The 2016-2017 College Basketball season has some great stories. It also has some profound disappointments from big-name programs. Here’s a list of the most disappointing teams so far this year and who can turn it around. It’s overpopulated with teams who have won titles and been to Final Fours in recent years.
#1 Duke Blue Devils (15-5)
Preseason Rank: #1
Some teams have fallen harder, but when you are expected to be the clear top team in the country, incorporating the best freshman class with established veterans Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, and Luke Kennard, being the sixth-best team in the ACC at this point is a big drop.
Lots of things have gone wrong, from freshmen Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, and Marques Bolden having injuries to start the year, to Grayson Allen’s tripping escapades and struggles (31% from 3), to Coach K’s surgery.
Can they turn it around? Sure. They are still 15-5. They’ll be in the tournament. The freshmen could improve in February and March, Coach K is supposed to be back on the sideline, and Grayson Allen could return to his 2016 form. It wouldn’t be the first young Duke team to peak later, and defend better as we approach March.
If they make a run, it will likely have to be out of the 4-6 seed area, rather than from the top line that was expected.
#2 Connecticut Huskies (9-11)
Preseason Rank: #18
The Huskies came on strong at the end of 2016 to make the tournament after a slow start, but they’ve redefined slow start this year by starting with losses to Wagner and Northeastern. Connecticut is largely an afterthought at this point so you may have forgotten how disappointing this team is.
They had some talented losses, notably Daniel Hamilton, but with Jalen Adams, Rodney Purvis and Amida Brimah back the expectations were still there to be a tourney team. They simply cannot score, ranking in the bottom 100 college teams in shooting percentage.
Can they turn it around? Probably not, unless they can make a tournament run in the American. Connecticut would need to win out to even be in the at-large discussion.
#3 Michigan State (12-9)
Preseason Rank: #12
It’s a testament to Tom Izzo’s staying power and coaching that the expectation by pollsters was that this would still be a Top 20 team after the heavy losses, led by Denzel Valentine, from last year’s #2 seed team.
Those expectations have proven too heavy. Michigan State got off to a rough start against a tough schedule with all their new pieces, and simply have too many flaws. The frontline is small by Spartan standards, and includes a 6’6″ walk-on in Kenny Goins, and freshmen Nick Ward and Miles Bridges. This is the worst defensive team in East Lansing in a decade, and the worst rebounding team in a long time (Michigan State is known for their rebounding advantage through the years).
Over the last 15 years, the lowest a Michigan State team ranked in Pomeroy’s rankings was 45th in 2011. This year, they are sitting at 53rd.
Can they turn it around? It depends on what we mean by turn it around. They can keep the tournament streak alive (the last time a Michigan State team missed was the 1996-1997), but are very much “on the bubble.” The target is probably 18 wins to be in that discussion (sweeping Minnesota and beating Wichita State will prove valuable), but that means winning more than half down the stretch. The home game against Michigan on Sunday is suddenly vital.
#4 Texas Longhorns (8-12)
Preseason Rank: #21
Year Two of the Shaka Smart era in Austin has not gone well. In his first season, he took a veteran group and turned in a good season. Without Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix in the backcourt, though, this year has gone down the dumps. Texas ranks in the bottom 10 among Division I in terms of experience. Tevin Mack has been suspended indefinitely. There was an expectation, despite the losses, that Smart would continue to grow the program with talented newcomers. It hasn’t happened yet.
Can they turn it around? Not this year. The Big 12 is too loaded and they don’t have the consistency. They can jump up and catch a team on the right day but will struggle to put together a run. They would likely need to beat three ranked teams to win the conference tourney.
#5 Syracuse Orange (12-9)
Preseason Rank: #19
Last year, Syracuse got into the tournament, perhaps with a Jim Boeheim discount of the games he missed due to suspension, and then made the most of it, reaching the Final Four as a #10 seed. That run raised expectations this year, when Nebraska grad transfer Andrew White and Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon joined the Tyler’s (Lydon and Roberson), along with some talented freshman. So far, they’ve missed the backcourt of Michael Gbinje and Trevor Cooney, and the defense has been poor.
How poor? Syracuse and Boeheim’s famous zone has been in the Top 20 in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings every year since 2010, and are outside the Top 100 this year.
Can they turn it around? Maybe, because the ACC schedule is full of danger but also opportunity. Syracuse gets Florida State at home this weekend in a key game, and also has Duke, Virginia, and Louisville at home. They need some big wins, because right now the best win is the home win over Wake Forest earlier this week. It’s likely going to take a strong finish to get in the discussion, and there are no gimmes.
#6 Indiana Hoosiers (14-7)
Preseason Rank: #13
Unlike the other teams on this list, Indiana’s season got off to a great start with the win over Kansas. An early overtime loss at Fort Wayne was erased by beating North Carolina. But since early December, Indiana hasn’t been quite right. They’ve now gone 6-6 over the last 12 games, and just got shellacked by Michigan last night.
That was also the second game without OG Anunoby, who they are likely to be without for the rest of the year.
Oh, and because of some games against the lowest teams in Division I, the RPI is pulled down into the 70s right now and they will be battling that in the selection committee room if they do not rebound.
Can they turn it around? Sure. The loss of Anunoby is going to be a factor. Indiana’s offense hasn’t been the problem, as like many recent Hoosiers teams, they can shoot and get on the glass. Without Anunoby’s athleticism, though, that could take a hit.
Meanwhile, the defense has been bad by even recent Indiana standards, which haven’t been all that high. Indiana may have an adjustment period, but they need to close strong. If they do, the early wins over Kansas and North Carolina should give them the boost to get in the tournament.
Other Teams Considered: Oklahoma, NC State, Washington, Texas A&M