Top 10 of the last 10: most underachieving

In the fourth part of a weeklong look at the past decade in college basketball, anoints its top 10 most underachieving programs from the past 10 years.

Originally Published: May 10, 2007
By Andy Glockner |

Editor's note: This Top 10 list is an aggregate of the individual ballots from five ESPN/ basketball experts. The experts' ballots can be found here.

How do you define underachieving? It's more than being consistently bad -- there are plenty of programs in Division I that can claim that dishonor. Much like Larry Brown's Knicks, it has more to do with grossly underperforming, given the resources poured into the endeavor and the relative opportunity for success.

The schools that made this list meet that definition. While most of them have faced some sort of bump in the road (academic issues, off-court indiscretions, etc.), those issues are more the effect of years of disappointment (and related coach hires and/or recruiting) than they are the cause.

Flat-out, these programs should be better than they have been. The good news? Most of them appear to be headed in the right direction and likely will not make this list again five years down the road.

Here they are … today's Top 10: Most underachieving programs of the last 10 seasons.

1. Michigan (4 first-place votes)
True, the NCAA sanctions and the Brian Ellerbe era didn't help the cause of recently deposed coach Tommy Amaker, but there's really no excuse for a school like Michigan to have missed nine consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Michigan had the nation's sixth-largest athletics budget in 2006 ($67.9 million; all budget numbers according to the U.S. Department of Education's office of postsecondary education, per Even though proportionately less goes to the basketball program (expenses of $3.6 million, 49th in D-I), it's unfathomable that a program with the overall brand of Michigan -- one that won the national title in 1989 and made return trips to the championship game in 1992 and '93 -- could have flatlined like this. Injuries definitely hurt the program in recent years, as did player indiscretions off the court, but given that BCS schools get around 25-26 at-large bids each season (in addition to six auto bids), all Michigan (or any BCA team) needs to do is finish in the top 40-45 percent of all BCS teams to get in. Good news: John Beilein is a tremendous coach. Expect the streak to end very soon in Ann Arbor.

2. Florida State
Every year seems like it's the one when the Seminoles will break through and make the NCAAs, and each spring we're left discussing whether they were snubbed. Like Michigan, FSU hasn't made the dance since 1998, but at least it unquestionably is a football school in football country and is trying to gain traction in a tougher basketball conference top-to-bottom than the Wolverines with less historical success to lean on. The Seminoles have a smaller working budget than Michigan, as well. To the Seminoles' credit, they have garnered numerous very high-profile upsets in recent years, especially at home, where they are much tougher than you'd expect, but they never were able to combine quality and bulk into a season good enough for an NCAA bid. Good news: The only two 20-win seasons in the last decade came the last two seasons, although losing Al Thornton will hurt a lot.

3. Virginia
An affluent, quality state school in a great basketball conference, and this season was the program's first NCAA Tournament win since 1995? The Cavaliers hadn't even made the NCAAs since 2001 prior to claiming a share of this season's ACC regular-season title and garnering a (generous) No. 4 seed in the dance. To be fair, most of Virginia's listed $22.9 million in basketball expenses in 2006 had to have been related to the construction of John Paul Jones Arena that opened this past season, but UVa's "normal" basketball budget still is robust. The Cavaliers have had a lot of individual talent on their rosters in recent years, but it hasn't amounted to comparative success -- and now the Cavaliers could be losing both of their excellent guards if Sean Singletary stays in the draft. Good news: The new arena looks fantastic and has become a very formidable stop on the ACC road.

4. St. John's
St. John's
The mid-'80s -- or even the late '90s -- feel like another world ago, as the Johnnies have slid off the relevancy map since Mike Jarvis was fired because of team performance and accumulated player-conduct issues six games into the 2003-04 season. SJU went 49-15 in Jarvis' first two seasons, including an Elite Eight run in 1999, but since then has made the NCAAs only once (a first-round exit in 2002). This despite being located in a borough of the best basketball city in the country and its largest media market. Would an on-campus arena to complement the new practice facility help? Playing at the Garden, thanks in part to the struggles of the Red Storm and the Knicks, along with the steady rise in festivals and tournaments played there, doesn't have the cachet it used to. Good news: New York City is a hoops town and is starved for a winning team. If Norm Roberts can continue to get things figured out, SJU could thrive in a hurry.

