Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Volunteers’

Bruce Pearl Is Reportedly Done at Tennessee

Pearl is done at Tennessee

The University of Tennessee has made the inevitable official. Bruce Pearl was reportedly told that he will not return next season as the coach of the men’s basketball team at the university. On Friday, Pearl coached his final game for the school, guiding the team to a 75-45 loss to Michigan in their first tournament game.

No Tennessee men’s coach can match Pearl’s six NCAA tournament bids and he owns eight of the school’s sixteen tournament wins all time. In the 2007-08 season, the school rose to the #1 ranking in the polls for the first and only time in the history of the program.

In the four seasons prior to Pearl’s arrival in Knoxville, previous coach Buzz Peterson failed to make the NCAA tournament and had losing seasons in two of his four seasons as coach.

Despite the NCAA rules violations, including lying about a barbeque involving recruits at his home and a secondary violation regarding contact with a recruit following the first violations, Pearl remains extremely popular among the supporters of the program. Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton is going to have a difficult time trying to replace the highly successful and energetic Pearl.

The biggest reason for letting go of Pearl was to limit the penalties that will come down from the NCAA later this year. SEC conference commissioner Mike Slive suspended Pearl for the first eight games of the SEC season. Getting rid of Pearl implies that the university expects more sanctions to come and hopes soften the blow by terminating the cause of the problems, Pearl.

The smart move would have been to be proactive and institute penalties when this season went downhill. Slive actually helped them with this by suspending Pearl for the SEC games. In addition, they could have shown good faith by implementing a one year ban on postseason play a month ago when this team was obviously not going to make a long run in March. That gesture, along with a few other minor penalties, might have been enough for the NCAA to leave their basketball program alone and enable the school to keep Pearl.

This isn’t an easy job, as evidenced by only five NCAA bids in the 22 years prior to Pearl’s arrival. The Vols start every season looking up at Kentucky in the SEC East and also the 2006 and 2007 NCAA champion, Florida, resides in the division as well. The SEC is consistently a 5-6 bid league, but with two bids typically gone in November, that leaves only 3-4 bids for the remaining 10 schools. Enticing a coach to compete in the difficult SEC East with looming sanctions is going to be difficult.

Pearl is far and away the most popular coach in the program’s history. Replacing his energy and enthusiasm will not be easy. While Tennessee is consistently among the top 20 programs in attendance each season, their huge arena, Thompson-Boling Arena, is the sixth largest in Division I at a capacity of over 21,000. Even at 15,000 per game, there are a lot of empty seats. Losing a few more thousand per game could make it even worse in the cavernous arena. Getting a new coach to embrace the challenge of filling those seats will be difficult.

Many of the players have implied that they will not return if Pearl is not retained. Freshman forward Tobias Harris was vocal over the weekend about leaving if Pearl was fired. He’ll probably follow through with leaving now that Pearl has been released.

 Who will be the coach to replace Pearl at Tennessee?  One has to figure that they won’t be able to get an “A” list coach to take over a program with sanctions. So it will most likely be a mid-major coach who might have some baggage, a former major coach looking for a second chance, or an assistant like current associate head coach Tony Jones, who coached the team while Pearl was suspended for the first eight conference games.

Would up-and-coming coaches like VCU’s Shaka Smart and Richmond’s Chris Mooney be interested? Both are only located a couple hundred miles away in Richmond, Virginia and could be targeted when their teams are eliminated from the tournament. When you have your pick of jobs, like Smart and Mooney will have, why would you take on a situation like Tennessee? Current assistant Tony Jones might be the best pick as he would be able to provide the easiest transition, especially if they are trying to retain their current players.

One thing to keep in mind is that with looming sanctions, the North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Arkansas jobs are all better jobs than this one. Basketball doesn’t take a backseat to football at the ACC schools and Arkansas is historically a much better program on the court and supported more by the fans and alumni than Tennessee. Oklahoma is also a major conference team that is looking for a coach and doesn’t provide the obstacles that the Tennessee job offers. The administrators at Tennessee might think they have a great job to offer, but it’s probably not enough to convince successful mid-major coaches to jump in. They might have to settle for a coach on the rebound, like former Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, to help turn this situation around.

Assuming the school is intent on hiring a coach before the NCAA hearing, the new coach will have to blindly sign on with the hope that the sanctions won’t be too severe and that he doesn’t lose any of the returning players. Otherwise, Tennessee could be looking a major rebuilding job that takes years to fix and it might take a second head coach to be hired down the road to complete the job.

The University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball program might look a lot like Indiana’s did three years ago when Tom Crean took over. Crean has failed to have a winning season in Bloomington since being hired. Think about that. That’s Indiana, home of five national championships and a tremendous statewide following and tradition. It could get much worse than that at football centric Tennessee without Pearl.

