What ails these preseason top-20 squads?

February, 3, 2011
Michigan State's 20-point loss to Iowa on Wednesday night brought even more attention to the six teams that were ranked in the preseason top 20 and have failed to live up to expectations.

So let's play selection committee for a day and find out what has to happen for these disappointing teams to at least salvage an NCAA tournament berth.

Michigan State
Preseason rank: No. 2
Overall record: 12-9
Big Ten record: 5-5

What's wrong: No leadership, poor defense and an overall lack of confidence exhibited in Wednesday's listless, blowout loss at Iowa.

Red flag: When Tom Izzo had to dump Korie Lucious for the remainder of the season, showing that the Spartans are still not where they need to be from a leadership standpoint.

Best moments: Beating Washington by five in Maui and leaving the Island with a 2-1 record. That was on Nov. 24. There hasn't been much since, although the Spartans have shown some mettle by going 3-0 in overtime games, along with a three-point win at Northwestern and one-point win over Oakland.

Worst moments: Losing at Iowa by 20 and to rival Michigan by four at home.

What is convincing: Three wins over top-30 RPI teams, a nonconference strength of schedule that rates No. 13.

Why there is hope: Games remaining at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota and home games against Penn State, Illinois and Purdue at least give the Spartans more opportunities to earn power-rating points and change the perception of the team.

If the selection were today: Michigan State would be in the NIT after losing four of its past five.

What's likely: The Spartans haven't proved that they can win on a consistent basis, meaning they're heading for a .500 finish at best in the league. Winning the Big Ten tournament looks like it might become a necessity.

Kansas State
Preseason rank: No. 3
Overall record: 14-8
Big 12 record: 3-5

What's wrong: Leadership is an issue here as well. Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended during the season. Wally Judge just left the team because of playing time.

Red flag: No wins in the top 50 as the Wildcats have failed to win a key game to start the Big 12.

Best moments: Wins against Virginia Tech at home, Gonzaga in Kansas City and at Washington State.

Worst moments: Losing by 90-66 at rival Kansas, moving the Wildcats to 0-4 in Big 12 road games. Losing at home to Colorado isn't exactly what the preseason No. 3 should do either.

What is convincing: Kansas State has six wins, including a road win at Wazzu (something Washington couldn't do), against teams ranked 51-100 in the RPI.

Why there is hope: K-State still has games against Kansas and Missouri at home and Texas on the road. Win two of those three and the perception changes.

If the selection were today: The Wildcats wouldn't make the field and would be selected for the NIT. But Pullen wouldn't play since he said he doesn't do the NIT.

What's likely: Kansas State is just OK in its next eight games and ends up on the outside of the bubble, headed toward the NIT.

Preseason rank: No. 12
Overall record: 13-8
WCC record: 4-3

What's wrong: Injuries have played a role in the lack of consistency on this team. And overall inexperience has contributed to poor play on the road.

Red flag: When the Zags were no longer unbeatable at home, losing to Saint Mary's at the Kennel.

Best moments: Beating Marquette in the consolation round of the CBE Classic in Kansas City and then a stretch of beating Baylor in Dallas and Xavier and Oklahoma State at home.

Worst moments: Losing at Santa Clara and at San Francisco to drop three games behind the Gaels in the WCC.

What is convincing: Five wins in the top 100 and a nonconference strength of schedule of 33.

Why there is hope: The Zags have the capability of going on a run, winning the final nine games, which would include victories over Memphis and at Saint Mary's. But …

If the selection were today: Gonzaga would be on the bubble and in competition for a first-four game because of some good wins. Tough call.

What's likely: The Zags still have the experience of being the top team in the WCC. Winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas is still very much in play and would be a surprise to exactly no one.

Preseason rank: No. 14
Overall record: 14-7 Big 12 record: 4-4

What's wrong: Scoring has been an issue, especially getting over 70 points a game, and overall experience is still a problem.

Red flag: When Baylor had a rocked Waco ready for Kansas on a Monday night and the Bears were drilled, losing by 20 points in a game where KU could've named its margin.

Best moment: Beating Oklahoma State five days after the humbling loss to Kansas.

Worst moments: Going just 1-2 in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu after the Bears desperately needed to make their mark, following the loss to Gonzaga in Dallas.

What is convincing: Not much. The only top-100 wins are over Oklahoma State and Colorado at home.

Why there is hope: The Bears do have two shots to beat Texas and road games at Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma State to at least give them opportunities.

If the selection were today: Baylor wouldn't make the field and would be an NIT team.

What's likely: The Bears are unlikely to win those road games, meaning they're going to need to go 4-0 at home (Nebraska, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Texas) just to give themselves a shot on Selection Sunday.

Preseason rank: 18
Overall record: 13-8
Horizon record: 6-4

What's wrong: Lack of quality depth, the loss of another key scorer (Gordon Hayward) and some un-Butler-like defensive lapses.

Red flag: When Butler got swept by Milwaukee, especially losing to the Panthers at home by six.

Best moments: Winning the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu with a 16-point win over Washington State. The tournament also gave Butler a win over Florida State. Crushing Stanford by 33 also looked pretty good at the time.

Worst moments: Getting crushed to open the season at Louisville, the sweep by Milwaukee (lost on the road by 24) and losing at home by three to Evansville.

What is convincing: The nonconference strength of schedule is ninth nationally and the overall RPI is 46. The Diamond Head Classic title was impressive.

Why there is hope: Butler still has the most talent of any Horizon team and regular-season and conference tournament titles are not out of the question.

If the selection were today: Butler would be on the bubble and a candidate for a first-four slot.

What's likely: An experienced Butler team wins the Horizon League tournament.

(Editor's note: A couple of hours after this article posted, Butler lost at Youngstown State, which was 1-10 in the Horizon League and had beaten exactly one D-I team since Nov. 28. If it wasn't the case already, it certainly now appears the Bulldogs will have to win their conference tournament in order to return to the Big Dance.)

Preseason rank: 19
Overall record: 16-6
C-USA record: 5-3

What's wrong: Lack of experience continues to show at critical times late in games.

Red flag: When Josh Pastner had to discipline Jelan Kendrick (eventually transferred) and Wesley Witherspoon. Angel Garcia splitting for Spain didn't help, either.

Best moments: A four-game win streak that included runaway home wins over Marshall and UCF and thrilling comeback wins at Southern Miss and at UAB.

Worst moments: Losing at SMU for the second straight season, getting drilled by 20 at Tennessee or by 15 at Marshall. Losing to Tulsa at home was also inexcusable.

What is convincing: Road wins at Southern Miss and UAB if you're looking for something.

Why there is hope: What if the Tigers were to run the table and get a road win at Gonzaga? That would mean wins at UTEP and over Southern Miss.

If the selection were today: The talent is there, but there's not just enough at this juncture to consider this an at-large selection.

What's likely: Memphis still has the most talent in C-USA and a conference tournament title -- even in El Paso -- is a strong possibility. But anything other than that and it might be a second straight NIT appearance.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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