|It's been a nice, but not a great, year so far. We love a lot about hoops, yet here's what's let us down to date. (Getty Images)|
I assure you I love college basketball more and more by the year. It's a cynical world out there, so that undying love is a reassuring thing. My fiancee regularly mocks me for how excited I get for a 7 p.m. Big Ten tip on a Tuesday. Hey, it's just who I am; I can't help these things. That said, we need to look at the collective college hoops season and realize not everything's gone as we'd hoped. Like any good thing we love, it lets us down from time to time, but only because we care so much, dammit!
There have been some disappointments, be they with teams or trends in general. The surprising development I found: The preseason ratings actually don't offer up many miscues. Nice!
But as we head into the second half of the season, let's first look back on the mistakes and hope we aren't doomed to see them repeated. Alas, some are out of our hands (get better, C.J.). If you've got beef with the list, you've got beef with me. Feel free to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or shout me down on Twitter.
Now, onto the grievances with the game. And before we get to the 10, an honorable mention: This free throw. Never forget. Now, in no particular order ...
|A somewhat upside-down season so far in the SEC. (Getty Images)|
1. The SEC. If you want the long answer, Gary Parrish brings the league down to size here. Right now, you'd have a hard time arguing for anything beyond the league's top three teams. Florida, Kentucky and Missouri are good clubs, and I say that even acknowledging the best is probably yet to come with UK. But Ole Miss, the SEC's fourth-rated team, boasts its best win over Rutgers, which won't sniff the NCAAs this season. Tennessee just revealed it won't have Jeronne Maymon for the entire season, bad news for a group that's inconsistent -- to say the least -- on offense and is probably the SEC's fifth-best team.
Overall, the Southeastern Conference has losses to Troy, Alabama A&M, Elon, Rhode Island, Winthrop, Marist, Youngstown State, Southern, Mercer. It's a logjam of iffy. Beyond the mediocre clubs, there seems to be a lack of interesting storylines, too. That's just as bad as being bad. Here's to hoping the league breaks good and can turn itself around, give us a fourth and fifth team to be interested in.
2. The pool of at-large candidates. So with college football's season expired, now's about the time when some of us start to look at the landscape and see which teams have accomplished what. Which are the ones with good wins over the past two months, the ones already in good -- or decent -- position to make the NCAAs? I'm here to tell you, it's a weak field right now. If the tournament started tomorrow, we'd be drafting in schools like Arizona State, Oklahoma and Indiana State, schools that don't have the sheen of tourney teams, but whose numbers favor well for the selection committee. It's hard enough to get to 68 every year; I fear 2013 could be among the ugliest in recent memory.
3. C.J. McCollum's broken left foot. Some disappointments are out of your control, and this one, which happened over the weekend, is a real bummer. McCollum's a possible first-round pick in the upcoming draft, but one of the sport's best scorers could miss the rest of his college career due to a fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Not only that, but the Patriot League could lose a good chase/pub-grabber in Bucknell and Lehigh going tête-à-tête.
4. The lack of a transcendent star. In recent years we've had Anthony Davis, Jimmer Fredette, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Tyler Hansbrough, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant. Go even further back and remember Adam Morrison, J.J. Redick, Emeka Okafor, Carmelo Anthony. In almost every year over the past ... well, forever ... college hoops has had a face or two to lead the way, to show the nation what the sport's offering in a given season. So who is the guy this year? We don't really have one yet, and that's amplified by/married to the fact that the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft is anything but coveted.
