Ranked teams falling fast in front of hostile crowds

Tyler Smith

Conference play offers few chances for ranked teams to hide, and as a result, many are dropping games against unranked opponents.

There's a reason no team has gone undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

Even the most dominant teams slip up somewhere, and more often than not, it's on the road against a tough conference opponent. That opponent doesn't need to be nationally ranked. It doesn't need to be challenging for a league title. It just needs to be tough enough to compete against an elite squad and have a rabid fan base that can give it an emotional boost.

College basketball has plenty of those teams, and we've seen several already who have knocked off surefire NCAA Tournament teams.

No. 22 Gonzaga suffered its third loss this season on Jan. 9 at Portland, a team it had not lost to in its last 20 tries. The Pilots had lost three out of four coming in, and have already fallen this season to North Texas and Montana State. What did the Pilots have on Thursday? A hot shooting night from three and a near capacity crowd at the Chiles Center. Luck, a balanced scoring attack and a raucous crowd that will not see a team as good as Gonzaga for the rest of the year were enough to lift Portland to the 82-73 win.

Clemson had similar success Saturday at home against Duke. The Tigers had not beaten the Blue Devils since the 2008-09 season, and went into halftime trailing by six. A couple key threes and career highs of 14 points and 14 rebounds from Jaron Blossingame lifted Clemson on the court, while the capacity crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum provided the extra boost. Both of Duke's ACC losses this year have come on the road. The Blue Devils fell at Notre Dame last week in front of another wild crowd at the Joyce Center.

And it's not just Duke and Gonzaga who have been bitten by the road upset bug this year. Oklahoma State has lost at Kansas State. UConn lost at SMU.

Wichita State came dangerously close to falling as well on Saturday. The Shockers overcame a 19-point deficit to win in overtime at Missouri State, while the Bears knocked down 10 threes and held Wichita State to 5-of-22 shooting from long range.

The Shockers aren't going undefeated this year. There will be one game, at some point, where they won't come out ready to play, and their opponent will catch fire. That game will probably not be in Wichita. Syracuse isn't going undefeated either. Or Arizona. Or Wisconsin. These are all very good teams, for sure. They are all capable of making a Final Four run. But asking college kids to come out and play to their full potential 30 times a year, especially against quality teams with the crowd against them, just isn't feasible. History proves that -- both in the past and as recently as Saturday afternoon.

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