Why UCLA, Louisville and others dropped out of top 25 (and what they can do to get back)

There were a few results last weekend that surprised the college basketball world — Duke losing at Boston College, Kansas losing at home — but if you glanced at the top 25 when the week was over, it didn’t look terribly different from when the season began.

Yes, there are teams in different places, but only a half-dozen of the original preseason top 25 have fallen out of the rankings and been replaced by a half-dozen programs that have experienced success either unexpected (Texas Tech) or not expected this soon (Florida State) or at this level (Arizona State).

MORE: How Boston College provided the blueprint to beat Duke

Over the next couple days, we’ll look at what’s gone wrong for those who’ve fallen out of the picture (Wednesday) and what’s gone right for the teams that have risen (Thursday). On both sides, what you learn is that predicting which teams will have successful seasons is no easy game.

On the outs…

Southern California

Preseason rank: No. 10

Key results: lost to Oklahoma, Texas A&M, SMU

What’s gone wrong: This has been an offense that relies far too much on the jump shot, even though it has not proven itself as a jump-shooting team. In the three defeats, the Trojans shot a combined 22 of 81 (27.2 percent) on 3-pointers. They were below a point per possession in two of those three games. They rank near the bottom of Division I in free throws earned. Forward Bennie Boatwright’s return to health was supposed to provide a boost, but he’s taking roughly half his shots from long range and converting only 28 percent of them.

What can be fixed: There were signs of improvement at the offensive end in the 85-83 loss to Oklahoma, but too much of that was a function of the opponent; the Sooners have been happy to outgun their opponents through the early portion of the season. The Trojans still didn’t get fouled enough, earning only 14 free throws in a high-possession game. USC needs to become more insistent about getting the quality of shots it wants.

What’s next: The Trojans have three home games before leaving for the Diamond Head Classic and a Dec. 23 opener against Akron.

Minnesota

Preseason rank: No. 15

Key results: lost to Miami, Nebraska, Arkansas

What’s gone wrong: The offseason injury to forward Eric Curry has had an even greater impact on the Gophers than suspected. Coming off a year-long injury absence, forward Davonte Fitzgerald hasn’t been ready to contribute. Talented freshman Isaiah Washington has been too eager on offense; he is far and away the team’s leader in shots per minute, even though he’s converting at a 35.7 percent clip. Coach Richard Pitino has trimmed his rotation to the point only seven players average double-figure minutes, and no one came off the bench for more than 13 in a narrow win over Drake.

What can be fixed: Washington is a significant talent, and having just three games in the next 24 days will allow Pitino and his staff to make progress with the freshman’s understanding of how to make an impact within his role. Whether they can get any contribution from Fitzgerald, backup big Bakary Konate or sophomore Michael Hurt will be a huge difference.

What’s next: The Gophers have Oral Roberts, Florida Atlantic and Harvard at Williams Arena before returning to Big Ten play in January.

Louisville

Preseason rank: No. 16

Key results: lost to Purdue, Seton Hall

What’s gone wrong: Really, not as much as some other teams. It has been no shame to lose to two high-quality, senior-rich teams, both in close contests. That the Cardinals are out of the top 25 has little consequence relative to the outcome of their season. Where they lacked in the two defeats was in late-game execution, most notably in surrendering an offensive rebound to Purdue guard Carsen Edwards with 1:27 left and a two-point U of L deficit. The Cards then allowed a layup to Vincent Edwards and wound up being outscored 10-3 in the final minute.

What can be fixed: What they do need is more consistent contribution from their young bench, as when backup center Malik Williams nailed three first-half 3-pointers in a home victory over Indiana. Just about every key reserve is a freshman, and none is an elite prospect whose ability along might get Louisville through some crucial minutes. Players such as forward Jordan Nwora and guard Darius Perry need the confidence that comes with experience. The Cards also need to find a confident secondary scorer to support wing Deng Adel.

What’s next: The Cardinals get old rival Memphis at noon Saturday, then two home games on the way to the Dec. 29 trip to Kentucky. But one of those, a Dec. 23 game against Grand Canyon (7-2), could be tricky.

Northwestern

Preseason rank: No. 19

Key results: lost to Creighton, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech, Purdue

What’s gone wrong: The loss of forwards Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn from last year’s team did not appear to be debilitating on paper, especially with sophomore Aaron Falzon expected back from injury. But the Wildcats lost a significant part of their defensive dynamic with Lumpkin gone, and no one has adequately filled Taphorn’s dozen minutes per game and reliable 3-point shooting. Falzon has not been comfortable shooting from any distance (save his rare trips to the foul line) and has not contributed as a defender or rebounder.

What can be fixed: Northwestern’s core group of point guard Bryant McIntosh, center Dererk Pardon and wings Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law have kept the Wildcats competitive in every defeat save the Texas Tech disaster. If Falzon can build on the momentum of this game against Chicago State (five 3-pointers), and anyone else (Jordan Ash, Isaiah Brown, freshman Anthony Gaines) can become consistently productive, there’s still time and opportunity for the Wildcats.

What’s next: The Wildcats don’t play many dull games; Valparaiso, DePaul and Oklahoma all will present challenges before they get back into Big Ten play.

UCLA

Preseason rank: No. 21

Key results: lost to Creighton, Michigan

What’s gone wrong: This seems like a trick question. Let’s just say: This team agreed to travel to China to start the season, and the results of that trip have devastated the Bruins frontcourt — along with embarrassing the university on an international stage. Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were arrested for shoplifting and — well, you know the rest. You also know that Riley (6-10) and Hill (6-10) have been suspended indefinitely, and the Bruins are starving for frontcourt depth. Creighton smashed the Bruins on the boards, and Michigan converted 57 percent of its 2-point attempts.

What can be fixed: Ball is gone, blessedly, but there’s been no word about whether Riley and Hill will return. There is pressure within the university community to keep them out for the year. If they both are allowed back, say, after the fall semester or at the start of league play, they could make a significant difference for a team that is getting elite point guard play from Aaron Holiday and capable play from freshmen Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. With two extra frontcourt bodies, the Bruins might strongly compete for the title in a struggling Pac-12.

What’s next: There are tough national TV games against Cincinnati and Kentucky wrapped around a home game against South Dakota before visits from Washington State and Washington open Pac-12 play.

Saint Mary’s

Preseason rank: No. 22

Key results: lost to Washington State, Georgia

What’s gone wrong: The Gaels have not been able to quickly cover for the departures of Dane Pineau and Joe Rahon, particularly in their team defense. They ranked 29th in defensive efficiency, but both WSU (1.25 points per possession) and UGa (1.19) wrecked the Gaels at that end. Saint Mary’s is getting 21.3 points per game from star center Jock Landale, but they’ll have to tighten their D to stay in the fight with Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference.

What can be fixed: Even though Saint Mary’s has won three consecutive games, the defense still is not dictating to opponents; California shot 49 percent from the floor, and Seattle hit 44 percent even though they fell by a combined 35 points. What can’t be fixed is that the schedule provides only the same old opportunities for quality wins: home and home against the Zags, of course, and maybe the two games against BYU if the Cougars can keep it together.

What’s next: UC Irvine, Dayton and UNC Asheville, all at home, before the WCC opener against Loyola Marymount.

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