when he has played he has been very inconsistent. Tiny Gallon has been suspended, benched - you name it - and has not come close to filling the void left by Griffin's departure. I'm sure no one thought the Sooners would contend for the league title but 4-9, sitting 8th?
This wasn't tough at all. With the talent they have, the Cincinnati Bearcats should simply be better. Stephenson, Gates, Vaughn, Wright, etc. With this talent, I don't understand why this team doesn't try to score. At times it seems as though their offence is running through Ibrahima Thomas, which is puzzling to say the least. They looked like a top five or six team in the league at the start of this season and a good bet to make the NCAA tourney. They still have a shot but I'm not sure I like their chances.
Hmmm. North Carolina? For many reasons, the most obvious of which is they could finish last.
We'll go a little further down I-95 for this one. The South Carolina Gamecocks, led by standout guard Devan Downey, have the distinction of being the only team to take Kentucky down this year. Unfortunately, there haven't been many other highlights. A potential tourney team at the start of the season, S.C. should be hopeful that it finishes above .500 for the season. Injuries to Dominique Archie have weakened an already thin front line.
Michigan Wolverines, hands down. A pre-season top 25 pick by many, John Beilein never found an effective, or even mildly effective, third scorer to compliment Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims. Beilein has clashed with Harris and Laval Lucas-Perry has been a flop. There isn't much in the cupboard either, so to speak, so Beilein has his work for cut out for him even if Harris returns next season.
The Lasalle Explorers finished well last season, returned 4 senior starters and landed a prized recruit in Aaric Murray. Murray has had an excellent freshman season, but the Explorers have been terrible. The conference is a good one, no question, but they have not been competitive. Honourable mention to Dayton, which doesn't look like the same team that finished last season on a high note, despite having almost all of the same faces.
Not much out of the ordinary here so I don't know that there has been a "disappointing" team, considering the conference may get 4 NCAA bids. However, Utah has been inconsistent this year. They did lose a lot from last year's team, including big man Luke Nevill, but were hoping that the drop off wouldn't be too steep. There are others in the conference that simply aren't competitive on a regular basis either, though.
Throw a dart. Other than California, which has been OK, and Arizona State, which is a little better than most expected, the league is down, down, down. I'll go with Washington Huskies here though because they have been so inconsistent. They, too, were in many top 25 pre-season breakdowns and have not lived up to that billing. Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas have delivered most nights but the scoring drops off significantly after that. Highly-touted freshman Adbul Gaddy is averaging 4 points and one assist per game while playing around 19 minutes.
This one is easy for me. It would be kind to say that the Southern Illinois Salukis have been snakebitten in conference play, losing 8 games by five points or less. But at some point, late game lapses have to be addressed -that is, corrected. Chris Lowery has to be feeling the heat because this program has become accustomed to winning. Late game woes haunt the Salukis as their offence tends to get stagnant. Up tempo, Chris. Please.
Despite being only two games off of the pace, the Nevada Wolfpack are talented enough to be at the top of the group. Scoring isn't the issue as Nevada has four players that average double digits including the conference's best player, Luke Babbitt - who is a legitimate 20 and 10 guy. The problem is, they tend to let the other team score too often. They could still win the conference with the talent they have but they are making it difficult for themselves with their (lack of) defence.