The Blue Bloods Of Mens College Basketball Are Rarely This Bad …

Duke basketball

The Blue Bloods Of Mens College Basketball Are Rarely This Bad …

Its been tough sledding this season for Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils. Mark Brown / Getty Images. Feb. 18, 2021 , at …

The Blue Bloods Of Men’s College Basketball Are Rarely This Bad. (We’re Looking At You, Duke And Kentucky.) | FiveThirtyEight




The Blue Bloods Of Men’s College Basketball Are Rarely This Bad. (We’re Looking At You, Duke And Kentucky.)

It’s been tough sledding this season for Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils.

Mark Brown / Getty Images

The biannual regular-season showdown between Duke and North Carolina is typically appointment television for men’s college basketball fans. Not so much this year, with the bitter rivals meeting unranked for the first time . The Feb. 6 matchup posted the lowest TV rating and audience for the series in .

Unexpected power outages for college basketball royalty are neither exclusive to Tobacco Road nor to this season. But 2020-21 is shaping up to be a bizarre banner year for blue bloods.

“We’re not accustomed to losing, but we are,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski — and that was before his team lost freshman star Jalen Johnson, who announced Monday that he was to focus on the NBA draft.

Krzyzewski unintentionally described the experience of many of the sport’s eminent powers. Staples of the Top 25 like and rank near the bottom of their respective conference standings, with the former experiencing its lowest season win percentage . Duke and Michigan State will likely need to win conference championships to earn NCAA Tournament bids; it’s been almost 40 years since both failed to qualify. Indiana, to win at least five national championships, is of missing its fourth consecutive tournament and has continued its seemingly annual tradition of . Even Kansas, a juggernaut with three No. 1 seeds in the past four tournaments, is looking at a , which would be its lowest .

Of the top 20 teams ranked in the AP preseason poll, four are to miss out on the NCAA Tournament. Last week’s AP poll featured precisely none of the 10 teams with the . If the season ended today, six of the top 10 teams with the as of the end of last season would watch the action from .

Sports have repeatedly proven that even the greats eventually fall, but this has been a uniquely strange season for college basketball institutions.

To measure how offbeat it has been, FiveThirtyEight looked at 40 years of (SRS) scores through games of Feb. 16 for each of the 10 winningest teams in men’s Division I college basketball entering the 2020-21 season: Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Temple, Syracuse, UCLA, Notre Dame, St. John’s and Indiana. The mean score this season for these 10 schools ranks as the third-lowest of any season since 1981-82, at just 12 points better than an average team.

The dropoff is even more pronounced when looking at just the top four schools, which happen to all be college basketball’s usual household names: Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Duke. Each is a blue blood in both the figurative and the chromatic. But each also fell out of the AP Top 25 for the first time , and they have combined to win 53.9 percent of their games this season, the lowest collective percentage since the 1915-16 season. The mean of those four teams’ SRS ratings is only 13.2 points better than the average Division I team this season. That stands to be the lowest average score for the four programs since 1982-83.

A variety of variables could be responsible for the blue bloods’ struggles, chief among them that the pandemic created an unprecedented number of scheduling obstacles. The start of the college basketball season was because of COVID-19, which also cut down on the amount of time teams could train together. Of course, that makes a difference for blue-chip-laden rosters, which are populated by players adapting simultaneously to the level of competition and to campus.

“You cannot play basketball when you don’t practice — I mean, that’s a fundamental thing that everybody knows,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim after his team’s 1-point, season-opening win over Bryant, a member of the Northeast Conference.

Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina brought in the of 2020 according to Each team ranks worse than 320th in . Kansas isn’t that experienced either, with the average player on Bill Self’s roster having of experience when this season tipped.

But continuity alone doesn’t guarantee a team’s success: Just look at Michigan State. The Spartans did lose longtime starter Cassius Winston and leading rebounder Xavier Tillman from , but they also returned six players who started at least five games last season. Michigan State in minute continuity, higher than that of its 2019 Final Four team, but is on track to finish the season with its worst ever finish in .

College basketball fans love to set their calendars to chaos every March, but this year will be particularly confusing in that fans should anticipate seeing a host of different teams and some obvious absences. It will be a fitting bow on an irregular season . Teams like Gonzaga and Baylor have extended last season’s success, but many more unexpectedly foundered. The 2020-21 season will be remembered as one that provided more uncertainty than any before, so it stands to reason that college basketball fans should settle in for the unexpected until they hear otherwise.


“Should Duke or North Carolina feel more desperate?” asked in the lead-up to the game.

The chest-beating and inspired by the game remained .

Though the Irish have struggled, they accomplished something historic by becoming the to beat Duke and Kentucky on the road in the same season.

The Wildcats entered the season with .

A longtime power under coach Tom Izzo that’s in the midst of arguably its worst season since the .

Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Arizona State.

Josh Planos is a writer based in Omaha. He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.


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