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A year ago, North Carolina began the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 after returning four starters from a team that reached the 2022 national title game. The Tar Heels proceeded to produce one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory in college basketball, finishing 20-13 and opting not to participate in the NIT after missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

It was the first time that the preseason No. 1 team missed the Big Dance, but it won't be the last time a highly ranked team disappoints. In fact, a few teams expected to be serious players on the national scene in 2023-24 are off to tough starts as Christmas approaches and the sample size expands to include beginning of conference play in some leagues.

Last week, we covered the top surprise teams in college basketball, and for every school out there unexpectedly rattling off wins to begin the season, there have been others struggling more than expected. For this week's edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are highlighting the season's biggest disappointments.

Michigan State

Nobody had ever coached in 25 straight NCAA Tournaments before Tom Izzo did it last March. It's an amazing accomplishment. But that streak has rarely looked more in jeopardy than it looks right now, which is surprising considering the Spartans started the season ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

They're not No. 4 anymore.

Instead, they're 4-5 with zero wins over teams in the top 60 at  and multiple losses to teams ranked outside of the top 60 at KenPom. When you remove all preseason bias at, Michigan State ranks 54th nationally, largely because of an offense that ranks outside of the top 100. The Spartans are average inside the arc, terrible outside of it and currently projected by KenPom to go 10-10 in the Big Ten. Simply put, that won't be good enough to get Izzo to his 26th straight NCAA Tournament, which is why it's reasonable to call Michigan State the sport's biggest disappointment six weeks into this season. -- Gary Parrish

Saint Mary's

This one's easy. The Gaels lost six regular season games the past two seasons. Through nine D-I games this season, they're already at five. Randy Bennett's 5-5 team (which is technically 4-5 for NCAA purposes, as the first game came against an opponent not in Division I) brought back nearly every key piece from a group that was a No. 5 seed a season ago and won an NCAA Tournament game. 

I voted point guard Aidan Mahaney in the top 50 of our preseason best-players list and included SMC big Mitchell Saxen in the 80s on that list as well. Senior wing Alex Ducas returned as well, and yet Saint Mary's is far from ranked. In the preseason, the Associated Press poll had SMC 23rd. What's more, the Gaels were the narrow pick above Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference this season. That's obviously still possible, but the team will need to use the win at Colorado State last Saturday as an in-season springboard. We almost never see Saint Mary's this skittish. It's strange. -- Matt Norlander


Duke began the season ranked No. 2 and is still clinging to a spot in the AP poll at No. 21. But why? The only supposedly "quality" win is against Michigan State, and the Spartans have been horrendous. The losses include a rare non conference home defeat against Arizona and road losses to Arkansas and Georgia Tech.

While losing at Bud Walton Arena against the Razorbacks is forgivable because of the hostile environment, Arkansas has also been an early disappointment aside from its win over Duke. As for the Yellow Jackets, there is no explaining that one. Even with the win over the Blue Devils, Georgia Tech is just No. 156 in the NET as of Tuesday and had no business beating Duke from a talent standpoint. 

With sophomore stars Tyrese Proctor, Mark Mitchell and Kyle Filipowski spurning the NBA Draft to play with with a loaded freshman class and veterans like Jeremy Roach and Ryan Young, this team was supposed to have it all and hit the ground running. The Blue Devils have plenty of time to get it together and may still compete for the ACC title. But there's no sugar-coating that it's been a subpar start to coach Jon Scheyer's second season. -- David Cobb


The Trojans came into the season with some serious hype around the program. USC was preseason ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 poll and find themselves sitting at 5-4 after a disastrous loss to Long Beach State in the debut of star freshman Bronny James. This is a program that has reached the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons and even made it all the way to the Elite Eight in 2021. The Trojans have one of the best backcourting pairing in the country in veteran guard Boogie Ellis and superstar freshman Isaiah Collier, and yet it hasn't made a difference against inferior Southern California foes UCI and LBSU. 

USC is in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament entirely unless they turn it around soon. With James now in the fold, it could give the Trojans the spark they need to get back on track. After all, the Trojans have a roster that's built to make a deep tournament run. -- Cameron Salerno