Most disappointing teams in 2010-11
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo calls it “The Perfect Storm.” There were the offseason injuries, the dismissal of two players, the near departure of his team’s starting center, and the Spartans’ usual daunting non-conference slate.
All of this has conspired to leave Izzo’s team 14-10, and desperate for a victory heading into Tuesday night’s game in Columbus against an Ohio State team that just suffered its first loss of the season.
A spot in the NCAA tournament could be at stake.
The last time Izzo has missed the NCAA tournament was in 1997, his second season at the helm in East Lansing. He’s not only been a fixture in the tourney, but also in the Final Four, where he’s been an amazing six of the past dozen years.
But the 13-year string of dancing could end.
“I blame myself for a lot of this,” Izzo said of his team’s record, which has put the Spartans squarely on the bubble entering the home stretch of the regular season.
But Izzo isn’t alone.
There is no shortage of disappointing teams this season, one in which it won’t take a sparkling resumé to earn a spot in the field of 68. Here are eight teams that all began the season ranked in the top 20 – and each one is struggling just to make it to the tournament.
Record: 14-10, 6-6 (Big Ten).
Preseason AP ranking: 2.
Why: The offseason injuries, coupled with the dismissal of starting guard Chris Allen in the offseason and reserve guard Korie Lucious a few weeks ago, are certainly part of it. Tom Izzo’s team also lacks senior leadership from Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers – and Summers has returned to his inconsistent ways.
Need: In the Spartans’ six remaining regular-season contests, the only one that they’ll likely go into as an underdog is Tuesday’s game at Ohio State. The ones that Izzo & Co. need to get are a road game at Minnesota and home victories over Purdue and Illinois.
Prognosis: I know this team has been a train wreck at times, but Lucas finally looks healthy 10 months after surgery on his Achilles. Izzo will get this team into the NCAA tournament.
Record: 17-9, 5-6 (Big 12).
Preseason AP ranking: 3.
Why: The loss of point guard Denis Clemente, who took a lot of pressure off of Jake Pullen, was underrated, as most ranked the Wildcats in the top five and had them favored to win the Big 12 prior to the start of the season. Pullen has been basically asked to lead this team by himself and coach Frank Martin has also faced numerous off-court issues, including the departure of two big men, Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla.
Need: Monday night’s home win against top-ranked Kansas was huge for the Wildcats because the victories against Baylor and Gonzaga were hardly of resume-caliber. Now Martin’s team can help secure a spot with a road win against Texas in Austin on Feb. 28 or a decent run in the Big 12 tournament.
Prognosis: The last-second loss to Colorado last weekend stung, but K-State made up for it with the victory over Kansas in Manhattan. Now Pullen and the Wildcats have much-needed momentum and should wind up avoiding the NIT.
Record: 17-9, 7-3 (WCC).
Preseason AP ranking: 12.
Why: The ‘Zags point guard play is sorely lacking. Mark Few’s team has always had terrific floor leaders, but Demetri Goodson is more of a backup – and opponents don’t even have to guard him from the perimeter. Steven Gray and Robert Sacre have done their part, but sophomore Elias Harris has been erratic and has battled injuries this season.
Need: Gonzaga probably has to run the table, which would include a road victory over Saint Mary’s on Feb. 24. That might not even be enough; the ‘Zags might have to win the WCC tourney to get in the Big Dance.
Prognosis: As long as Gonzaga winds up with the No. 2 seed in the league tourney, all the ‘Zags have to do is win two games to get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The top two teams in the WCC get a bye through the first two rounds. I’m going with Few’s team to win the WCC tourney and, as usual, reach the NCAA tournament.
Record: 16-9, 6-6 (Big Ten).
Preseason AP ranking: 13.
Why: These guys are, for the most part, a soft team – especially the seniors. Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale needed to lead this talented group, but they just aren’t capable of doing so. The Illini have dropped six of their past nine, and are getting awfully close to falling into NIT territory.
Need: An easier schedule to end the regular season. Bruce Weber’s team has six games left and three of them are road games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue. That means there will be opportunities to impress the tourney committee, but the vets need to step it up soon.
Prognosis: This is the ultimate Jekyl-and-Hyde team. They have wins against Wisconsin and North Carolina, but have lost to Illinois-Chicago and Indiana. If the Illini can finish at .500 in the Big Ten (which should happen), it will get into the NCAA tourney.
Record: 16-8, 6-5 (Big 12).
Preseason AP ranking: 16.
Why: Leadership and lack of point guard. A year ago, both leadership and the point guard spot were taken care of by Tweety Carter. The Bears are playing better, but LaceDarius Dunn isn’t a leader, and A.J. Walton is better served as a backup.
Need: At least one more resume-enhancing win. The Bears’ best win is an overtime victory at Texas A&M, but Scott Drew’s team has too many bad losses (Iowa State and Oklahoma) and could desperately use a road win at Missouri (Feb. 23) or a home victory against Texas (March 5) in the regular-season finale.
Prognosis: The Bears have too much talent – with Dunn and likely NBA lottery pick Perry Jones – to get left out of the expanded field. Again, they need to finish strong – and that means beating Texas A&M at home and getting one against Missouri or Texas.
Record: 18-9, 10-5 (Horizon).
Preseason AP ranking: 17.
Why: The loss of Gordon Hayward. It’s really that simple. While Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack are terrific players, there’s a reason why Hayward was a lottery pick. He allowed Butler to switch defensively and also was a matchup nightmare on the offensive end, taking plenty of attention away from Howard and Mack.
Need: It appears as though the only shot for Butler to get in the NCAA tournament is to win the Horizon League tourney and get the automatic bid. Right now Butler is two games behind first-place Valparaiso in the loss column with three to go in the regular-season.
Prognosis: Butler was intimidating for Horizon league opponents to play over the past couple years, but that’s no longer the case. Milwaukee has swept the Bulldogs this season – and Valpo, Youngstown State and Wright State have all knocked off last year’s national title runner-ups. The Bulldogs will go from the national title game to the NIT.
Record: 17-7, 9-4 (Pac-10).
Preseason AP ranking: 18.
Why: The Huskies are not exactly road-tough – especially in a lackluster Pac-10. After sweeping USC and UCLA to open league play, Lorenzo Romar’s team has dropped road games to Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon. The season-ending injury to Abdul Gaddy has also caught up with Isaiah Thomas and the Huskies.
Need: The Huskies still have a chance to win the league if they beat Arizona in Tucson, and take care of UCLA in Seattle. They also need big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning to remain consistent, and for Thomas to keep his turnovers at a minimum.
Prognosis: The Huskies should split the two games left against Arizona and UCLA, and that will be enough to get them in the NCAA tournament -- even though they haven’t lived up to expectations.
Record: 19-6, 7-3 (Conference USA).
Preseason AP ranking: 19.
Why: Leadership and expectations. Coach Josh Pastner brought in a talented and highly touted freshman class, but the issue was he didn’t inherit any leaders from the John Calipari regime. Pastner also booted one of his talented freshman, Jelan Kendrick, off the team before the season, and Kendrick was one of the primary reasons the Tigers’ class was ranked so high.
Need: The Tigers missed all three of their early key non-conference opportunities against Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee, but got one against Gonzaga early in February. Now, after three league setbacks, Pastner’s group might need to either run the table the rest of the regular season or win the conference tourney to get back to the NCAA’s.
Prognosis: The Tigers have as much of a chance as anyone to win the conference tourney, and Pastner has more talent than anyone else in the league. However, I just don’t have confidence in this team’s leadership.