5. Arizona State (1)
Great weather, beautiful coeds, a terrific basketball conference, a sizable athletics/basketball budget ... so how have the Sun Devils qualified for only one NCAA Tournament since 1995? Since that appearance in 2003 (when they actually won a game before getting pummeled by Kansas), ASU has been in rapid decline, bottoming out last season in Herb Sendek's first year in Tempe, when ASU almost went winless in the Pac-10. It's also hard to have a national program sharing your backyard. Good news: Sendek proved at NC State that he could build and maintain a successful program in a league with super heavyweights. Losing Kevin Kruger was a killer before this season. Sendek should turn things around in Tempe pretty quickly.

6. Missouri
When you have rival fan bases paying for highway billboards that thank you for your continued mediocrity, that's a telling sign of underachievement. After taking over for Norm Stewart in 1999-2000, Quin Snyder led the Tigers to four more consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including making an Elite Eight as a 12-seed after an underwhelming 2001-02 regular season, but Missouri won only two other NCAA Tournament games during Snyder's entire seven-year tenure and hasn't been in the dance since 2003. Missouri became firmly entrenched in the middle of the Big 12 standings, much of the time while suffering through an ongoing Ricky Clemons saga, before Snyder was fired after the 2005-06 season. Good news: Mike Anderson already has Missouri fans supportive of a new up-tempo style that allowed the talent-short Tigers to be more of a pest than expected last season. Expect quick improvement under the former UAB head man.

7. Oregon State
Oregon State
A Pac-10 team without an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990. That pretty much sums it up. It doesn't look like it's getting better anytime soon -- this past season's 11-21 campaign included a 1-16 mark against Pac-10 teams not named Arizona State. It's not like Oregon State doesn't have a basketball history -- the Beavers made the NCAAs eight times between 1980 and 1990, including an Elite Eight appearance (although three of those years were later vacated), and were No. 1 in the nation for much of the 1980-81 season, when they started out 26-0. It's also not like they are as budget-poor as you might think -- while they don't have Nike replenishing their purse strings or a booster running their athletic department, the Beavers' $2.7 million in basketball expenses still was in the top quarter of Division I. Good news? Hopefully, leading scorer Marcel Jones is merely testing the draft waters and will bring his 15.3 ppg back to Corvallis for next season. The Beavers need his scoring punch. Badly.

8. Georgia
It's hard to estimate exactly how much damage the Jim Harrick regime did in Athens, but the road back has been slow. Harrick got the Bulldogs to the NCAAs twice, but won only one game there, and the academic scandals under his watch are well documented and crippled the program for a number of years. It doesn't help that Georgia is a football-crazy school in the SEC East, where the Dawgs regularly have to contend with Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. In fairness, it's not like Georgia was doing much before Harrick arrived. The Bulldogs hadn't made the NCAAs since Tubby Smith took them there in 1997 and then left for Kentucky. The good news is that the Bulldogs now have a very good coach in place in Dennis Felton, and his teams have improved by leaps and bounds since he took over in Harrick's aftermath. Last season's club had the look of an NCAA at-large dark horse until losing Mike Mercer to injury down the stretch.

9. Rutgers
The school's football program had been the butt of jokes for decades before Greg Schiano led it to within a whisker of a BCS bowl game this past season. In truth, the basketball program's decay may be more unforgivable, given the school's resources and position as the state university of New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1991 and have devolved in the past few years from a team that at least had a very tough home court and would cause some trouble to a patsy in the expanded Big East. This even though the state has some of the best basketball programs in the country and there is no competing second state university siphoning off talent. In a sport such as basketball in which just one true star can lift an entire program, it's almost unfathomable to see a state U in an affluent state with a demonstrated appetite to be better in sports struggle this badly. Good news? Maybe the success of the football and women's hoops teams will encourage progress on the men's hoops side, where Fred Hill Jr. is trying to ramp up the recruiting.

10. South Carolina
South Carolina
The Gamecocks have made one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 and haven't won an NCAA Tournament game since the mid-'70s. The recent back-to-back NIT champs face the same divisional issues as Georgia and, like the Bulldogs, have failed to secure the best players from the state (not that any college landed Kevin Garnett or Jermaine O'Neal) while dealing with a competitive ACC program in its backyard. Things might not be much sunnier in the near future, as the top three scorers on last season's under-.500 team were seniors.

Others receiving votes: DePaul, Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas, Penn State, Northwestern, Purdue, TCU, Kansas State, Evansville, Houston, UCLA, Cincinnati, Nebraska

Andy Glockner is a regular contributor to's college basketball coverage and is the host of the ESPNU college basketball Insider podcast.