The COVID-19 pandemic limited the number of practices and games some college basketball teams could have over the last few months, creating a disjointed start to the season that negatively affected some programs more than others. But as most teams that have not already begun conference play prepare to do so in the coming days, a fresh start is in order.
For teams that padded their win totals with weak nonconference schedules, it’s time to prove it against quality competition. But for teams that are off to disappointing starts, conference play brings a chance to turn things around as the calendar flips to 2021. At 1-6 and facing a steep uphill climb to make the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky is the most obvious disappointment to this point in the college hoops season, but the Wildcats have company in the category of teams needing a turnaround to get their seasons back on track.
In this week’s edition of the dribble handoff, our writers are sharing which teams have been most disappointing to them at this point in the season. And, yes, those poor Wildcats were the first team selected during this process.
This season’s biggest disappointment is clearly Kentucky. Even Kentucky fans would agree. The Wildcats were 10th in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll and 12th in the preseason KenPom rankings. Now they’re unranked in all human polls, down to No. 52 at KenPom and, incredibly, sitting on a 1-6 record for the first time in more than a century. Kentucky has turned the ball over on 22.8% of its possessions, which ranks 273rd nationally while shooting 25.0% from 3-point range, which ranks 319th nationally. Neither of the projected one-and-done lottery picks (Brandon Boston, Terrence Clarke) have performed to the hype. One player (Cam’Ron Fletcher) has already served what amounted to a suspension. It’s been a mess in basically every way, one that will almost certainly cause John Calipari to miss the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since the 2005 season, which will more than likely lead to him reevaluating exactly how he roster-builds on an annual basis at this blue-blood program that should never be this bad. — Gary Parrish
Let us be clear that any team that’s “disappointing” in the midst of a pandemic is all relative here. The fact we’re even having a season and it’s continued on with a completion rate approaching 80% in regard to games not indefinitely postponed or outright canceled is a win. So within that viewpoint, I think I’ll pick Arizona State. I’m influenced a bit here by the fact I saw ASU play in person in late November at Mohegan Sun’s Bubbleville. The Sun Devils sit at 4-3 and are currently on another COVID pause. I had multiple coaches in the Pac-12 tell me this was the most talented team in that league, but to this point ASU’s best win was its first this season — against Rhode Island by six points in a game ASU flirted with losing. Check the standings and you’ll see URI is 3-5. ASU’s most recent game was Dec. 16, a home loss against UTEP; and that is the only win the Miners have vs. Division I competition this season. With preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year Remy Martin, plus a pair of highly-talented freshmen (Josh Christopher, Marcus Bagley), ASU should be showing better than it has so far. I think it can get there. This might wind up being an inverse of ASU’s good seasons under Bobby Hurley. Instead of a hot start, perhaps we’ll get a streaky finish (in a good way). — Matt Norlander
Things haven’t quite clicked for Indiana this season, which has largely been the story for the program each year thus far under Archie Miller. The Hoosiers returned freshman star Trayce Jackson-Davis and a fine supporting cast to suggest Miller’s fourth season might be one of his best. But thus far the team has stumbled out of the gate to a 5-4 start. Now, let’s pause and give credit to IU here — those four losses are no joke. Texas, Florida State, Northwestern and Illinois all look like tournament teams. But I expected — and still expect — this Hoosiers team to be included amongst that exclusive club by year-end. To do so, they’ve gotta start winning some of these close games, and the Big Ten slate upcoming is unrelenting. Two home games to close out the calendar year could be a get-right spot to even up the league record at .500 going into 2021. — Kyle Boone
Penny Hardaway has led Memphis to two 20-win seasons, seen two signees get taken in the first round of the NBA Draft and is continuing to recruit at a high level. Yet it is clear that something needs to change if Hardaway’s third season — and his coaching tenure — is going to pan out the way Memphians hoped it would.
As evidenced once again in an ugly 58-57 home win over South Florida on Tuesday night, the Memphis offense is broken. The Tigers rank 196th nationally in points per game, 261st in 3-point shooting percentage, 265th in 2-point shooting percentage and 307th in free-throw shooting percentage as of Tuesday morning. Similar struggles explain why Memphis did not reach its potential last season, and poor offense is the reason why the Tigers already have four losses this year despite beginning the season only two spots out of the AP poll.
Maybe “broken” isn’t the perfect term because it implies the item in question was whole at one time. But the Tigers haven’t run a coherent offensive system at any point during Hardaway’s tenure. He deserves credit for the job he’s done in recruiting and in building a gritty defense. But until he turns the offense over to an experienced college assistant, Memphis feels destined to continue falling short of expectations. — David Cobb