The University of Tennessee had a choice in this situation. They got greedy and tried to benefit from Pearl’s coaching this season and try to make a final run in the NCAA tournament when self-imposing a one year tournament ban during a lost season would have proven that they were proactive and serious about the violations. That fizzled out and there might only be the charred remains of a once strong program remaining when this is done.


NCAA Tournament First, um, Second Round Breakdown

At least somebody is excited

The first, um, second round was so underwhelming that I don’t really want to recap it. But, I’ll try to highlight a few items.

Best Finish

There’s a couple to choose from, mostly from the first games of Thursday. Butler over Old Dominion, Temple over Penn State, and Morehead State over Louisville headline the group. Kentucky doesn’t get any credit for their overall mediocre performance. As for Friday, George Mason over Villanova and Arizona over Memphis were the only good finishes. The Georgia loss to Washington was almost as bad to watch as the Michigan State near comeback over UCLA. Just Pac 10 teams showing what they have (or not). But the best goes to Butler as the red light was on when the unheralded Matt Howard got the put back at the buzzer.

Best Performance – Team

Gonzaga: St. John’s looked like a potential Final Four team three weeks ago and Gonzaga didn’t even appear headed to the tournament. Three weeks later and the talking heads are picking the Bulldogs to beat BYU after their dominating performance against the Johnnies. Marquise Carter continues to improve since being inserted into the starting lineup over a month ago as he scored a career high 24 points. The relatively young Bulldogs continue to improve and could be a sleeper pick to make it to Houston.

Best Performance – Player

Kenneth Faried of Morehead State didn’t shoot the lights out, but he willed his team to the upset victory over Louisville on Thursday. The modern era rebound king of college basketball pulled down 17 boards and made the game winning defensive play by blocking the shot of Mike Marra as time expired. When the final score is 62-61, defense plays a big role and nobody came up bigger in the first round both defensively and on the boards than Faried.

In the shadow of the Big East

The CAA and Atlantic 10 have two of their three teams remaining going into the weekend. With Richmond playing 13th seeded Morehead State, the A-10 might keep their Sweet 16 streak alive even with Xavier out. The last time an A-10 missed out on the Sweet 16 was 2007. The Spiders should keep that streak alive. If the CAA advances, it would be impressive against either Purdue or Ohio State. Beating the Buckeyes this season would be an even greater feat than beating #1 seed UConn in 2006 for George Mason.

Coach Who Made the Most $$$

Tie: Both Shaka Smart of VCU and Buzz Williams of Marquette are reportedly hot candidates and improved their negotiating position with impressive wins in the first, um, second round matchups on Friday. Both would make tremendous choices as Smart, embodying his last name, actually turned down Harvard, Yale, and Brown to go to a Division III school to play basketball. Williams has been rock solid in his three seasons since taking over for Tom Crean at Marquette with NCAA tournament appearances in all three seasons. There might not have been a better coaching job than Williams’ ability to get his team to completely shut down Atlantic 10 POY Tu Holloway. Holloway didn’t score until there was about 10 minutes remaining in the game and the result wasn’t in doubt.

Player Who Declared for the 2011 NBA Draft at Halftime of His Game

Tobias Harris of Tennessee went to halftime of their game against Michigan with 19 points and the Volunteers were down by only four points. Twenty minutes later and Harris still had 19 points and the Vols had lost by 30.

Look ahead to Saturday and Sunday:

Best Matchup:

Um, there might not be one. Ok, how about Kentucky and West Virginia? It’s a rematch of last year Elite Eight matchup in Syracuse and Huggins owns Calipari. Owns as in Huggins is 8-1 against Cal. If Cal can’t win this one, well, he might never beat Huggy again.

Upset Special:

Strictly by seeding, Marquette beating Syracuse would be a repeat of their regular season matchup. That’s how ridiculous it was to have Marquette as an 11 seed, especially when Michigan got an 8 seed. Another game would be Gonzaga over BYU, but everybody seems to be picking that. I’m going to give you Kansas State over Wisconsin in another Big Ten game that might involve peach baskets. Jacob Pullen seems to be willing this team over the past month and Curtis Kelly has finally started to play like the player K-State thought they were getting when he transferred from UConn two years ago. Kelly is getting about 15 points and 8 rebounds per game over the last 5 games.  

Gus Johnson Special:

Gus surely will be involved in another buzzer beater this weekend and there are two games to choose from. First will be George Mason and Ohio State at 5:15 EST on Sunday and that will be followed by Marquette and Syracuse. One of those games is GUARANTEED to have a great ending. I’m offering a free subscription to my blog to anybody who doesn’t get their money’s worth out of those two games on Sunday.

Filling In the Brackets: 2011 NCAA Tournament

Bracket Gold!

