UNC? UCLA? Florida? What's happened to the hoops dynasties?
Presumptuous? Absolutely. Realistic? Most definitely. Recent history has shown that once a college football team gets to the top, it stays there for a good while. Go through a list of national champions from the 2000s -- Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Florida -- all turned themselves into top-10 fixtures.
College basketball's powerhouses don't enjoy the same stability.
Last season's NCAA champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels (12-7), currently find themselves mired in a three-game losing streak (their longest in seven years) and sit in 11th place in the ACC with a 1-3 league mark. On Tuesday, North Carolina visits N.C. State (13-7, 2-4), which knocked off Duke at home last week, and the Heels will likely be without injured big men
"If you combine all my losses since I've been here, I'm about to pass that in one season," Tar Heels senior forward
What's wrong with the Tar Heels? There may be any number of technical answers (see
Upon my return to the basketball beat for the first time in nearly two years, I'm struck by just how many of the sport's preeminent teams from the past few years have taken significant steps backward. Florida, which won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and '07, has failed to return to the NCAA tournament since and may find itself on the bubble again in March. (The 14-5 Gators sit 62nd in the RPI rankings.) UCLA, after reaching three straight Final Fours from 2006-'08, has plummeted to 9-10 this season.
Clearly, it's tougher than ever for hoops programs to remain consistently dominant, and it's easy to see why. The staggering extent of roster turnover from one year to the next requires coaches to bring in monster recruiting classes on a near-annual basis -- and heaven help you if even one or two of those new additions flames out.
Take the case of Florida. The core of
But Lucas lasted just one, relatively disappointing season, transferring to Texas (where he is now a reserve), and Calathes left last spring to play professionally in Greece. Florida's best "veteran" at the time, center
"It's been an unbelievable lesson for everyone involved: How fragile it all is," Donovan told
The team Florida beat in 2007, Ohio State, has undergone a similar rebuilding period, albeit for different reasons. Three freshman starters from that team (center
"It has definitely been a challenge when you are starting over again," Howland said.
Some say college basketball is in the midst of an age of parity, but it seems more a case of instability. Coaches at the highest level must not only recruit the best prospects but also be prepared for their potentially imminent departures. It's no coincidence that nearly all recent national championship teams -- from Williams' first title team in 2005 with
It used to be UNC's rival, Duke, that set the standard for annual rebuilding -- out went
That Kansas team was so loaded that current All-America candidates
"Did I think [in the preseason] we were going to have ups and downs? Yes," Williams said. "Did I think we would have them in the manner that we're having? No."
Four years ago, the Tar Heels lost the top seven scorers from the previous season's title squad yet still managed to win 31 games and earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. (They lost to George Mason in the second round.)
AP voters must have envisioned a similarly seamless transition when they bestowed such a lofty preseason ranking on these Tar Heels. Even if they rally over the next several weeks, it's hard to imagine they'll come anywhere close to reaching those expectations. Another stable of highly regarded recruits -- including Rivals.com's No. 2 player in the country, wingman
There's no shame in suffering a down year. Not in this sport. If North Carolina can't maintain a dynasty, who can?