Come March, and everyone begins to fill out their brackets, year after year it becomes a toss-up between a couple #1 seeds and maybe a #2 seed for who will win it all. But what if one year, you sat down, looked at the top seeds, and thought, “There’s no way they will make it to the final four”? This is what the 2019-2020 college basketball season will be.
Year after year, the regular season enters conference play, and for the top teams such as Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, etc. everyone suspects they will cruise through the season and dominate their respective conference. This stigma is put in play by their ability to recruit at a high level, bringing in the best of the best.
But this year something seems off, as we enter the midway point of the season, only 1 team remains undefeated in the AP Top 25(San Diego State). As for the powerhouses, some have fallen out of the top 10, and others down the top 25 completely. So what teams have thrown up red flags this season, and what does that mean going forward into March?
Duke Blue Devils (15-3) (5-2)
For head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils, every year, they enter the season as heavy favorites to win the ACC and most of the time, March Madness. This year was no different, after landing big-name players such as Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley and retaining star point guard Tre Jones. The season started great with a big win against the now #3 ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
It was until the Blue Devils hosted Stephen F. Austin, where this momentum was put on halt. Duke lost off a buzzer-beater at home to the Lumberjacks, which many dismissed as a fluke. Going forward, they put down any questions about their ability until they traveled to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. While they won the game, personally, the win raised a lot of question marks. A subpar Georgia Tech team was able to lead for a majority of the game and pushed Duke to the final buzzer.
The next flag would come six days later, as the Blue Devils were upset by the Clemson Tigers, a team that sits at 3-4 in the ACC. The following game Duke dropped another game, this time to #11 Louisville.
Kentucky Wildcats (13-4) (4-1)
Much like Duke, the Kentucky Wildcats are favorites in the SEC year after year. This is credited to head coach John Calipari and his ability to recruit top talent every year. This year after keeping guard Ashton Hagens and signing guard Tyrese Maxey, the Wildcats were at the top of the list in many pre-season rankings. With high hopes for fans, the team has slipped up on many occasions thus far.
First came the Evansville Purple Aces. Kentucky was ranked #1 at the time and was upset by the Purple Aces 67-64 at home. Despite the team winning 6 straight after the loss, the strength of schedule wasn’t anything special. The Wildcats then lost to Utah, an unranked team that sits at the bottom of the Pac 12. The following game Kentucky lost to then ranked #5 Ohio State, who now sits near the bottom of the Big Ten at 2-5.
Most recently, the Wildcats were upset by South Carolina on a buzzer-beater. With 4 losses to their name Kentucky sits at #15 in the top 25 and has thrown up many red flags.
North Carolina Tarheels (8-9) (1-5)
For everyone, the abysmal season North Carolina sees themselves in has to be the most surprising. Going into the season, the Tarheels had a lot of hype to their name, after signing Cole Anthony and Anthony Harris. Unfortunately for head coach Roy Williams and the Tarheels, both men picked up injuries. Harris tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.
Anthony also suffered an injury in early December but is expected to return in February. Despite injuries, North Carolina has looked awful this season. Even before losing Anthony, the team suffered losses to Michigan and Virginia and were blown out by Ohio State. After losing Anthony, the Tarheels have spiraled down to the bottom of the ACC.
This started with back to back losses to Wofford and Gonzaga. From here, North Carolina picked up 2 wins, but now see themselves on a four-game losing streak, with losses to Pittsburgh x2, Clemson and Georgia Tech.
The list goes on and on with teams slipping to unranked teams. Upsets happen every year, but the volume of upsets this season is something special. It’s typically around this point of the season, teams seem to work out those kinks that are causing them to struggle, but the struggles continue to show.
Everyone knows come March when the tournament rolls around; anything is possible plain and simple. We’ve seen favorites to win it all, lose in the first round, or low ranked seeds make it all the way to the final four. One year that comes to mind is 2011.
The 2011 tournament saw top seeds play at a very underwhelming level, with many of them suffering the same upsets we see this season as three of #1 seeds lost in the sweet sixteen. When it came down to the final four, there was #3 Connecticut, #4 Kansas, #8 Butler and #11 VCU. Connecticut went on to win the championship against Butler that year. It was a historic year for the Cinderella story and one that can easily happen again this year.
That’s why if these high ranked schools that are favorites continue to play at a poor level and drop games to unranked opponents, the door for the championship is wide open for any school, and we will see one crazy March Madness.