I’m going to take my annual futile stab at bracket prognostication. There might be more letters in the last word of the first sentence than I will have correct picks. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve overloaded on college basketball this season, but my picks look a lot like those TV guys.

In the East Region, I’m picking Ohio State to roll through it. The Buckeyes might not win a game by less than double digits as they should beat George Mason, West Virginia, and North Carolina to get to Houston. The Buckeyes haven’t shown any true weaknesses, except playing against top 15 Big Ten schools on the road. While freshman forward Jared Sullinger gets most of the attention, their three man backcourt of David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford are stellar. When March rolls around, the teams with the best backcourts advance and the Buckeyes might have the best in the country.

As for the rest of the region, I like West Virginia to beat Kentucky, mostly because Huggins destroys Calipari head-to-head. In nine meetings, Huggins has won eight, including last year’s Elite Eight matchup in Syracuse. On the bottom of the East, I like UNC to beat Xavier in a tough Sweet 16 matchup. Holloway is really good for the X-Men, but freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall have been spectacular over the past six weeks. Xavier will beat Syracuse and UNC will beat Washington to get to the Sweet 16.

In the West, I like San Diego State. There might not be a more complete defensive team in the tournament than the Aztecs. They have a number of players who can switch and defend different positions and when they beat Connecticut in the Sweet 16, it will be because of forward Billy White. They will have White hound the smaller Kemba Walker all game and it won’t be a mismatch in favor of Walker. White was used by Coach Steve Fisher on Jimmer Fredette in their matchups and his agility and length gave The Jimmer problems when they were matched up. The Aztecs will also beat Temple and Texas to make the Final Four.

The rest of the West will have Texas beating Arizona and then Tennessee in the Sweet 16 before falling to the Aztecs. Tennessee might save Bruce Pearl’s job by beating Duke on Sunday. The Vols have big wins and crazy losses on the season and beating Duke would be consistent with their inconsistency. Texas and Tennessee, I believe, are destined to meet each other. There aren’t two teams in the tournament who have shown more promise and then bombed out like these two. As for the biggest first round (or is it second) upset? It will be Missouri over Cincinnati.

The Southwest Region will be won by Kansas. The Jayhawks are clearly one of the two best teams in the tournament, along with Ohio State. They will beat UNLV, Louisville, and Notre Dame to get to Houston. That road will not be easy. Unlike Ohio State, Kansas will have to play really well in each of their games to avoid an upset. The Big East has been incredible this season, as their record eleven tournament bids would indicate. Every game is a slugfest and Kansas could be worn down by the time they reach Houston. The biggest advantage they have is their depth and balance. They have ten players who average over 11 minutes per game and have eight players who average at least 5 points per game.

The rest of the Southwest will see the highly anticipated game between Notre Dame and Purdue with the Irish winning. That might be the most anticipated Sweet 16 game next week. Notre Dame will have to beat Texas A&M to get there and Purdue will knock off VCU. Yes, the Rams of VCU will use their opening round momentum to upset Georgetown, who hasn’t been the same without Chris Wright and will struggle to regain their pre-injury form even if he returns. VCU’s cross town rival, Richmond will beat Vanderbilt in the 12-5 upset and then lose to Louisville on the weekend.

The Southeast Region will be won by Pittsburgh. I know three #1 seeds. But if Jamie Dixon is to lead the Panthers to the Final Four, this is the season. The Panthers have a favorable draw as they will beat Old Dominion, Kansas State, and BYU to get to Houston. The Monarchs of ODU could be the Cinderella team with a deep tournament run, but the Panthers might be the worst matchup for them because of their similar styles. Physical play, defense, and intangible play by Brad Wanamaker will be the key to Pittsburgh’s overall success.

The rest of the Southeast will have Jimmer and BYU beating Florida and Gonzaga before falling to Pitt. Kansas State will benefit from Belmont’s upset of Wisconsin to get to the Sweet 16. Florida will beat Michigan State before falling to BYU.

The Final Four matchups are these: Ohio State versus San Diego State and Kansas versus Pittsburgh. Ohio State will beat San Diego State in a close game. This will be closer than any game they play in the entire tournament up to this point. While the Aztecs are really good defensively, the Buckeyes have too many weapons and they typically don’t have anybody on the court that can’t score. In addition, the overall size of the Buckeyes backcourt will take its toll on the small backcourt for San Diego State.

In the other semifinal, Pittsburgh will upset Kansas as the Jayhawks will not be able to beat a Big East team in three straight games. This game might not be that easy on the eyes, but it should be tight and come down to the end. The Panthers have the size and toughness to matchup with the Morris twins and unless Josh Selby finally shows up, the Panthers are good enough defensively to shut down the Jayhawks backcourt. The bottom line with this pick is that I said a month ago that I didn’t think a team could beat three Big East teams in a row and that’s what Kansas will have to do to win it.

