Teams I Like & Don't Like
02/08/2013 02:25 PM
This year more than ever, the rankings don’t mean jack. This figures to be one of the most wide-open NCAA Tournaments ever, so much so that the seedings might not mean jack either once the bracket is announced on Selection Sunday.
There’s still over a month of regular-season basketball left to be played, which is enough time for the landscape to change another five or six times before the Big Dance.
But as I sit here on Feb. 8, I’ve started to get an idea of who I like and who I don’t like come March. I placed the teams into three categories: the teams I think can make a run in March, the teams I think could be headed for an early exit, and the ’50-50’ teams, the ones who I’m not really sure about who could either lose in the first round or get all the way to Atlanta for the Final Four. I based this on five key categories that I believe to be essential to championship-level teams:
4-Tournament Experience/Overall Experience
5-Strength of Schedule
So here we go..
TEAMS I LIKE
Michigan-The Wolverines rank high in all five categories, particularly guard play and star power. They also play in the toughest conference in the country. They seem to me like the safest bet in the country to make it to the Final Four. The gut-check win over Ohio State this week is what championship teams are made of.
Duke-I’m counting on Ryan Kelly returning to the lineup at some point, and the Dukies looked like a clear-cut No. 1 before he went down. While the Cameron Crazies may have crossed the line with their taunts of N.C. State’s Tyler Lewis, Duke looked devastating in their win over the Wolfpack.
Indiana-They don’t guard in-bounds plays very well, but the Hoosiers are still a major threat to cut down the nets. Like Michigan, they will be plenty battle-tested after navigating through the Big Ten.
Louisville-All of the ingredients are there; the biggest roadblock for the Cards could be themselves. They seem to have put their annual regular-season drama behind them, at least for the moment, and to me they still look like the best team in the Big East.
Gonzaga-The old adage is if you have both good guards and good big guy, you’ve got a chance. The Zags’ backcourt is nice enough, but it’s versatile 7-footer Kelly Olynyk who could put them over the top. Spending the latter part of the season running roughshod through the WCC won’t have Gonzaga as tournament-ready as a lot of teams, but this is a well-coached, veteran squad that isn’t afraid of the big lights. Don’t be surprised to see them in the Final Four.
Michigan State-The roster isn’t overflowing with lottery picks, but Tom Izzo’s teams are always threats to get to the season’s last weekend. The Spartans don’t have a true star, but freshman Gary Harris could become one down the stretch. Again, NEVER count out Izzo in March.
Butler-Nobody maximizes talent better than Brad Stevens, and it’s really not close. What I like about Butler is its flair for the dramatic win (see the Indiana and Gonzaga games). That speaks well for March Madness.
Miami (Fla.)-The Hurricanes also have a lot of positives on the checklist. The guards can get it done, they have three big men they can rotate, and Jim Larranaga took George Mason to the Final Four. The only drawback is that the Miami program isn’t used to NCAA Tournament success.
TEAMS I DON’T LIKE
Syracuse-Blessed with a lot of length, Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is as effective as ever. But I just don’t think the Orange have enough scoring options, particularly if James Southerland isn’t cleared academically. And Syracuse’s history of early flame-outs is also in the back of my mind.
Ohio State-The Buckeyes have a real star in Deshaun Thomas but lack offensive firepower beyond that. They proved against Michigan that they can bring it against the best in the country on any given night, but I think the lack of another go-to guy will keep them from stringing enough games together to make a run.
Arizona-I haven’t been sold on the Wildcats all season. No serious star power, decent, but not great, guard play, and a over-reliance on freshmen. Rookies Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski are nice and all, but we’re not talking Anthony Davis and Mike Kidd-Gilchrist here. ‘Zona has the look of a team that will get a No. 2 seed and get bounced early.
Missouri-The talent is there, but something seems to be missing in Columbia. And Frank Haith didn’t exactly inspire faith by getting upset by Norfolk State as a 2 seed in last year’s Dance.
Creighton-Due to Player of The Year candidate Doug McDermott and its status as one of the country’s best mid-majors, the Bluejays will be a trendy pick to go far. But their resume’ isn’t really all that impressive. Their best wins came in November against Wisconsin and Arizona State, they lost on the road to a bad Drake team, and were blown out by Boise State and Indiana State.
N.C. State and UCLA-These two teams are mirror images of one another. They have tons of talent, but seem to lack chemistry and intensity. N.C. State also has serious defensive issues while the Bruins struggle shooting from the perimeter.
TEAMS I DON’T KNOW IF I LIKE OR NOT
Florida-The Gators pass the look test. Good guards, shooters, a post presence (Patric Young) and a coach with two rings. But I just have a hunch these guys will disappoint in March. Losing Will Yeguete to a knee injury doesn’t help, either.
Kentucky-This much I do know: Nobody will want to see the young and talented Cats land in their bracket. But what they actually do when they get there is anybody’s guess. Could they lose in the first round? Yep. Could they get to Atlanta? Absolutely. A lot will depend on matchups. I may have a better gauge on UK’s fortunes after I see them against Florida twice and Missouri.
Minnesota-There’s a lot to like about Tubby Smith’s squad: They’re athletic, crash the offensive boards and get in your grill defensively. But they also don’t shoot it extremely well from outside and have no bench.
VCU-Shaka Smart’s pressure defense will no doubt befuddle at least one team in the tournament. But do the Rams have what it takes to get to its second Final Four in three years? Perhaps more than any other team, matchups will determine VCU’s fate. A team with good enough guards to deal with the pressure can deal with the Rams.
Kansas State-I think a lot of people might be sleeping on the Wildcats. Bruce Weber was run out of Champaign, but don’t forget he did lead the Illini to the title game in 2005. This is a tough-minded, veteran group, but I don’t know if they have quite enough to get past the first weekend.
Cincinnati-I was high on Cincinnati early in the season, and they’ve lived up to my expectations for the most part. The guard play is outstanding, and Mick Cronin has plenty of length and athleticism at his disposal. The only thing that scares is me is a lack of a low-post threat, which limits what they can do offensively against good teams.
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