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CBB Notes: Disappointing and Winless Teams

   by Larry Ness - 02/12/2010

What's going on here? North Carolina beat Michigan St 89-72 in the national championship game last season for the school's fifth title, finishing with a 34-4 record. U Conn lost to Michigan St 82-73 in the national semifinals to finish the year at 31-5. Oklahoma lost 72-60 in the Elite 8 to North Carolina to end its season at 30-6 while Louisville also lost in the Elite 8, getting beat 64-52 by Michigan St to finish 31-6. Heading into this weekend, none of those 30-win teams from last year is assured of even getting invited to this year's "Big Dance" without guaranteeing themselves an automatic bid by winning their respective conference tourneys.

North Carolina was ranked 6th in the AP's preseason poll (actually received one first-place vote) and 4th in the coaches' poll. U Conn was 12th in the AP, Oklahoma 17th and Louisville 19th. None of the four are currently ranked, with Louisville owning the best record (15-9) and the only winning conference mark (6-5). Considering the Cardinals just lost 74-55 at St John's on Thursday night, a school which had been 2-8 in Big East play prior to the game, it's hard to get too excited about Louisville's postseason chances. U Conn is 14-9 overall (4-6 in the Big East) and Oklahoma 13-10 overall (4-5 in the Big 12).

No school has suffered a greater "fall from grace" than last year's defending champs. However, as the team's preseason ranking indicated, no one expected it. Roy Williams left Kansas to return to his alma mater to begin the 2003-04 season. The Tar Heels went 19-11 in his first season at Chapel Hill, losing 78-75 to Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament. However, Williams would lead the Tar Heels to the school's fourth national title the very next year, beating Illinois 75-70 in the championship game (Illini entered that game 37-1).

North Carolina would finish that season 33-4 and enter the next season without its top-five scorers from the previous year (including May, McCants and Felton). However, led by a freshman named Tyler Hansbrough (18.9-7.8) and a pair of veteran forwards named Terry and Noel (the duo combined to average 27 PPG and 13 RPG), North Carolina would win 23 games before losing in the second round of the Big Dance to George Mason (65-60), which would go on to make its 'Cinderella' run to the Final Four. So the fact that Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington and Green were gone from last year's team, did not seem to be insurmountable.

After all, in 6-8 senior Deon Thompson and 6-10 sophomore Ed Davis, the Tar Heels were set up front. The 6-5 Marcus Ginyard was lost last season to an injury but was able to return this year and was joined in the backcourt by Larry Drew II, who was expected to blossom into a star after playing behind Lawson last year. Then of course, Williams had an excellent freshman class. The 6-10 Henson was penciled in as a starter plus guards McDonald and Strickland, who were both counted on to be "ready for primetime." Williams also recruited David and Travis Wear, 6-10 freshman twins.

So what has happened this year? Well let's allow North Carolina's record to do the 'talking.' When the Tar Heels host North Carolina St on Saturday, they will take a four-game losing streak into the game. North Carolina has lost seven of its last eight, eight of its last 10 and overall stands at just 13-11. It's 2-7 ACC mark leaves the Tar Heels in 11th-place in the ACC, ahead of only North Carolina St (14-1 / 2-8). Saturday's game is not exactly a David Thompson vs Michael Jordan showdown (I know they weren't contemporaries, but you get the point!).

Connecticut, Louisville and Oklahoma join North Carolina as Elite 8 (and 30-win teams) from last year, as this season's biggest disappointments. I should also mention Michigan. John Beilein took over at Ann Arbor for the 2007-08 season and his first team went 10-22. However, the Wolverines would win 21 games last year, before losing in the NCAA's second round to Oklahoma (73-63). Led by the 6-5 Harris and the 6-8 Sims plus three guards who all had promising freshman seasons (Douglass, Lucas-Perry and Novack), Michigan was ranked 15th in both preseason polls. Michigan opened 3-0 but enters the weekend a pathetic 12-12 (5-7 in the Big 10) and going nowhere.

Winless teams:

Earlier in the week I mentioned that there were eight schools still unbeaten in conference play in the 2009-10 season. Heading into the weekend (Friday-Sunday), there are still eight. At the other end of the 'food chain,' seven schools remain winless in conference play, heading into the weekend. I'm including Bryant University, which is one of two winless teams, overall. Bryant is transitioning into Division I status and will become a full-fledged member of the Northeast Conference by the 2012-13 season. Currently, the Bulldogs are 0-25, including an 0-13 mark in conference games.

Joining Bryant without a win yet this year is Alcorn State of the SWAC (lone full-fledged Division I school without a win). The Braves are 0-24 (0-11) heading into their Saturday contest at home with Mississippi Valley St (lost 80-70 at Itta Bena, Ms back on January 16). The other five winless schools in conference play are Dartmouth (0-6 in the Ivy), Fordham (0-10 in the A-10), LSU (0-10 in the SEC), Penn St (0-11 in the Big 10) and Toledo (0-11 in the MAC). Each of the last two seasons we've seen three schools go without a conference win but in the three years prior to that, just Campbell (0-20 in the Atlantic Sun) went winless back in 2004-05 (there were no winless teams in either the 2005-06 or 2006-07 seasons).

Going winless in one of the "Big Six" conferences is almost as rare as going through conference play unbeaten. Kansas (9-0 in the Big 12) is the only one of the eight remaining unbeatens to be from a major conference and as I mentioned earlier in the week, one has to go back to the 2002-03 season when Kentucky went 16-0 in the SEC, to find a school going unscathed in league play in a "big Six" conference. Of the six winless teams the last two seasons, two came from major conferences. Oregon State went 0-18 in the Pac 10 during the 2007-08 season, becoming the first school in league history to do so since that conference expanded to 10 teams back in 1978-79.

However, the Beavers would shock everyone last year as first-year Oregon State coach Craig Robinson took over that 6-25 team and went 13-16 (7-11) during the regular season. His Beavers lost their first game in the Pac 10 tourney but the CBI invited Oregon St to its postseason tourney (it helps to be the president's brother-in-law). The Oregon St players "took it from there," winning three straight home games to earn a spot in the "best two-of-three" championship round. OSU beat UTEP 81-73 in Game 3 of the College Basketball Invitational championship series, clinching the first postseason title in school history. Not a bad turnaround!

The same can't be said this year about last season's lone winless team from a major conference. DePaul went 0-18 in the Big East last year but enters this weekend 8-15 overall, including 1-10 in Big East play. That leads me to the two schools still winless this year from a major conference. What has happened to LSU and Penn State? LSU owned the SEC's best record last season (13-3) and then beat Butler in the NCAA's first round before falling to the eventual champs, North Carolina in the second round. LSU finished last year 27-8 but will enter Saturday's game at Vanderbilt 9-15 overall, including 0-10 in the SEC.

Penn St enters its Saturday home game with Michigan State at 8-15 overall, including 0-11 in the Big 10. How is this possible? Penn State went 10-8 in the Big 10 last year and advanced to the second NIT final in school history by beating Notre Dame. The Nittany Lions then beat Baylor 69-63 in the NIT championship game to win only the second postseason tournament title in school history, giving them a school-record 27 wins (the only other postseason tournament Penn State had won was the Atlantic 10 in 1991). What a difference a year makes.

I'll check back on the conference unbeatens and winless teams late next week but up first will be a mid-season NBA update Monday or Tuesday.

Good luck, Larry

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