That leaves a championship game between Ohio State and Pittsburgh. These are the regular season champions of the two best conferences during the season. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Buckeyes are just too good. They have too many weapons for even Pittsburgh’s staunch defense to shut down. Barring an incredibly rough shooting night for Diebler and Buford, the Buckeyes should win this game by 6-8 points.

There’s the bracket breakdown, please don’t send me a bill for your poor bracket results.

Making the Case against the Teams Whose Bubbles Burst

March 14, 2011 1 comment

Maybe Colorado won't play 7 sub 295 RPI teams next year

This isn’t meant as a defense of the selection committee or any of the questionable teams that were selected to the NCAA tournament. In reality, only 50-something teams really deserved to be selected to the 68-team Big Dance. This is about those controversial teams that were left out and the reasons why these schools do not have any reason to complain.

Virginia Tech: Yes, America’s bubble team had its hopes shattered again. For starters, the Hokies were only 9-7 in the 5th ranked conference. They were swept by Virginia (RPI 139) and NIT-bound Boston College, added a bad loss at Georgia Tech, and suffered a crippling season ending loss at Clemson. In addition, they beat FSU based on an overturned game winning basket in the ACC quarterfinals that was debatable. The only top 50 RPI team in the ACC that they beat was Duke.

The Hokies OOC schedule was ranked 180 out of 340. They played 6 teams with RPIs of over 230. They went 2-3 against top 100 teams OOC. How difficult would it be for Seth Greenburg to replace UNC-Greensboro (RPI 297), USC Upstate (313), Mount St. Mary’s (231), and Longwood (320) on his schedule? If he played and beat Virginia NCAA tournament schools like Old Dominion, VCU, George Mason, and Richmond, they would have been a lock for selection.

VCU went 3-6 against the top 50 and Tech was only 2-5. How does a CAA team play more top 50 games than an ACC team? Only cowardly scheduling sent the Hokies back to the NIT.

Colorado: The media would have you think that the Buffaloes survived a gauntlet of difficult games throughout the season. They are wrong. The Buffaloes OOC schedule was ranked 331 out of 340. They only went 10-4 against that group of teams. Their best win was against a bad Indiana (RPI 190). They played 7 teams with a RPI of 295 or more. In games against teams with a RPI of less than 295, they went 13-13. They won half and lost half.

Lowering the RPI threshold, the Buffaloes went 10-13 against the top 150 teams. Is that really at-large material there? Sure, they beat a few good teams, including Texas and Kansas State three times. But it’s not about head-to-head results and a splashy win or two for the selection committee. It’s about the overall profile.

Schools like Colorado have more choices than their mid-major counterparts when selecting OOC opponents. Instead of scheduling better teams, they scheduled gimme games to pad their win total. If they played 7 OOC teams between 100-150 in the RPI instead of 295 and over, they would be headed to the Big Dance. It’s that plain and simple.

Alabama: Don’t let the fact that the Crimson Tide is in the SEC fool you. The SEC West as a standalone conference would have easily been ranked behind every mid-major conference that received an at-large bid. The SEC West is home to Auburn (RPI 255), LSU (224), Arkansas (124), and Mississippi State (119). With 8 games against those schools, it’s no wonder that this team went 12-4 in SEC play. In addition, all of their key SEC wins were against vulnerable teams. Kentucky was awful away from Rupp, going 4-7 in true road games. Tennessee didn’t have Bruce Pearl for their loss to Alabama and were a poor home team all season.

The Tide schedule was ranked 294. They went 8-6 against those teams. The highest RPI of an OOC team that they beat was Lipscomb at 131. Overall, Alabama went 10-11 against the top 200 teams in the RPI. Is that really the mark of a quality at-large team? Have the standards dropped that much? They only had one win OOC against top 200 teams. I rest my case, your honor.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels were a mid-major “snub” that many in the national media love. The problem is that many talking heads don’t follow the games as closely as you would expect an “expert” would. The issues for the Gaels began back on February 16 in San Diego. That night the Gaels lost to USD on national television by eight. The trouble is that USD won only 4 games against Division 1 schools all season, including the St. Mary’s win, and they have a RPI of 318. This was easily the worst loss of any prospective at-large candidate that made it in front of the selection committee.

In addition to losing in San Diego, the Gaels followed that with home losses to Utah State and Gonzaga. For a mid-major school like St. Mary’s to receive an at-large bid, they have to schedule and win against good teams OOC and take care of business in their own league.

The Gaels only quality OOC win was against St. John’s in Steve Lavin’s coaching debut. They lost to BYU, San Diego State, Vanderbilt, and Utah State. But with only one top 50 win all season, it was tough for the Gaels to overcome their horrible loss to San Diego. They also played 5 OOC teams with RPIs over 240. At the end of the day, the Gaels didn’t beat enough good teams and lost to a really bad one.

