Michigan State, Texas, UConn among college basketball's biggest letdowns
This was called Tom Izzo's most talented freshman class ever, but injuries have decimated Sparty
We've made it to the holidays, which is an excellent time to sit back, relax, and make some assessments on which teams are -- to this point -- not doing as well as many expected in the preseason.
Remember, this list of under-performers so far. Falling short of lofty expectations for either poor play against inferior competition, or simply lacking consistency, these teams still have conference play to turn their season around. But they better get started right now.
Here are the five biggest disappointments this season in college basketball.
1. UConn Huskies
The Huskies, ranked 18th in the preseason, have been one of the biggest surprises of the college basketball season. For all the wrong reasons.
UConn opened the season with expected victories against New Haven and Southern Connecticut State, then followed up with back-to-back gut-wrenching home losses to Wagner and then Northeastern. Since then, it has been mostly downhill. That's partly due to the awful injury streak they ran into.
Arguably the most impactful player in the early season was Terry Larrier, who suffered a torn ACL at the Maui Invitational and is done for the season. Freshman , a McDonald's All-American, also suffered an injury that cost him the season.
We're not done yet. Another top freshman, Mamadou Diarra, is also out for the season.
Luck has been hard to come by for the Huskies.
Now that Rodney Purvis is rounding into the same player we saw last year, it could put this team on a different trajectory -- especially with a recent victory against Syracuse (who is also on this list, by the way). Either way, with injuries and the awful early season losses it feels like it's bound to end in disappointing fashion for UConn. The ceiling for this team has been knocked down several rungs.
Tom Izzo might have chugged multiple 32-ounce Red Bulls before making his 2016-17 schedule. It's one of the only ways to describe why they traveled to Hawaii, New York and the Bahamas in the early part of the season. Or why Sparty has has already faced Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Baylor and Wichita State. Brutal, brutal scheduling.
Looking at that schedule in the preseason, you might have guessed Michigan State would have come away with a few nice victories. But it has been disappointment after disappointment so far.
Similar to UConn, the Spartans have been decimated with injuries. Star freshman Miles Bridges is out with a bum ankle, Gavin Schilling still has not made his return, and graduate transfer Ben Carter is likely done for the year. Those are all guys Izzo was obviously counting on to help navigate this difficult schedule.
The "next man up" mentality is a great sports motto -- but it only works if you have enough players to deploy it. Izzo is running out of guys to put up next. Getting Bridges back soon will be big in righting the ship after a shocking loss to Northeastern in East Lansing this week. Big Ten play won't be too kind if they can't get back to a decent health level. Even worse, the Spartans' NCAA tournament streak could be in jeopardy.
The Longhorns have been borderline bad this season. The team's current record against KenPom top-75 teams is 0-5. That's highlighted (or lowlighted) by a loss at home to UT-Arlington, a neutral-court loss to Northwestern, and a (basically) home loss to Arkansas in Houston this past week.
Shaka Smart's biggest issue at the moment is running the offense with a shooting guard at the point. There is major dysfunction and an overall lack of flow that has doomed this team. The offense is ranked 124th in total efficiency, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions.
Being picked to finish third in the Big 12 conference, that particular statistic could foreshadow some issues they could face in conference play against more prolific offenses. As we stand today, Texas has the least efficient offense in the Big 12. Entering conference play, this team is trending in the wrong direction.
Let's face it: Replacing Buddy Hield is next to impossible. The Sooners are dealing with the pains of post-Buddy ball, and that mainly includes determining who will be "the guy" when they need points. Last season was a "hey, let's give it to Buddy and see what type of things he can do" type of offense. That doesn't exactly work when you don't have the personnel to do that anymore.
Lon Kruger might have gotten an answer on that this past weekend to some extent, with Jordan Woodard off the glass to send it to overtime.
However, this team is still a shell of what it was last season after losing Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins along with Hield. A trip to the Final Four last season was done on the back of one of the most experienced teams in the country. So there was bound to be a dropoff with relying on a number of young, inexperienced players.
This season has already seen some disappointment with losses to Northern Iowa, Wichita State and Memphis. Each of those three were tight losses -- but the Sooners aren't quite clicking offensively. Identity is yet to be discovered as the youth is still feeling its way around. It might be a struggle this season as they work in young guys like Christian James and Dante Buford in with veterans Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin.
No one expected the Sooners to be contending for another Final Four this season by any stretch. However, this team has been pretty average at best so far. This could be a rebuilding season.
5. Syracuse Orange
The past few weeks haven't been kind to the Orange. But this is more than a case of some recency bias.
The Orange have quickly had things stiffen up on the schedule of late, with teams like Holy Cross and Colgate now being replaced with South Carolina and Wisconsin and teams that can give them some serious run.
Syracuse might not be as good as many pegged in the preseason yet.
The biggest victory this season came against Monmouth in mid-November. So far, stiffer competition like Georgetown, UConn, Wisconsin and South Carolina have put them to rest. The Orange are now 1-4 against teams ranked in the top 100 according to KenPom. Especially tough to swallow is the 2-point loss to UConn, and a home loss to Georgetown that got away from them. That one in particular could have an impact on the NCAA tournament resume for Syracuse.
Syracuse will be a heavy favorite in its next five games, so perhaps it can get back on track. But the ACC is no joke this season. This team might have missed out on some big early opportunities to pad their résumé before it gets real.
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