Preseason: No. 16 in AP poll, No. 16 in Coaches poll, No. 4 in ACC preseason poll
Record: 9-5 (8th in ACC)
March Madness Prediction(ESPN’s Bracketology): 11 seed
Coming off one of the most disappointing years in recent history for Roy Williams’ squad, the Tar Heels have come into this 2020 season looking for redemption. Considering North Carolina was expected to compete for an ACC title this year, with some vetern stars and the nation’s No. 2 overall recruiting class, the team had high hopes.
However, with a little over a month until March, North Carolina looks no where near its best. The team has taken bad losses to N.C. State and Georgia Tech that they should’ve easily won. ACC preseason Player of the Year Garrison Brooks has been having a mediocre season at best, averaging 10.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Last year, the 6-foot-10 versatile center was almost averaging a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds per game. Throughout the year, he hasn’t been looking like himself and involved in the offense as much he used to be.
Alongside Brooks’ own struggles, UNC hasn’t been too hot as a team altogether. Specifically beyond the arc, UNC is shooting 30.7 percent from three, seven percent below the college basketball average. Players on this team who should be knocking down these shots haven’t found their rhythm. Guards Leaky Black, Caleb Love and Puff Johnson have been shooting 28 percent, 23 percent and 11 percent, respectively in three point percentages.
The Heels have recently taken a solid 80-73 win over Wake Forest. They’ll be taking on No. 20 Clemson and Duke early next month. They’ll need to turn things around, as they’re on the brink of missing the March Madness tournament.
Preseason: No. 9 in AP poll, No. 8 in Coaches poll, No. 2 in ACC preseason poll
Record: 5-4 (7th in ACC)
March Madness Prediction(ESPN): Next 4 out
Coming into the season, Duke looked like a solid team overall with lots of fire power. The Blue Devils went 25-6 last season and brought in the No. 3 overall recruiting class, which included four five-stars and six players ranked in the top 55. Through its first nine games of this season, Duke has gone 5-4, 3-2 in conference play. They haven’t had any good wins this year and have lost to ranked Illinois by 15 and Virginia Tech.
One struggle that’s become apparent from the Blue Devils in 2020-21 is production and consistency. Besides sophomore Matthew Hurt, who has been averaging 20 points per game, Duke hasn’t been able to find multiple contributors or any sparks from the bench. In the loss to the Hokies, three starters had 56 of the team’s 67 total points. This included guard Jeremy Roach’s season-high of 22 points. Alongside Roach in the backcourt, point guard DJ Steward was able to drop 14. However, as effective as they were against Virginia Tech, they haven’t been bringing the same energy frequently throughout the year. Both Roach and Steward have been streaky scorers in games and inefficient at times.
Another issue is Duke’s poor defense. Through nine games, the Blue Devils are in a four-way tie as the 228th-ranked defense in the country.
According to Jay Bilas, he believes their defense is a big struggle and sometimes stems from bad offensive possessions. “I think [Duke’s] issue is, how do they become more difficult to score upon? Their offense, they don’t turn it over like crazy, but they do turn it over too much. There are times when they take shots that I’m sure they would rather not have taken. But that winds up hurting their defense and they give up some easy things.”
Looking ahead, the Blue Devils will play No. 20 Clemson at home to finish off the month. They’ll play Miami and UNC early in February.
Preseason: No. 10 in AP poll, No. 9 in Coaches poll, No. 2 in SEC preseason poll
Record: 4-9 (7th in SEC)
March Madness Prediction(ESPN): Not in
Kentucky came into the season with near similar expectations to Duke. The team is part of one of the most elite programs in college hoops, and it brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation this season. They attained two of the top ten players and six of the top 70 in the class, along with several dynamic transfers.
As much potential analysts saw them having, Kentucky has had one of their worst starts in recent history. Their resume this season displays some unimpressive wins and an abundance of surprising losses. Much of their potential stars have struggled severely this year. The No. 5 prospect and what seemed to potentially be a top five 2021 draft pick, BJ Boston, has averaged just 11.5 points on 34.7 percent shooting and 17.5 percent from three.
John Calipari is clearly frustrated with his team and has lashed out several times this season. Just last month, Calipari turned Cam Fletcher into a public scapegoat and has said some harsh things in press conferences.
“It’s unacceptable where we are right now. Unacceptable,” said coach Calipari on how they’ve been playing this year. “I’m trying to figure out everything I can, because I am not happy. At all.”
Kentucky’s chances of making the 2021 March Madness Tournament continue to wane, as they’ve lost their last three games. They take on a rough schedule next month, as they play four games in a row against ranked teams. Since the Wildcats don’t have much room for more losses if they want to play in the tournament, the team has lots to figure out, and they must do it soon.
“From Our Haus to Yours”