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CRUNCH TIME IS NOW FOR SEVERAL TEAMS
February 3, 2009

SCS.comIn the college basketball world, the month March may get all of the attention. But for more than a handful of teams who had lofty expectations in the preseason, without a big February, March could be nothing more than a fantasy. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that without being in the tournament, you can’t win the tournament. And sitting several games under .500 in the conference, while hovering only a few games over that mark overall is not a good place for postseason posturing. Here are some teams that have underachieved in the not so early part of the season:

Georgetown

Perhaps no team in the country has underachieved like the Hoya’s. Yes, they have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but that does not change the fact that they needed to win more of these games than they did. Unfortunately they play in the Big East, so their upcoming slate contains battles with potential tournament teams such as Cincinnati, Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova, and a match up at South Florida, which is not an easy place to play. Currently riding a five game losing streak, Georgetown is having trouble putting the ball in the basket. When they reach the 70 point mark, the Hoya’s are 10-2, a mark they found only once over their past five contests. Considering their schedule, getting to .500 in the Big East could be enough, it will be tough for Thompson’s squad to finish much better.

Notre Dame

Georgetown’s fellow Big East mate Notre Dame also is going through a rough patch via their own five game losing streak. Notre Dame could have even more problems than the Hoya’s though. The Irish has not played a very tough schedule and has a RPI hovering in the high 70’s. To make matters worse, they have road trips to Cincinnati, UCLA, West Virginia, Providence, and Connecticut while hosting Villanova and Louisville. Despite the fact they have four double digit scorers, they seem to come up small down the stretch and have trouble getting the ball to Luke Harangody in good spots at the end of games. If the Irish are going to make a run in February, players like Tory Jackson need to make more big plays when it matters. The player to keep an eye on though is Kyle McAlarney who can get as hot as any player in the country.

Wisconsin

Last week I commented that Wisconsin more than likely will make a run down the stretch and climb their way into the tournament thanks to Bo Ryan’s coaching ability. Upon further review, Ryan is still a very good coach but their six game losing streak could turn into eight real quick with games against Illinois and a hot Penn State team. During the stretch, the Badgers are having a tough time finding help for Marcus Landry. The team’s second leading scorer Trevon Hughes has shot a touch over 33% during the recent troubles, a big reason they have not been able to find victory. Ryan better find a way to get his team to go 7-2 down the stretch or his Badgers will need to pull off some magic in the Big Ten Tournament if they want to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama-Birmingham

Maybe it is just the high expectations that I have placed upon this team the past two seasons, but underachieving seems to be this group’s destiny. When Mike Davis took over he brought a lot of talent with him, but they have been nothing more than average when it comes to wins and losses. They have managed to give some good teams like Butler, Arizona, Oklahoma, Boston College, and Cincinnati tough battles, but they could only pull out one significant victory away from Conference USA, an Arizona team that is sub .500 in the Pac 10. Robert Vaden will get his points and typically lead the team in scoring, but he has far too many 3-14 and 5-15 nights that end up hurting UAB in close games where each possession matters. As athletic as they are, they almost seem to run themselves out of the gym at times, playing wildly out of control more than not and relying too heavily on talent alone. Winning out is almost essential for the Blazers to have any hope to reach the right side of the bubble.

Arizona

After a successful pair of games with the Pac 10’s Washington contingent, Arizona may not belong on this list. However, a team with Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise should not be a team that seems destined for the bubble. With the upcoming stretch against Oregon and Oregon State, Arizona should move north of .500 in the conference and then they can begin to eye the 20 win plateau. A problem for the ‘Cats could be their schedule. Over the past few years, Arizona loaded up the non-conference slate with some real heavyweights. This season however, they did not play that top ten schedule from years passed, although they did garner nice wins over Gonzaga and Kansas. Should Arizona make something of this season, their overtime victory over Houston last week to snap a four game skid could be the moment that turned their season around. If they do manage their way into meaningful postseason play, there will be an unhappy opponent taking the court with the Wildcats that first Thursday or Friday of March Madness.

Arkansas

Last season, Arkansas made great strides in the second half of the season to return back to the national prominence of the Nolan Richardson days. They then started the current season going 12-1 in non-conference play, including wins over Oklahoma and Texas, the class of the Big Twelve. Things were looking bright for the Hogs entering conference play in the SEC, which has not been overly impressive this season. Then along came the 1-5 conference start and the look of a season falling a part. More than likely Arkansas needs to finish off the season on a 9-1 or 8-2 clip to be in the mix for a postseason berth. One of the main reasons for the recent struggles can be attributed to the play of guard Stefan Welsh, who has struggled mightily from long range. Welsh has averaged only 7.6 points per game in conference play, coincidentally this is when Arkansas began to struggle. If Arkansas is going to start to play up to its talent, getting Welsh on the right track might be a good start.

Indiana

It was not expected to be a typical year in Bloomington. Odds are the Hoosiers probably were not going to even make the NCAA Tournament. But no one expected Tom Crean’s first season to be a disaster. Sitting at 5-15 with no wins in the Big Ten and in the midst of an eleven game losing streak, the bright side is that there is no where to go but up for Indiana basketball. This season they lack depth on the frontline and teams have treated their frontcourt like the Big Ten doormat they are this season. Tom Pritchard can only do so much by himself upfront. Next year, Indiana will more than likely return its top six scorers, five of which are freshmen. The future is bright for the Hoosiers, just not the near future. But needless to say this is not the future; therefore Indiana is certainly in the midst of a disappointing season.

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