College Basketball

Oh, how college basketball's mighty have fallen

February 10

By Mark Titus
FOX Sports college basketball analyst

Ed. note: This college basketball season, FOX Sports is proud to announce a brand-new newsletter for all your college hoops needs, with Mark Titus at the helm. Subscribe now!

THE OPENING TIP

With just over a month to go before the start of the NCAA Tournament, what promised to be the strangest, most bizarre college basketball season of all time has been just that ... and so much more. There are a million ways you could illustrate the absurdity of this season, such as the dead arena environments due to the lack of fans, the numerous COVID pauses causing all sorts of scheduling issues or even Coach K going from wanting every team to make the tournament in September to wondering three months later if we should shut the whole sport down. But what took place this past week might be the most succinct way to highlight the unusual nature of this season: Kansas' loss at West Virginia on Saturday knocked the Jayhawks out of the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 2009, snapping an all-time NCAA record of 231 consecutive weeks ranked.

That alone would be a big enough deal to be a bullet point in a summary of the 2020-21 college basketball season, but what makes this especially wild is that Kansas is far from the only notable program missing from this week’s AP Poll. In fact, for the first time since 1961, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina are all stuck on the outside looking in. But wait, there’s more! As pointed out by Bryan Ives, each of the top 13 winningest programs in Division I history is unranked this week.

This has been a discussion point all year — college basketball's blue bloods are just not any good — but what does that really mean? How bad are we talking? And is it fair to group them all together? To get a better idea of the problems plaguing the biggest names in the sport, let’s go through the 13 winningest programs and do a program-by-program temperature check with questions such as ...

  • Should we be worried about the program as a whole, or is this a one-off down year?
  • What’s the panic button status of each program’s 2021 NCAA Tournament chances?
  • What does the path back to greatness look like?

KENTUCKY WILDCATS (5-13)

Bad program or bad season?
Bad season. This is the worst season of Kentucky basketball since 1926-27, but the Cats have been to seven of the past 10 Elite Eights and have more wins than any other program in college basketball history,

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
Kentucky started 1-3 with losses to Richmond and Georgia Tech, which is another way of saying Big Blue Nation started laying on the panic button months ago and at this point is just passed out drunk on top of it.

Path back to greatness
Spend more time in the transfer portal and less time on the recruiting trail, get Rupp Arena back to full capacity so Big Blue Nation can do its part to win some games for the Cats, and do everything possible to forget this season ever happened.

KANSAS JAYHAWKS (13-7)

Bad program or bad season?
Bad season (by Kansas’s standards). Kansas is actually not horrible this year, and after the team’s win over Oklahoma State on Monday, the Jayhawks have beaten five teams ranked in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
The panic button is across the room, and Kansas fans turn and look at it every so often, but there is very little temptation to get up off the couch and go hit it. In other words, Kansas is comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field right now, and it’s going to take a catastrophic collapse down the stretch for the Jayhawks to miss the tournament.

Path back to greatness
Joke answer: Get the FBI and NCAA off their scent.
Serious answer: Get the FBI and NCAA off their scent.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (12-6)
 

Bad program or bad season?
Bad season. Carolina wasn’t good last year either, but the Tar Heels are in a similar boat as Kansas in that they aren’t that bad. They’re just bad compared to what we’re used to seeing.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
Carolina fans have hit the button a couple of times, but when the panic police showed up, they swore that it was just an accident and there must have been a malfunction. The Heels are in the tourney as it stands today, but their margin for error is slim.

Path back to greatness
It wasn't long ago that North Carolina made back-to-back NCAA national title appearances, winning it all in 2017. That team had a great mix of veterans (Joel Berry and Justin Jackson) and youngsters (Tony Bradley). Roy Williams needs to continue to recruit at an elite level while getting some of those guys to stick around for four years.

DUKE BLUE DEVILS (7-8)

Bad program or bad season?
I think this is just a bad season, but Coach K isn’t getting any younger, Duke hasn’t won a regular-season ACC title in more than a decade, and good luck trying to find a soul on earth who has any clue what Duke’s program identity is these days.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
After losing two home games in the past five days, Duke fans are replacing the batteries in their panic buttons because they keep hitting them, but nothing is happening.

Path back to greatness
I honestly don’t know where Duke goes from here to get back on track because ... oh wait, what’s that? The Blue Devils have two of the top seven recruits in the nation committed and the No. 4-ranked prospect expected to commit at any time now ... 

Oh, OK then ...

TEMPLE OWLS (4-7)

Bad program or bad season?
Bad program. John Chaney built a winner in his time and is rightfully revered for it, but the Owls haven’t been to a Sweet 16 in 20 years, haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game of any kind in eight years and have given me zero reason to believe either of those things is going to change anytime soon.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
"Wait, we have a panic button?"

Path back to greatness
Capture Jay Wright so Villanova’s reign over the greater Philadelphia area can, at long last, come to an end.

SYRACUSE ORANGE (11-6)

Bad program or bad season?
Your guess is as good as mine. It feels like 'Cuse is in a bad spot as a program, given that the Orange have finished in the middle of the ACC pack with a near-.500 conference record in each of the past 10,000 seasons. But Jim Boeheim has also made a handful of Cinderella-ish NCAA tourney runs in the past eight years, so maybe treading water until March is the new blueprint for this team?

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
Syracuse fans fell asleep on their panic buttons four years ago and are in such a deep slumber that the only thing that can awaken them is the sound of Dickie V. pleading the morning of Selection Sunday for the committee to put a 14-loss Cuse team in the Big Dance.

Path back to greatness
Figure out a way for Jim Boeheim to stop being better at inadvertently giving the internet content than he is at winning basketball games.

