October in college basketball reminds me of primary season in presidential politics: Perceived front-runners tamp down expectations. Those lagging behind try to pump up interest. Ask Kansas coach Bill Self about winning another Big 12 title and he’ll tell you everything his elite youngsters need to work on. It’s playing the expectations game: Temper them for a good team, and it’ll help when you struggle. Raise them for a bad team and it’ll get people talking. Here are 10 teams I expect will underperform based on expectations. Whose expectations? Conventional wisdom's, I suppose. This doesn’t mean each of these coaches will get fired; it doesn’t mean each of these teams will miss the NCAA tournament. It just means that, based on what we’ve come to expect, this season could be a letdown — starting at Syracuse. — Reid Forgrave
Getty ImagesMichael Heiman
Jim Boeheim’s team is going on its third point guard in three years in a historically difficult ACC. Last year’s team lost to the NBA not only freshman phenom point guard Tyler Ennis but senior leader C.J. Fair and the ridiculously athletic Jerami Grant. Boeheim’s team will rely on freshmen (point guard Kaleb Joseph and elite forward Chris McCullough) and less-than-elite upperclassmen (center Rakeem Christmas and shooting guard Trevor Cooney). Add all this to whatever toll an NCAA investigation might take on this program and it could be a long season in the Carrier Dome. One player who could really make an unexpected impact is athletic junior swingman Michael Gbinije.
Getty ImagesRich Barnes
Tom Crean isn’t really on the hot seat. After all, he’s only a year removed from a team that, though it was a disappointment in March by losing in the Sweet 16, was ranked No. 1 for much of the 2012-13 season and was seen as the team that brought Indiana back from the basketball depths. Then again, Crean isn’t too far from the hot seat. Last season was a huge letdown in Bloomington where the talent of lottery pick Noah Vonleh went to waste. This year’s team has far less talent. Crean could flip the script by playing small-ball with a backcourt that can really shoot the ball, but it’ll take some doing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Crean’s name top the lists of hot-seat coaches a year from now.
Getty ImagesMichael Hickey
I thought John Beilein’s squad was going to struggle last season after losing point guard Trey Burke and shooter Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA. I had to eat those words, mostly because I had no idea Nik Stauskas would transform himself into a lottery pick. I have similar concerns with this season’s Wolverines after losing Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to the pros. Clearly, I’ve been wrong before about how things will go in Ann Arbor, but I just can’t imagine how Caris LeVert (who has a chance at being the Big Ten Player of the Year) and Derrick Walton (who has turned into an able point guard) can put this team on their shoulders, especially after losing pretty much the entire front line. After a Final Four and an Elite Eight, we should not expect nearly as much this season.
Getty ImagesMike McGinnis
Head coach Greg McDermott will have his hands full after losing his son, All-Everything performer Doug McDermott, to the NBA. Also gone are three more of last season’s biggest contributors: Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat. That’s 19 seasons of college basketball experience – plus roughly one million made 3-pointers – out the door. Expectations for Creighton are almost absurdly low, however; Big East coaches voted the Bluejays to finish ninth in the conference. This team will still be able to score; it just won’t have star power. An NCAA tournament bid would have to come from nothing short of a miraculous coaching job by McDermott.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY SportsFrank Victores
How hot is Mark Turgeon’s seat at Maryland? It might be the hottest in all of college basketball. In three seasons at Maryland he has yet to make an NCAA tournament, even though he has had a winning record every season. This season is a bit of a crapshoot. Despite a recruiting class that is one of the nation’s best, including highly regarded shooting guard Romelo Trimble, Maryland had five players transfer from last season’s squad. Another missed NCAA tournament seems in the cards in the Terps' first season in the Big Ten.
Getty ImagesG Fiume
I’m not worried about Steve Wojciechowski long term in Milwaukee. His first full recruiting class is absolutely remarkable, highlighted by the recent commitment of top-10 recruit Henry Ellenson, who might end up as the top big man in his recruiting class. But Wojo has been left with a pretty bare cupboard in his first season as a head coach. The bright spots for this team should be sophomore swingman Deonte Burton and BYU graduate transfer Matt Carlino, who could be one of the top scorers in the Big East. Other than that, Marquette seems destined for a bottom-half showing in the conference. But long term — with Marquette’s commitment to basketball combined with Wojo’s recruiting acumen and experience studying under one of the best ever (Coach K) — this is a team to buy stock in.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY SportsRob Kinnan
What’s 'underperforming' for Tom Izzo? Not being ranked in the Top 25? Not getting to 25 wins? The only saving grace for the Spartans is that the Big Ten ought to be slightly down this season, at least relative to a year ago, so losing seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling and sophomore Gary Harris won’t decimate the program. (I still contend last season’s Spartans, if healthy, could have won it all.) Michigan State doesn’t have the talent this season to be considered in the national conversation. Don’t worry, though. Izzo will reload.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
Sorry, Johnny Dawkins: Even with a good amount of hype surrounding your team after last season’s Sweet 16 run, don’t expect the Cardinal to repeat anything along those lines. Stanford lost big men Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis from a talented but boring team that, before that Sweet 16 run, was perilously close to missing the NCAA tournament. Yes, senior guard Chasson Randle is a stud. And freshman Reid Travis is a tough, strong big man in the Powell mold. But if the Cardinal make another Sweet 16 this season, I’ll literally print this out and eat it.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsJasen Vinlove
Until a February swoon, few teams were playing as tight-knit of a brand of basketball as the immensely experienced Billikens were last season. St. Louis looked like what it was, a well-coached team that had played together for years. But that’s one of the perils of college hoops: An experienced team one season becomes a slew of newcomers the next. Gone are top scorers Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett and Rob Loe, all integral parts on last season’s team. St. Louis ain’t making the NCAA tournament in another tough Atlantic 10.
David Manning-USA TODAY SportsDavid Manning
A no-win situation in Knoxville forced Cuonzo Martin to take a lateral-at-best move to Cal after an unexpected run to the Sweet 16. Donnie Tyndall’s first Tennessee team will be minus Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae, who went to the pros. It will take time to build Tennessee back up. I was high on the Vols going into last season’s NCAA tournament because advanced statistics showed they were better than their bubble record. Sure enough, the Volunteers turned a first-round ('play-in') NCAA game into a trip to the Sweet 16. Nothing even close to that will happen this season.