Big Six College Basketball: Six Surprises and Six Big Disappointments

Mike HendersonCorrespondent IIMarch 6, 2011

ROSEMONT, IL - FEBRUARY 19: Antonio Pena #0 of the Villanova Wildcats controls the ball against the DePaul Blue Demons at the Allstate Arena on February 19, 2011 in Rosemont, Illinois. Villanova defeated DePaul 77-75 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One question I have asked myself a number of times this college basketball season is "What is going on?"

In a season where a truly elite team has yet to emerge, ups and downs have been the story of many teams' seasons.

If the addition of three teams to the championship tournament were going to benefit the Big Six teams, those leagues haven't done a very good job in making sure that statement was true.

Apart from the Big East, the other conferences have the definite feel of mediocrity. Not that they are filled with bad teams, but filled with teams that have been taking one step forward, two steps back for most of the season.

Here is a look at the Big Six Conferences' most surprising and most disappointing teams.


Big East

Biggest Surprise - Louisville

Yes, I'm going to hear about this from Notre Dame fans but there is some logic to this.

Notre Dame returned a team of seniors, and, as a bonus, they are all good, established players.

Louisville was seemingly in a state of flux, had lost their only low post presence and didn't seem like they were going to compete at the top of the Big East.

They lost Jared Swopshire early and Rakeem Buckles has missed a good portion of the season. So, in a season where not much is expected anyway, what happens?

The Cards ride their only senior, Preston Knowles, to a 12-6 Big East mark, a double bye in the Big East tournament and a chance for three or four seed at the Big Dance. Doesn't matter if you like him or not, Rick Pitino has done a darn good job this season.

Honourable mention goes to Notre Dame, Cincinnati and St. John's, all of whom have had great seasons.

Biggest Disappointment - Villanova

A lot of folks picked this team first in the preseason polls. How the Wildcats have fallen so far so fast is perplexing.

They have battled some nagging injuries to top players (Stokes, Fisher) but most teams adjust and can play on. Villanova has struggled to do that. After finishing the season winning just two of their last eight games (Seton Hall by three, and DePaul by two in overtime), the Wildcats find themselves at 9-9 in conference, tied, appropriately, for ninth.

Fortunately for the Cats, the NCAA (theoretically) uses the entire body of work to establish at-large worthiness. Otherwise, Villanova would have something to worry about come Selection Sunday.

Honourable mention goes to Georgetown. Their play after the injury to Chris Wright is understandable but they have been streaky all season.

Big Ten

Biggest Surprise - Purdue

I don't think anyone thought they would be as good, and as consistent, as they have been, considering the loss of Robbie Hummel.

Matt Painter will certainly get some votes for Coach-of-the-Year nationally, as he managed to get his team into a position to win the Big Ten title. Yesterday's brutal loss to Iowa means that won't happen but it is hard to take anything away from this group.

Honourable mention goes to Michigan Wolverines and Penn State Nittany Lions, both of whom are far better than most preseason prognostications suggested.

Biggest Disappointment - Michigan State Spartans

This probably goes without saying.

A pick to make their third consecutive Final Four appearance, the Spartans never really found a rhythm together and have put themselves in a position of missing the Big Dance, something that for this program, is astounding.

MSU never found complementary scoring for Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green. Chris Allen and Korie Lucious were dismissed, Keith Appling never really found his mark and Durrell Summers was not very good on a consistent basis.

After losing for the second time to the Wolverines yesterday, Coach Tom Izzo said there would be "no politicking or complaining. We'll go where we go." He could have easily waxed on about the difficulty of the schedule, etc., but he didn't because he's a winner. 

Are you listening, Seth Greenberg?

Honourable mention goes to Minnesota, who, after such a promising start, lost point guard Al Nolen to injury and have not been very good since.

Big 12

Biggest Surprise - Texas Longhorns

After last season's collapse, and the high turnover of players, the Longhorns were not expected to compete for the Big 12 title.

While the end of the league season has produced some angst for Texas, they righted the ship somewhat with a victory at Baylor and finished second to Kansas.

Freshmen Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson have been very good, while Jordan Hamilton has been very consistent overall.

The Longhorns may have been aided by the fact that the Big 12 hasn't been great overall, but nonetheless have had a very good year.

Honourable mention goes to Texas A&M, who finished a solid third (with K-State) and were steady if unspectacular.

