Michigan, Louisville, UConn have major concerns in January
The New Year is a good time for optimism. Someone should remind these college basketball teams about that in the coming weeks.
They’ll need all the help they can get.
On Thursday, we picked nine teams that will be on the rise in the first weeks of 2014. This is the flip side.
Injuries, suspensions, arrests and weaknesses exposed in recent games mean a handful of teams enter conference play and the new year with a set of new problems.
Anyone expecting a repeat of Louisville and Michigan in the title game will be disappointed. Both teams are coming off of deflating news, both on the scoreboard and on the roster. Two of the heroes of the Final Four are gone — Chane Behanan is gone for good and Mitch McGary won't be back anytime soon.
Coaches Rick Pitino and John Beilein have plenty of talent remaining on their rosters, but like the other teams on this list, they'll spend the early part of the New Year grasping for answers.
Teams in Trouble in the New Year
Why: Size disadvantage starting to show itself
Shabazz Napier is a fantastic, fearless guard, but he probably should’t be leading a team in rebounding. UConn’s 9-0 start with wins over Florida and Indiana looked a bit of a fantasy, and now the cracks are starting to show thanks to UConn’s size disadvantage. The Huskies have only one regular taller than 6-foot-7 (6-9 DeAndre Daniels). In a 75-71 loss to Houston on Tuesday, Cougars forward TaShawn Thomas feasted on the matchup with 23 points and eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Daniels finished 3 of 10 from the field and center Amida Brimah played only four minutes. And this was against what’s not expected to be a great team in the American. UConn, which also lost to Stanford at home Dec. 18, will face two NCAA contenders in its next two games against SMU and Harvard.
Why: Robert Carter’s knee injury
Non-conference losses dimmed Georgia Tech’s hopes of challenging for the NCAA Tournament, but those aspirations may be finished with a knee injury to Robert Carter. Carter had been averaging 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He could be out for the season, meaning even the NIT may be a tough goal to reach.
Why: Injuries to Gary Bell Jr., Sam Dower and Kevin Pangos
Gonzaga was tentatively on the list of teams likely to improve thanks to the midseason arrival of Louisville transfer Angel Nunez, but that bit of good news is now a foot note. Guard Gary Bell Jr., who averages 12.7 points per game and is Gonzaga’s top perimeter defender, will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. Meanwhile, Sam Dower has missed two games with a back injury, and point guard Kevin Pangos is playing through turf toe. Gonzaga defeated Saint Mary's 73-51 at home Thursday, a good sign for the depleted roster for now.
Why: Finishing the year without Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware
Louisville is still ranked No. 1 in the KenPom.com ratings, but a handful of analysts already are giving up on the Cardinals’ ability to defend their national title. By losing to Kentucky on Dec. 28, Louisville completed its non-conference schedule without a true marquee win and now has a depleted roster. Chane Behanan ran out of second chances and was permanently dismissed from the team. Moreover, Kevin Ware won’t play at all this season as he continues to recover from the devastating broken leg from last year’s NCAA Tournament. Behanan was averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, and Ware hand’t played at all. They’re not the worst losses Louisville could have endured, but the Cardinals are still struggling to get major contributions from Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock. The backcourt of Russ Smith and Chris Jones can’t do everything.
Why: Duane Wilson redshirting
Marquette’s season hasn’t unfolded anything Buzz Williams would’ve hoped. The Golden Eagles were Athlon’s pick to win the Big East, but Marquette is 8-6 following a 67-49 loss at Creighton to open the conference season. Reinforcements won’t be coming, at least not from highly regarded freshman point guard Duane Wilson. The school announced last week Wilson would redshirt the season while he recovers from a stress fracture in his left leg. The Golden Eagles need all the help they can get on the offensive side of the court: Marquette ranks 117th nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com and ranks 132nd in points per possession.
Why: Mitch McGary out indefinitely
Replacing player of the year Trey Burke was hard enough — especially as Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III adapted to playing without the star point guard. Now, Michigan enters conference play without McGary, who is out indefinitely due to back surgery. Senior Jordan Morgan is poised to take over for McGary in the starting lineup, but that leaves Michigan still with a freshman point guard and without its best post presence.
Why: Jerian Grant out for the season
Only days after blowing an eight-point lead in the final minute against Ohio State, Notre Dame announced leading scorer Jerian Grant would be suspended for the remainder of the season due to an academic issue. This is already a team that had lost Cameron Biedscheid to a transfer and lost to indiana State and North Dakota State at home in the non-conference schedule. Making things tougher: Notre Dame opens ACC play at home against Duke on Saturday.
Why: Michael Cobbins’ injury, Stevie Clark’s suspension
Oklahoma State’s top five scorers remain intact, but the Cowboys enter Big 12 play at Kansas State on Saturday with depleted depth. Forward Michael Cobbins was lost for the season Monday with a torn Achilles. He had been averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds, but he had started every game this season. Stevie Clark probably won’t miss the rest of the season, but the freshman backup point guard was arrested for marijuana possession. Clark, who averages 7.0 points and 3.7 had already been suspended for four games earlier this season.
Why: Jarred Shaw’s drug arrest
Utah State’s odds of reaching the NCAA Tournament might have been small to begin with, but the Mountain West hoped the Aggies would at least competitive. That’s going to be tough without Jarred Shaw, who was charged with felony drug distribution a week ago. Shaw averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in the first eight games of the season, and Utah State lost 73-72 in their fifth game without him. Utah State may be on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive seasons, the longest such drought of the Stew Morrill era.