Harvard: The case against Harvard became easy when the brackets were announced. Their two best wins were against Boston College and Colorado. They now have a chance at a rematch with both in the NIT.

The message from the selection committee should be clear. Teams need to schedule better to improve their at-large chances and seeding for the NCAA tournament. There are teams that made the tournament with similar records, but their schedules were the difference. Why does 22-10 Kansas State have a 5 seed and 23-10 Missouri have an 11 seed? They are both in the Big 12 with Colorado. It’s the schedule.

The bottom line is that tougher scheduling and avoiding poor losses goes a long way to eliminating a team’s question marks that could burst their bubble on Selection Sunday. Maybe next year Virginia Tech will actually schedule some CAA teams and Alabama will play UAB to decide their fates on the court. Or maybe they’ll play Russian roulette with their tournament chances again.

Road to Selection Sunday for March 11

Another Garden party for Pitino?

Welcome to the Road to Selection Sunday for March 11

News and Notes:

Lafayette is comfortable as the underdog going into today’s Patriot League Championship against Bucknell.

Depth and defense are driving Louisville’s success according to Rick Bozich.

Here’s a link to the Kansas City Star’s Big 12 tournament page.

Brandon Davies travelled with BYU to the MWC tournament and will sit on the bench during the games.

Kenny Frease tweaked his back and didn’t practice yesterday for Xavier. Coach Mack said that he should play.

The Gators are loose and confident going into their quarterfinal matchup with Tennessee tonight.


Colorado: The Buffs got beat K-State for the 3rd time this season and could have sealed their ticket to March Madness. A win over Kansas today would seal their bid. What might work against them is that if they lose, they will be 7-9 in their final 16 games. Pretty mediocre, but that’s what a lot of the bubble looks like.

Connecticut: Solid comeback win by the Huskies complete with an ankle breaking move that led to Kemba Walker’s buzzer beater to win the game. The Huskies could have shut it down early as they trailed by 12 for awhile until they pulled even just before halftime. It should be interesting to see what they have left as they play their fourth game in four days tonight against the Orange. They better hope they don’t go to 6 OT’s in this one, like two years ago.

New Mexico: Better late than never for Steve Alford’s Lobos as they get another shot at BYU and the Jimmer tonight. They might be able to finagle an at-large bid if they win this game and keep it close against San Diego State. It’s possible that they might have to beat UNLV if they play them.

Washington: The Huskies came back from multiple deficits to finally get a win over their in-state rivals last night. This win could get them over the hump on the soft bubble.

Notre Dame: The Irish are looking like a national championship contender and could pass by Pittsburgh or another team for a #1 seed if they win the Big East tournament. They look like Ohio State without Sullinger right now.


Pittsburgh: Gary McGhee got his ankles broken as Kemba Walker worked him over and drained the game winning shot as time expired. As long as the selection committee doesn’t overrate the conference tournaments, the Panthers could still be a #1 seed when the brackets are announced. But that 3-3 finish won’t help.

DJ Kennedy and St. John’s: Kennedy tore his ACL in the loss to Syracuse yesterday afternoon and is gone for the season. That means the senior will not be able to participate in the NCAA tournament for the first and only time. It’s a tough break for a quality player who put his ego aside to play a winning role this season.

UAB: Losing in the quarterfinals wasn’t the recipe for a tourney invite for the Blazers. They probably one the wrong side of the bubble since their only good win is over VCU.

UCLA: Nice loss to Oregon. That loss probably moves to Bruins to a double digit seed when the brackets come out. The performance of the team last year and early this year caused a lot of grumbling by the fan base. Losing to the Ducks, who haven’t been really good, can’t help Ben Howland.

Coaches who might be out now: The following coaches might have just coached their last game at their current school last night. Their departure won’t be on their terms: Arkansas’ John Pelphrey, NC State’s Sidney Lowe, Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt,

Colorado State: Last night’s loss to New Mexico probably finishes their at-large hopes. Their only win over a probably NCAA team is just UNLV and that isn’t enough. They lost 5 of 6 to close the season and failed to register a high profile win.

Marshall and Southern Miss: These two CUSA schools were longshots to get an at-large and probably needed to be playing on Saturday to have a chance. Losing yesterday ended that.

Cal: The Bears can’t possibly get in after losing by double digits to USC yesterday, can they? Hope not.

Missouri: The Tigers continue to struggle away from Columbia during 2011. This one wasn’t even close and you have to wonder how close to the bubble they really are. They were 8-8 in the Big 12 and went 1-7 on the road. The wins over Illinois, Vanderbilt, and Old Dominion will probably pull them through.

Marquette and Cincinnati: Hide the women and children. Last night’s games at the Garden were hideous they lost by 25 and 38 respectively. Marquette should be good, but the RPI is still in the 60’s.

