Blog Entry

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

Posted on: January 25, 2012 5:15 pm
North Carolina isn't leading the charge in the ACC. They trail N.C. State currently. Anyone see that coming? (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

This is not the superb year of college basketball that we expected.

In some ways I’m getting ahead of myself, because so much of every year is judged by its climax, so without the benefit of knowing what March and the first Monday of April will bring, we can’t say how, as a whole, the 2011-12 season will be perceived. So far it’s been something of a let-down. It’s my fault. It’s the fault of any fan or writer who got romantic over the notion this season could vault itself back to the halcyon ‘80s or mid-‘90s, before the NBA pilfered the premier talent as soon as possible.

We still have most of the same teams at the top of the polls now as were there in November, but the action hasn’t been as good, the sport hasn’t been in the conversation as much as expected — thanks for buckling to the owners’ demands, NBA players — and UNC, Duke, Ohio State, UConn and Baylor have all suffered some swoons. It’s not been a bad season by any stretch, but college basketball, for about the 12th straight year, has failed to create morning-after discussion that enraptures the country. Ironically, or perhaps the very reason why we’re not so enamored with the sport, is the result of most conference races being in flux — more than usual.

Outside of Kentucky in the SEC and maybe Syracuse in the Big East, we lack semblance of what to expect and certainly don't have teams gripping their leagues by the throat. Bad news. The last thing college basketball needs is parity. Tight league races bring great anticipation but just as many questions. Unfortunately, the races aren’t close at the top because so many teams are good; instead, too many squads have proven they know how many ways in which to lose. We’ve got highly ranked teams failing to play bully, so that prevents the mainstream from latching on to a subset of top-level squads who fail transcend the games they play.

Look at the hideous Pac-12, which causes a gag reflex upon any discussion. Cal, Oregon, Washington and Colorado all have two losses. Collectively, it’s among the weakest years for major conferences in the modern era. That’s due in large part to this league. The Pac-12 is on a collision course of playing itself into only one bid, which would be unprecedented and certainly make commissioner Larry Scott consider kicking an Arizona State out of the conference in favor of a group that will actually accomplish something. Perhaps Ron Swanson’s youth team would be willing to make the commitment. Nobody wants to take charge at the kiddie table?

Ohio State should win the Big Ten, but how convinced are you that it will? (US PRESSWIRE)
The Big Ten is the best conference in the country, right? Then why doesn’t it feel elite? It doesn’t ring proudly and dominantly like the Big East has been in recent years. Yet Ohio State, its flagship team this season, is log-jammed with Michigan and Michigan State (all with two losses). Wisconsin and Illinois (a team some believe won’t make the NCAAs) are one game behind in the loss column. Indiana, that great rebirth this season, is just 4-4 in the Big Ten, sharing as many losses as Minnesota, Iowa and Purdue.

The ACC’s got a three-way tie you didn’t expect at all, one that doesn’t include North Carolina, who should ultimately win the league … but who knows. Duke, Florida State and N.C. State are all 4-1 at the moment. Right now, there’s only a two-game difference in the loss column from the top to the 10th team in the standings, 2-3 Boston College.

The Big East is just as clogged from 1 (Syracuse) to 9 (Notre Dame, which ended SU’s undefeated season Saturday), separated by two losses. Below SU in the Big East is a 10-car pileup that won’t be sorted out for weeks. We’re not used to seeing this league be so confused over parity or genuine top-level competition. Thank God the Orange pulled out a nice win at Cincinnati Monday night, lest this column really have a hammer to beat its point into the ground. Even though the Orange is the favorite, there have been questions about how good the team actually is. The fact some don’t think Syracuse looks like a true one seed right now tells you what you need to know about the sport.

Kentucky and Kansas are the only major-conference teams without a blemish at this point. Almost everyone expects Kentucky to win its league. Kansas? Hey, they’ve looked great, but road games at Iowa State, Missouri and Baylor are still upcoming. The Bears, Tigers and Jayhawks are likely to push each other down the track to the final weekend of regular-season play — and then you can expect a different winner from the regular-season champ when the Big 12 tourney finishes. Just feels like one of those years.

The Atlantic 10’s as much of a mess as any league; 12 of the 14 teams are separated by two games. Conference USA is once again a level below, and it’s reinforced by not having Memphis there to prop the league up and offer a team that’s even Sweet 16-worthy. Central Florida, Memphis, Tulsa, Southern Miss and Marshall. Those are five teams who could win C-USA. Another Magic 8-Ball shake of a conference race. This is all exciting to some degree, but when will we see true separation? Without those tiers of teams, upsets in March don’t feel as shocking and the sport in general feels watered down.

When our expectations get altered, and when there are fewer great teams, there is no oomph. College basketball needs four or five really good, really interesting teams to be truly relevant prior to Valentine’s Day. It hasn’t had that so far, and so this year is now beginning to look like most others from the recent past. Get us to March as soon as possible so we can see what this season really has to offer. Just because most conference races are close doesn’t mean they’re interesting, at least not yet.