UCLA BRUINS (13-4)

Bad program or bad season?
Neither! UCLA is fine! Their best player tore his ACL in early January, and they are still tied for first in the Pac-12! MICK MAGIC IS ALIVE!

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
"Even if I wanted to hit the panic button — and believe me, I most certainly don’t — I wouldn’t even know where it is. Haven’t thought about that thing in ages."

Path back to greatness
Mick Magic + Jordan Brand + five-star recruits = STAY THE COURSE

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (8-10)

Bad program or bad season?
Don’t make me say it. I’m not going to say it. Notre Dame's going to back-to-back Elite Eights gives Mike Brey at least three seasons to lose as many games as he wants. What’s that? It has been five years since the second Elite Eight trip? OK … well … then Mike Brey gets six years to lose as many games as he wants. END OF STORY.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
"We beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and we were a shot away from beating North Carolina in the Dean Dome. To hell with your panic button and to hell with your win-loss record. That’s a successful season right there, and you can’t convince me otherwise."

Path back to greatness
Let Mike Brey go to the 2021 Maui Invitational a week early so he can harness the aloha vibe, lead the Irish to another Maui title and use the Maui bump to propel his program back to national relevance.

ST. JOHN'S RED STORM (13-8)

Bad program or bad season?
Bad program (haven’t made a Sweet 16 since 1999) but not having that bad of a year all things considered. The Johnnies were riding a six-game win streak, including wins over Villanova and UConn, before they lost in overtime at Butler on Tuesday.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
After the squad beat Villanova last week, fans took their hands off the panic button and started dancing around the room … only to inadvertently knock the button off the table and onto the floor, where the Butler Bulldogs stomped all over it.

Path back to greatness
The path for St. John’s is the same as it has always been: Land all of the five-star recruits that come out of New York City (but only the good ones ... it’s very important to not offer scholarships to the guys who are going to be busts). It’s that simple. No idea why they are making it so hard on themselves.

INDIANA HOOSIERS (10-8)

Bad program or bad season?
Look, how about you stop asking dumb questions and start focusing on the ones that actually matter. Like this: How many banners does Indiana have? The answer is five. So yeah. The Hoosiers are doing just fine.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
"We’re in. We just are. We have to be in. We swept Iowa! We’re in. There’s no way we’re not in. You’re telling me the whole tournament is going to happen in Indianapolis, and they’re not going to put us in? Come on. We’re in. No doubt in my mind we’re in. Like … we’re definitely in, right? RIGHT? Oh, no, please tell me we’re in ..."

Path back to greatness
I’m not sure how many people are aware of this, but Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens grew up in Indiana, went to high school in Indiana, met his wife in college in Indiana and — this is the part everyone forgets — has coached college basketball in Indiana before, when he took Butler to back-to-back national title games. Really makes you think.

CINCINNATI BEARCATS (5-7)

Bad program or bad season?
Bad season. Cincinnati has won 20-plus games in each of the 10 seasons preceding this one, so I’m willing to give this team the benefit of the doubt this year and blame things on all of the weirdness surrounding this season.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
"The answer is no. As a matter of fact, I don’t miss Mick Cronin one bit. What was the question again, though?"

Path back to greatness
Eight years ago, Cincinnati spent a week in the top 10 of the AP Poll as a member of the greatest conference in college basketball history (the Old Big East) while crosstown rival Xavier finished tied for sixth in the A-10. Now, Xavier is in the Big East, and Cincinnati is stuck playing the likes of Tulane and East Carolina. I guess what I’m saying here is that the path back to greatness for Cincinnati is to find a time machine, go back eight years and save the Old Big East.

UTAH UTES (8-7)

Bad program or bad season?
Bad program. It has been five years since Utah has been ranked in any AP Poll, and Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright and Kyle Kuzma are not walking through that door.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
With Utah’s most recent NCAA Tournament appearance coming in 2016, I think it’s fair to assume that at this point, Utah fans start every season with their hands on the panic button and wait for reasons to take them off, rather than the other way around.

Path back to greatness
What’s Keith Van Horn up to these days? I don’t even know what the plan is or how he fits into it exactly. All I know is we need to get him on the phone, and we can figure the rest out later.

ARIZONA WILDCATS (13-6)

Bad program or bad season?
Bad program. I’m not saying they are victims in any way here, but Arizona seems to be the biggest loser from the 2017 FBI scandal from a public relations perspective (Kansas is probably a close second), which makes it an uphill climb to get rid of that stench. As a reminder, since all of that blew up and Sean Miller had to give his "I am not a crook" speech, Arizona has played in one NCAA Tournament, in which the Cats were demolished by Buffalo in the first round.

2021 NCAA Tournament panic button status
Womp womp.

Path back to greatness
Form a coalition with Kansas, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Louisville and anyone else who wants to join, break free from the NCAA, and start your own league.

Saturday
Indiana at No. 4 Ohio State (12 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 15 Iowa at Michigan State (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
No. 5 Villanova at No. 19 Creighton (5 p.m. ET, FOX)

Sunday
No. 3 Michigan at No. 21 Wisconsin (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

Monday
No. 9 Virginia No. 17 Florida State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
 

This week we give some little guy love to UT Martin’s Ajani Kennedy, who hit a step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Austin Peay on Monday. While that shot alone was cool, it wasn't nearly as cool as Kennedy celebrating his game winner by running out of the gym as his teammates chase him.

THIS WEEK IN TITUS & TATE

Tate and I brought something new to the pod this week, as we offered up our guide to the college basketball universe. We touched on several topics, including Gonzaga's and Baylor’s dominance, the downward spiral of blue blood programs, freshmen to keep an eye on this season, potential lottery picks on relevant teams and best of all ... valuable insight as to why you should watch college basketball between now and Selection Sunday.

As always, you can listen to every show and subscribe here.

See you next week!


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