Feb. 3 marked a momentous occasion in the college basketball world that has not been seen in more than a decade – Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, three of the most iconic schools in the NCAA landscape, lost on the same day.
To highlight the rarity of this event, its last occurrence was in March 2005. While these teams have remained powerhouses after that, there is reason to believe these blueblood names may be about to go through more difficult times, and that other elite programs may supplant them.
Duke’s defeat came at the hands of a St. John’s team that has failed to secure a win in conference play. The Blue Devils’ subpar defense – a common issue in prior losses – was on full display as the Johnnies’ Shamorie Ponds lit them up for 33 points.
Programs like Duke are known for having players that are not just superior in skill, but also in size and athleticism as well. The fact that it was exposed by a team inferior in those traits notes a susceptible issue.
Kansas’ lack of depth and star power was the primary problem in Oklahoma State’s upset of the Jayhawks.
In a similar manner, Kentucky lost a handful of its top scorers and replaced them with talented, young and mistake-prone freshmen. While the youth has certainly provided flash at times, inexperience has also made them prone to slip-ups, as was seen in Missouri’s upset over the Wildcats.
While these losses are mainly coincidental, the inconsistency of these blue-blood programs may be more telling of a change bound to occur in the NCAA men’s basketball world.
The string of issues among the three teams can be linked to their players and management of the team talent. This will become an especially volatile component as the recruitment world is bound to be shaken up by new regulations and rulings that will come due to Louisville and other recent recruitment scandals.
As the NCAA attempts different methods to crack down on illicit recruiting methods, the landscape will be altered and changed.
Take Duke, which falls into a small group with other programs who rely on a new recruiting class each year to fill most of their starting lineup and handle the majority of the team’s scoring.
Outside of the anomaly in Grayson Allen, the rest of Duke’s starting five are freshmen who were all more highly ranked and rated than Ponds was in high school.
Despite this, Ponds willed his team of non-top 100 prospects to one of the most resounding regular season upsets in recent memory.
Even with four of the top 10 players in the 2017 recruiting class, Duke fell to a team with no conference wins, but perhaps the Johnnies had a better sense of their ideology.
Imagine a potential not-so-distant future where the blue-blood programs like Duke no longer field an absurdly talented class as in the past.
What is missing then, beyond the talent, is an identity.
A loss or diminishing of a team’s identity can reveal lingering issues that were shrouded in the reliance on one-and-done players; these issues can then be exploited.
This would allow teams like Villanova and Purdue, who have shown steady growth and development of an identity without having consistently overloaded recruitment classes, to take the reins in new recruitment standards or other opportunities that could benefit them.
Shaka Smart’s VCU had the havoc defense, Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State has unmatched grit and hustle and many other programs are finding an identity beyond their players’ talent.
Their fresh cultures, team-play, and selfless attitudes may provide a haven for better growth for players who seek to mature rather than go through the motions to get to the league.
A shake-up of this magnitude may not happen this year or in five years. It may not even occur at the hands of new regulations on recruitment, but its imminence is as inevitable as a March Madness bracket being busted.
Kyle Kasharian is a business major from Green, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.