Biggest Disappointment - Baylor Bears

 With the addition of Perry Jones, the Bears were on the radar early in the season and ranked by some in the top 15.

Now, they need to win at least a couple of games in the Big 12 tournament to even have a chance for an at-large bid for the NCAA tourney.

What comes up over and over again, and the key to not only March success but year-long success, is solid guard play. The Bears haven't had it. A.J. Walton is an average point guard at best and LaceDarius Dunn doesn't seem to understand that Jones, Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones are out on the court as well. 

Honourable mention to Missouri, who are as bad on the road as they are good at home. The Tigers had exactly one road win in conference, at Iowa State.


Biggest Surprise - California Golden Bears

With their top returning scorer averaging about five points per game, the prospects for Mike Montgomery's Bears were not too bright.

However, anchored by their top returning scorer, Jorge Gutierrez, and fellow junior Harper Kamp, the Bears finished fifth with a 10-8 record, a much smaller drop-off than was anticipated.

They have had their ups and downs this season—most memorably a five-point first half against Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic, which followed a win against Temple. But they did end the season on a four-game win streak which includes wins against UCLA and at Oregon and Oregon State.

Honourable mention goes to Arizona, who most thought would be good, but maybe not as good as they have been.

Biggest Disappointment - Washington Huskies

In what was supposed to be a down year again in the PAC-10, there were early-season whispers that the Huskies could run the table in league play.

Four months and seven conference losses later, Washington enters the PAC-10 tournament as the three-seed. Losses in two of their last three home games move the Huskies down. Their reward? A date with Washington State, who has beaten them twice this season.


Biggest Surprise - Clemson Tigers

Coach Brad Brownell has a history of getting his first teams to the NCAA tournament. After taking UNC-Wilmington and Wright State to the Big Dance in his first season with each, he is attempting to do the same with the Tigers this year.

Despite some losses, notably Trevor Booker, and some ideological differences with some of the returning players, Brownell has coaxed a 9-7 conference record from these Tigers and reached the 20-win plateau with yesterday's win over Virginia Tech. The game was important to both, as Clemson clinched a first-round bye in the ACC tournament with the win.

A couple of wins in the league tourney could send the Tigers to March Madness.

Honourable mention goes to North Carolina. This didn't look like a team that could win the ACC after a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech.

Biggest Disappointment - North Carolina State Wolfpack

They certainly haven't played like hungry wolves this season.

In what is surely Sidney Lowe's final year at the helm, State's 5-10 in conference mark, coupled with their 15-14 mark overall is far below what was expected or what will be accepted.

Picked as high as third in the preseason, the Wolfpack never gelled, despite having a star forward in Tracy Smith and a stellar recruiting class that included C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow.

One honourable mention goes to Georgia Tech, who may also be looking for a new head coach at season's end. Another goes to Kyrie Irving. Not because he played badly, but because he didn't play the full year.


Biggest Surprise - Alabama Crimson Tide

In most coaching circles, it wasn't a question of if Anthony Grant would be successful, it was when he would be successful.

Early losses to Iowa and St. Peter's suggested it wouldn't be this season.

However, when conference play rolled around, the Tide was ready. Alabama finished 12-4 in league play, which included a 4-2 mark against the East. Home wins against Kentucky and Georgia, as well as a road win at Tennessee, are evidence that the team is very competitive in this group. A close loss on the road to Vanderbilt and a blitz by Florida in Gainesville were the two blemishes against the solid side of the conference.

Honourable mention goes to no one really. There weren't any other real surprises this year.

Biggest Disappointment - Georgia Bulldogs

This is pretty harsh, I suppose, as the 'Dawgs are 20-10 overall,  9-7 in conference and seem to have a shot at an at-large bid in the NCAA tourney, which is essentially where they were pegged at the start of the year.

So what's the problem, right?

I'm not sure. They've had some good teams on the ropes, only to let big leads slip away. They've lost untimely home games, to decent teams mind you, but ones they should beat at home. And, finally, don't you just get the impression that Trey Thompkins can do more? Yes, his numbers are good, but shouldn't they be great?

Like I said, it's harsh to say Georgia is a disappointment, but conference wins and an NCAA berth were there for the taking and the Bulldogs didn't take enough.

Honourable mention goes to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Renardo Sidney saga was a disaster.



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