Wednesday, December 12, 2012

College Basketball's First-Semester Grades

Duke is flying into the spring semester with a high basketball GPA. (

It's finals week all across college campuses, which is why you will find very few exciting games until Saturday. So while the players are busy studying for finals (it's all about the academics, folks) let's give out some grades of our own, shall we. Granted it's still early, and we won't really get to know many of these teams until conference play, but here are three teams who have passed the first semester with ease and three who need to hit the books harder in the spring.

Honor Roll:

Duke - A 

Duke couldn't have been asked to do much more than it has already in the first month of the season. The Blue Devils have taken down three then-top-five teams (first No. 3 Kentucky, then No. 2 Louisville and finally No. 4 Ohio State), while also earning solid wins over Minnesota and VCU, who should be tournament teams in March. Duke has a few easier games to round out non-conference play before kicking off ACC games. Duke has to be the new frontrunner to win the conference, with both UNC and NC State showing some inefficiencies early.

Indiana - A

The Hoosiers schedule has not been the gauntlet Duke has faced, but Indiana has taken care of its business in the fashion of the No. 1 team in the country. The two quality wins are there - defeating a Georgetown team, which has outshined its expectations, so far by 10, and beating UNC by a definitive 24 points. Almost as impressive is how Indiana has handled the lesser non-conference opponents. Many top 25 teams has struggled to pull off close wins against teams they should easily beat. Not IU. No team other than Georgetown has finished the game less than 13 points behind the Hoosiers. The real test will be conference play, where three or four teams could win the Big Ten, but so far, Indiana has passed the test.

Illinois - A-

The Illini are off to an 11-0 start and have cracked the top 10 in John Groce's first year at Illinois. Illinois finally got the signature win of the season so far, a road victory against then No. 10 Gonzaga in Spokane, which many will say is one of the toughest home environments. But the strength of schedule has been weak, and the Illini have had a few unimpressive wins, like a one-point overtime win over Hawaii and only being up by two on Norfolk State with six minutes remaining in the team's most recent game. It hasn't all been Illinois' fault as the team made it through the Maui Invitational without having to face the favorite UNC. But some are still questioning the Illini as a legitimate top-10 team and Big Ten championship contender.

Grades Slipping:

 Kentucky - C

Kentucky is the girl you went to high school with that believes perfection is the only option. Get a B on a test and your life is over. UK's expectations are just as high and so far the team has fallen short. A 6-3 record is not acceptable for Lexington. We've talked about how this is definitely not last year's team, and these freshmen are going through growing pains. If this were Minnesota who had loses to Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor, it would still be looked at as a decent start to the season, but Kentucky doesn't lose two in a row very often. Kentucky will be fine in March, but right now this team is having trouble adjusting to college life.


Another 6-3 team in UCLA, but why did they not earn a "C" like Kentucky? Would Cal Poly like to answer that? The Bruins were Cal Poly's second win of the year (the Mustangs are now 3-4) and UCLA has not gotten its talented and hyped freshmen to produce. The Bruins are 97th in the country in field goal percentage at 45.4 percent and the team's scoring has decreased since the beginning of the season. Again, part of this bad grade is considering the expectations coming into the season. This was supposed to be UCLA's climb back to the top, and the Bruins started the season ranked in the top 15. A month into the season and UCLA has struggled against every decent team they've faced, including barely beating a plummeting Texas team 65-63. Speaking of Texas ...

Texas - D

I know, I know, Myck Kabongo hasn't played all season, and I thought it would hurt Texas. Take the best player from any team and they will struggle to fill the void. Kabongo's absence is the only reason I didn't give the Longhorns an F. But still, no one thought Texas would be 5-4 with the losses coming against Chaminade (Div. II), USC (even worse than Texas), Georgetown (a formidable opponent) and UCLA (see above). Texas can't score, ranked 282nd in the country in points per game (62 ppg) and have so many problems, it's hard to know where to start. Regardless of an ineligible player, a program like Texas and coach Rick Barnes, with a great recent history of success and NBA products, should never let this happen. And how does Texas end its non-conference play? By facing Michigan State and UNC back to back. This could get uglier for the Longhorns before it gets better.

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