Early Losses Put Lumps of Coal in Hoops Fans' Stockings

Last week, we looked at some Secret Santas: programs that are currently exceeding expectations by dominating their pre-New Year schedules. The flipside of that is Lumps of Coal -- programs from major conferences who can't seem to beat anybody, as well as a few mids who raised our expectations only to come out flat in their resume-building non-conference period.

We'll start with:

Auburn (5-6): It wouldn't be too much of a surprise to see the Tigers losing in the SEC, but they're dropping home games to the likes of Troy and Sam Houston State. In fact, they gave up 107 (!) to the Bearkats yesterday. Auburn has until January 9th to figure out if they're men or mice, because the SEC season will be rough if this keeps up. Arkansas barely has enough players to fill the starting lineup, and they're even better off than Auburn right now.

Virginia (4-4): We knew the Cavaliers would struggle this season, but this is pretty weak. Their most recent loss was to Auburn, if you need some perspective, and they've also dropped games against Stanford, Penn State, and South Florida - the last one by 17 points. Let's hope Tony Bennett's system starts to take hold, or it'll be a long, cold winter in C'ville.

Creighton (4-6): Granted, Dana Altman purposefully gave the Blue Jays a tough schedule this season, but one assumes he also planned to win several of those matchups. Following a ten-point opening loss at Dayton, Creighton has been inconsistent, taking Michigan to OT before losing, then punking out versus Xavier and Iona during that same three-game neutral court losing streak. They then beat in-state foe Nebraska of the Big 12, then lost to George Mason and New Mexico on the road. All this experience might pay off in the end, but right now, it has to smart, as Valley cohorts Missouri State and Wichita State are riding high with ten wins apiece.

Oklahoma (8-3)/Missouri (7-3): Yes, they have winning records. But both of these teams were supposed to challenge Kansas and Texas in the mighty Big 12, and both have lost games they should have dominated with size, talent, and coaching. For Mizzou, the giant killers were Richmond, Vanderbilt, and Oral Roberts. For Oklahoma, it was a bad early stretch against Virginia Commonwealth, San Diego, and Houston.

Louisville (7-3): The November loss at UNLV wasn't too shocking, but the back-to-back drops to Charlotte of the A-10 and Western Carolina of the SoCon - both at home - put on the red alert sirens. Samardo Samuels and Edgar Sosa are playing up to snuff for the most part, but they're getting very little help. A win in this year's visit to Lexington would do a lot to shore up Cards fans' confidence.

UCLA (3-7): It's always amazing when a team (and conference) like this goes off the rails. Sure, Ben Howland lost some great players to the NBA, but that's going to happen when you become a Final Four regular. It's a measure of elite coaching status to be able to reload and stay one step ahead of the wolves, and the Bruins haven't done that. Nikola Dragovic was expected to make some hay this season, but he can't seem to score (7.9 ppg) or stay out of jail. Now a rash of injuries and transfers makes this state of affairs seem even worse.

American (2-9): The two-time defending Patriot League champs would ordinarily be happy to have beat a Big East team on the road (they downed DePaul 62-57), but that lone bright spot in the middle of losses to the likes of St. Francis of Pennsylvania and Florida Atlantic is likely small comfort. The good news is, they're not Colgate (0-9).

Iowa (4-7): I'm at a loss to explain Todd Lickliter's inability to win at Iowa. As the architect of Butler's kick-ass tourney teams of the first half of this decade, he seemed poised to imitate Thad Matta's success in the big leagues. Not so, as the Hawkeyes lost embarassing games to in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State back-to-back before beating Drake to hold off the corn belt 0-fer.

Davidson (3-8): I really believed that Bob McKillop had built a team concept that could survive the loss of Stephen Curry. I knew they'd face challenges this season, but had no idea that would mean so many double-digit losses so early. The near-run game against Penn State (59-57 L) and a win over presumptive SoCon power Citadel give some hope.

San Diego (5-8): It's not the same team that so recently made the WCC a three-team race, but we still expect better than a loss to UC-Riverside and a 37-point outing at Fresno State, especially after early wins over Stanford and Oklahoma. There's plenty of time to turn this around in time for conference play, but St. Mary's and Gonzaga are on as usual, and Portland has stepped into the picture as well.

Odds are, some of these teams will right themselves in conference play and end up with good overall records and even tourney appearances. But right now, they're disappointments.