Nebraska, Michigan are off to rough starts after high expectations
Nebraska is new to being a team people watch during the college basketball season, so let us offer a word of advice:
Don’t lose at home to teams no one knew was a part of Division I basketball.
The Cornhuskers, a surprise NCAA Tournament team last season, lost 74-73 on Wednesday to Incarnate Word, a Catholic institution in San Antonio that just joined Division I this season.
That game itself was a shock, but combine it with Nebraska’s earlier losses, and the season is an all-out flop.
If anything, that loss takes some of the heat off Michigan, a team that’s also become used to high-level basketball before losing to NJIT and Eastern Michigan in back-to-back games.
Michigan’s puzzling start
What is going on with Michigan? The Wolverines defeated Oregon and Syracuse and played a thriller with Villanova. Yet they’ve also picked up two bad losses, and by bad we mean bad. Thanks to Michigan, NJIT has more wins on Big Ten courts (one) than conference affiliations. After that, the Wolverines scored 42 points in a second consecutive home loss to Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines have no inside presence, which hasn’t always been a problem for John Beilein-coached teams, but they’re being exposed by it now.
The Gators lost a slew of veterans from a team that reached the Final Four last season and three Elite Eights before that. Even though there was bound to be a void, the Gators appeared to have enough pieces and emerging sophomores returning to make a run. The road has been bumpy so far as the Gators have already lost four games, one more than they lost all of last season. Billy Donovan took an incomplete roster to the competitive Battle 4 Atlantis and few teams win at Kansas, where the Gators blew an early lead. The Gators will need continued improvement from point guard Kasey Hill if they’re going to challenge for No. 2 in the SEC.
A five-star, NBA Draft prospect simply not playing as a freshman in college basketball is indeed a rarity. Oubre may get into the rotation in Big 12 play and may still be a fine player and prospect, but for now, he’s having trouble cracking the rotation. Oubre is averaging 8.3 minutes per game and isn’t doing a ton to justify more playing time.
The Tigers knew they’d enter the season weak at the guard position, but the situation is worse than anticipated. Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson is out of shape and not ready to run a team after a yearlong layoff. Avery Woodson, Markel Crawford, Pookie Powell and Johnson have combined for 27 assists to 43 turnovers. That ineffectiveness has led to losses to Wichita State, Baylor and Stephen F. Austin.
The idea of teams winning the national championship one year and going to the NIT the next is not uncommon, and UConn seems to be sliding that way. The Huskies have lost three in a row to West Virginia, Texas without Isaiah Taylor and finally Yale at home. The Huskies are still learning to play without Shabazz Napier, and guard Ryan Boatright and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis have been injured. But these games early carry extra weight as the American schedule will due UConn no favors.
The upstart Mustangs lost three of their first five, but there are plenty of opportunities to turn this around. Defeating UC Santa Barbara, a solid mid-major, is a good start, and Michigan will be vulnerable on Dec. 20. The Mustangs have played the entire season without point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and won’t have veteran big man Markus Kennedy back until the second semester.
The backcourt losses over the years have taken their toll on Syracuse, which continued its offensive struggles from the end of last season into 2014-15. The Orange are shooting 21 percent from 3-point range, the fourth-worst average in the country. After starting 25-0 a year ago, Syracuse has lost to Cal, Michigan and St. John’s.
Nebraska was on this list before losing to Incarnate Word on Wednesday. That’s how the standards have changed at Nebraska. There was a time when the Cornhuskers losing to a solid Atlantic 10 team on the road (Rhode Island) or even Creighton at home wouldn’t have been a big deal. Tim Miles has elevated the program to a point where those are signs for concern. Miles essentially has a two-man team between Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. That’s not going to be enough in the Big Ten.
Even if it was with a bizarre finish, LSU’s win over West Virginia in Morgantown was a good sign for the Tigers. Still, LSU has too much talent and experience to be losing to teams like Old Dominion and Clemson. Those will hurt if LSU can’t get its act together in the SEC schedule.
The Wildcats were a solid, if unspectacular, NCAA Tournament team last season. With some of their best player sophomores this season, K-State was a fringe top 25 team. That’s long gone now. Kansas State has already dropped games to Long Beach State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee (and Arizona, but that was expected). The Wildcats have been surprisingly bad on the defensive end this season.