5. Conference USA. Every year it feels like Memphis -- then everybody else. But this year, that's especially the case. The league is as down and unattractive as I can ever remember it. Once again, two bids seem unlikely, even if the Tigers manage to not win the C-USA tournament. It's a shame what this league turned into: a bunch of misfit toys of sorts, as you look at the programs inside of it and want to see more, want to see the league be worthy of at least three bids per year. But that's just not been the case, and in Memphis' final season in C-USA, it's unfortunately fitting that the Tigers will once again be a big kid at the small table.
|Many believe Kabongo got a raw deal. (AP)|
6. The NCAA's handling of Myck Kabongo's situation. Though some, like Clark Kellogg, had no issue with how the NCAA treated Texas sophomore Myck Kabongo, plenty of others did. You can be mad at the initial season-long punishment, which was reduced to 23 games, but what irked me was the cloak-and-dagger approach. We saw so many other cases resolved more quickly, and here the NCAA seemed to plod along. I don't think Kabongo was completely innocent, but the lack of transparency by the NCAA was also an issue, as was the rule in general. Furthermore, when the NCAA has its own in-house problems with how it's talking about cases, it doesn't bolster credibility. Rule changes to the NCAA are coming down the pike, and I'm hoping to see a bit more pragmatism fused into the NCAA-NBA relationship. (To be fair, this falls on the NBA just as much as the NCAA.)
7. The Big East's breakup. I'm already on record saying the move of the "Catholic 7" schools to split from the Big East was actually a good thing. But there's plenty to be disappointed in, too. Can we get sentimental? Pull up a chair, turn off the TV and take a moment with me to lament that this upcoming season of "Big Monday" will be the last as we know it. The Big East is downright mutating, and with that I think most college basketball fans will lose an identity of their love for the game that they grew up with or grew into loving. Money talks, TV dictates and all that, but this final Big East campaign feels a bit like a walking funeral.
8. Drexel and the CAA in general. Drexel's had some injury issues, but wow. You had VCU leave for the A-10, leaving the door open for anyone to take over. This season, it was supposed to be the Dragons. Instead, a 5-10 record that's absent of even back-to-back wins. It's not an underachieving storyline that catches the eye of casual fans, but trust me, this one comes as a fairly big shocker in the hoops world. And within the CAA in general, Drexel is the microcosm for how this conference has taken a huge dive. The league's rated No. 18 by Sagarin, No. 19 by KenPom.com, No. 25 in the RPI. It's losing Georgia State and Old Dominion to realignment next season, and even Davidson said, "Thanks, but we're cool staying in the Southern Conference." A rough second half to 2012 for the Colonial, no question.
9. Florida State. It's the only team ranked in the preseason Top 25 of the AP poll that you could argue has been a genuine letdown so far, primarily because of the talent not playing up to its ability and the complete void of Leonard Hamilton's usually rocksteady defense. North Carolina and Wisconsin were overvalued, but we still think those two teams stand a fair shot at making the NCAAs. The 9-5 Noles, on the other hand, have losses to South Alabama, Mercer and Auburn, and have already suffered four home losses. It's got a possible future first-round pick in Michael Snaer, a player I love, but normally enigmatic FSU seems extra vexing this season.
I think that's why I had to put FSU on this list ahead of say, West Virginia. WVU is young, in a new league and without any future NBAers. Florida State has been something to be feared and respected by ACC teams -- and out of league, too -- in recent years. Nothing signaled a big dip. Yet it clearly has. FSU is off to a 1-0 start in ACC play after beating Clemson, but it's going to need to win at least 10 league games to stand a shot at reaching the tournament.
10. College hoops as a whole. We touched on it during Wednesday's podcast. The season so far has been just ... OK. Acceptable. There have been a few things to highlight (and here's all you need to know), like Indiana-Butler back in December. Hey, Maui had that great buzzer-beater from Rotnei Clarke, too. And Kentucky-Louisville was pretty enjoyable and saw the Cards get their first win over a Calipari-coached Kentucky club. But in general, it does seem like the season's been boilerplate to this point. Good, not exceptional. Fortunately, conference play normally brings unpredictability and reason to erase away a lot of the preamble from the sport's non-conference season. We usually wind up remembering seasons for what coaches, players and teams do after Valentine's Day. Here's hoping that fate awaits again.
For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.