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Mike Lopresti | | January 5, 2015

Tour of Woe

  UConn's 6-5 start qualifies as the worst for a defending national champion in the past 15 years.

Welcome to the Tour of Woe. It’s a cold and cruel world out there at the moment for a lot of college basketball heavyweights.

We could start at Florida, who is 7-6, with their most non-conference losses in 40 years. The Gators blew double-digit second half leads against Miami, Texas and UConn, missing 12 of 20 free throws to lose to the Huskies. They lost in the last seconds against Florida State when Jacob Kurtz accidentally tipped in a Seminole missed shot, for a buzzer-beating own goal. They started 0-for-12 shooting against North Carolina.

“There is a mental, competitive spirit that you must have,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “And our team does not have it.”

Injuries, suspensions and inconsistencies have forced Donovan into using 10 different players as starters.  But he has had other teams overcome adversity, so never mind the excuses.

“This is going to be a process with this group. They’re learning what really goes into this,” he said Monday on the SEC teleconference. “I think there is a disposition inside of your team regardless of numbers, regardless of availability, that you have to have, and I think that disposition for us needs to get better.”

  The Gators have lost more non-conference games this season than in the previous 40 years.
We could then move to UConn. True, the 7-5 Huskies rallied at Florida. But the 6-5 start was the worst for a defending national champion in 15 years, and included UConn getting beaten twice at home in six days by Texas and Yale with last-second 3-pointers from the same corner. Also at home, the Huskies trailed Temple 55-53 with under three seconds left, and Daniel Hamilton shooting three free throws with a chance to win. He missed all three.

“You just have to play through the ups and downs with this team,” coach Kevin Ollie said.

Maybe this is what he meant: Amida Brimah scored 40 points to lead a win against Coppin State.  Four days later, he went 0-for-1 in a loss at Duke.

Then to Michigan State, who have perfectly valid reasons for that 9-5 start. Four of the losses came against Duke, Kansas, Notre Dame and Maryland. Combined record: 54-2. Also, they’ve endured considerable lost injury time, including a wrist fracture to veteran Branden Dawson.

But still. Three overtime defeats in December naturally have Tom Izzo frustrated. “We just have not been able to find a way to win,” he said. And there is no explanation for losing at home to 4-10 Texas Southern.

Scoring has sometimes been a problem. Michigan State had only one player reach double figures in 50 minutes in the two-overtime loss to Maryland.

“We’re trying to look at the glass being half full, as you do at this time of year, knowing that we were missing a couple of guys during some of those losses,’’ Izzo said Monday on the Big Ten teleconference. He was hoping a win against Indiana later that night might rekindle the karma.

Now down the road to Michigan.

The defeat by New Jersey Institute of Technology created gasps nationwide and guffaws in East Lansing (until Michigan State lost to Texas Southern, anyway). Now the Wolverines have dropped five of seven.

The offense has been colder than an Ann Arbor January night. Michigan is shooting only 41.9 percent as a team and has been outscored in the paint 108-32 its past three defeats. In their latest loss, the Wolverines scored only 15 points in the second half at Purdue while being outrebounded 26-7. None of the three leading scorers hit double figures.

What’s a coach to do?

“One of the first things you have to do is know what’s a good shot,” John Beilein said. “I think we had six what we thought were really bad shots [against Purdue]. Obviously in this league, those are six possessions you’re just giving to the other team. The second thing is a lot of confidence, and just repetition, repetition, repetition.

“I think the last thing is it gets contagious, both individually and as a team. As long as you stay confident and keep telling guys to shoot it when you’re open. The key is, are you open?’’

League play has started. Any revival is needed soon.

“There’s no sense of urgency, other than the urgency of today,” Beilein said. “Let’s get better today. Because that’s the only answer.”

One last stop. The big one. The capital of Woe resides in UCLA.

-- Steve Alford
Put plainly, the 8-7 Bruins haven’t been able to throw the ball into the Pacific Ocean from the Santa Monica pier. They just lost their fifth game in a row, 71-39 at Utah, the lowest output since the pre-shot clock days of 1967, when teams were stalling to contend with Lew Alcindor. By the way, Alcindor -- before he was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- scored more than 39 points by himself six times at UCLA.

The pain has been acute. There was the 41-7 halftime score against Kentucky. The Alabama game, when the Tide’s Ricky Tarrant outscored the entire Bruins team 18-17 in the first half. UCLA losing to Colorado for the first time since 1962.

The Bruins have averaged 16.5 points in the first half the past four games. Leading scorer Bryce Alford has missed 19 shots in a row, and was 0-13 from the 3-point line in the trudge through Colorado and Utah.

“From a coaching standpoint, you feel for them,” Steve Alford said.  As a father, too, no doubt. “I think they are fighting, but they cannot make a shot and you so desperately want them to make a shot.’’

Alford understands his team has played three top 10 teams during the losing streak -- Gonzaga, Kentucky and Utah -- and hasn’t had a home game in nearly a month. He understands how this can devour a team’s spirit.

“They are trying and playing hard. But at some point in this game...I don’t care if you are the point guard, or the shooting guard, the swing or big, we just don’t have anybody making anything, and that gets frustrating.”

The Bruins’ next two games are in Pauley Pavilion. Home probably never looked so good.

“I think a lot of us are thinking about offense and our energy is coming from whether we make or miss shots and it really gets on us,” guard Norman Powell said. “We are too good of shooters and we have made big shots...Those shots are going to fall. There’s no way those shots won’t start to fall.”

Sure, but here’s the same question being asked by struggling teams from Florida to Michigan to California, in every corner of Woe.


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