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Since: Aug 28, 2011
Posted on: January 28, 2012 2:19 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

I'd rather have parity that creates discussion then one team already having wrapped up each conference. Instead of parity, it'd just be pitiful. And we have heard the same thing about Kentucky since they started running out next year's lottery each year yet they have no championships. To judge a conference season now is laughable. The lack of parity for Murray State is used against them but Kentucky should be lauded for beating up on a weak SEC with half of next year's rookie class. And that works out how?? No team at a high level should go unchallenged. That's called cupcaking. They should be 20-1 when there SOS is in the high 60's and there isn't an SEC team aside from them in the top 25. We all know RPI come tourney time and in that Kentucky is 8th. So they have beaten teams that weren't even close, wahoo. Give me a league that has a 3 way tie at the end. That shows strength which is why those conferences are ready for March Madness.<br /><br />

Since: Jan 27, 2012
Posted on: January 27, 2012 12:47 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

I have been waiting years for this kind of parity in college basketball...

This is a direct result of the one-year NBA rule and quite frankly you could argue that a two-year rule would make it even better.

(that's another topic though)

It was definitely nice to see most of the big names come back for another year because they know the value of college ball versus the crap in the NBA.

I think the only people that are afraid of parity are sports writers and the selection committee come March.  I wouldn't want to touch that with a 39 1/2 pole.

Since: Jun 9, 2011
Posted on: January 27, 2012 11:45 am

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

I wouldnt say SU doesnt have any first round picks, scouts say joseph is a late first rounder and waiters is a lotto pick, melo will probably end up going first round based on potential alone although i think thats a mistake cus he needs one more year for sure. Also scouts think su has 2-3 more players that they expect to be drafted next year. I do like your point tho and the reality of the matter is just about everyteam plays a horrible game a season, if su played nd again they would most likley blow them out. At this point uk, su, and osu look like clear 1 seeds, for this clown to say otherwise makes no sense.

Since: Aug 20, 2009
Posted on: January 26, 2012 11:47 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

This is the worst written article I have read in a long, long time.

Since: Oct 12, 2006
Posted on: January 26, 2012 10:34 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

Well, I think that if I had to rate the top ten teams in college basketball right this minute, the ranking would look something like this: 

#1: Kentucky - Kentucky probably has the most talented players in the nation, and they certainly know how to win. Kentucky's biggest problem is probably themselves. If they get bored, or underestimate a good team, then they may lose. Outside of that, it is definitely possible that UK will go undefeated until the post-season. 
#2: Syracuse - The Orange should not be ranked lower than this on anyone's poll, as they have earned this position. Syracuse may not have the most talent in the nation (or even in their conference), but they do seem to make the most of it. And for those who would blast Syracuse for their lone loss @ Notre Dame, remember that tOSU lost at Illinois, Missouri lost @ Oklahoma State, Indiana lost @ Nebraska, Kansas lost on a neutral court to Davidson, and Michigan State lost @ Northwestern. Notre Dame is arguably better than all of those teams (at least on their home court).  
#3 (tie): Ohio State - Ohio State may very well be the top team in the country, but how can we be sure when they lay eggs on us, just when we begin to believe in them? If the Buckeyes could play to their ability, then there would only be one or two teams that would be able to challenge them for the title - The problem is that we cannot be confident that they will play to their ability. 
#3 (tie): Kansas - If the Jayhawks hadn't lost to Davidson, I might have them ranked #2. Despite their down year in talent, they have rose toward the top of the national rankings yet again, proving that they are among the best in the nation, regardless of what preseason prognosticators think. 
#5: Missouri - The Tigers have the ability to heat-up, and beat anybody, at any location. The thing that worries me most about Missouri, is when they don't play defense... they really don't play defense! Their size is a concern too, but they have found a way to play big despite their size. If they play defense good, they can win the whole thing.

