In the world of college basketball, one thing that’s become a certainty over the years is the exemplary play of the blue blood programs.
Defending national champion Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky are the flagship programs in NCAA hoops. The Jayhawks haven’t had an NCAA Championship hangover after losing NBA first-round picks in swingmen, Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, plus Remy Martin, who was instant offense off the bench. Bill Self’s champs are 20-5, tied for first in the the Big 12, all while boasting a nation’s best 12 Quadrant 1 wins.
Duke, UNC, Kentucky Struggling
The other three blue bloods, which reside on Tobacco Road and Lexington, Kentucky, have a combined five such wins, and — get this — 22 losses. A Quadrant 1 win classifies as a home win versus teams ranked 1-30 in the RPI rankings, neutral games 1-50 and away games 1-75. For Duke, UNC and Kentucky to have only five combined is unacceptable and downright shocking.
This is one of the main factors in how the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee determines at-large bids. And while all three can still win their conference tourney and get into the March Madness, the likelihood of that happening isn’t promising at the moment. At this point, none of these teams should feel confident in its body of work, and in fact all three are closer to the dreaded NCAA bubble than an outright at-large bid.
UNC And Kentucky Looking Like Bubble Teams
Coming into the 2022-23 season, UNC, the reigning national runner-up, was ranked No. 1, Kentucky was No. 4 and Duke was ranked No. 7. As of today, neither is ranked in the AP or Coaches Top 25, and all hanging by a thread as pertains to their postseason lives.
After advancing to the NCAA Championship in 2022, Chapel Hill had high hopes for head coach Hubert Davis in his second season. The Tar Heels brought back four of the five starters from last season, including center Armando Bacot, who was a candidate for the Naismith Player of the Year. Bacot, a double-double machine, hasn’t disappointed. The problem has been his underwhelming supporting cast, featuring last year’s tourney breakout player in Caleb Love. Love’s been very inefficient.
The loss of stretch four Brady Manek has hurt UNC. Manek’s 6-foot-10 frame, and sweet shooting stroke opened up driving lanes for the guards and allowed Bacot to operate one on one. Sitting at 16-10, the belief is UNC needs to finish 4-2 in order to feel comfortable about their standing.
Kentucky has consistently underachieved during John Calipari’s tenure despite landing the No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class yearly. This year it’s been a combination of lack of discipline and teams focusing on stopping reigning Naismith Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe.
The supporting cast has been terribly inconsistent. The Wildcats are currently 16-9 and their best came win came at Tennessee last month. It remains their lone Quadrant 1 win.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi talked with analyst Rece Davis about this interesting development during Saturday’s “College GameDay.”
“It’s almost inconceivable, really, that both Carolina and Kentucky only have a single Quad 1 win. And in Carolina’s case, it’s over a team that came into the week with a losing record: Ohio State, which is now 11-13. Carolina’s in trouble because they just don’t have the résumé. What they do have, Rece, is a pretty favorable schedule down the stretch, which is more than you can say for Kentucky.”
“It’s just inconceivable that to me that Armando Bacot or — and maybe it’s and — Oscar Schiebwe could miss the tournament,” Lunardi said with a seeming look of dismay.
Duke’s Postseason Hopes Aren’t As Tenuous
The Blue Devils have withstood the loss of NBA No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero and the built-in excuse of the great Coach K retiring last season, but the program hasn’t been elite under first-year coach Jon Scheyer. While Duke’s résumé isn’t glowing, it does have three times the Quadrant 1 wins that the aforementioned Tar Heels and Wildcats have. Currently a No. 9 seed by Lunardi’s proclamations, the Blue Devils are teetering, and one bad week could have them on the outside looking in.
Duke is currently 18-8, and based on their remaining schedule they just don’t have the opportunities to improve their seeding higher than a seventh seed, pitting them in a bracket versus a tough No. 2 in the second round.
Things are different this season as some Blue Bloods are having off seasons, making for a very interesting next month of basketball.