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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Panic meter: Which teams should be worried over slow starts in league play?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Oregon has dropped four of its first five Pac-12 games (USATSI)

A handful of teams expected to contend for league titles have gotten off to poor starts in conference play. Below is a look at how worried each of them should be:

Oregon (13-4 overall, 1-4 Pac-12): An Oregon team expected to emerge as top-ranked Arizona's biggest Pac-12 challenger instead has fallen on its face since league play began. A humbling road loss at Oregon State on Sunday dropped the Ducks to 1-4, and Oregon needed an unlikely steal and last-second dunk to get its lone Pac-12 win in its opener at Utah. Until Sunday, the cause of Oregon's slump had been a defense that had given up an average of 92.7 points per game during its losing streak and allowed Colorado, Cal and Stanford to each shoot more than 50 percent from the field. The Ducks showed modest improvement in that regard against Oregon State, but their normally potent offense went ice-cold, leading to 37.9 percent shooting from the field and 4 of 19 shooting from behind the arc. There's still time for Oregon to emerge from its tailspin and rescue its season, but four of the Ducks' next six games are on the road. Also disconcerting: What Oregon accomplished in the non-league portion of the season no longer looks as impressive. Georgetown, Illinois, Ole Miss and BYU have each faded to the fringes of the NCAA tournament picture, putting pressure on Oregon to secure marquee wins in league play. PANIC METER: 8 out of 10

Ohio State (15-3 overall, 2-3 Big Ten): Since a tepid non-league schedule provided scarcely any tests for Ohio State, it was always apparent that the true measure of the Buckeyes wouldn't be revealed until Big Ten play. The early answers so far haven't been all that flattering. Ohio State has followed wins over middling Purdue and overmatched Nebraska with losses at Michigan State, at home against Iowa and at Minnesota. The drumbeat that the Buckeyes lack enough offensive punch will only get louder after they shot 35.3 percent from the field against Minnesota on Saturday and got little production from anyone besides LaQuinton Ross. In reality, however, Ohio State's vaunted defense has also taken a step backward. Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan State have each shot abnormally high percentages against the Buckeyes, with the Gophers eclipsing 50 percent. Ohio State's path back to league title contention appears difficult, but it's rash to give up on the Buckeyes as a top-tier Big Ten team. Enough proven veteran talent returns from a 29-win Elite Eight team that it's difficult not to envision Ohio State steadying itself, especially with a confidence-boosting portion of the schedule coming up. A road game at a Nebraska team that is winless in Big Ten play precedes home games against struggling Illinois and bottom feeder Penn State. PANIC METER: 4 out of 10

Baylor (13-4, 1-3 Big 12): The Big 12's meat grinder of a round robin schedule will all 10 teams, and Baylor is the preseason league title contender who has sustained the most damage so far. Not only are the Bears 1-3 with a home loss to Oklahoma and a bad road loss at Texas Tech, they're in jeopardy of falling into a deeper hole with a road game at Kansas on Monday night and back-to-back games against the Jayhawks and Oklahoma State in the first week of February. Baylor's problems begin on defense because its 2-3 zone hasn't stopped anyone in league play. Iowa State shot an absurd 54.8 percent from the field in its 87-72 rout of the Bears. Texas Tech shot an even better 57.1 percent from the field in its 82-72 upset of the Bears last week. And though Oklahoma's shooting numbers weren't quite so ridiculous Saturday, the Sooners got the looks they wanted in the decisive second half. Baylor has some margin for error thanks to victories over Kentucky, Colorado and Dayton, but the Bears have to protect their home court and they cannot suffer any more head-scratching losses against the Big 12's bottom tier. The rest of the league is too good to give games away. PANIC METER: 7 out of 10

Iowa State (14-3 overall, 2-3 Big 12): Glance at this stretch of Iowa State's Big 12 schedule, and it's easy to understand why the Cyclones have cooled off after a sizzling 14-0 start. Following a home win against Baylor, Iowa State dropped three straight games at Oklahoma, at home against Kansas and at Texas. The Cyclones still face Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma before the schedule eases a bit the second week of February. It's easy to blame the schedule for Iowa State's three-game losing streak, but the Cyclones also aren't playing as well as they were in December. In addition to struggling on defense and on the glass, Iowa State's normally reliable 3-point shooting has gone ice-cold. The Cyclones are 21 of 83 from behind the arc in their past three games, a stat that shows both their shooting woes and their over-reliance on the deep ball. While Iowa State may not be worthy of the top 10 ranking it attained earlier this month, there's still reason to be hopeful about the Cyclones. Their shooting is bound to improve, their home court is as intimidating as any in the nation and their schedule will ease considerably in two weeks. PANIC METER: 3 out of 10

St. John's (10-8 overall, 0-5 Big East): If St. John's truly has the most talent in the Big East as was postulated many times during the preseason, then you'd never know it from the Johnnies' league record. They're 0-5 in the Big East, a fiasco that includes a loss at bottom-feeding DePaul last Tuesday and a double-overtime home loss to short-handed Providence two days later. Why has St. John's failed to take a step forward despite returning the core of last year's NIT team and adding elite recruit Rysheed Jordan and gaining the services of big men Orlando Sanchez and God'sgift Achiuwa? Quite honestly, it's difficult to understand. Not only are the Johnnies shooting an abysmal 38.8 percent from the field in conference play and hitting less 3-pointers than any other team in the Big East, they're also giving up offensive rebounds at an alarming rate. Throw in the fact that St. John's hasn't executed well late in close games and that their veterans still have shown a penchant for silly fouls and ill-advised decisions with the ball in their hands, and it's easy to see why the Johnnies are struggling. There's more than enough talent for St. John's to win some games in the Big East, but a return to the NCAA tournament now is a major long shot. An 0-5 league start is simply too deep a hole in a conference with as much parity as the Big East. PANIC METER: 10 out of 10

Other highly touted teams who have endured unexpectedly sluggish starts to league play: North Carolina, UConn, Butler, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Indiana


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