Washington State: The Cougars blew a big lead and most likely their scant at-large chances last night against Washington. Now they hope for a NIT bid.

Friday’s Notable Games: RPI in ()

(84) Dayton vs. (21) Xavier: Noon EST

(39) Georgia vs. (85) Alabama: ESPN3 at 1 EST

(38) Illinois vs. (56) Michigan: ESPN at 2:30 EST

(45) Boston College vs. (59) Clemson: ESPN2 at 2:30 EST

Patriot League Championship (226) Lafayette at (81) Bucknell: ESPN2 at 4:45 EST

(49) Michigan State vs. (8) Purdue: 6:30 EST

(16) Connecticut vs. (15) Syracuse: ESPN at 7 EST

(64) Colorado vs. (1) Kansas: ESPN3 at 7 EST

(30) Tennessee vs. (9) Florida: ESPN3 at 7:30 EST

(51) Penn State vs. (12) Wisconsin: 8:55 EST

(66) New Mexico vs. (5) Brigham Young: CBS College at 9 EST

(67) USC vs. (18) Arizona: 9 EST

(65) Virginia Tech vs. (44) Florida State: ESPN2 at 2:30 EST

(19) Louisville vs. (6) Notre Dame: ESPN at 9:30 EST

(28) Texas A&M vs. (14) Texas: ESPN3 at 9:30 EST

Click here for conference breakdowns on This Week in College Basketball.

Most Disappointing College Hoops Teams of 2011

This was supposed to be The Year for Lucas and the Spartans

With the completion of college basketball’s regular season, the time has come to take a look back at which teams have fallen short of their expectations during the season. The good news for these teams is that they are still alive for the NCAA tournament and can erase the memories of an underachieving season with a run through the brackets later this month.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans were ranked #2 in both polls at the beginning of the season. With five returning players who averaged over 20 minutes per game from last year’s Final Four team; expectations in East Lansing were for a run at Coach Tom Izzo’s second national championship. But junior guard Korie Lucious got suspended for their season opener and was eventually kicked off the team two months later for conduct detrimental to the team. On the court, the Spartans played their typically tough OOC schedule, but failed to beat any good teams. The only significant opponent to fall to the Spartans was Washington, who underachieved enough to show up below the Spartans on this list. Going into the Big Ten tournament, the Spartans weren’t expected to be 17-13 with a 9-9 conference record. That might be eight games off what was expected in October. While Michigan State could still get their name called next Sunday, they were hoping to be one of the #1 seeds going into the NCAA tournament, not a bubble team.

2. Washington: The Huskies were ranked in the top 20 coming into the season and their early season blowout wins had the talking heads buzzing about the Huskies. Despite losing to Kentucky and Michigan State in Maui, the Huskies remained ranked and were considered the team to beat in the Pac 10 this season. Analysts frequently mentioned the Huskies as a national contender despite not having a win over an OOC opponent with a RPI of better than 75. This left the Huskies needing a strong performance in conference play to solidify their postseason credentials. But inexplicable road losses to Stanford, both Oregon schools, along with being swept by Washington State have placed the once mighty Huskies squarely on the bubble going into the Pac 10 tournament. With loads of returning talent, the Huskies should have been able to overcome the midseason loss of Abdul Gaddy, but they couldn’t (10-3 with Gaddy, 9-7 w/o). A third loss to Washington State on Thursday could send the Huskies to the NIT.

3. Baylor: Scott Drew’s Bears were an up-and-coming power, a preseason top 20 team that excited everybody. That was with good reason because they had the highly rated freshman big man Perry Jones and the eventual Big 12 all time leading scorer, LaceDarius Dunn. In addition to the stars, they were returning good role players from a team that rolled St. Mary’s in the Sweet 16 and then playing eventual champion Duke tough in the Elite 8 game last season. The Bears were picked to finish 3rd in the Big 12, but finished in a tie for 7th with a 7-9 record. They failed to beat any prospective at-large teams OOC and they are probably not even on the bubble right now. Even though Dunn just became the conference’s all time leading scorer and Jones remains a possible #1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Bears might have to win the Big 12 tournament to earn a return to the Big Dance next week.

4. Butler: The Bulldogs are still alive for the Horizon League automatic bid as they face UW-Milwaukee in the league’s championship game. However, the Bulldogs have been anything but dominating following their great season in which they lost to Duke by a basket last April. Credit is given for their scheduling effort as they faced the 12th ranked OOC schedule designed to offset their typically weak conference slate. Losses were expected to the likes of Louisville and Duke and the purpose of the strong schedule was to insulate the Bulldogs NCAA chances from a potential upset in the Horizon tournament. But conference play started and the Bulldogs lost five games to their Horizon rivals. The Bulldogs had only lost five conference games over the past three seasons COMBINED. A win on Tuesday night can erase a lot of the disappointment that this preseason top 20 team has to feel about their season.

