Since the turn of the century, the National College Athletic Association has been home to a select few “Blue Blood” basketball programs, blue bloods being the most dominant and recognizable programs each season. March Madness ensures that the sport will always have the parity necessary to create an exciting atmosphere, but year in and year out it seems we have seen some of the same teams atop the rankings.
Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Michigan State have perhaps been the four most successful programs in recent memory, yet they each have had their share of struggles this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given Duke’s consistent success year after year, they might be the most surprising team to make this list. Their rosters are constantly filled with talent and this year is no exception, so it’s hard to explain exactly why they haven’t produced their same results. Right now Duke is just 10-8, and although they recently picked up a huge win over Virginia at home, their season has largely been a disappointment. Five star freshman Jalen Johnson opted out of the remainder of the season earlier this week, and although it’s a loss on paper some think Johnson may have been a part of the problem. March Madness is still entirely possible for the Blue Devils as they’re currently one of the first four teams out after their huge win over number seven Virginia, but they’ll have to step it up in February if they want to be dancing come March.
The Kentucky Wildcats had about as bad of a start to a season as you could have, starting 1-6 and quickly falling out of the rankings. They’re another team that has the talent needed for winning on paper as they landed three five star prospects of their own, but they haven’t been able to put things together. John Callipari’s coaching has been questioned for the first time in a long time, and although his job seems to be secure there isn’t much of an excuse for the team’s 7-13 record. Kentucky fans hope this season is an outlier rather than a new trend, and although the Wildcats are beginning to win games, it looks like it will be too little too late.
For the North Carolina Tar Heels, the problems began in the 2019-20 season, before the pandemic hit. Coach Roy Williams’ squad posted an abysmal 14-19 record before COVID put their season out of its misery. But Williams landed another strong recruiting class featuring three five star recruits, and things looked like they could be turning around in Chapel Hill. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, their talented roster has only been able to post an average 14-7 record, and although they are still on track for the tournament as a ninth seed, they haven’t been ranked since late December.
Michigan State looked like itself at the beginning of the year, with a 6-0 record going into conference play and as high as a number four national ranking. But they have watched that early season success slip through their fingers as of late, with just a 5-9 conference record adding up to an 11-9 overall record. They still have an outside shot of getting into the tournament, but with four of their next six games against AP top five teams, they’ll probably need to win the Big Ten tournament to punch a ticket to the dance, and that’s a lot easier said than done.
This type of parity is what makes college basketball so great, knowing that even the greatest of programs have down years, giving every team a shot. March Madness will look a bit different this year without these familiar faces, but that doesn’t mean it will lack any of the same excitement and drama that make it a fan favorite. As time ticks down on the season we’ll see whether these teams will end on a high note, and bounce back from this COVID hampered season.