By Aaron Beard
AP Basketball Writer
The teams that finished at the bottom of college basketball’s power conferences in 2016 are looking for early signs this year will be different.
The number of Power Five teams with at least 15 league regular-season losses has doubled from four in 2012-13 to eight last year: Boston College and Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference; the Big 12’s Oklahoma State and TCU; the Big Ten’s Minnesota and Rutgers; Missouri in the Southeastern Conference; and the Pac-12’s Washington State.
That group is off to a 29-7 start through Tuesday’s games and desperate to build momentum in the season’s opening month.
ESPN analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas said more teams sliding so far back in their leagues — whether due to a brief dip or long-running struggles — illustrates how climbing the standings “is harder now than it’s ever been” after realignment created bigger and tougher conferences.
“If you don’t make the (NCAA Tournament) in a certain number of years, the coach is getting fired in these big leagues,” Bilas said. “The next guy gets four or five years and they fire him. Then all of a sudden you’ve got a 14-year drought. It’s hard.”
A look at those teams:
Injuries, youth and what BC coach Jim Christian called a “piecemeal” roster led to an 0-18 ACC record and a 7-25 mark for a program with one winning season since firing Al Skinner in 2010. Picked last in the ACC again, the Eagles (3-1) lost their home opener to Nicholls State.
“It can’t be done overnight,” Christian said. “So it’s going to have to be done by getting the right kind of guys, getting them in the system they believe in and letting them grow together.”
It’s been bumpy for Richard Pitino, whose Gophers slid from 25 wins to 18 and then eight in his three seasons. Off-court incidents have also led to several player departures.
With six new players, the Gophers have started 5-0 amid pressure on Pitino to show progress.
“Last year was very, very difficult for everybody,” Pitino said. “Those returners, they’ve got pride. They want to show people what we’re all about.”
Missouri is on shaky footing under third-year coach Kim Anderson, though it did take highly ranked Xavier to overtime last week.
The Tigers (2-2) have finished 3-15 in the SEC for two straight years and sat out last year’s postseason due to a self-imposed ban for NCAA violations under Frank Haith. Several players have also left or were dismissed in the past year.
The Cowboys appear to be more of a one-year outlier in this group.
Injuries to Big 12 freshman of the year Jawun Evans and Phil Forte led to a 3-15 league mark after five NCAA trips in seven years.
Under new coach Brad Underwood, Evans ranks among the nation’s best by averaging 27 points in an offense averaging nearly 99 points. Picked seventh in the Big 12, Oklahoma State started 4-0 and beat Connecticut in the Maui Invitational before losing to fourth-ranked North Carolina late Tuesday.
The Scarlet Knights haven’t been to the NCAAs since 1991 while their last winning record came in 2006. Now they have their seventh coach since the last NCAA trip in Steve Pikiell and a 3-33 two-year record in the Big Ten.
The good news: Rutgers (4-0) entered Wednesday’s game against North Texas with its best start since going 5-0 in 2001.
Former Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is increasing tempo and having success on the recruiting trail for his alma mater, which is off to a 4-0 start. Still, it’s going to be a long climb for the Horned Frogs, who haven’t been to the NCAAs since 1998, own an 8-64 Big 12 record in four seasons and are picked last again.
The Demon Deacons beat Indiana, UCLA, Arkansas and LSU in nonconference play, but their young roster couldn’t stop a 2-16 freefall in ACC play — most notably by blowing a 10-point late lead and losing on a banked-in buzzer shot to then-No. 11 Virginia.
In its third year under Danny Manning, Wake Forest (4-1) entered Wednesday’s game against Coastal Carolina averaging 86.4 points with their only loss coming to reigning NCAA champion Villanova.
The Cougars (3-2) were a Top 25 program under Tony Bennett, but they haven’t been to the NCAAs since Bennett left for Virginia in 2009. Now third-year coach Ernie Kent is coming off a 1-17 season in Pac-12 play.
“It’s a year we need to make a positive step, and we’re well aware of that,” Kent said during last week’s Paradise Jam tournament. “It’s not a make-or-break year for us. We know what we’re doing and we know where we’re going.”