Coming into the season, everyone is optimistic; who wouldn’t be? However with at least eight games under every team’s belt, not everyone can be so optimistic. There have been many high-profile disappointments in just the first month of the season. As we head into this season of cheer, it seems cruel to highlight those who have very little basketballwise to be cheerful for. Yet schadenfreude is one of my favorite emotions, so join me after the jump as we rejoice in the troubles of others, particularly those in the Bluegrass state.
Perhaps the teams who have been the most disappointing, especially to their fans are the natural rivals Kentucky and Louisville. Last weekend, Kentucky blew a 15-point second half lead to UAB and Louisville dropped a disheartening game to Purdue. Both have a myriad of excuses; injuries to Jodie Meeks for Kentucky and David Padgett and Juan Palacios for Louisville have left both squads without valuable leadership and production. Both also have had troubles with players; heralded recruit Alex Legion decided to transfer while Derrick Caracter has been suspended multiple times for various rules violations (however Louisville appears to have reinstated him once again). While these excuses are certainly valid, these two fanbases will not accept them and the losing that comes with them. A perfect example of this is the fact that we get at least 5 hits a day for people searching “firebillygillespie.com”. Louisville certainly looks to be the better of the two teams, especially if Palacios and Padgett can get back to full strength. Kentucky is going to have to play a whole lot better to even merit an at-large spot, let alone beat Houston tonight [Ed note: I wrote this before Kentucky got blown out by Houston. They are simply overmatched against any competent team.]
Another major disappointment in the SEC has been Mississippi State. The pundits (and myself, to be truthful) had high hopes for Mississippi State coming into this season, led by Jamont Gordon and Ben Hansborough. But coach Rick Stansbury’s squad has disappointed dismally, falling to a 5-5 record. Mississippi State is one of the stranger cases; in the three games that I have seen (all losses against Clemson, Miami, and South Alabam), they have looked the better team for long stretches. However in all three games, they just could not get a defensive stop when it mattered. Case in point: the Miami game. With 3:30 to go, Miss. State was up 5 and looking good. Then Jack McClinton hit a three, which started an 11-2 run that effectively ended the game. Mississippi State has NCAA tournament talent, but a NIT mentality, especially down the stretch. I could see them in Madison Square Garden in late March…for the NIT Final Four.
Moving to the ACC, the real disappointment has been Maryland. Maryland was expected to progress this season with Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes in the backcourt, and a formidable frontline of James Gist and Bambale Osby. Instead Maryland has so far regressed to a 6-4 record, and has lost two uninspiring games in a row to Boston College and Ohio. It seems that Maryland misses DJ Strawberry more than anyone could have thought. They are now taking their cues from the talented but erratic Vasquez, who has an alarming propensity to foul out of games. The Boston College game turned when Vasquez lost his cool, picked up 3 fouls (due to a technical) in 45 seconds, and fouled out with 10 minutes remaining. Gary Williams must instill some discipline to his team through Vasquez if the Terps have any hope of realizing their potential and getting an NCAA tournament berth.
On a Mid-Major level, Saint Joseph’s was expected to contend for the Atlantic Ten crown and for an NCAA tournament berth. Instead they are mired at 4-4 with almost no hope for an at-large berth. All of St. Joseph’s losses are defensible, as they have come against solid teams (Syracuse, Gonzaga, Holy Cross, Creighton), but to lose all four is unacceptable. These losses would normally almost surely knock St. Joe’s out of at-large consideration, but with the A-10 playing so well this year, the Hawks still have a chance to get enough good wins in conference to merit a bid.