#6: Baylor - I'm not really confident when Baylor plays. They have all of that talent up-front, and you'd expect them to dominate every game. Yet, I have watched nearly all of their games, and have watched them nearly lose to a team like BYU, who has no business challenging Baylor on their home court. Then there's the Texas A&M game, which Baylor won by 9, but was much closer... and Baylor was at home then too. Baylor sits at #^ because there is no other team that I can justifiably put ahead of them. Will they get their act together, or will they disappoint us? 
#7 (Tie):North Carolina - Much like Ohio State, the Tar Heels seem to get our hopes up, then just when we are ready to get on-board, they go and lose by 33 points to an inferior team, with lesser talent. UNC has the talent level to beat everyone in the country at any location, at any time of the day or night. The problem that the Heels have is that there are too many "me first" members of the team. Perhaps if they had a few less talented players, they'd be a better "TEAM"??? 
#7 (Tie):Duke - The Blue Devils are sort of a Kansas story. They don't have a lot of great talent, but are doing good regardless. But, Duke has a national following that will sometimes over-rate them, to the detriment of their team. If Duke had had a preseason ranking of #15, as opposed to #5, then we'd be singing their praises. Duke, like Baylor, is ranked here because the teams below them cannot justifiably be put ahead of them. 
#9: Michigan State - The Spartans have one of the best coaches in the nation, and to bet against him is a crap shot... one that I wouldn't take. Sparty lost a couple early season games, then refocused and hit the gas. Except for their sleepwalk loss to Northwestern, MSU has shown us they are a team that should not be ignored. 
Here is where I differ from the national polls 
#:Creighton - I know that Hoyas fans, Rebels,etc,etc will probably flame me for this pick, but if you want honesty, then that is what you are reading here. The Bluejays are #1 in FG%, #2 in assists, #9 in points... nationally. They have a legit NPOY candidate in Doug McDermott, and they play well as a TEAM! Now, since I am being honest, I will also tell you that there were a bunch of other teams that are probably just as good, and deserving as the Bluejays - Georgetown, UNLV, Indiana, Murray State, Marquette, SDSU, and Florida all come to mind. But for one reason or another I think that Creighton should be ranked #10 in this poll, my poll.

Since: Jun 5, 2011
Posted on: January 26, 2012 9:02 pm

The season is never what we anticipate

That is what is so great about college basketball.  The rim is fickle, and teams or individual players can seemingly emerge from nowhere to have a dominant year.  The NBA's dilution of the NCAA's product, while somewhat damaging, has at least produced more parity.  Basically, the better talent you get, the less time you get to keep them.  In other words, dominant players are here today and gone tomorrow.  
This has compressed the teams greatly, and made it so that the 75th best team can beat the best team if the circumstances are right.  It has also given lesser programs with senior-laden teams a better chance for that "one shining moment" the NCAA loves to promote so much.   Any system that allows, for example, Butler to be better than Indiana for a few years, is definitely producing parity.  
As Bill Walton might attest, "it goes to show, you don't ever know." 

Since: Mar 24, 2007
Posted on: January 26, 2012 7:24 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

so, according to this article, we shouldnt like anticipation or competitiveness

Since: Apr 2, 2007
Posted on: January 26, 2012 7:17 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

What the hell is this guy talking about? Since when are tight conference races a bad thing? As a KU fan, sure I would love if they just dominated everyone and were by far the best team out there, but since when is parity a bad thing for any sport? I like not knowing who is gonna be in the final four by February. I think what most of us hate about the NBA, is that barring any injuries, we can already guess who the last 4 teams are gonna be. There is no point to watch until the playoffs. The NFL is far and away the most watched and profitable league out there, and its because they have parity.

Since: Aug 28, 2006
Posted on: January 26, 2012 7:03 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

Wow Norlander; you're really in touch with the true feelings of the average college basketball fan, if the comments relating to your theory this year is terrible based on exciting games and parity are any indication. Yep; finger right on that pulse, knowing your audience. Oh, wait........

Since: Jan 24, 2007
Posted on: January 26, 2012 3:20 pm

The season so far: not what we'd hoped for

"When our expectations get altered..." By this, Norlander means, "When we in the national media sieze a narrative that ends up petering out..." We saw this last year, didn't we? There was supposedly no dominant team in college basketball last year, partly because Kansas and Ohio State took a couple of highly-publicized losses on the road to very good teams. It didn't fit the narrative that both the Jayhawks and (especially) the Buckeyes righted the ship and had EXCEPTIONAL seasons by every measure. Of course, both those teams stumbled in the tournament and we ended up with a crapshoot of a championship game...literally, UConn and Butler shot like crap.

Again, this year: Syracuse may not have played the strongest competition yet, but how can we argue that they're not a dominant team? Because they don't have a sure NBA 1st-rounder on their roster? The Orange are ridiculously deep and athletic. And for goodness' sake, please pay attention to Ohio State's stats! They lead the nation in defensive efficiency (by a lot), and also lead the nation in margin of victory. This team is also deep and athletic, has at least three NBA draft picks playing significate minutes, and none of their losses could be considered a "bad" loss, by any stretch of the imagination.

Norlander, the Big Ten doesn't "feel elite" to you because you and other national sportswriters overvalued Indiana for two superb wins, and now are undervaluing them for some tough losses. A young Hoosiers squad struggling to meet lofty expectations shouldn't make you look down on Michigan State or OSU! Remember how the Big East has beaten up on itself year after year and still been crowned the nation's best conference. Certainly, the ultimate measure is NCAA tournament performance, so we'll have to re-evaluate all this come Final Four weekend. But until then, don't judge the whole season a failure because the media's pet storylines haven't developed like they wanted!

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or