Most Underachieving 2021-22 Men's College Basketball Teams
While men's college basketball teams like Arizona, LSU, Iowa State and Colorado State have gotten out to better starts than anyone expected, there have also been plenty of teams that have come nowhere close to living up to the preseason hype.
There are always a handful of preseason AP Top 25 teams who sink like a lead balloon. (Here's looking at you, last year's Duke and Kentucky squads.) But this year has felt especially chaotic with Maryland, Memphis and Michigan merely representing the "M" teams who have been disappointments.
To be fair, it is still early in the 2021-22 season. It's feasible these teams could rally and hit their strides when it matters most.
That feels like a pipe dream at this point, though.
Teams are listed in alphabetical order. Records and KenPom rankings current through the start of play on Monday, Dec. 13.
Preseason: AP No. 21; KenPom No. 18
Current: 6-4; KenPom No. 52
You have to go back to 1992-93 to find the last time Maryland won fewer than 53 percent of its games in a season, but the Terrapins might be headed in that direction.
In retrospect, the offseason hype never made much sense. Maryland lost 14 games last season and then lost veteran leaders Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell. Even with the additions of Fatts Russell from Rhode Island and Qudus Wahab from Georgetown, expecting a jump from NCAA tournament No. 10 seed to a top-five finish in the Big Ten was quite the leap of faith.
Then again, who could have known this team would completely lose the ability to shoot? Through the first nine games, Russell, Eric Ayala, Ian Martinez and Donta Scott were a collective 40-of-147 (27.2 percent) from three-point range. (The Terrapins did finally have a good shooting day this past Sunday against Florida, hitting 8-of-13 from deep in a narrow victory.)
Given that inability to score consistently from deep, Maryland averaged just 58.0 points per game and 0.84 points per possession in its recent, consecutive losses to Louisville, Virginia Tech and Northwestern—three teams who probably would not make the NCAA tournament if it began today. Maryland also lost a home game to George Mason, which subsequently lost five consecutive games to teams outside the KenPom top 75.
Not only have the Terps struggled, but Mark Turgeon and Maryland reached a "mutual agreement" for him to step down as head coach shortly after the loss to Hokies. His departure leaves the program in the hands of interim coach Danny Manning, who didn't exactly thrive in his six seasons with Wake Forest.
Preseason: AP No. 12; KenPom No. 16
Current: 5-4; KenPom No. 39
Because the three most recent losses were by slim margins and because the Tigers generally do put forth some effort on the defensive end, their KenPom rating isn't yet anywhere near as poor as this team's public perception.
There's no question Memphis has fallen drastically shy of expectations, though.
In losses to Iowa State and Ole Miss, the Tigers could not stop shooting themselves in the foot with fouls and turnovers. They had 20 giveaways against the Rebels and 22 against the Cyclones, and they allowed a combined total of 62 free-throw attempts in those games. Fouls were also a major problem against Georgia, which scored 27 points from the charity stripe. And then in Friday's loss to Murray State, Memphis kept those two issues under control, but instead allowed the Racers to shoot 14-of-29 from three-point range.
It'd be one thing if the Tigers were 5-4 because super freshman Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren were struggling to make an impact against a difficult schedule, as that would allow us to assume they could turn a corner in AAC play. But that duo has been serviceable and Memphis has yet to face a KenPom top 30 foe.
They have the talent to be great, but the whole has been much less than the sum of its parts.
Things are already ugly, but they could get much worse this week with games against Alabama and Tennessee.
Preseason: AP No. 6; KenPom No. 2
Current: 6-4; KenPom No. 20
Unlike most of the teams on this list, Michigan still feels like a good bet to get into the NCAA tournament.
However, our preseason projection of the Wolverines as the No. 3 overall seed is unlikely to come true.
They wilted late in a 67-65 home loss to Seton Hall. They got drilled by a combined margin of 39 points in losses to Arizona and North Carolina. And they did not look good at all in Saturday's 10-point home loss to Minnesota. In those four Ls, they shot 12-of-63 (19.0 percent) from three-point range and struggled to defend the paint, particularly in the Arizona game.
Considering they shot 38 percent beyond the arc and had one of the best two-point defenses in the nation last season, it's been an alarming start to the year.
The deep ball has at least been there on occasion. Michigan recently shot 11-of-20 against San Diego State and 15-of-32 in a blowout of Nebraska. Highly touted, likely one-and-done freshman Caleb Houstan has been hit or miss early on, but he hit 8-of-12 between those two games. If he's ever able to consistently give the Wolverines the type of offensive production they got from Isaiah Livers last year, that changes things for the better. (In the four losses, he has scored a combined 26 points on 33 field-goal attempts.)
