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Top Five College Basketball Programs: What Has Gone Wrong?

Updated on August 28, 2012

A landmark year

 

It’s a landmark year for college basketball.  Kansas and Kentucky have spent time at the top of the polls.  North Carolina joins the Jayhawks and Wildcats in their quest for 2000 wins.  If the NCAA Tournament started tomorrow, Kansas and Kentucky would both be #1 seeds, and Duke would likely be a #3 seed.  Except for the 2000 win milestones, it’s just another season on the hardwood, right?

Not this year.  All is not right in Basketball Heaven.  In fact, 2010 has been one of the strangest seasons for the basketball elite in recent memory.  My choices for the top five college programs in history:  the North Carolina Tar Heels, Kentucky Wildcats, Kansas Jayhawks, UCLA Bruins, and Duke Blue Devils—all have had moments their head coaches would prefer to forget.  In the spirit of the old Dallas television series, UCLA and North Carolina fans in particular would likely be willing to wake up and discover the entire season was a dream.

Let’s take a look at events surrounding these elite programs and examine what has gone wrong.

The Strangest Season

The 2010 season will be known for three teams searching for 2000 all-time victories
The 2010 season will be known for three teams searching for 2000 all-time victories
The court is the same as it has always been, but the game has changed for some of the nation's elite teams
The court is the same as it has always been, but the game has changed for some of the nation's elite teams
Fixtures in the AP Top 25 such as Kansas and UCLA are nowhere to be found
Fixtures in the AP Top 25 such as Kansas and UCLA are nowhere to be found
The NCAA Tournament may be without North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Connecticut or Arizona
The NCAA Tournament may be without North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Connecticut or Arizona
Can Kansas and Ketucky crash the Final Four, or will they self-destruct?
Can Kansas and Ketucky crash the Final Four, or will they self-destruct?
Who will be left standing in April?
Who will be left standing in April?

Trouble in Paradise


North Carolina. The 2009 National Champions have fallen on hard times. The Tar Heels entered the season needing 16 victories to reach the 2000 win plateau. 23 games later, they’re still looking for three more wins. UNC’s 14-13 record heading toward Valentine's Day makes the 2010 season the worst ever for Coach Roy Williams, who actually compared his situation to the disaster in Haiti. Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green are gone, and no one seems capable of filling their shoes. Their imposing front line gave fans hope that they could at least defend, but even Roy Williams admits his players can’t stay in front of the ball on defense. Their offense is equally lacking, with the fast-paced style Williams prefers nowhere to be found. Tar Heel players no longer believe in themselves and it shows in their play. Coach Williams has never dealt with this type of adversity, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. Come NCAA Tournament time, however, UNC will be missing in action unless “Old Roy” can do something quickly--if it's not too late already.

Kentucky. Kentucky basketball is riding a wave of success not seen for decades. John Calipari was hired as the Wildcat’s newest coach and brought his basketball knowledge, work ethic and recruiting savvy to Lexington with expectations of a return to past glory. A checkered past which resulted in vacating his previous Final Four appearances cast a dark cloud over his arrival, but Coach Cal quickly silenced his critics by signing freshmen sensations John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. When UK suffered their first loss against South Carolina, trouble began brewing. John Wall committed seven turnovers in their next game against Vanderbilt and was criticized by Calipari. Wall subsequently announced he was unhappy, and he vowed to “ignore his coach and keep trying to help the team.” He quickly recanted his comments, but the damage was done. Kentucky lost one collegiate game! What does it take to keep Wall satisfied? If they lose again, will the troubles continue?

Kansas. KU has spent most of the season rated #1 in the polls, but high rankings doesn’t buy happiness. Tyshawn Taylor informed the press several weeks ago that he didn’t know his role, and claimed others felt the same way. He was reported to have written on his Facebook account that he was considering a transfer. Coach Bill Self replaced Taylor in the starting lineup with the less athletic but more reliable Brady Morningstar—the same Morningstar that sat out the first semester’s games because of a DUI arrest. KU’s twin forwards, Marcus and Markieff Morris continually need encouragement to play with effort and intensity, and they have often been accused of being lackadaisical. Freshman Xavier Henry is in a shooting slump, showing little to convince anyone he is ready for the NBA next season. Without Henry playing well, KU is essentially the same team they were a year ago, relying on Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich to carry them.

UCLA. Due to their historical dominance and recent string of Final Four appearances, it is hard to feel sorry for UCLA. They’ve been so good for so long, there’s been no need to extend sympathy toward them—but I do feel for the team, its coaches and fans. It must be difficult to watch the Bruins endure a five-game losing streak while hovering around the .500 mark at the season’s midway point. Drew Gordon left the team six games into the season, and the remaining talent isn’t sufficient to compete on the level Coach Ben Howland is accustomed to. The Bruins’ roster is filled with supporting players with no stars to lead them. Despite their lack of talent, these players give their all. They hustle and defend and attack the boards. They simply don’t have enough basketball skills to win very often. Their guards are prone to turnovers and no one shoots particularly well. They win through hustle and effort. When that isn’t enough, they are outmatched.

Duke. Duke has avoided controversy so far, weighing in with only four losses against 22 wins. The problem is that they have evolved into a perimeter team and struggle against anyone with a decent inside game. Georgetown’s domination of the Blue Devils in front of the President had to be a tough pill to swallow. Theories abound that Coach Mike Krzyzewski won’t recruit a “one-and-done” player, fielding teams without the talent to compete with the upper echelon of college basketball. Some speculate that Krzyzewski was exhausted from his duties with the Olympic basketball team, and couldn’t muster the energy and focus to recruit with vigor. Still others suggest he has been discouraged by North Carolina’s dominance since the arrival of Roy Williams. Whatever reasons are embraced to explain the decline, recent Duke teams aren’t what Blue Devils fans are accustomed to watching. They are very good this year—they are not great. They will dominate a weakened ACC conference, but will advance in the NCAA Tournament only until they are matched against a team with good interior play. Whenever that happens, Duke will be done.


