If 2020 taught us anything, it was to expect the unexpected. In the world of college basketball, we were experiencing striking similarities in 2021. If things continue on the course they are, we could experience the first unranked matchup between Duke and North Carolina for the first time since 1960. What does this mean for college basketball's blue bloods?
According to many, the blue bloods of college basketball are Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, Duke, & North Carolina. In 2021, these teams are a combined 66-42 for a winning percentage of 63%. However, there have been a handful of cancellations this year due to COVID-19; in 2020, these same schools combined for 111-46 wins and losses, a drastic difference a year later. One could point to a lot of scenarios as to why we would see such a seismic difference, but in my opinion, I believe there are three main reasons why we see college basketball's elite struggle.
The first reason I present being a factor is teams are no longer scared of the upper-elite programs. If you've been able to recruit and develop players over the course of a couple of years, as a program, you feel confident you can remain competitive in a conference that is often dominated by one particular school. This idea is predicated on the assumption one-and-done players are choosing to stay rather than leave for the draft.
The second reason I see there has been a change in recruiting pipelines. While social media isn't a new concept, the "reach" of prospective players is far greater than it has ever been before. No longer are the days for players necessarily waiting to hear from a university. Players have the ability to be proactive in increasing their chances of being granted access to recruiters and vice versa. This trend has resulted in non-blue blood schools scoring big on prospects.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, the development of players has changed from school to school. Raw talent can only get you so far, and while it would be hard to argue Coach K has lost his touch as a coach, the struggle among incoming classes has been on full display this past season. Now, to be clear, I am NOT suggesting coaches like Mike Kryzewski aren't good coaches. In fact, guys like him are damn good coaches and have the resumes to back it up. What I'm suggesting is a lag between the development of players from their senior year of high school to their freshmen year of college. You put five first-year student-athletes on a court together; you're bound to have a few bumps and bruises along the way.
Could things change between now and the start of the tournament? Could this post be irrelevant in a few weeks? Absolutely. BUT, as of right now, according to Joe Lunardi (ESPN Bracketologist), Duke is on the outside looking in along with a handful of other prominent programs. The last time Duke wasn't in the big dance was 1995. I was one. Let that sink in.
Are the blue bloods in danger? You tell me.
Photos of Courtesy: NCAA.com