College Basketball Analyst & Writer
College Basketball broadcaster and reporter
It’s been a rollercoaster season for many of college basketball’s traditional blue-blood programs.
Defending champion Kansas is in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Kentucky struggled for much of the season before getting going recently. North Carolina, which advanced all the way to the national championship game last season, is not even in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. Nor is Duke, the rival of the Tar Heels, who suffered a string of injuries under first-year head coach Jon Scheyer.
What should fans think of this?
Andy Katz and John Fanta are here to help, break it down and see the future prospects of various traditional powers.
Defending champion Kansas has taken a bump lately, losing three in a row heading into Saturday’s game in Kentucky. What do you think of the Jayhawks’ chances of getting started?
Andy Katz: Let’s put Kansas’ three-game losing streak into context. The first loss was by one in overtime at Kansas State’s rocking Bramlage Coliseum. Jalen Wilson had 38 in that loss. The 23-point margin of defeat against TCU at home was surprising. Losing at Baylor was out of the question. Dropping three in a row in the Big 12 – the deepest and strongest league in the country – is no cause for alarm. The only thing lost for Kansas right now is a No. 1 seed and maybe a spot in the Kansas City area. I don’t sweat this mini slide.
John Fanta: I will never bet against a coach as good as Bill Self, and the Jayhawks will win again after this dry spell. Part of this is living in the top conference in college basketball, the Big 12.
That said, there is cause for concern about Kansas in the grand scheme of things to come in March. Why? The lack of firepower in the frontcourt is starting to catch up with the Jayhawks as KJ Adams played no part in the losses to Baylor and TCU. Dajuan Harris can be such a good point guard when it comes to splitting, he’s managed just five points combined in his last four games. Wilson is one of the best players in the country and the importance of freshman Gradey Dick to this team cannot be overemphasized. That’s a lot for a young player too, and off games can happen – like with Dick vs. TCU (3-for-13 FG). Self has proven time and time again that he can flip a switch, but from a personnel standpoint, this team doesn’t exactly have a great sixth man, and they’re under par. I’m not sure Kansas is going on a deep march this time.
Problems at the top of the AP Top 25
Mark Titus and Tate Frazier respond to the country’s top two teams – Houston and Kansas – who were upset this weekend.
Can North Carolina flip the switch like the Tar Heels did last season?
Fantasy: The Tar Heels have won nine of their last 11 games and experience wins in March, so the answer from me is an emphatic YES. That comes with a big “if” though — Caleb Love and RJ Davis have to be in a rhythm, and the Tar Heels can’t budge on All-American talent in Armando Bacot.
Do I really think UNC will make another run to the Final Four? I don’t see it because while Pete Nance has been an addition, he hasn’t given Carolina anything like what Brady Manek delivered a year ago. Right now this team would be seeded about six or seven, so it’s in better shape than this time last year. That being said, timing is everything in the NCAA Tournament and UNC was lucky enough to see a Baylor team battling injuries in the second round last season. I like the way North Carolina is playing, but I don’t think lightning strikes twice.
cat: Yes. The Tar Heels have already done that. They get well and look for Bacot to lead them again. The guard game is as good as any team in the country. They tend to have defensive flaws that need to be honed. Carolina will be placed for his record and not his talent. And that will spell trouble for opposing teams and higher seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
What should qualify as a successful season for Duke in Jon Scheyer’s first season?
cat: The Blue Devils are judged in March, not the regular season. This isn’t an excuse, but I’m not sure how many practices and games the Blue Devils have had at full capacity. Dariq Whitehead was injured Monday night at Virginia Tech. So again, they couldn’t finish a match with their expected roster. Not having Jeremy Roach for three games also hurt quite a bit. Duke has the talent to make it to the second weekend. The problem is that the Devils will not play an easy game. The seed means they will play a high level game in the first round.
Fantasy: If the Blue Devils find a way into the Sweet 16 at this point, that would be a successful season. If you rely on freshmen as much as Scheyer relies on them, you’ll take some beating in conference play. Monday’s loss at Virginia Tech, which was previously 1-7 in ACC play, put the Blue Devils 1-4 in road games this season. Roach’s toe injury has affected this team and Whitehead went down on Monday night with an injury that could be cause for concern.
The bright spot? Kyle Filipowski has been stellar, with at least 28 points in two of his last four games and six consecutive double-digit performances. Mark Mitchell has also been solid while Ryan Young has been a quality transfer. That said, the guards’ play is inconsistent and there’s a lot of pressure on Roach to perform on the big stage. I still think this Duke team can make something click because the defense is solid, but the lack of perimeter firepower and Whitehead’s injury are major concerns.
What is the biggest reason for Kentucky’s struggles this season?
Fantasy: I will turn this around and be contrary. What led Kentucky to three straight wins? It actually started when starting point guard and SEC assists leader Sahvir Wheeler went down with a shoulder injury. John Calipari was forced to change things up and found a longer, harder lineup to guard with Cason Wallace, CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves alongside Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe. After having only 28 combined possessions as a group in the first 16 games of the season, those five have combined 72 possessions in the last three games. Kentucky has outscored their last three opponents – Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M – by a combined 72 points. The Wildcats are back on the right side of the bubble, and with Tshiebwe attacking rebound efforts, this team could start running in March if perimeter shots fall more consistently. We can assure one thing: no coach in the NCAA tournament will go into his first round game with more pressure than Calipari.
cat: The pieces worked‘It seems they fit early in the season, and that’s a result of there being so many newcomers. Not having a healthy Tshiebwe to start the season, they got off to a rocky start. But Kentucky seems to have figured it out, and the South Carolina loss may have been the low point. Winning in Tennessee has revived this squad. They won’t overtake Alabama or Tennessee or probably even Auburn, but a fourth-place finish in the SEC is not out of the question.
Kentucky upsets Tennessee
Kentucky started the day with zero Quad-1 wins, went to Knoxville and upset No. 5 Tennessee, 63-56.
What do you think of this UCLA team? Are the Bruins capable of adding a 12th championship?
cat: Yes. The Bruins’ defense has been phenomenal this season. Jaylen Clark can defend with anyone and Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. can go to the ring at will. The loss in Arizona – a 1950s game – was a defensive battle against a desperate Wildcat team – so UCLA had controlled the pace against the high-octane Wildcats. UCLA enters the tournament as one of the favorites to win in Houston.
Fantasy: Yes. Yes. Yes. After Alabama, UCLA would be my pick to win it all if the NCAA Tournament started today. I love the makeup of the Bruins and Mick Cronin has brought the cold toughness of his best Cincinnati teams into the Westwood sun. UCLA has an elite point guard in Campbell to run the ship and an All-American caliber player who has so many winning tendencies in Jaquez. But aside from that duo, we’ve seen Clark and David Singleton double their scoring production this season. If five-star freshman Adem Bona can keep a low profile, this team can cut down the nets in Houston.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst, and broadcaster. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network as well as March Madness and NCAA. com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and in newspapers for nine years prior to that.
John Fanta is a national basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as the lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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