Florida (8-6, 1-0 in conference)
In recent history, the Florida Gators basketball team has been a powerhouse. They have made the elite 8 the past 4 years, 3 final fours in the past 8, and 2 national championships in ’06 and ’07. What those teams had, were talented veterans, who knew how to win and how to be a great team.
This year’s squad is sorely missing that aspect. They have all the talent in the world, but no go to leader. Michael Frazier and Eli Carter both have the ability to be that player, but it’s going to take a lot of coaching from Billy Donovan to get them there. The question is; is it already too late for them? In my opinion, the answer is yes. They missed out on key victories against Kansas, Florida State, UCONN, Miami, and Georgetown. The sad truth is that they lead in all of these games, but gave up in the second half. If those were wins, I’d be saying that they have a chance to beat Kentucky. This team is talent rich, but the coaching staff will have the tough job of developing them on the fly, if they want a low seed in the Big Dance this March.
UCLA (8-7, 0-2 in conference)
It seems that every year, UCLA is one of the most talented teams in the country. Ever since Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, they have been an NBA hotbed, and this team is no different.
Bryce Alford, Kevon Looney, Norman Powell, Isaac Hamilton, and Tony Parker are all future pros, which is why their average play is so frustrating. Player for player, they are as talented as any team in the country, but have lost by a combined 106 points to Kentucky, UNC, Utah, and Gonzaga this season. Those are some laughable numbers. Those games show that this is a team of losers. When the going gets tough, they run the other way. Coach Steve Alford has to be at fault, at least partially, because their lazy, unfundamental play, is unacceptable.
The talent on that team is too great to be that average, but as long as the coach allows it, the players will continue to be unmotivated and more losing is sure to follow.
Michigan (9-6, 2-1 in conference)
N-J-I-T! When it comes to the worst losses this season, for any team in the country, this has to be at the top. This is not a knock on New Jersey, or their Institute of Technology, but the only independent D1 team has no business coming onto Michigan’s home court and winning. This game was a freak occurrence, but that loss shows sloppiness, if nothing else. They overlooked that game and lost it. Caris LeVert is too good a player for that, and John Beilein is too good a coach for that. they seem to be playing better, but without discipline, I fear this team is doomed, at least for this season.
No signature wins and an average record are a recipe for a high NIT bid, which is far less than the preseason #24 should expect. Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and LeVert are all very talented, but this team lacks anything close to a paint presence. Their struggles are far from over, unless one of their young big men emerges late, like Mitch McGary did a few years ago.
UConn (8-5, 1-1 in conference)
Coming off their second National Championship in 4 years, the Connecticut Huskies seemed to be on a roll. New coach Kevin Ollie seemed to be a prodigy, but this season has showed only one thing about last year: Shabazz Napier is one of College Basketball’s greatest.
He almost single handedly won his team the championship. Sure, Ryan Boatright can score and Amida Brimah can defend, but Napier got buckets. He made the big shots, and showed up every big game.
Boatright just isn’t the cold blooded killer, like Napier, or Kemba Walker 5 seasons ago. Also, this team’s closest thing to a signature win is vs. Florida, and they are a shell of what they could be. UConn is a sad mix of extreme expectations that rolled over from last season, and a team full of players who are used to sitting back and watching, when the game is on the line. You can’t blame Napier for getting the job done, but fans should take this team for who they are. That is, an average, or slightly above average team, who has a chance at making the tournament, but almost no chance at winning more than 1 game there. That sounds great for a Temple or Tulsa, but for fans used to constant championships, its a hard blow, but one they’ll have to take.