5. Villanova: The Wildcats are going through the second biggest in-season collapse behind Minnesota. After starting the season ranked just outside of the top 5, ‘Nova jumped out to a 16-1 record and looked like a potential championship contender. Then the wheels fell off. Starting with a loss on MLK Day to UConn, the ‘Cats went 5-9 to end the season at 21-10, including four straight losses to complete the regular season. While the Big East schedule is brutal, with most games involving two ranked teams, this type of collapse wasn’t expected from a team with solid senior leadership and Final Four expectations. Getting South Florida on Tuesday should end their losing streak, but how they fare against Cincinnati on Wednesday will be a better indicator of what to expect out of this team when the NCAA tournament begins.

6. Virginia Tech: So THIS is now America’s Bubble Team? Great. The Hokies only have themselves to blame for another March on the bubble as they ducked quality in-state opponents and underachieved against the teams that they did play. Their only decent OOC wins are against mediocre Penn State and Oklahoma State. Neither of those teams is likely to receive an at-large bid on Sunday. In the top heavy ACC, the Hokies were swept by triple digit RPI rival Virginia, lost to Georgia Tech, and then lost their final two games of the season to fellow mediocre bubble dwellers Boston College and Clemson. At 19-10 overall with 9 ACC wins, Tech could be a solid NCAA team right now. But they refuse to get challenged by any instate opponents OOC. By ducking solid CAA schools like George Mason, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth, along with Richmond, the Hokies won’t be receiving any profiles in courage awards for their schedule making. It’s going to be tough to justify the fifth best team in Virginia making the NCAA tournament as an at-large. Maybe the Hokies will make it if they expanded the field to 96 teams next season.

Special Nominee: Tennessee: The Volunteers season has been something that you might find at Six Flags over Knoxville. Their roller coaster season began with a 7-0 record, including a Preseason NIT championship and a win over Pittsburgh on the road. Despite the self inflicted distractions brought on by Bruce Pearl’s NCAA violations, it appeared that the players were unfazed by everything going on around them. Then the Vols lost three straight to Oakland, Charlotte, and USC, two of those games at home. Ten days later they dropped another home game to Charleston. Pearl was required to miss the first 8 SEC games, in which they went 5-3. Pearl then returned to guide the Vols to a 3-5 record down the stretch, including losses in their final 3 home games. With an 18-13 record (SEC 8-8), and a difficult schedule, the Vols still look safe on Sunday. But the NCAA has held grudges in the past (remember #25 UNLV getting the shaft in 92-93?) and the embattled Pearl could be their next target.

Other Disappointments:

Memphis 22-9, 10-6 in CUSA: Losses to SMU, Rice, and East Carolina could doom their NCAA chances.

Mississippi State 17-13, 9-7 in SEC West: Suspensions, fighting amongst teammates, players complaining through Twitter about the coaches, and bad losses to Florida Atlantic, East Tenn St, Hawaii, Auburn, and LSU leave Rick Stansbury and the Bulldogs looking at missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in six seasons.

Northwestern 17-12, 7-11 in Big Ten: The Wildcats have never made the NCAA tournament and this year’s group will have to overachieve to win the Big Ten tournament to end that streak.

Road to Selection Sunday for March 7

ODU's Frank Hassell

Welcome to the Road to Selection Sunday for March 7

News and Notes:

Here’s a story on ODU’s Frank Hassell, the best low post player playing tonight.

Shaka Smart is looking to lead the Rams to their first NCAA tournament since taking over for Anthony Grant two years ago.

The WCC will refrain from playing their tournament games on Sundays starting next season when BYU joins the conference.

Cousins will be battling each other in tonight’s MAAC championship game between Iona and St. Peter’s.

Weekend Winners:

Automatic Qualifiers:

  • Atlantic Sun: Belmont
  • Big South: UNC-Asheville
  • Ohio Valley: Morehead State
  • Missouri Valley: Indiana State

Ohio State: The Buckeyes will be a #1 seed even if they don’t win a Big Ten tournament game and just need to match Kansas this week to be the #1 overall seed.

Kansas: The Jayhawks are the same as Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a slight edge for the #1 overall seed.

UNC: Big win over Duke gives the Heels the ACC regular season title. Kendall Marshall is becoming one of my favorite players. Simply exciting, like a lefty Rajon Rondo. The Heels now have an outside shot at a #1 seed.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers won the outright Big East championship and are now a win or two away from sealing a #1 seed.

Michigan: The Wolverines swept the Spartans for the first time since beating them in their only matchup in 2003. Once 1-6 in the Big Ten the Maize and Blue fought back to 9-9. A win over Illinois on Friday would seal their bid.

