Four college hoops programs on the wane

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Few things in college hoops are more painful than the slow decline into mediocrity. Even worse is being unable to bust out of it.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

If Connecticut and Oklahoma aren’t careful, they’ll join George Washington and Southern Illinois in that territory. Call ’em the four programs on the wane.

First, the two stragglers.

George Washington won 77 games and reached three straight NCAA tournaments over a three-year span. Karl Hobbs’ team has been unable to recapture that form, finishing in the bottom half of the A-10 each of the last three years, mostly because of a middling defense and improved conference competition. (GW’s best years came when the league trailed the MAC, WAC and West Coast in overall strength. That’s not the case today.)

It’s not getting better anytime soon. Hobbs’ 2010-11 roster returns four starters from a 16-15 squad, but nothing to match the A-10’s top teams in terms of talent. If Dayton and Rhode Island can’t break into the Top 4, GW isn’t doing so anytime soon.

Southern Illinois has gone through a similar decline. The Salukis won at least 22 games between 2004 and 2007, capping the four-year run with a 29-7 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. Three seasons later, they finished ninth in the Missouri Valley.

Again, blame the defense. Chris Lowery’s defenses once were among the nation’s stingiest. Even an 18-15 record in 2007-08 belied the ‘D’ that forced turnovers and kept opponents off the boards. They’re now merely average. The overall record could improve because of three juco transfers, but until Lowry recruits better, the Salukis will keep dragging the bottom half of the MVC.

Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel made his name through his high-profile recruits like Blake Griffin, Willie Warren and Keith Gallon. Unfortunately for Capel, Griffin was the only game-changer of the bunch and when he left, the Sooners stunk it up. Warren, Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin all went pro.

Now Capel’s left with decent, not great talent. And that’s an issue when you’re a good recruiter and a so-so coach. The Sooners’ defense plummeted last season, as Oklahoma failed to challenge shots, force turnovers or block shots. Most of that lies with Capel’s failure to either motivate his guys or teach them.

Part of the problem is that Capel, 35, is still learning how to coach. His team’s performance last season was a reflection of his abilities. But there aren’t any fabulous talents headed to Norman soon. That means Capel either becomes a much better coach quickly, or the Sooners are going to be stuck in the bottom of what’s about to be a much tougher Big 12.

Then there’s UConn.

UConn’s coming off an 18-16 season and is unlikely to improve on that after losing three starters and a key talent (Ater Majok). It’s not the Huskies are going to start dragging the bottom of the Big East. It’s that they don’t have any room for error.

Consider these factors:

  • Jim Calhoun’s age
  • NCAA sanctions
  • The brutal Big East

Calhoun’s 68 and has had a bevy of health problems through the years. It’s a testament to his reputation and the Huskies’ program that four-star recruits still head to Storrs. How long it continues with his age and the NCAA penalties (more looming?) remains to be seen.

The Big East is no place for teams trying to tread water, either. Other programs – St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence – have been stuck in the league’s bottom half for years, while consistent teams like Marquette and Notre Dame can’t seem to break through.

If the Huskies aren’t winning, they’re losing ground. Such is life in the Big East.


Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Alabama upsets No. 15 Texas A&M as Aggies continue recent freefall

Alabama guard Retin Obasohan (32) scores against Texas A&M during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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Alabama played inspired ball on both ends of the floor and held on to upset No. 15 Texas A&M 63-62 in an SEC thriller on Wednesday night. Trailing by one point with less than three seconds left, Texas A&M had a chance to tie or take the lead with senior Anthony Collins at the line for two free throws. But Collins, one of the nation’s best free-throw shooters at 92 percent on the season, missed both free throws in a heartbreaking loss for the Aggies.

The Crimson Tide controlled the glass most of the game by outrebounding the Aggies 36-29 and also forced 13 Texas A&M turnovers. The loss for Texas A&M means they’ve lost four of their last five games and four straight games in the SEC.

Retin Obasahon led Alabama (14-9, 5-6) with 16 points as he made a lot of big plays in the second half to put the team on his back. The win means the Crimson Tide have won three consecutive games and defeated four ranked opponents during the season. Riley Norris added 11 points for the Crimson Tide while Shannon Hale was also in double-figures with 10 points.

