NCAA’s elite in need of late-season jolt
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
The foursome is responsible for 27 national titles, 65 Final Four appearances and many of college basketball’s most indelible moments. They are some of the sport’s most historic blue bloods, and with five weeks remaining until Selection Sunday they are all showing some blood.
Amid an uneven season, UCLA endured a famous alum calling out its coach during a national televised broadcast.
Kentucky, the defending national champion, is no lock to make the NCAA tournament despite a No. 3 preseason ranking.
North Carolina has little margin for error if it wants to avoid missing the NCAAs for the second time under Roy Williams. And Kansas has lost three in a row, including an inexplicable loss at lowly TCU, for the first time since 2005.
If one of these story lines unfolded in any given season, it would be noteworthy. The fact that all four have played out this season underscores how historically unpredictable this season has been, and how nationwide parity has placed some of the most tradition-rich programs in precarious situations.
Kansas is a virtual lock to reach the NCAAs, and UCLA is poised at the moment to earn a single-digit seed. Kentucky and North Carolina remain fairly well positioned to reach the NCAA tournament.
But all face important tests this week: Kansas hosts Big 12-leading Kansas State tonightt; Kentucky travels to SEC-leading Florida on Tuesday; North Carolina visits Duke on Wednesday; and UCLA begins a stretch of three consecutive road games.
These preeminent programs still secure McDonald’s All-Americans with more regularity than other programs. But the programs’ road to March is more perilous these days because the best players rarely stay two years, much less three, and talent is dispersed nationwide more than ever.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told USA TODAY Sports this season that programs such as North Carolina used to get “four or five McDonald’s All-Americans a year and keep them. Now they don’t have any of the older ones. They have freshmen.
“If I was at North Carolina like Roy [Williams], I would not be as happy because they had the market cornered [on stockpiling recruits] … It’s different. They will still be … [For more on College basketball's elite in need of late-season jolt, click here.]