Notre Dame: The Irish hung tough in Storrs after Ben Hansbrough fouled out with more than 8 minutes left. Not sure how they did it, but Notre Dame has the “Luck of the Irish” this season.

Florida: The Gators completed the quietest good conference championship by taking out Vandy in Nashville. Chandler Parsons is the pick here for SEC POY after leading the Gators to a 13-3 record.

Cincinnati: Yes, they beat up on poor Georgetown, but Mick Cronin’s crew did what most bubble teams don’t; seal their bid with wins. The Bearcats are playing for a seed this week in MSG. Who saw 11-7 in the Big East coming?

Clemson: The Tigers beat Virginia Tech to keep their at-large hopes alive and get the 4 seed in the ACC tournament. They still need another win or two.

Harvard: The Crimson clinched at least a tie for the Ivy League title by beating Princeton and will face them again next weekend if Princeton beats Penn on Tuesday night.

Marshall: The Herd is the one bubble team that nobody’s paying any attention to. They have a very good win over West Virginia and their RPI is top 50. If they lose in the CUSA championship game, they’re probably going to be in as an at-large.

Kentucky: The Cats finally got another road win and against a decent team, too. Cal has a lot more work to do in Atlanta if he wants a good seed next Sunday. SEC Most Improved: Josh Harrellson – is there another choice?

Virginia Commonwealth: The Rams stumbled down the stretch but avenged an earlier loss to George Mason and look to win the CAA tonight in their hometown. A loss and they’re still a bubble team. It will be interesting if they lose by a hoop if they can still get in.

Penn State: Still alive, at least until Friday.

Old Dominion: The Monarchs might not have been a lock when they arrived in Richmond on Friday, but they will leave a lock, win or lose, after tonight’s game. The right draw could lead them to the Sweet 16.

WCC finalists: Gonzaga and St. Mary’s have to feel a lot better about their at-large chances by getting a chance to play each other tonight. The loser gets another “good” loss and should be in the discussion next Sunday.


Bubble teams with bad losses group: Here they are: Miami, Baylor, Virginia Tech, Wichita State, Oklahoma State, Washington State, Cleveland State, Marquette, and Southern Miss. All of these teams could have taken steps to get into the tournament or at least keep their hopes alive. Only the atrocious bubble situation keeps some of them alive. Wichita State and Cleveland State don’t have any more opportunities to improve their situation and will hope to go to the NIT.

Lost in their tournament, but get NIT auto-bid group: Coastal Carolina, Missouri State, and Fairfield are all heading to the NIT as regular season champions who are likely to miss out on an at-large bid.

Missouri: The Tigers stumbled home in the Big 12 with an 8-8 record. This team is better than that, but their failure to win road games was their downfall. They don’t get any more road games, but they have to win away from home for them to achieve any kind of success.

Villanova: The Cats are in possession of the second biggest collapse in college basketball behind Minnesota. The Cats are still NCAA worthy, but will need to win a game in MSG in order to be wearing their whites in their first tourney game.

Connecticut: The brutal Big East schedule claimed both Villanova and UConn. It just looked like these teams just ran out of gas at times going against great competition every night. The Huskies need to win a couple of games in MSG to solidify a Sweet 16 seed and then take a day or two to recharge to get ready for the Madness.

Michigan State: The Spartans are arguably the most disappointing team in the country this season. They were preseason #2 and are now fighting on the bubble. They might have to beat a very good Purdue team to get in.

Purdue: The Boilers chances for a #1 seed ended in Iowa City on Saturday. One down performance in a month isn’t anything to be alarmed at. They still look like a good bet to go deep in the tournament. But they’ll be farther from home.

Colorado State: The Rams RPI is still tournament worthy, but they lack the quality wins needed. They might have to beat New Mexico AND BYU to get in.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores struggled to end the season and are now looking at a middle seed next Sunday. None of the big boys would like to see these guys on the first weekend, but unless Vandy wins a few in Atlanta, they are heading to a 7-10, 8-9 type game.

Washington: I’m not sure the Huskies would be bubble worthy in most years, but this year is like no other. They can’t be one and done in Staples later this week.

Tennessee: Bruce Pearl almost looked like “dead man walking” in the handshake line after the game yesterday. One wonders if Pearl’s job will hinge on his ability to have success in the NCAA’s. I don’t see them firing a Sweet 16 coach. First round loser? Who knows?

Monday’s Notable Games: RPI in ()

CAA Championship: (48) Virginia Commonwealth vs. (24) Old Dominion: ESPN at 7 EST

MAAC Championship: (103) St. Peter’s vs. (65) Iona: ESPN2 at 7 EST

WCC Championship: (43) St. Mary’s vs. (62) Gonzaga: ESPN at 9 EST

Southern Conference Championship: (117) Wofford vs. (67) Charleston: ESPN2 at 9 EST

Click here for conference breakdowns on This Week in College Basketball.