FOX Sports Exclusive
Blue bloods are falling on hard times
Then came the dramatic and surprising fall of UCLA with a loss to Cal State Fullerton to begin the season and setbacks to fellow mid-majors Portland and Long Beach State shortly thereafter.
Add three more high-powered coaches and programs – North Carolina, UConn and Louisville - to the list of big boys who may not even be dancing come March.
Overlooked amid Kentucky’s resurgence in the wake of Billy Gillispie’s departure has been the dramatic drop-off of a half-dozen of the nation’s most illustrious and powerful programs.
UCLA was a fixture in the Final Four for three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008. Ben Howland had it rolling in Westwood. However, the Bruins, who have won a record 11 national titles, will need to win the Pac-10 tournament to have any shot of dancing come March.
Fellow Pac-10 and national power Arizona will almost certainly see its current streak of 25 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances come to a close unless it, too, can run the table and win the Pac-10 tourney to earn an automatic bid.
Indiana’s Tom Crean is still trying to get the Hoosiers, who have won five national championships, back to respectability.
Louisville has yet to get a signature victory. In fact, Rick Pitino’s “resume” win thus far came at home against Cincinnati this past week (that’s sarcasm) and while UConn knocked off former No. 1 Texas last weekend, the Huskies still don’t exactly have the makings of a Final Four -- or even an Elite Eight -- club.
Just ask Providence, which knocked off UConn earlier this week.
Roy Williams is trying to figure out how to get UNC back among the national elite.
North Carolina, despite winning the title a year ago and losing four players to the NBA, was still regarded by some as a Final Four contender.
But the Tar Heels have dropped out of the Top 25 and basically off the map after losing four of their past six games – including one to College of Charleston.
The last time all six of the programs – which have combined to make 97 Sweet 16 appearances and win 26 national titles – weren’t represented in the Elite Eight was 1996.
That was when Boston College upset Indiana and Princeton pulled off the shocker against UCLA in the first round. UConn bowed out to Mississippi State and North Carolina fell to Texas Tech in the second round. Arizona and Louisville both made the Sweet 16, but the Wildcats lost to Kansas and the Cardinals couldn’t get past Wake Forest.
This year, it’ll be a mild upset if half of them even make the NCAA tournament when the bracket is unveiled.
Let’s begin with those who were expected to struggle this season: Indiana and Arizona.
Crean took over a program in shambles following the Kelvin Sampson fiasco and turned over his entire roster. Indiana has made progress from Year 1 to Year 2 of the Crean Era, but the Hoosiers are 9-10 overall and remain miles away from returning to the national title and even Sweet 16 conversation.
Arizona brought in new coach Sean Miller this past offseason after a couple of seasons of turmoil brought on by the coaching uncertainty of Hall of Famer Lute Olson.
Miller was the beneficiary of some late signees in the spring, but the Wildcats' streak was expected to end – and Arizona, not unlike Indiana, is still a couple of years away from getting back to the ‘Zona of old.
The only reason the Wildcats are 5-3 in league play is because the Pac-10 has the makeup of a mid-major conference this season.
UCLA and North Carolina both lost a ton from last season, but were still expected to be more competitive than they’ve been thus far this season.
No one could have anticipated Howland’s Bruins losing to one mid-major after another to begin the season. It’s a combination of youth and also talent.
Jerime Anderson isn’t Darren Collison or Jordan Farmar, and there’s no Kevin Love or even Ryan Hollins on the roster.
The Tar Heels won it all last season and watched most of their team head off to the NBA, so there shouldn’t have been any surprise that this is a rebuilding year of sorts on Chapel Hill.
But the fans didn’t want to hear it – especially with a highly rated recruiting class led by John Henson arriving on campus.
But Henson isn’t ready, the Tar Heels didn’t have someone to replace Ty Lawson and there isn’t a go-to guy who can make a play with the game on the line.
Louisville and UConn were both supposed to make noise in what was thought to be a down Big East this season.
Neither is a lock to have their names called on Selection Sunday.
Among college basketball royalty, they are hardly alone.
More Stories From Jeff Goodman