With the holiday season upon us, most teams have wrapped up, or are about to wrap up, their non-conference schedules. As we hit conference play, this is a great time to reflect and take a look back at how teams have played so far season. It seems every year we see teams that are expected to be elite that come up short and disappoint, I’m looking at you 2019-20 North Carolina Tar Heels.
And on the flip side, we see teams that don’t have high expectations that emerge as national contenders, think Dayton or San Diego State from last year. In this article, we are going to focus on the underachieving squads that we all thought were going to be great this year, that just haven’t played up to their expectations. Let’s get started with the most disappointing team of them all this year, the Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky Wildcats (1-5)
On the surface, this seemed like a typical year for the Kentucky Wildcats under head coach John Calipari. They lost an absurd amount of talent to the NBA draft but brought in the top recruiting class in the country to reload this roster with potential NBA draft lottery picks. These guys were young but supremely talented, and most expected the Wildcats to be the class of the SEC once again, and they started the season outranked in the top-10 of the preseason AP Poll.
The season started out well enough as the Wildcats picked up a win in their first game over painfully overmatched Morehead State, but after that blow out victory, the wheels have fallen off for Kentucky. First, they lost at home to Richmond. That wasn’t that bad of a loss as the Spiders are a quality team this year. Then they lost to a top-5 Kansas team. Both of those losses were somewhat understandable.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) December 12, 2020
But after losing to the Jayhawks, Kentucky lost at Georgia Tech and at home to Notre Dame, two teams that aren’t ranked in the top-50 nationally and won’t be dancing in March. In their last game, they got beaten up by North Carolina by double-digits, and through the first month of play, the once highly ranked Wildcats are sitting at an abysmal 1-5 on the year.
So, why have the Wildcats struggled so much this year? They can’t shoot the basketball. Kentucky is 323rd in the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 24.3%. While the 3-point shooting has been an embarrassment, the rest of their shooting has been nearly as bad. From the field, Kentucky is shooting 42.6%, 233rd in the nation, and from the charity stripe they make just 66.7%, good for 227th in the land.
BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke are now 0-19 on the season from threes
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) December 2, 2020
There was an enormous amount of hype surrounding freshman BJ Boston coming into this season, as he was one of the highest-rated recruits in the country. Boston has looked decent at times, but he leads the team in 3-point attempts per game at almost 5 per contest and is knocking them down at just a 17% clip. You just can’t have your best player and your highest volume shooter, missing that many shots.
My gut tells me that Coach Cal is going to find a way to get things turned around at some point this season. There is just too much talent on this team to see them play this poorly for too much longer. These young guys are going to mature and gel, and by the end of the season, they should be playing competitive basketball.
The question is, will they get it turned around in time to save their season? We are a month into a significantly shortened season, and right now, the Wildcat’s only win came against a team ranked 303rd. That’s not exactly a tournament level resume if you ask me. The Wildcats are 1-3 against the spread this year as favorites, so if you see them laying wood, you are going to want to jump on the other side.
Duke Blue Devils (3-2)
The Duke Blue Devils are never too far away from the national championship conversation. In the preseason, they were ranked 9th in the AP Poll and 8th in the Coaches Poll, even managing to get one first-place vote from the coaches. Coach K had a lineup that featured a nice combination of experience in returning guys like Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt, and one of the top recruiting classes in the country, with Jalen Johnson headlining a solid class.
It hasn’t been all bad for Duke, they still have a winning record on the year at 3-2, and they are still riding those preseason expectations to a top-25 ranking, coming in at 22nd in the latest AP Poll. But by Duke standards, the start to this season has been awful. The Blue Devils don’t lose non-conference games at home. It just doesn’t happen.
Duke saw their 150-game non-conference home winning streak snapped last season by Stephen F Austin, and it was one of the more impressive winning streaks in college hoops history. That makes the Blue Devils start to this season that much harder to understand, as Duke has already lost twice at home in the non-conference, their worst start at home since 1981-82.
Duke has already lost two games at Cameron Indoor this season.
The last time Duke had multiple home losses this early in the calendar year was 1981-82 (Coach K’s second season at Duke), when their 2nd home loss came on December 5. pic.twitter.com/xvrVlcZV7e
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 9, 2020
The losses weren’t awful ones as they lost to ranked teams Michigan State and Illinois, but any loss at home for Duke is always going to raise concerns. And looking at how those two teams have played since beating the Blue Devils, it’s looking like those losses just might look even worse by the end of the year. Michigan State just got blown out by a bad Northwestern team, and Illinois started the season looking like a Final Four caliber team, but the Illini already have three early-season losses.
I am not nearly as concerned about Duke as I am about Kentucky right now, but the Blue Devils 1-4 ATS record is the worst in the ACC. Without the Cameron Crazies in the stands to cheer them on, Duke is 0-4 ATS at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Dukies host a Pitt Panthers team on a 5-game winning streak next week as big homecourt favorites, and it’s hard not to like the Panthers to cover after seeing how poorly Duke has played at home.
Arizona State Sun Devils (4-3)
This was supposed to be the year that Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils went from a PAC-12 contender to a national championship contender. They brought back maybe the top point guard in the country in Remy Martin and surrounded him with two of the top incoming freshman to give the Sun Devils the most talented roster in their conference.
Arizona State debuted at 18th in the preseason AP Poll, the highest-ranked team in the PAC-12, but they have quickly fallen from the top-25, as they just haven’t played well. The early loss to Villanova was a tough one, as the Wildcats are one of the top teams in the country. And the loss to San Diego State didn’t look great at the time, but it has looked better since, as the Aztecs have climbed into the top-25 rankings.
