The desire to be ranked No. 1 in college basketball must be rather low right now.
Louisville tried the top ranking on for size last week and lost three consecutive games, at home to Syracuse and on the road against Villanova and, most recently, Georgetown. This past Wednesday, Miami destroyed No. 1 Duke 90-63. It was the second time in two weeks that Duke held the top spot and lost an ACC road game. And it was the third-worst loss by a No. 1 team in the history of the Associated Press poll.
As disappointed as we might be in the No. 1 teams this season, we still know that Indiana, Duke and Louisville will be in the hunt for the national championship in March. What we didn't know back at the start of the season was that blue-blood programs such as Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA would struggle so much.
And they aren't alone. Several teams with top 25 aspirations in the preseason have turned out to be disappointments and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. The defending national champions from Lexington are at the top of our list.
Forget the chaos at the top for a moment as we present our Top Five Most Disappointing Teams. But remember, it's still January. Things can change.
|A 3-2 SEC start isn't what Nerlens Noel and Kentucky had in mind.|
Kentucky (13-6, 4-2 SEC)
It's a dangerous statement because John Calipari has a young team with lots of future NBA talent -- at least that's what the mock drafts tell us. So as soon as you write that Kentucky is the most disappointing team in college basketball and could miss the NCAA tournament, your fear is that the Wildcats will suddenly "get it," start winning and make you the target of ire from Big Blue Nation fans everywhere.
But this is late January now, and after Tuesday's 59-55 loss at Alabama, there doesn't seem to be a lot of growth and improvement happening in Lexington. Saturday's 75-70 home win over LSU won't impress poll voters. We are talking about a team that was in everyone's preseason top five. And now we are talking about John Calipari's formula and how it may not work every season. Last season, the Wildcats resembled a NBA franchise stuck in college uniforms. Not so much this season.
"This team may not figure it out until February," Calipari said earlier this season. John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader reminded us of those words in a column Thursday.
With February approaching, the Wildcats are floating on the bubble with numbers that might earn them a No. 10 or 11 seed. That puts them in company with teams like Colorado State, Iowa State, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Temple. Kentucky is 0-5 against the RPI Top 50 and 2-6 against the RPI Top 100 (Maryland and Tennessee are the wins). Unless the Wildcats win both meetings with Florida and the one with Missouri or Ole Miss, there's not a lot to gain in the SEC.
|Michael Snaer and Florida State have taken a big step back this season.|
Florida State (11-7, 3-2 ACC)
The Seminoles finished third in the ACC last season and lost in the third round of the NCAA tournament. That was supposed to be the springboard Leonard Hamilton's program needed. So even though four starters were lost, the Seminoles were still picked to finish fourth or fifth in the ACC -- right around the same spot everyone predicted for Miami (14-3, 5-0). The Seminoles travel Sunday to in-state rival Miami, the new first-place team in the ACC after that stunning rout of Duke on Wednesday.
Perhaps the Seminoles hit rock bottom Saturday with a 56-36 loss at Virginia. Hamilton's teams have always been known for defense and rebounding but the Seminoles have been out-rebounded in five consecutive games and rank 201st in scoring defense. Michael Snaer leads FSU in scoring with a 14.5 average, but all of his shooting percentages are down from his junior season. They notched a win Thursday over Clemson.
|Javan Felix and the youthful Longhorns have had trouble finishing games.|
Texas (9-10, 1-5 Big 12)
First off, the whole Myck Kabongo eligibility situation has been upsetting, frustrating and disruptive to this team. The Longhorns would be better with Kabongo, no doubt about it. But the Texas disaster goes well beyond that.
The Longhorns are young and haven't been able to close out games. In this age of college basketball, players are forced to grow up fast and this team just hasn't matured. When you travel to Maui and lose to Chaminade, there's reason to worry.
Despite ending its five-game losing streak Saturday with a win over Texas Tech, Texas is in a total meltdown situation at this point. The Longhorns were picked as high as third in the Big 12 and some had them in the preseason top 25 discussion. Now the only certainty seems to be that a streak of 14 straight NCAA appearances under coach Rick Barnes is about to end. But in a football-crazed state, do Texas fans really care?
Memphis (16-3, 5-0 C-USA)
With that record, how can the Tigers be considered a disappointment? It's an interesting case study.
|Joe Jackson and Memphis have a nice record, but is it legit?|
In the preseason publications, Memphis was picked No. 18 in the nation by Blue Ribbon Yearbook, Athlon Sports and Sports Illustrated. This week, Memphis received six points in the Associated Press poll and was totally ignored in the USA Today Coaches poll. No one seems to be giving Josh Pastner's team any thought, and he has three former McDonald's All-Americans -- Joe Jackson, Shaq Goodwin, Adonis Thomas -- on his roster.
Here's what happened. Memphis started 2-0, then lost to VCU and Minnesota in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Tigers last lost Dec. 15 against Louisville but their five wins against RPI Top 100 teams are against Northern Iowa, Oral Roberts, Tennessee, East Carolina, and Harvard. Southern Miss leads Conference-USA with a 5-0 record and has two games ahead with Memphis. But when you see Memphis on the No. 11 seed line in some bracket projections, it seems to be a commentary on the weakness of the conference. Saturday's narrow 73-72 win over a below-.500 Marshall team didn't help that perception. Going 0-3 against RPI Top 50 teams won't get any team too far.
North Carolina (13-6, 3-3 ACC)
|P.J. Hairston and the Tar Heels will have to play catch-up in the ACC.|
Two weeks ago, the Tar Heels appeared to be in danger of falling to 0-3 in the ACC, but they held off Florida State 77-72 in Tallahassee (thanks to P.J. Hairston) and now there are signs of life in Chapel Hill. Home victories over Maryland and Georgia Tech translated into a three-game winning streak heading into Saturday's big game with North Carolina State in Raleigh. But the Tar Heels lost the showdown, 91-83.
A win for Roy Williams' team could have turned the season around. Early-season losses to Butler and Indiana, and the Jan. 10 home loss to Miami don't look too bad -- although the 83-59 score against Indiana raised a red flag. The really damaging loss was that 85-67 setback at Texas (we've already discussed the Longhorns).
It comes as no surprise that a team coached by Williams handles the basics well. North Carolina leads the nation in rebounding and is third in assists per game. The Tar Heels need more consistency from their frontcourt players, especially James Michael McAdoo. A 1-4 record against the RPI Top 25 is unusual for Roy's Boys, but there is time -- two games against Duke, two games against NC State and another shot at Miami.
Things can change.