Chaos is the only certainty in college basketball this season

Chaos is the only certainty in college basketball this season

For a man whose team is near the bottom of the ACC standings and lost its most recent game by 28 points, Wake Forest coach Danny Manning displayed remarkable confidence entering Wednesday night's visit to second-ranked North Carolina.

"They’re beatable," Manning told reporters in Winston-Salem on Monday. "Every team in college basketball is beatable."

Seldom have those words been more undeniable than they are this year. In a dizzying, upset-riddled season in which there are lots of good teams but no great ones, the only two certainties are parity and chaos.

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Five No. 1 teams have fallen before the month of February for the first time since 1949. Fifteen teams ranked in the current AP Top 25 have lost at least once in the past eight nights. Of the 19 losses suffered in January by AP top 10 teams, 13 have been upset by an unranked opponent.

Perennial juggernaut Duke is in the throes of a three-game losing streak and should fall out of the AP Top 25 next week for the first time in nearly nine years. Fellow powerhouse Kentucky is teetering on the verge of joining the Blue Devils after four losses to unranked teams. Almost every top team has a glaring flaw, from North Carolina's suspect outside shooting, to Villanova's over-reliance on the 3-point shot, to West Virginia's inability to score when it's not dominating the offensive glass.

Fittingly, the lone remaining undefeated team is SMU, which is ineligible to participate in the postseason this spring.

It's difficult to quantify the idea that college basketball's title picture is unusually wide open this season, but one of Ken Pomeroy's advanced metrics may serve as the best method of demonstrating the lack of a dominant team. Pomeroy uses teams' offensive and defensive efficiency to calculate their “pythagorean winning percentage,” which he describes as "just a fancy way of computing a team’s expected winning percentage against an average D-I team."

Duke's Grayson Allen (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
Duke's Grayson Allen (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

For the past four years, Pomeroy's top team at this juncture of the season had a higher percentage than this year's No. 1 Villanova does today. Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin and Duke all finished last season with a higher percentage than the Wildcats' current one and Virginia and last year's Villanova team were just slightly behind.


Is all this parity this season a good thing? There are plenty of pros and cons.

On one hand, the public is often drawn to juggernauts like North Carolina's 2009 national championship team or Kentucky's most formidable teams of the John Calipari era. On the other hand, the slimmer-than-usual margin between the top teams and everyone else suggests this year's NCAA tournament should be especially unpredictable and action-packed.

There are a handful of factors that have contributed to the lack of a dominant team this season, but one of the biggest is that many of this year's elite freshmen did not cluster at traditional powers.

Likely No. 1 overall draft pick Ben Simmons chose to play at LSU, where his godfather is an assistant coach. Potential lottery pick Henry Ellenson selected Marquette, where his brother also plays. Stephen Zimmerman stayed close to home at UNLV, Malik Newman chose his dad's alma mater Mississippi State and Jaylen Brown followed close friend and fellow McDonald's All-American Ivan Rabb to Cal.


The overall weakness of this year's freshman class also has played a role. Many of the freshman who did select name-brand programs have struggled with the transition to the college game and have not performed to expectations.

Brandon Ingram has been sensational for Duke, but the Blue Devils still lack a traditional point guard or any semblance of interior depth because Derryck Thornton hasn't been reliable and Chase Jeter has fallen out of the rotation altogether.

Freshman guards Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have both scored in bursts at Kentucky, but highly touted big man Skal Labissiere has been a major disappointment.

And while Kansas has performed better than either the Blue Devils or Wildcats, the Jayhawks can't reach their ceiling unless decorated big man Cheick Diallo gains Bill Self's trust and begins to make an impact.


The other force at play in producing parity is that just about every prospect who could have turned pro last spring did so. Seven underclassmen from Kentucky's 38-1 team bolted for the NBA, as did the three Duke freshmen that spearheaded its title run. Fellow elite teams Wisconsin, Arizona, Virginia and Louisville were also hurt by defections.

The two best NBA prospects who did opt to stay in school last spring both play for fringe contenders. Providence and Utah would both probably be rebuilding this season if point guard Kris Dunn and center Jakob Poeltl had decided to turn pro.

There was a time when the elite programs had the depth to overcome NBA defections or disappointing freshman classes, but the transfer craze has made that more difficult now. Players who don't receive extended minutes as freshmen often leave rather than stay patient on the bench until their junior or senior seasons.

The result is a season in which the unexpected has become the norm.


UCLA loses to Monmouth but beats Kentucky? Makes perfect sense. Northern Iowa topples North Carolina and Iowa State but starts 2-4 in Missouri Valley play? Why not.

So would anyone truly be shocked if Wake Forest rode Danny Manning's bravado to an upset of the Tar Heels on Wednesday night? Of course not.

In a year when there are no truly elite teams, everyone has hope.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!