THAT’S A W!! ⛏ pic.twitter.com/dVcaqPHYMO
— UTEP Men’s Basketball (@UTEP_MBB) December 17, 2020
Those losses were explainable, but the recent loss to UTEP isn’t. Arizona State lost at home to UTEP, by double-digits no less, and the loss has left Sun Devils fans scratching their heads. The Miners don’t have another win over a D1 team this year and lost handily to the other two D1 schools they played, with losses to Sant Mary’s and Arizona. That is going to be a loss that stings extra bad on Selection Sunday for sure and is an ugly blemish on a Sun Devils resume that is mighty light right now.
The two freshmen, Joshua Christopher and Marcus Bagley, have both played well, but Remy Martin has not been good. Martin has seen his scoring, rebounding, and assists all drop from last year. His once elite 3-point stroke has turned cold as he is hitting just 27% from beyond the arc. Martin has always been a high-volume shooter, and when he struggles, the Sun Devils can’t win. In the three Arizona State losses this year, Martin is a combined 6-23 from the field and 3-15 from deep.
Gup in transition = 💰💰💰
Sun Devils 56 Lopes 48 // 9:55 2H pic.twitter.com/QyE3vqIvov
— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) December 13, 2020
Next up for Arizona State, they jump right into PAC-12 league play with back-to-back road games at Washington State and Washington. If the Sun Devils can’t win those two road games, they will hit a three-game stretch against UCLA, USC, and Oregon, where they will have to win at least two of those games to have any shot at staying in the PAC-12 regular-season title race. The PAC-12 isn’t great this year, but if the Sun Devils are going to lose home games to teams like UTEP, they can absolutely lose to any team in the PAC-12.
Alabama Crimson Tide (4-3)
I really thought that this Alabama team was going to be a force in the SEC this year. Nate Oats is a great coach, and the Tide nearly cracked the top-25 in the preseason AP Poll, falling into the also receiving votes category. But after a sluggish start to the year for Alabama, you have to wonder if this team is actually ready to compete in the SEC this year.
Losses to Stanford and Clemson aren’t bad ones, but the Tigers and the Cardinal are at a very similar level as much of the SEC is this year, and if Alabama can’t beat top-50 teams, they aren’t going to win many games this season in league play. The home loss to Western Kentucky in their last game was quite concerning as the Hilltoppers aren’t on the national radar this season as a team that could snatch up an at-large bid.
— WKU Hilltopper Basketball (@WKUBasketball) December 19, 2020
The Tide are 2-4-1 ATS so far this year, and if you have been backing them consistently, you are getting crushed. Similar to the Kentucky Wildcats, most of the Alabama struggles have been on offense. The Tide are shooting 40.7% from the field, 29.3% from three, and they are averaging just over 12 assists a game. Alabama plays one of the fastest paces in the nation on offense, yet they still are scoring just 75 points per game.
Looking ahead on the schedule for Alabama, things aren’t going to be easy for the Tide. The only games they have left on the schedule that aren’t against teams ranked in the top-100 are against East Tennessee State and Vanderbilt. Kenpom has Alabama going 15-12 overall and 9-9 in the SEC. That is a far cry away from a top-half league finish and a trip to the NCAA tournament that most expected coming into the season.
Memphis Tigers (5-3)
Penny Hardaway has won 20+ games in each of his two seasons at the helm for Memphis, and this year, many expected the Tigers to make their return to the NCAA tournament. Memphis was ranked just outside of the top-25 in the preseason, and they were expected to compete with Houston for the AAC title. But wins against quality competition have been hard to come by for Penny Hardaway’s squad.
Of the five Memphis wins this year, four of them came to teams ranked outside of the top-200 nationally. The only decent win for the Tigers came on opening night against a Saint Mary’s team that likely won’t sniff an NCAA tournament at-large bid this year. The Tigers have losses to Western Kentucky, VCU, and Auburn, and while all of those teams are decent, if we ended the season today, none of them would be dancing.
The real reason that Memphis hits this list is their record against the spread. The Tigers are 2-6 against the number this season, and those six losses ATS are tied for the second-most in the country right now, trailing only Chicago State. Away from home, the Tigers are just 1-4 ATS, one of the worst win totals of any power conference team.
No Fans in Attendance until Further Notice https://t.co/Yd9avp3nB1
— Memphis Basketball (@Memphis_MBB) December 21, 2020
It sounds like a broken record here, but the Tiger’s struggles are mostly stemming from poor offense. They turn the ball over a ton, they are terrible at the free-throw line at just 64.1%, and bad from three at 31.1% as a team. They have a ton of talent and athleticism on the roster, and they do a great job of winning in the paint, as they are an elite rebounding team, and they block a ton of shots. But if they can’t find a way to convert all of the rebounds and blocks into good looks on the offensive end of the court and knock down shots, they are going to continue their struggles against good teams.
To make matters worse for the Tigers, Houston has looked every bit as good as advertised, and SMU has passed Memphis as the second-best team in the league, with the Mustangs starting their season out undefeated at 5-0. I think this team will figure things out by the end of the season, and I still see them as a tournament team, but until the books start valuing them appropriately, you are going to want to look for ways to fade them profitably.
And there you have it, folks, my picks for the five most disappointing teams in the country so far this season. There is plenty of season left for these teams to turn things around and play themselves into the NCAA tournament, but as a handicapper, you always want to make sure that you are betting on who these teams actually are, not who we thought they were going to be. Thanks for reading, and make sure that you check out TheSportsGeeek’s college hoops betting page, where we bring you free daily picks each and every day!