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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
2009-10's five biggest disappointments

By Eamonn Brennan

So, we've got our five biggest surprises, the teams who came from nowhere to improve their position dramatically before conference season began. (See directly below or click here.) Now for a more dubious honor: the disappointing teams of the season. This is a list you do not want your team to be on, even if you remain confident about its chances in conference play. Why? Four out of every five selection committee members frown on inclusion in this list.* Duh.

*Note: Not at all true.

Anyway, to the bummers of the year (so far):

Michigan: Oh, Michigan. What happened? Actually, that question's not too hard to answer: The Wolverines can't shoot. That sounds simple, but it's true. The Wolverines have an effective field goal percentage (note: effective field goal percentage weighs the effectiveness of three point shooting more heavily into overall shooting percentage; see here) of 48.6 percent, good for 199th in the nation. John Beilein's offense, if you'll remember, typically thrives on three-point shooting. The good news for the Wolverines is that shooting can turn around in a heartbeat. Teams can get hot quickly. The bad news is that even if this happens, a 6-5 nonconference record with losses to Marquette, Alabama, Boston College, and Utah -- not a single good team among them -- might doom the Wolverines to an NIT before they have a chance to salvage this season. Michigan was probably a little overrated this offseason, but it was never supposed to be this bad.

Butler: Speaking of overrated. Butler entered the 2009-10 season ranked no lower than No. 12 in any poll; many pundits talked about their difficult nonconference schedule as a way of earning respect before breezing through the Horizon League and notching a top seed. This was Butler's year. This was the year another mid-major made it to the Final Four. Uh, not so fast: Including last night's loss at UAB, Butler has fallen to Minnesota, Clemson and Georgetown, the three teams they were supposed to beat to "prove themselves" worthy of a top seed come March. The straits are by no means dire; Butler is likely still a tourney team, given their conference schedule. But anyone who held the Bulldogs up as 2009-10's mid-major savior will be disappointed with the campaign thus far.

Oklahoma: Losing Blake Griffin hurts. We get it. But the Sooners still have one of the best players in the country in Willie Warren, or at least that was the party line to justify Oklahoma's top-20 preseason ranking. Justify this: The Sooners have lost to VCU, San Diego, Houston, and Texas El-Paso, and their only quality win came over a rebuilding Arizona team in Norman. Meanwhile, coach Jeff Capel is openly expressing frustration with Warren, saying he's "tired of trying to figure him out." This doesn't sound particularly encouraging, does it?

UCLA: No one expected all that much out of UCLA before the season began, but the scope of the failure in Westwood this season merits their inclusion almost by default. A loss to Cal-State Fullerton? A 74-47 beat down at the hands of Portland? An 11-point loss to Long Beach State? UCLA is 4-7, and with the above three losses, all of which came in November, their season was over almost before it began. Ben Howland? 4-7? I just wrote an entire paragraph about it, and I'm still rubbing my eyes.

California: And, finally, since it is almost Christmas, we end on a redemptive story. The Cal Bears are not that bad. Are they worse than when they started the season, poll- and otherwise? Most certainly. But all four of the Bears' losses now look good, even that loss to New Mexico, and especially last night's valiant performance against the juggarnaut Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse. At 6-4, and with high hopes for Mike Montgomery's chances at a tournament run surrounding his team in the preseason, Cal looks like a failure on its face. But it's not. The Bears can salvage this thing with an impressive run through a weak Pac-10. But winning one of those four losses sure would have been preferable; the Bears have no marquee wins, and aren't likely to find many once conference play begins.