Another great college basketball season is in the books, topped off by a thrilling championship game between Wisconsin and Duke, two of the best teams in the country from wire-to-wire. Last week, Zac Ellis counted down the 10 best games of the season, a Herculean task given all the options at his fingertips.
It wasn’t all pretty, however. As exciting as this season was, there were plenty of games that were hard to watch. Which ones were most glaring? SI.com ranks the year’s 10 worst college basketball games, including tournament play.
You likely assumed there would be at least one entry from the Big Ten. These two teams each lived by the three this year, but neither shot it well on this early February afternoon in East Lansing. They combined to go 12-for-37 from behind the arc, with the Spartans having the “better” day at 7-for-20. The Illini assisted on just eight of their 21 field goals, while Michigan State turned the ball over 10 times and shot just 38.9% from the free throw line. Given the stakes at that point of the season, as well, it was a particularly bad loss for the Spartans at home.
This early-season game in Indianapolis was supposed to be a clash of titans and a potential preview of a game that could be happening in Indy during the first weekend of April. Instead, the Wildcats ran the Jayhawks out of the gym, taking a 10-point lead into the locker room at halftime and never looking back in the 32-point victory. Kansas made just 11 field goals all game, equaling their number of turnovers, and shot 19.6% from the floor. Frank Mason was 1-for-10, Wayne Selden was 3-for-12 and Perry Ellis was 1-for-6. The Jayhakws failed to live up to their end of the bargain in this game, presaging another season in which they would fall far short of expectations.
It would figure that two disappointing teams in a decent-at-best conference would contribute one of the ugliest games of the season. The Gators and Commodores combined to shoot 34.7% from the floor in this game, including 27% from distance. Florida scored 0.82 points per possession, went 10-for-20 from the free throw line, turned the ball over 13 times, and still found a way to win the game. Vanderbilt actually had a six-point lead at halftime, but scored just eight points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, letting Florida get back in front. The Commodores missed 20 of the 31 shots they attempted inside the arc, and scored just 0.77 points per possession.
Tulane went 15-16 this season, but in this game beat a team that actually won a game in the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats actually had a decent game inside the arc, but were 0-for-11 behind it, and made just five of their 13 attempts from the free throw line. While Tulane came away victorious, they shot 34.6% from the field, scored 0.83 points per possession, and turned the ball over 16 times. The teams combined for 26 turnovers and 19 assists, which isn’t exactly a formula for a flowing basketball game. As you might expect, this won’t be the only game from the AAC to make the list.
Virginia’s defense and pace of play will always land them in a handful of ugly games per season, like this one early on in the ACC slate. Georgia Tech went 12-for-49 from the floor, scored 0.53 points per possession and had just two—yes, two—assists. Georgia Tech scored 12 points in the second half. In other words, the Yellow Jackets had nearly as many turnovers for the game (10) as they did points after halftime. Only Virginia’s efficiency on offense keeps this game from rating higher. The Cavaliers actually put up 1.08 points per possession, and had 13 assists on 24 field goals. It should come as little surprise that the Cavaliers will show up again on this list.
This was just about as slow and plodding a game as we had all season in the college ranks. Connecticut and Tulsa met in semifinals of the AAC tournament, with both teams understanding that a loss meant they would be headed to the NIT. That urgency didn’t translate into great basketball, as the teams shot a combined 32.7% from the floor and both failed to reach even 0.9 points per possession. The teams didn’t commit a ghastly number of turnovers or fouls, but they simply could not make shots. There was one stretch of nearly five minutes in the second half where neither team scored, and Connecticut, the team that won the game, had two scoring droughts of more than five minutes in the first half.
4. March 26: Kentucky 78, West Virginia 39
The lone tournament game to make the list, Kentucky absolutely embarrassed West Virginia, and specifically Daxter Miles, in this Sweet 16 matchup. Miles, you’ll recall, guaranteed a victory over the Wildcats. It took all of six minutes for the Wildcats to get up by double-digits, and by the 10-minute mark, they held a 22-7 lead. They were up by as much as 26 in the first half, and grew that lead steadily all game, resulting in one of the most lopsided Sweet 16 games in tourney history. The Mountaineers shot 24.1% from the field and had the same number of field goals as turnovers (13). They managed just 0.61 points per possession and had one scorer, Juwan Staten, in double-figures. Miles, for his part, barely showed up in the box score, going 0-for-3 from the floor, 0-for-1 from the stripe, and grabbing one rebound.
Thirty-six turnovers. That’s how many the Bulldogs (17) and Wildcats (19) combined for in this sloppy game that could have been set to Benny Hill music. The only action that occurred more frequently than a turnover was a foul, with the teams committing 43 of those. Of the 86 points scored in the game, 31 came at the free throw line, good for 36%. Still, it’s not like the teams were efficient in that regard, either. Georgia shot 16-for-24 from the stripe, while Kansas State went 15-for-23. It actually managed to be an exciting finish, with the Bulldogs riding a 7-0 run over the final 2:31 of the game to steal a victory, but don’t confuse “exciting” for “good.” If there were a game in which both teams deserved a loss this season, this was it.
2. Nov. 29: Virginia 45, Rutgers 26
When people complain about the pace and style of the college game, they typically have a game like this—in which the teams combined for 71 points—in mind. The Cavaliers never apologized for their winning the way they did, nor should they have, but they sure created some boring games. Take this early-season win over Rutgers, for instance. The Scarlet Knights shot 31.6% from the floor (12-for-38, including 0-for-13 from three) and scored 0.48 points per possession. They had just four assists while turning the ball over 12 times. Two Cavaliers—Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill—equaled their entire output of 26 points. And yet, Virginia wasn’t much better offensively than Rutgers. The Cavaliers shot 32.7% and scored 0.83 points per possession, but they didn’t need to be on a night where their defense completely stifled the opposition.
Perhaps both teams were still feeling the effects of the tryptophan in this game the day after Thanksgiving. When a team wins by 12 points and has as bad a night as Louisville did here, you know it’s an ugly one. The Cardinals shot 31.9% (12-for-27), and were just 3-for-20 from behind the arc. They had twice as many turnovers (13) as assists (six), and went 12-for-26 from the free throw line. And yet were in control the entire second half. That’s because the Vikings connected on one-quarter of their field goal attempts, scoring just 0.57 points per possession. They, too, had six assists against 13 turnovers, and somehow scored just 33 points despite 10 live-ball takeaways. Trey Lewis led them with 24 points, but he needed 20 shots to get there. His teammates combined to score nine points.