Although Texas A&M (18-6, 7-4) did better with their recent shaky 3-point defense, holding Alabama to 8-for-25 (32 percent) from distance, they were outhustled on the glass for much of the game and couldn’t overcome a slow start. Senior Jalen Jones finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Danuel House had 12 points and Collins finished with 11.

This loss is absolutely killer for Texas A&M, as they continue to slide down the SEC standings. The recent road woes for the Aggies also continued as they’ve lost three straight away from home. The schedule doesn’t get much easier for the Aggies the next few games, either, as they travel to LSU and then host Ole Miss and Kentucky. Texas A&M is in a potential freefall right now and they went from a major contender in the SEC to a team that just needs to get back on track.

As for Alabama, this is another solid win for head coach Avery Johnson in his first season. It’s hard to say if Johnson got some scouting advice from his son Avery Johnson Jr., a redshirt guard for the Crimson Tide who played for the Aggies last season, but they’ll certainly take this tight win. Alabama is now 5-1 in one-possession games this season and there’s something to be said for that mark.

BUBBLE BANTER: Key Atlantic 10, Big East bubble games

Kelan Martin, Kyle Alexander
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This is the win that Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 48, RPI: 30) needed.

Entering Wednesday night, the Hawks were a paper tiger, a team with terrific computers numbers despite the fact that they hadn’t actually accomplished much of anything this season.

Well, that’s not exactly true. They are now 20-4 on the season and 10-2 in the Atlantic 10. They haven’t lost to anyone ranked outside the RPI top 50, and while that seems like it should be a simple thing to do, upsets happen all the time in college basketball. Not losing to anyone that stinks is one of the marks of a good team.

The problem, however, is that prior to their trip to Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, the best win that St. Joe’s had on the season … Princeton? At Temple? They were without an RPI top 50 win and, if you factor in Buffalo, the Hawks and three top 100 wins on their résumé.

That’s not exactly the stuff of at-large bids.

And then Wednesday happened, and the Hawks went into the Smith Center and hammered a good George Washington team by 18 points, the same GW team that went into Richmond on Saturday and handed VCU their first loss of the conference season.

It looks like nothing more than a top 50 road win on their profile, but for at least one person that was in attendance (Hi!), it was something of a statement win. I had my doubts about the group, and while the eye-test is totally subjective and probably the worst way to gauge whether or not a team is a tournament team, they certainly passed my eye-test today.

WINNERS

  • Butler (KenPom: 41, RPI; 67): The Bulldogs landed a critical win on Wednesday night, as they went into Newark and knocked off a Seton Hall team that is probably better than you realize. That’s an RPI top 50 win on the road that’s getting added to a résumé that, entering the night, had just a single top 50 win. Period. The Bulldogs still have plenty of work to do, but with their only two bad losses coming on the road against league competition and five wins against the top 100 with four coming away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, Chris Holtmann’s club has positioned themselves nicely to not only get a bid but get a solid seed as well.

LOSERS

  • Seton Hall (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37): Losing to Butler certainly doesn’t help Seton Hall’s cause, but this isn’t a bad loss. The Pirates are still without a sub-100 loss, although this does drop them to 6-7 against the RPI top 100 with a pair top 50 wins. They’re still in the tournament as of today, and probably with some room to spare.
  • George Washington (KenPom: 71, RPI: 34): There are two positives to take out of GW’s loss to Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night: 1) The Hawks may end up being an RPI top 25 team once the numbers are crunched overnight, so this is anything but a bad loss, and 2) This 18-point drubbing will look exactly the same as a one-point loss at the buzzer in the eyes of the selection committee.

LSU (KenPom: 53, RPI: 76) at South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (KenPom: 51, RPI: 62), 7:00 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt (KenPom: 35, RPI: 58), 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at Texas Tech (KenPom: 59, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
Michigan (KenPom: 46, RPI: 56) at Minnesota, 9:00 p.m.
Washington (KenPom: 80, RPI: 57) at Utah (KenPom: 44, RPI: 16), 9:00 p.m.
San Diego State (KenPom: 65, RPI: 47) at Fresno State, 11:00 p.m.