Checking The Panic Meter: Which Teams Should Really Worry About Their January Swoons?Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 24th, 2014
As Brian Otskey noted earlier this week, January losing streaks have caused a number of once-top teams to tumble down, and in some cases, out of the polls. The rigors of conference play have deflowered those gaudy late December records, prompting a number of far-sooner-than-expected reality checks. Past history will tell you that some of these January slumps will be reduced to mere blips on the radar by March (e.g., the defending champion Louisville Cardinals lost three in a row in the first month of 2013), while others are indeed the beginning of a fade into college hoops oblivion. Wondering about future prospects for fading powers? Here’s a look at where the panic meter should be (10=High Panic, 1=Nothing to worry about) for five of college basketball’s most downward-trending squads.
Georgetown: Panic Meter=10
With Jabril Trawick not expected back anytime soon (broken jaw), and Josh Smith out indefinitely due to academics (don’t forget that Greg Whittington’s “indefinite” academic suspension a year ago eventually caused him to miss the Hoyas’ final 19 contests), Georgetown is clearly undermanned right now. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been brilliant, and Markel Starks intermittently so, but finding offensive contributions from players who aren’t 6’2” guards has proven impossible since Smith‘s suspension began. With the 10-day forecast looking especially gloomy — top-15 teams Creighton, Villanova and Michigan State are up next for JT3’s club – Georgetown’s season could be very close to finished by the time Super Bowl Sunday arrives. Even if the Hoyas can get Smith and Trawick back by early February, a challenging closing stretch awaits: Six of Georgetown’s final seven opponents are currently ranked in KenPom’s top 75. It’s probably not the way Georgetown wanted to find March peace, but Hoyas’ fans may finally avoid their annual NCAA Tournament heartbreak.
Wisconsin: Panic Meter= 1
If you play basketball in the Big Ten, you are going to lose games. The league is simply too strong top-to-bottom to cruise the entire winter without resistance. Yes, Michigan and Michigan State – losses are coming for you as well (beginning for one of the two on Saturday). In any case, Wisconsin should be just fine. Aside from some struggles from three-point range (likely temporary), the uber-efficient Badgers’ offense has continued to roll, even through their current three-game losing streak. The defense could stand to improve marginally (55th nationally in defensive efficiency), but there is just too much offensive firepower in Madison for Bucky’s train to go too far off the tracks.
Oregon: Panic Meter=8
We’ll go good news first in Eugene. The Ducks have a stable of proven individual offensive talent – Joseph Young, Mike Moser, Damyean Dotson, Jonathan Loyd, Jason Calliste, etc. – that will continue to light up scoreboards in the Pac-12. Also, don’t forget that it wasn’t until late February and into March a year ago that the Ducks really hit their stride. But after five consecutive losses have now transformed a 13-0 start into something far less than perfect, the requisite reality check in Eugene is not so rosy. Three overtime wins were included in that spurt out of the gates, and none of the 13 victories came against surefire NCAA Tournament teams. The opening night victory over Georgetown was their marquee win (see above), but the best of the bunch now? Most likely an overtime victory over BYU (Ken Pom ranking of #47) in Eugene – a game they probably didn’t even deserve to win. Things were supposed to turn around last night at Washington, but yet another loss has put the Ducks that much further behind the eight-ball. Oregon would be well served to string together three wins (at Washington State, home vs. UCLA and USC) in advance of an early February swing through Arizona. Anything short of that, and that visit to the desert has the potential to be truly crippling.
North Carolina: Panic Meter=6
When the Selection Committee sits down in two months, it may face no resume more dumbfounding than that of North Carolina. The Heels currently rest at 11-7 overall (just 1-4 in the ACC), but own those three titanic early-season wins over Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky, none of which has lost too much shimmer in the past six weeks. Unlike many teams on this list, UNC actually plays some defense, and that alone should give the Heels a chance to bounce back. More good news comes in the form of UNC’s upcoming schedule – home games vs. Clemson, NC State and Maryland with a road trip to Georgia Tech – a slate that makes up in manageability what it may lack in guaranteed wins. A year ago Roy Williams’ team went from late-January bubble trouble to safely in during the next six weeks; expecting an equally prodigious push this time around may be optimistic, but that trio of pre-Christmas wins will make the task at hand significantly easier.
Iowa State: Panic Meter= 3
If you were one of the people that got talked into the Cyclones as a legitimate national title contender, your panic meter may be registering a bit higher than mine. I’m not sure Iowa State ever had that ceiling, but either way, this is a really good basketball team — current three-game skid aside. Fred Hoiberg has proven he can coach, and the Cyclones’ starting five is as tough and balanced as any you will find across the country. They play both ends well (35th nationally in offensive efficiency, 21st in defensive efficiency), but have one glaring deficiency in a stark lack of size. How Hilton Coliseum’s tenants rebound and defend against teams with a post presence will be crucial to any potential of a sustained NCAA Tournament run. But Hoiberg’s group can’t afford to look that far ahead, for the next four games all come against top-45 teams (vs. Kansas State, at Kansas, vs. Oklahoma, and at Oklahoma State). The calendar relents somewhat after the trip to Stillwater, but as long as a 2-7 Big 12 start is still a possibility (and it still is), the folks in Ames can’t help but be a little nervous.