Even with Hunter Dickinson still leading the charge, though, the interior defense continues to disappoint. Replacing all of Livers, Franz Wagner and Austin Davis may have been too much to overcome. And considering this defense also rarely forces turnovers, that's liable to be a major problem against the likes of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State and Purdue and their dominant big men.
Preseason: AP No. 13; KenPom No. 29
Current: 5-5; KenPom No. 53
With Dana Altman calling the shots, Oregon won at least 21 games in each of the past 11 seasons. The Ducks made it to one Final Four and earned one No. 1 seed during that time, but they have pretty consistently been a factor.
With Eric Williams and Will Richardson back to lead yet another large, talented batch of incoming transfers, the expectation was that Oregon would do its usual thing and be the top challenger to UCLA in the Pac-12.
Instead, the Ducks were annihilated in losses to BYU (81-49) and Houston (78-49) and lost by double digits to Saint Mary's within the first 16 days of the season. The cherry on the inedible sundae was a Dec. 5 home loss to Arizona State, which entered that game with a 2-6 record, fresh off a 51-29 loss to Washington State.
Williams and Richardson have been fine, but the three transfers—Jacob Young from Rutgers, De'Vion Harmon from Oklahoma and Quincy Guerrier from Syracuse—simply have not lived up to the hype. Nor has 5-star freshman Nate Bittle, who has scored five points and committed 13 fouls in just 51 minutes played.
While Michigan's interior defense has gone from elite to mediocre, Oregon's has deteriorated from passable to disastrous. Trying to stop anything in the paint has been an adventure, and they haven't even faced a particularly good frontcourt player yet. Arizona, UCLA and USC might have an all-you-can-eat buffet of two-point buckets against this colossal disappointment.
Oregon State Beavers
Preseason: No AP votes; KenPom No. 73
Current: 1-8; KenPom No. 132
For as poorly as things have gone for Oregon, Ducks fans can still sleep well at night, comforted by the thought that at least they aren't as bad as Oregon State.
Last March was magical for the Beavers. They surprised folks by winning the Pac-12 tournament, and then they really shocked everyone by making it to the Elite Eight as a No. 12 seed. That incredible run got Wayne Tinkle a four-year contract extension, but they were unable to carry any of that momentum into the current season.
Replacing senior leaders Ethan Thompson and Zach Reichle was always likely to be a struggle. Had they not combined for 29 points and six assists in the Pac-12 tournament opener against UCLA, Oregon State would have lost that game and finished the season at 14-13 with little to no expectations for relevance this season. In addition to losing those guys, key returners Roman Silva and Gianni Hunt have both taken a substantial step backward.
Add up those factors and you've got a 1-8 train wreck that has already suffered bad losses to Tulsa, Princeton and Samford.
The Beavers have home games against UC Davis, Nicholls State and Sacramento State coming up in the next few weeks. They should at least win those three games, but a repeat of their 5-27 record back in 2016-17 is a real, depressing possibility.
Preseason: 5 AP votes; KenPom No. 42
Current: 5-5; KenPom No. 68
After seven consecutive years of arguing about Syracuse's resume as a bubble team right up until Selection Sunday, might this finally be the year we write the Orange off for good before March even begins?
I'm not exactly holding my breath, because the ACC is mediocre enough this year that Syracuse could go something like 15-5 in league play without even improving much upon its disappointing 5-5 start to the year. (It does already have an impressive road win over Florida State, after all.)
But even if the Orange can turn things around, let's just say all future discussions about their non-conference resume should come with a side of antacids.
The 'Cuse did get a nice home win over Indiana in the ACC-B1G Challenge, blowing a 16-point halftime lead before coming back to win 112-110 in double overtime. However, that quality win looks like an outlier compared to the bad losses to Georgetown, VCU and Colgate, not to mention losses to Auburn and Villanova that were blowouts when all was said and done.
The most alarming result by far was the 100-85 home loss to Colgate. The Raiders shot 18-of-43 from three-point range and corralled 19 offensive rebounds, taking full advantage of the 2-3 zone's biggest weaknesses. Villanova did something similar, shooting 13-of-50 with 27 offensive boards. Got to wonder at what point a team decides to shoot nothing but threes against this team, because it sure seems like it would work.
Preseason: AP No. 25; KenPom No. 45
Current: 6-4; KenPom No. 59
KenPom tried to warn us about Virginia before the season began, but AP voters weren't interested. Hard to blame them, though, as Tony Bennett had finished each of the past eight seasons in the AP Top 25, including four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Putting some preseason faith in the pack-line defense is usually a wise move.
