Preseason league favorites Marquette and others facing tough second half
No one had to wait until Dec. 28 to see the 2013-14 didn’t really go as anyone expected.
By then, Kansas had already lost three times, Duke twice and North Carolina had proven itself as the most unpredictable team in the country.
But Dec. 28 was the day Kentucky and Louisville — the last two national champions and preseason top two teams — met. At that point, both teams were still seeking their best win of the season.
Kentucky took the in-state bragging rights and picked up the key win. In recent weeks, the Wildcats have started to look a little more like the team Big Blue Nation envisioned this season. Playing that SEC schedule helps, of course.
Louisville, though, makes our list of the most disappointing teams of the season so far. Kansas, despite four non-conference losses, has started to move off that list as its freshmen have become accustomed to the college game.
Granted, Louisville and others on this list may follow the trajectory of Kansas and turn early setbacks into second-half rebounds, but some teams' seasons may be too far gone to hope for an NCAA Tournament bid.
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This seemed to be the key season for Steve Donahue at Boston College. Donahue needed eight seasons to get Cornell to its first NCAA Tournament of his tenure, but he entered his fourth at BC with hopes of breaking through. With Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson returning from a team that went 7-11 in the ACC this was supposed to be the season BC could make a postseason push. Those hopes were dashed before Thanksgiving as the Eagles opened 1-4 with losses to Providence, UMass and UConn. At 5-12 overall and 1-3 in the ACC, Boston College probably won’t play in any postseason.
In the Athlon Sports preseason annual, we projected BYU to reach the NIT, so it’s not a huge surprise for the Cougars to be in an 11-7 predicament. The Cougars returned high-scoring guard Tyler Haws while adding sophomore Kyle Collinsworth and highly touted freshman Eric Mika to the roster, so BYU was still worth keeping an eye on early. Instead, BYU has struggled away from Provo, including an 0-2 start in West Coast Conference play with losses to Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. BYU defeated defeated both on return trips to the Marriott Center, but a four-game road losing streak (including Utah and Oregon) isn’t a good look.
The Blue Devils may well be the No. 2 team in the ACC, but the season should still be tough to swallow for a team that was in the preseason top 10. Duke defeated Virginia 69-65 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday, but the overall trend is still troubling. A team that started in the preseason top three is in danger of being unranked thanks to difficulties on the defensive end. The Blue Devils rank 12th in the ACC in points per possession at 101 points per 100 possessions. Freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood have shown moments of brilliance, but they’re still learning to play together and with point guard Quinn Cook. Meanwhile, Rasheed Sulaimon has been invisible for parts of the season. For a team with national title aspirations, a 13-4 record with ACC losses to Notre Dame and Clemson are cause for concern.
Maybe calling Louisville a disappointment is an overreaction for a 14-3 team, but the Cardinals had to wait until Jan. 12 to get their biggest win of the season, a victory over SMU at that. The Cardinals played a lackluster non-conference schedule and lost their biggest games to North Carolina, Memphis and Kentucky, all before dismissing Chane Behanan. That said, Rick Pitino has had teams that played their best basketball in March. If Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock continue to take the pressure of Russ Smith and Chris Jones, Louisville could make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
The trouble started with an embarrassing 52-35 loss on the road to Ohio State on Nov. 16. The offense has been the worst of the Buzz Williams era, ranking outside of the top 100 in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. Marquette hasn’t been helped by losing two key newcomers in Duane Wilson, who is going to redshirt with a leg injury, and junior college transfer Jameel McKay, who transferred to Iowa State without playing a game. The preseason Big East favorites are 10-7 and fighting for an NCAA berth.
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Maybe a team losing a National Player of the Year who happened to be a point guard shouldn’t have be ranked in the top 12 in the first place. Especially when Trey Burke’s replacement was a freshman. Athlon’s preseason ranking for the Wolverines was a show of faith in John Beilein, who can develop point guards, and Michigan's returning talents like Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Robinson has improved in recent games, but McGary is out for the remainder of the season following back surgery. At 11-4 and 3-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan may still be an NCAA Tournament team, but another deep run seems unlikely.
Through three ACC games, the Tar Heels’ season crossed the line from fascinatingly inconsistent to just bad. The Heels are 0-3, including losses to Syracuse and Miami, and they’re now a month removed from their last big win over Kentucky. North Carolina can win when Marcus Paige is making shots, but Pagie is 12 of 43 from the floor in three conference games. A year after being a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina may need to be a few games over .500 in the ACC to hit that mark this season.
A team with four top-100 players opened Big East play with three consecutive losses to go with a 9-3 mark during the non-conference schedule. Granted, two of those losses were to Wisconsin and Syracuse, but St. John’s best wins of the season came against Columbia and Georgia Tech. For a team with an NCAA-caliber roster, those aren’t NCAA-caliber results.
The SEC has Kentucky and Florida and few other certainties. Teams like LSU and Tennessee were supposed to make NCAA Tournament runs this season, but that prospect is looking iffy. Even Missouri deserves skepticism after a loss Georgia in overtime last week. LSU added two freshmen, Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, to a roster that already includes forward Johnny O’Bryant, but the Tigers are 11 days removed from a home loss to Rhode Island. Tennessee just dropped a home game to Texas A&M. And Ole Miss is still a Marshall Henderson 3-point-fest, just with a lesser supporting cast.
The Runnin’ Rebels lost Anthony Bennett, Anthony Marshall, Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt before the season, but UNLV still had enough returning to finish with a nice record in a weakened Mountain West. That seems in doubt after UNLV dropped back-to-back home games to Air Force and Nevada. A season that features no top 100 wins now has two bad losses despite a roster that features proven players like Khem Birch and Bryce DeJean-Jones.