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March 9, 2009

Monday with Mike: The biggest disappointments

With the regular season over and focus now turning to the league tournaments, it's time to unveil the biggest disappointments in each of the "Big Six" leagues this season.

ACC: Miami
The Hurricanes had four starters back from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, including star guard Jack McClinton. Plus, the lost starter was Anthony King, who averaged 7.1 points and 7.0 rebounds. It was thought a committee approach up front would more than replace King. It didn't happen. McClinton was a constant, but no one stepped up to be a consistent No. 2 offensive force, and UM finished 7-9 in the ACC regular season. The Hurricanes would've been in good shape for an at-large bid, but they fell to Georgia Tech on Wednesday, meaning they need to make a long run in the ACC tournament to get back in the at-large mix.

Big East: Notre Dame
The Irish returned four starters, opened the season in the top 10 and were thought to be legit Big East title contenders. The Irish were 12-3 when everything fell apart. They suffered through a seven-game losing streak to fall out of the rankings and out of the running for the league title. A lack of defense hurt big-time, as did the lack of a consistent outside threat. They finished 7-9 in the Big East regular season and need to win the Big East tourney to play in the NCAA tournament.

Big Ten: Purdue
When is a second-place finish disappointing? When five starters return and you finish four games back in a league that lacks dominating teams. The Big Ten had far more surprises than disappointments, and, really, Purdue didn't play that badly. Still, going into the season, many observers thought this was the best team in the league. Opening 0-2 in Big Ten play set the tone for the season. To be fair, forward Robbie Hummel has battled back problems all season, and his importance showed in the losses. But getting swept by Illinois and losing at home to Northwestern shouldn't have happened.

Big 12: Baylor
The Bears had four starters back from a team that reached the NCAA tournament, the school's first NCAA bid since 1988. They were considered a fringe top 25 team heading into the season and started 11-1. But once they got into Big 12 play, the Bears headed south. At one point, they lost six league games in a row, and they finished 5-11 in league play. A lack of defense has been a big problem, as has cohesiveness. This just does not look like a team that is comfortable playing together. Baylor was a great story last season; it was a sad story this season.

Pac-10: USC
Arizona and UCLA also could be mentioned here, but USC stands out more. Yes, O.J. Mayo took his talent to the NBA after his freshman season, and Davon Jefferson surprisingly left as well. But there was a nice recruiting class and some talented holdovers. For whatever reason, though, the Trojans underachieved. A loss to Seton Hall in Game 3 set the tone for the season. The Trojans generally played good defense, but there was a lack of consistency on offense. USC also was horrible on the road, going 2-8. Given the high-caliber athletes on the roster, you have to wonder if coach Tim Floyd will loosen the reins some next season.

SEC: Florida
Yes, Florida is young, with just two upperclassmen in the rotation. But youth cannot be used as an excuse for two seasons in a row in college basketball. The Gators are soft up front, play lackluster defense and were weak on the road. The role players often were asked to do too much, and the younger big men did not progress as needed. The Gators need incoming guard Kenny Boynton to live up to his advance billing next season; they also need Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin to throw his weight around up front. As for the rest of this season, UF has a chance at an at-large bid should it advance to the SEC tournament final. But nothing the Gators have done in the past month leads you to believe they can play at the needed level three games in a row.

No Davidson this time around
One of the lasting memories of the 2008 NCAA tournament will be Davidson's run to the Elite Eight, which was fueled by the unreal shooting of guard Stephen Curry. Davidson lost by a point to Kansas in the Midwest Regional final when a last-second shot went awry; Kansas, of course, went on the win the national title.

There will be no repeat NCAA run for Davidson well, unless the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is long on sentimentality. Davidson fell 59-52 to College of Charleston in a Southern Conference tourney semifinal Sunday, and Davidson doesn't have the resume to be a legit at-large contender. Had the Wildcats lost in the tourney final, maybe they have a case. But they don't really have one now.

Curry was stymied by an athletic Charleston defense, and no teammate stepped up. One day after he scored 43 points in an 84-68 quarterfinal win over Appalachian State, Curry finished with 20 points Sunday in Davidson's second loss to Charleston this season. He was 5-of-18 from the field and 2-of-11 from 3-point range, and looked tired at the end of the game.

As usual, he was the focal point of an opposing defense. Last season, point guard Jason Richards was the guy who orchestrated Davidson's offense; this season, Curry had to play the point, which meant trying to get his teammates involved as well as looking for his own shot. Curry did lead the nation in scoring this season, but the Wildcats as a whole were noticeably weaker than they were last season. The reason? The supporting cast just wasn't that good. Think about Curry on a high-level team, surrounded by other top-flight talent, and the possibilities would be scary.

Davidson is guaranteed an NIT bid, but the biggest storyline is whether Curry will return for his senior season. If he doesn't, that means his college career will end in a second-tier postseason tourney. That frankly is sad, considering his exploits in last season's NCAA tourney.

Part of the allure of the NCAA tourney is unknown and/or outmanned teams forcing themselves into the nation's basketball consciousness. Curry and Davidson did that last season. It's up to someone else this season.

Hoop Talk
There is talk of the Big East possibly getting three No. 1 seeds this season Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Louisville. The league seems a good bet to get two. Incredibly, that would tie the number the conference has gotten this entire decade. The Big East has had two No. 1 seeds this decade, and both came in 2006 (UConn and Villanova).

The ACC has had the most No. 1 seeds this decade with 10, followed by the Pac-10 with seven; the Big Ten and Big 12 with five each; the SEC and Conference USA with three each; and the Atlantic 10 with one. One of C-USA's came in 2002, when Cincinnati was a league member.

One season after getting four bids, the Big Ten could get eight this season. That would tie the all-time record, set by the Big East in 2006; the Big East also had eight last season.

DePaul (Big East) and Air Force (Mountain West) finished up winless conference seasons over the weekend. The only other winless team in league play was Southeast Missouri State (Ohio Valley).

You win some, you lose some. The Austin Peay women won the Ohio Valley tournament final in double-overtime to qualify for the NCAA tourney. The Austin Peay men lost in double-overtime in the final to Morehead State.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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