But it's clear we didn't properly appreciate just how much talent Virginia lost.
All three of last year's leading scorers (Sam Hauser, Jay Huff and Trey Murphy) left for the NBA. Tomas Woldetensae opted not to return for his free extra year of eligibility. Justin McKoy and Casey Morsell transferred to North Carolina and NC State, respectively. Aside from pass-first guards Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman, the Cavaliers were basically starting over from scratch.
Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin and East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner have been great pickups, each averaging better than 11 points per game. Second-year big man Kadin Shedrick has also been a revelation as the anchor of the pack-line D. That trio is at least giving the WaHooWa faithful some hope.
However, this team just cannot shoot. They went 4-of-16 from deep in the season-opening home loss to Navy and went a combined 8-of-47 (17.0 percent) last week in a loss to James Madison and a near-loss to Pitt. Just a dreadful start to the year for a team that shot 37.5 percent while averaging 8.5 makes per game last season.
I will point out that they had even worse perimeter struggles early in the 2019-20 season after needing to replace Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De'Andre Hunter. Through their first 19 games, they shot just 26.8 percent from three-point range and didn't even look like a bubble team. But once Woldetensae emerged as a sniper, they went on a tear and looked like a dangerous No. 7-ish seed when the pandemic hit. A similar midseason breakout (freshman Taine Murray, maybe?) could turn things around in a hurry.
8 Other Noteworthy Disappointments
In addition to those seven teams who immediately spring to mind when you think of the biggest letdowns thus far, here are eight more who have fallen well shy of expectations. Ranking drops are from KenPom's preseason rankings to now.
By the way, five of these 15 teams play in the ACC. What a mess that league has been.
Arizona State Sun Devils (4-6) (from No. 58 to No. 101): Marcus Bagley coming back for a second season was a big reason ASU was a fringe tournament candidate, but losing him to a knee injury in the third game of the year is a big reason why the Sun Devils lost game Nos. 4-8 on their schedule. But they also lost game No. 2 at home against UC Riverside with Bagley, so...
Colorado Buffaloes (8-3) (from No. 35 to No. 78): The biggest issue with the Buffaloes isn't their losses, but rather the margin of their wins. They needed overtime to win their home opener against Montana State, and also needed an extra five minutes to beat Duquesne. Wins over Brown and Eastern Washington came by two and three points, respectively. The expectation is those close wins over mid-majors will translate to a rough ride through Pac-12 play.
Florida State Seminoles (5-4) (from No. 24 to No. 40): This year's team just can't seem to figure things out. The 'Noles were blown out by Florida and Purdue, suffered close losses to Syracuse and South Carolina and just barely won home games against Tulane and Boston University. Even in what is shaping up to be an awful year in the ACC, they might finish below .500 in league play.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-4) (from No. 54 to No. 96): Michael Devoe has been awesome for GT, averaging 22.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. However, he has been a one-man show for a Yellow Jackets team that is 0-4 against the KenPom top 150.
Missouri Tigers (5-5) (from No. 95 to No. 153): Starting the season just barely inside the KenPom top 100, we weren't expecting greatness from Missouri. We also weren't expecting the Tigers to give Pittsburgh a run for its money as this season's worst major-conference team. But after a 14-point home loss to UMKC, a 21-point loss to Liberty and a complete no-show in a rivalry game against Kansas (102-65), one has to wonder if Cuonzo Martin's time in Columbia is nearing an end.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-4) (from No. 27 to No. 51): Saturday's home win over Kentucky may have somewhat salvaged an otherwise disappointing start, but it doesn't change the fact that the Fighting Irish went 3-4 through the first month of the season with nothing better than a home win over High Point to their credit. Starting ACC play with a 16-point loss at Boston College felt like more of an eye opener than the subsequent narrow win over Kentucky.
Ole Miss Rebels (6-3) (from No. 57 to No. 91): Ole Miss is 1-3 on the year against teams in then KenPom top 250. Up until this past weekend, the Rebels' KenPom rating was fine, and the lone decent win at home against Memphis was at least somewhat of a bragging right. But a 23-point Saturday loss to Western Kentucky was a rough one.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-5) (from No. 69 to No. 100): Like Notre Dame, Rutgers might feel like a team on the rise after a massive recent win (vs. then-No. 1 Purdue). But the Scarlet Knights entered that game with losses to DePaul, Massachusetts and Lafayette, as well as a 35-point shellacking at the hands of Illinois. And they subsequently lost by double digits to Seton Hall.