AP Poll Preseason Ranking: No. 16
Current Record: 10-5
ESPN’s Bracketology Prediction: 11 seed
Coming off one of the most disappointing years in recent history for Roy Williams’ squad, the Tar Heels have come into this 2020 season looking for redemption. Considering North Carolina was expected to compete for an ACC title this year, with some veteran stars and the nation’s No. 2 overall recruiting class, the team had high hopes.
However, with a little over a month until March, North Carolina looks nowhere near its best. The team has taken bad losses to N.C. State and Georgia Tech that they should’ve easily been won. As a team, the Tar Heels have been struggling on both ends of the court. Specifically, beyond the arc, they’re shooting just 30.7 percent from three, 7 percent below the college basketball average. Players on this team who should be knocking down these shots haven’t found their rhythm. Guards Leaky Black, Caleb Love, and Puff Johnson have been shooting 28 percent, 23 percent, and 11 percent, respectively in three-point percentages.
The Heels have recently taken a solid 80-73 win over Wake Forest. They’ll be taking on No. 20 Clemson and Duke early next month. They’ll need to turn things around, as they’re on the brink of missing the March Madness tournament.
AP Poll Preseason Ranking: No. 9
Current Record: 5-5
ESPN’s Bracketology Prediction: Next Four Out
Coming into the season, Duke looked like a solid team overall with lots of firepower. The Blue Devils went 25-6 last season and brought in the No. 3 overall recruiting class, which included four five-stars and six players ranked in the top 55. Through its first nine games of this season, Duke has gone 5-4, 3-2 in conference play. They haven’t had any good wins this year and have lost to ranked Illinois by 15 and Virginia Tech.
The biggest struggle that’s become apparent from the Blue Devils in 2020-21 is production and consistency. Besides sophomore Matthew Hurt, who has been averaging 20 points per game, Duke hasn’t been able to find multiple contributors or any sparks from the bench. In the loss to the Hokies, three starters had 56 of the team’s 67 total points. This included guard Jeremy Roach’s season-high of 22 points. Alongside Roach in the backcourt, point guard DJ Steward was able to drop 14. However, as effective as they were against Virginia Tech, they haven’t been bringing the same energy frequently throughout the year. Both Roach and Steward have been streaky scorers in games and inefficient at times.
Looking ahead, the Blue Devils will play No. 20 Clemson at home to finish off the month. They’ll play Miami and UNC early in February.
AP Poll Preseason Ranking: No. 10
Current Record: 5-9
ESPN’s Bracketology Prediction: OUT
Kentucky came into the season with near similar expectations to Duke. The team is part of one of the most elite programs in college hoops, and it brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation this season. They attained two of the top ten players and six of the top 70 in the class, along with several dynamic transfers.
As much potential analysts saw them having, Kentucky has had one of their worst starts in recent history. Their resume this season displays some unimpressive wins and an abundance of surprising losses. Much of their potential stars have struggled severely this year. The No. 5 prospect and what seemed to potentially be a top 5 2021 draft pick, BJ Boston, has averaged just 11.5 points on 34.7 percent shooting and 17.5 percent from three.
Kentucky’s chances of making the 2021 March Madness Tournament continue to wane, as they’ve lost their last three games. They take on a rough schedule next month, as they play four games in a row against ranked teams. Since the Wildcats don’t have much room for more losses if they want to play in the tournament, the team has lots to figure out, and they must do it soon.