- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Judging by the buzz, the Hype Machine assumed Selection Sunday was just days away, not four weeks from Sunday. The hype has reached stunning levels, and we still have an entire month to go.
One program wonders what it's going to do if its star's slump continues. Make a midseason trade, maybe?
A storied rivalry that draws diehard and casual fans alike just doesn't have the same prestige it's enjoyed in past years. Blame the preseason expectations. Or the teams' failure to meet them.
And finally, a national-player-of-the-year contender should put an ad in his local classifieds: "Need more scorers. Now."
The Past: Michigan can succeed even if Tim Hardaway Jr.'s slump continues.
DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE
Hardaway burst onto the Big Ten scene with a stellar freshman season (13.9 ppg, 37 percent from the beyond the arc). But he's been inconsistent this season, and the Wolverines have suffered as a result.
He's recorded single digits in three Big Ten games. The Wolverines were 1-2 in those outings. Hardaway is that important to this team's success.
Hardaway had a tangible vibe with Darius Morris last season. But freshman point guard Trey Burke is also a talented facilitator with critical speed that Morris didn't have.
Following his team's 64-54 loss at Michigan State on Sunday, Hardaway said that he and Burke hadn't developed the level of chemistry he'd hoped for entering the season.
Regardless of the change at that position, Hardaway isn't a freshman anymore. He's expected to offer consistent offensive production for the Wolverines, something he hasn't done during Big Ten play.
The Wolverines are an undersized crew that's not very deep. So Hardaway's impact on his team's success should not be underestimated. He's the catalyst for a Wolverines team with limited weaponry.
And if he can't find a rhythm, the Wolverines are going to lose to Big Ten teams that they should easily defeat (see a 75-59 loss at Iowa when Hardaway recorded nine points) in the future.
In a league with the Big Ten's depth, a stumble can turn into a collapse. Just ask Indiana. Or Illinois. Or even Wisconsin. It's hard to regain footing in this conference.
If the Wolverines don't get more from their best player, they're going to experience their own slide soon.
The Present: North Carolina-Duke is already somewhat disappointing.
BELIEVE THE HYPE
They weren't supposed to meet this way.
Before the season, the Tar Heels seemed to possess an edge over the rest of a talented field. More potential than Kentucky. More than Ohio State. More than the country's other contenders.
Harrison Barnes' decision to return for his sophomore season and join veterans John Henson and Tyler Zeller seemed to project a season of dominance. But earlier this season, the Tar Heels lacked the edginess that fueled past Tar Heels contenders. They didn't possess the killer instinct that produced NCAA champions for the program in 2005 and 2009.
North Carolina has won five in a row, so perhaps it has gradually attained or discovered it. But a stench from its Jan. 14 blowout loss at Florida State lingers.
There's still a gap between the juggernaut North Carolina was supposed to be and who it is now.
The Blue Devils lost crucial talent from last season's team when Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith departed the program. But Austin Rivers entered with as much fanfare as any prospect in the freshman class.
Duke has stumbled (two losses in its past five games), however, with an offense that's suffered from its lack of a true point guard, and according to its coach, a lack of leadership.
Tonight's UNC-Duke matchup (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) is still must-see TV. It's still the best rivalry in college basketball.
But I feel like some of the pregame luster has been removed from the matchup due to the teams' respective struggles and incomplete chemistry.
I grew up on this rivalry. I made $1 bets with classmates whenever these two squads played. Yes, the Duke-UNC rivalry was big even for kids in Milwaukee.
So I always anticipate the clash between the teams. This season, however, there's a certain spark that's missing from the pregame buildup because the squads involved are still figuring some things out.
The Future: Doug McDermott needs help.
BELIEVE THE HYPE
On Saturday, No. 15 Creighton hosts Wichita State, the first-place team in the Missouri Valley Conference after the Bluejays suffered their second consecutive loss Tuesday.
Creighton lost on a buzzer-beater Saturday at Northern Iowa and suffered a 65-57 loss at Evansville three days later.
There were similarities in both of those games. McDermott, who's third in the nation with 23.3 ppg, was quiet down the stretch. He went 1-for-4 in the last 5:25 of Tuesday's game. He recorded one field goal in the final 11 minutes of Saturday's loss at Northern Iowa. Foul trouble affected his playing time in the closing minutes of that matchup.
When the Bluejays suffered their first loss of the season, a 77-65 home defeat to Missouri State on Dec. 28, McDermott scored one point in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Do you see a pattern?
McDermott is a potent scorer. But he's been ineffective in crucial periods during some of the Bluejays' losses.
And the Bluejays just aren't the same team when their star is struggling.
But Creighton is not just McDermott. Gregory Echenique and Antoine Young are talented contributors, too. Young hit a game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the Northern Iowa loss. Echenique has recorded double digits in rebounding six times in his team's past 11 games.
McDermott, however, makes the system work. The Bluejays are 5-3 in MVC play when he scores 21 or less. But he also has 12 total games with 25 points or more.
If Creighton is going to make noise in March, it will need the best McDermott has to offer. He'll have to lead the way.
But he's surrounded by a deep roster that features some talented veterans who must help him carry the load.
McDermott went 7-for-16 against Evansville on Tuesday. But the rest of the starters went 9-for-23 from the field and two of them were a combined 1-for-10.
Creighton has lost some games because it hasn't been able to adjust when McDermott has gone cold or been unavailable because of foul trouble.
But if the Bluejays are as deep as coach Greg McDermott suggests, they'll prove it in the final weeks of the season by diversifying their offensive attack when necessary.
Doug McDermott alone can't provide the offensive spark that the Bluejays might need in the coming weeks. He may go cold. And the Bluejays will have to fill that void when necessary.
The Hoopla: This Kentucky team is the best that John Calipari has ever had (BELIEVE THE HYPE) Anthony Davis will win national POY, freshman of the year and defensive player of the year (BELIEVE THE HYPE) Mike Brey has surged to the top slot in the coach-of-the-year conversation (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE) Florida will look better when it plays Kentucky at home in a few weeks (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE) Saint Mary's will beat Gonzaga and essentially lock up the WCC title on Thursday (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE) The Mountain West can be a four-bid league (BELIEVE THE HYPE).
Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN.