Coming into the season, there were probably 3 games that were seen as "challenging" for the young Cats squad: North Carolina, UCONN, and Louisville. Over the last couple weeks though, all 4 teams have really struggled to stand up as quality opponents. Let's take a look at each team's problems:
NORTH CAROLINA (12-6, 1-2 ACC)
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED:
After starting the season 7-1, the Tar Heels came into Lexington, got beat and have gone 5-4 since. Included in that are losses to College of Charleston and a home loss to Georgia Tech. What is abundantly clear is that the replacements of guys like Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Wayne Ellington, are talented but lack the leadership and toughness those guys contained. Larry Drew is a significant step down from Lawson, but that was expected. What has been a surprise has been the underachievement of the Tar Heel big men. Ed Davis and Deon Thompson have been sporadic at best. Tyler Zeller got hurt again, limiting the depth in the front court. But the big problem for UNC is a complete lack of production from the guard spots. Drew is averaging over 3 turnovers a game and Dexter Strickland is not yet ready to lead the team. It is clear this team is just not at the elite level of the past several Heels team.
UNC still has Duke (twice), at Maryland, and at Georgia Tech on the schedule. This is just the type of team that doesn't handle road situations well. So, while I don't see this team missing the NCAA tournament due to quality wins over Ohio St. and Michigan St., the win over UNC just doesn't hold the same weight for the Cats as the past. If you have any hope for greater success for the Tar Heels, it all starts with Larry Drew. Watch Drew's assist/turnover ratio and that will have a direct effect on wins/losses for the Heels.
UCONN (11-6, 2-3 BIG EAST)
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED:
As it turns out, this UCONN team is explained very easy, and that is they can't beat any good teams. Who are the best 6 teams the Huskies have played? Duke, Kentucky, Georgetown, Pitt, Cincinnati, and Michigan. What is the Huskies record in those games? 0-6. Their best win is against Notre Dame, a team most people don't think will end up in the tournament. And it's pretty baffling actually because UCONN has two stars in Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson. Dyson played better against John Wall and UK than just about anybody has this season. And Robinson is an athletic freak. But, his performances have been inconsistent, and the Huskies have shown to have just raw talent in the post and not a ton of depth on the wings. They also seem to not be the best defensive team in the world, sans the shot block. They have the talent to challenge for the Big East title, but it seems they are missing leadership and concentration in close games. They play to the level of their opponents, and against good teams, they have yet to elevate their play, whether at home or the road.
As long as they stay healthy, especially Dyson, this team will be an outside threat at a tourney run. They have enough talent to make a Final Four, but they need more consistent play from the post, and at the end of games, need Robinson to step up like the star he could be. The schedule is obviously grueling in the Big East, but it also gives the Huskies alot of chances for a big win. Not to mention they get sorta kinda #1 Texas this weekend at home. Win that game, and maybe things get back on track for UCONN. If not, the Huskies are looking a mediocre seed for the NCAA Tournament in the face.
LOUISVILLE (12-6, 3-2 BIG EAST)
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED:
Well, Edgar Sosa playing the point happened for the Cards. You would think if you had an all-senior starting backcourt and an McDonald's All-American at center, things would be pretty good for UL. Instead, they have ZERO leadership and Samuels has only started playing well the last 2 games. Their 3 conference wins are against South Florida, St. Johns, and Providence. Their two losses are against Villanova and Pitt. That should tell you something right there. And lately, the Cards have been horrendous in late game situations and free throw shooting. Again, something that a senior backcourt should not have. But, the Cards weaknesses have been glaring all season, most notably a weak bench, and a streaky shooting team. The Cards best win this season: maybe Western Kentucky, maybe Providence. They have lost every significant this year, and the talk around town is about another NIT berth. To me, this team has NCAA Tourney talent, not to make a Sweet 16 run, but at least enough to make the tournament. They are playing like a CBC Tournament team.
Much like UCONN, they will have plently of opportunities to get a big win or two the rest of this season and lock up a tournament bid. But unlike the Huskies, they don't have the overall talent to luck into any wins or win on talent alone. They have to execute MUCH better in the next 2 months, and once again, find some type of leadership for Sosa and Jerry Smith. If Samuels continues to play at level of the past week, and the guards get a consistent effort going, this can be a decent team, or at least one UK fans can be proud of beating at the end of the year.
Now, this examination is in no way to say that UK's undefeated record is tainted or they haven't earned each and every win. But as a fan, are you less impressed with the wins themselves
against UNC, UCONN, and UL than you were after they happened? I gotta say, if things don't improve for these 3 teams, I will be.