Big names in the NIT?


If someone said North Carolina was playing UCLA in March, it would be logical to assume they were talking about the Final Four. In this strangest of all seasons, however, an inordinate number of big name teams might end up excluded from the field of 64 and be forced to settle for the NIT. Florida, North Carolina, Louisville, Connecticut, Arizona, and UCLA could all find themselves hoping for a trip to New York. Some of them will still be included in the NCAA Tournament, but a few will need to improve just to earn a spot in the NIT.

And what of teams like Kentucky and Kansas? Bill Self and John Calipari might find themselves coaching against each other for another national championship—if their teams don’t self-destruct first.

On with the madness!


Back to Normal?


Perhaps nothing is really wrong with any of these programs. Perhaps their recent troubles were mere aberrations and not worthy of notice. Of the five programs discussed here, each of them won an NCAA title within the last five years except UCLA. The Bruins have seen much adversity lately, but are poised to return to prominence with a stellar 2012 recruiting class. These teams are the best of the best, and their off-court difficulties in recent years hasn't affected their dominance on the hardwood. Players come and go, and the coaches will someday retire and be replaced by new faces. But for the Jayhawks, the Wildcats, the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels and the Bruins--success will likely continue to be all they know.


College Merchandise from Amazon.com

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    • Mike Lickteig profile image
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      Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      Mike (no, readers, I didn't write a comment to myself...), I appreciate your kind words. The game has indeed changed, and not always for the better. I will check out your link--it sounds intriguing. Have a great day.

      Mike

    • profile image

      Mike 5 years ago

      Great post! Thanks for this. I love thinking about the old teams. There's no way these current teams could hang with some of those older teams. I found a pretty extensive 64-team bracket on a site. Good stuff. I found your article searching for more opinions on the best team. Nice!

      If you want to check out the 64-team bracket. It’s enjoyable if nothing else: http://www.tchuddle.com/2011/04/the-greatest-ncaa-...

    • Mike Lickteig profile image
      Author

      Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      4yearstrong, thanks for reading. Butler has had a tremendous two year run and deserve a great deal of credit and respect for what they have accomplished. I marveled at what they achieved, and I hope they are remembered for succeeding in an era marked by the "one-and-done" superstar teams. Through it all, Butler did it the right way.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Mike

    • 4yearstrong profile image

      4yearstrong 6 years ago

      Excellent hub! I'm a big Butler fan but unfortunately, they probably will not go anywhere near as far is they did last year this year. I just wrote a hub about them though. They are such a group of respectful guys. But great hub!

    • Mike Lickteig profile image
      Author

      Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      Randy, I appreciate your comments if not your insults. When Duke finally wised up and gave more minutes to Brian Zoubek, they became the team they should have been all along. Until that time, they were exactly who and what I said they were--a team that lost when facing strong interior play.

      Thanks for your comments, but you need to learn some manners. Oh, and by the way, it's "you're an idiot", not "your an idiot". Learn to spell while you're at it.

      Mike

    • profile image

      Randy 6 years ago

      Must have shocked the hell out of you when Duke and their power game ran the board to win the championship. Your an idiot.

    • Mike Lickteig profile image
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      Mike Lickteig 7 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      Truth, nice to hear from you! It's been awhile, my friend! I saw that Zoubek was starting to get more minutes, and that should help. All it will take is one guy willing to mix it up inside, and Duke will be as good as anybody.

      March should be interesting!

    • Truth From Truth profile image

      Truth From Truth 7 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Mike, Brian Zoubek has finally showed up, He needs keep improving up to the tournament, but he is playing much better in the paint.

    • Mike Lickteig profile image
      Author

      Mike Lickteig 7 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      Truth, thanks for reading. I believe Duke is one shot-blocker away from being as good as any team they've fielded in the last fifteen years. A Shelden Williams type player to anchor the middle and get tough rebounds would be all it would take. They have definitely improved over last season, and it is reasonable to believe they will continue to get better. Don't give up on 'em!

      Thanks again.

      Mike

    • Truth From Truth profile image

      Truth From Truth 7 years ago from Michigan

      Nice take on college basketball, I was not happy with your view of Duke basketball. That's not because I think your necessarily wrong. I guess I was just hoping they are about to turn the corner. You certainly made some good points. I do think there inside game has improved over last season. However you were also right that the ACC is a bit weak this year. Excellent article Mike. Thanks.

    • Mike Lickteig profile image
      Author

      Mike Lickteig 7 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      Jason, thanks for commenting. UNC does indeed need to step it up and play better. They play Duke next--if they could beat the Blue Devils, it might give them the shot of confidence they need to get back on track. It might be too late for the Tar Heels, though; we shall see.

      Thanks again for your comments.

    • profile image

      Jason Roatan  7 years ago

      You are right, Mike. UNC needs to step it up if they expect to see any results!

    • Mike Lickteig profile image
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      Mike Lickteig 7 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      rml, you're absolutely right. It looked early on like it might be a tough year for UCLA, but North Carolina was predicted as a top five team in the preseason. I guess no one is perfect--not even the Tar Heels.

      The others are doing fine but Duke is a flawed team, and Kentucky and Kansas seem to have some internal problems. Many will insist none of it matters as long as you win.

      Well, thanks again for your comments, they are appreciated.

    • profile image

      rml 7 years ago

      It is shocking what has happened to North Carolina and UCLA this year. The others seem to be doing fine, though.