The college basketball season is heating up as teams are working through their league schedules. Top-ranked Kentucky and No. 2 Virginia remain unbeaten midway through January. Several other well-known programs such as Duke, Arizona, and Kansas, are among the favorites to earn top seeds in the annual NCAA tournament. But, only 68 teams will make the Big Dance this March. That leaves 279 Division I college basketball programs that will be left to figure out how to get to that Big Dance next year. Here are five programs that are in need of changes and need them quickly.
- St. John’s
Head coach Steve Lavin had a great run at UCLA and took St. John’s to the NCAA tournament in his first season with the Red Storm. They finished 21-11 in the ultra-competitive Big East Conference. But, St. John’s hasn’t been back since. In the two previous seasons Lavin and company is a combined 37-29. The Red Storm were actually picked by many pundits as one of the favorites to challenge Villanova for supremacy in the conference. It appeared that they just might. St. John’s started the season 11-1 but then dropped three straight, all Big East games. Lavin and his squad are struggling and have zero quality wins. They still face Villanova, Seton Hall, and Providence once more and also get to entertain No. 5 Duke on Jan. 25. The Red Storm need to beat top-tier opponents to prove that they belong in the national championship picture.
- Texas A&M
The Aggies went to four straight NCAA tournaments during the reign of head coach Mark Turgeon, the last in 2011. Turgeon is now the head coach at Maryland and Texas A&M hasn’t come close to an NCAA bid since. Billy Kennedy, now in his fourth year, has the Aggies off to a decent start, 12-5 overall and 3-2 in the SEC. While Kennedy’s team did play well against top-ranked Kentucky – the Aggies lost in double overtime 70-64 – they have not been competitive otherwise. The Aggies lack any star firepower, which is tough to draw at a school where football reigns supreme. Should Kennedy make it to the NCAAs this year, it may make it a little easier to attract the talent necessary to compete in the SEC.
- Oklahoma State
When All-Everything point Marcus Smart left Oklahoma State, head coach Travis Ford’s cupboard wasn’t exactly bare. It wasn’t exactly filled with NBA talent either. Ford, who has taken the Cowboys to four NCAA tournaments in six seasons should be headed for a fifth trip this season…if they can navigate a murderous Big 12 schedule. Le’Bryan Nash, 6-7 senior, averages 17.6 points a game and is quite capable. What the Cowboys need is improved play from its backcourt. That and they are going to need to improve upon their Big 12 play from a year ago when they finished 8-10. That will be easier said than done as six of their league opponents are ranked in the AP Top 25.
- Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets haven’t been relevant in the college basketball landscape since Bobby Cremins retired in 2000. They have not danced in the NCAA tournament since 2010 and fourth-year head coach Brian Gregory is probably on his last legs. Gregory went 11-20 in his first season and hasn’t fared much better since. A 16-15 season followed and then Tech was 16-17 last year. They are 9-8 so far this year and have not won a game in the ACC. It is likely that the Yellow Jackets will suffer through another mediocre season. At its end, Gregory needs to go and the university needs to search long and hard for a quality coach that can restore the glory to Georgia Tech program.
This is head coach Greg McDermott’s first season in four that he does not have his son, Doug, last year’s Naismith Player of the Year. The season started well enough as the Bluejays were 9-3 through most of their non-conference schedule. Then, the Big East season began with a New Year’s Eve date with last year’s Big East tournament champion Providence. Creighton hasn’t won since then. The Bluejays are close, but just can’t seem to get there. They lost to Seton Hall and Marquette by one and Butler by three. Their leading scorer, point guard Austin Chatman, averages just 11 points a game. Creighton’s biggest problem? Shooting. The Bluejays are one of the worst shooting teams in the country. Four of the team’s starters shoot below 40 percent. McDermott needs to somehow get his team to shoot better. If he can, they have a shot at a .500 season. Whether he does or not, McDermott needs to recruit players who can score this offseason.