Welcome to the Eyetestlopedia. This is my guide to all NCAA Tournament Teams:
(University at) Albany
Weakness: Defensive rebounding
UAlbany is returning to its third straight NCAA Tournament via an American East Championship and has the best storyline in college basketball. Australian national Peter Hooley missed a good chunk of the season to be with his ill mother. She passed away earlier this winter. He returned in mid-February after missing 8 games and hit the game-winning three pointer in the American East Championship! From a basketball standpoint, Sam Rowley is an ambidextrous forward around the block. He scores well (and has a brother who comes off the bench). Two junior college transfers are playing their first year to help UAlbany fill some American East championship voids. Unlike a great number of Cinderellas, UAlbany does not take a ton of three-pointers. The Great Danes rebounded the ball by committee to beat NBA prospect Jameel Warney in the championship game. Defensive rebounding is not traditionally a strength. The Danes take good care of the basketball, however. They’re outside of the top 300 nationally in team assists, however. I think this team has a lot to be proud of in terms of accomplishments, but don’t expect an upset win in the tournament.
Strength: Athleticism, full court pressure
Weakness: Offensive cohesion in the half court
More: As I wrote on Dec. 9th, Arkansas was knocked out of the top 25 unfairly after losing to a hungry Clemson team. Arkansas has the ability to wow a neutral crowd in a tournament setting. NBA-caliber athletes like Portis and Qualls can absolutely steal the show with their athleticism. I believe this is the best team coach Anderson has had in his Arkansas tenure. It’s just a question whether he can manage that athleticism, which seems over-aggressive at times. For example, in the aforementioned Clemson game, Qualls had to be sat down because he got into a verbal back-and-forth with some players. Some people are talking about Wofford beating Arkansas, but I disagree. I like a Razorback team with two pros and recently challenged three times by one of the best teams in college basketball regular season history (Kentucky). Wofford, meanwhile, struggled to beat a 20-loss team (Furman) in its championship game.
Strength: Athletes everywhere
Weakness: Occasional droughts on offense
Arizona has one of the best defensive point guards in the country. This is T.J. McConnell’s senior year, and you can see that he’ll do everything to win. Stanley Johnson has received the accolades he deserves. However, if Arizona is going to win a national championship, he needs to produce similar to another freshman: Carmelo Anthony. Kaleb Tarczewski is a great post player. He’s just a junior, but I’m waiting for an explosion that sends him into the NBA draft. With Johnson’s emergence, Tarczewki’s offensive numbers have actually gone down this year. But he took over the Oregon game. A high efficiency around the rim, including some game-sealing dunks, put that PAC Championship away. Also watch out for Gabe York, one of the best shooters in the country. If teams try to get cute and zone-defense the Wildcats, York can torch them.
Strength: Length on defense
Weakness: Scorer as the shot clock winds down
If your NFL football team needs a Tight End, tweet your GM to sign Rico Gathers. The Baylor Bears small forward rebounds like a right guard downhill on run offense. Sometimes the size and power of Baylor appears to be unbalance by a measure of polish in the mid-range game. Taurean Prince is an inticing athlete to watch on offense. Unfortunately, he is not a Perry Jones III yet. (Perry Jones III plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder now but never truly peaked at Baylor in terms of his scoring potential). Baylor’s point guard, Kenny Chery, missed the first fifth of the season with an injury. He was re-injured in mid-January. It will be interesting to see what his status is in March and whether Prince or anyone else steps up as a consistent 12-15 point-per-game guy. Regardless, Baylor is a time that wants to slow the game down and slug it out.
Strength: Sharing the ball
The Belmont Bruins will be undersized versus their tournament opponent, but possibly better coached. Belmont ranks 27th in field goal percentage because this team can really shoot. In the OVC Conference Championship, they beat Murray State but out-shooting them late from the perimeter. The Bruins came back from a 8 point halftime deficit. Combo guard Craig Bradshaw is a good orchestrator, penetrator. Belmont did throw away some balls during offensive lapses. However, despite rebounding being a weakness traditionally, Belmont out-rebounded a bigger Murray State team to win the OVC Championship game. These Bruins also have tournament experience, which you cannot teach. Don’t overlook the fact that Chamberlain, Mobley, Bradshaw, Turner and Laidig all logged minutes in the 2013 NCAA Tournament game against 6-seeded Arizona (in a loss).
Strength: One of the nation’s best scorers
Weakness: Transition defense
The Boise State Broncos are one of America’s hottest teams. They began the year 10-6, 0-3 in the Mountain West before going on a tear! The Broncos have won 14 of 15 games since a loss at Wyoming, including a two game sweep against ranked San Diego State. The eye test is still focused on what we learned from that Wyoming Cowboys loss. For one, Larry Nance Jr. chewed up Nick Duncan in the post. Duncan’s lack of foot speed made Nance look like the next Karl Malone. Speaking of which, the Cowboys were able to get out and run. Some transition buckets were entirely uncontested. That said, since that game the Broncos have done what they do best: score the rock. Derrick Marks has six 30+ scoring efforts. The only downside is that the Broncos could experience games with under 10 assists. I like Boise State if they play against a team without a post scorer and without a shut-down defender. A team like Gonzaga would be Boise’s worst nightmare, because they have interior scorers like Przemek Karnowski and a lockdown defender in Gary Bell Jr. As of March 10th, Joey Lunardi has Boise State projected to play SMU. That would be a mirror-image matchup. Both teams drift into the AAU summer league style of wild play occasionally.
Buffalo Strength: Defensive rebounding
Weakness: Taking care of the ball
It’s impressive to see Buffalo of the MAC rank in the top 25 nationwide in rebounding. When you watch them, some thick guys upfront like Justin Moss jump out at you. The junior from Detroit is affectionally listed at 240 pounds. Both guards are under impressive in terms of orchestrating a traditional offense. Lamonte Bearden and Shannon Evans each hover around 2 assists-per-turnover per game. With some of those huskies down low, I find myself asking for the guards to let the big dogs eat. On defense, they also have a tendency of getting lost going under picks. But, hey, Bobby Hurley is their head coach. He’s one of the best point guards to play college basketball in the modern era. I would not be surprised if the Bulls continue to massage that 175th Assist-per-game rank as a team. The good news is Bearden and Evans create their own shots at will. Buffalo is the quintessential 15 or 16 seed to cover a first half spread because a team overlooks them (as Kentucky did this season), before adjustments are made in the second half. A fellow Upstater and friend of the blog on Twitter, who is also a SUNY/Cornell graduate, challenged the idea of Buffalo being a 15 or 16 seed. I agree they likely won’t be a 16. However, I can’t see them projected as a 13. Let’s settle on 14.5 for now on March 12th. In the championship game against Central Michigan, when the Bulls got up-and-down the court, they looked like a 9 or 10 seed. Freshman Bearden is high risk, high reward with the ball, but can do a lot of shake and bake. I love the back-screen action made off the ball from the extended-wing to the rim. Rodell Wigginton had a beautiful catch on an alley-oop dunk. If the Bulls were a real estate property, the curb appeal would have a neutral crowd buying-in. I liked the flashes of what I saw in that MAC Final.
Strength: Veterans Woods and Jones
Weakness: A point guard who scares you
The Butler Bulldogs struggle to stop dribble penetration. That was apparent in the Tennessee game in mid-December. The UNC win was very nice in the Atlantis tournament. Alex Barlow and Kellen Dunham are good guards, but better shooters than they are distributors.
BYU Strength: Three point shooting Weakness: Transition defense BYU is truly never out of a basketball game because the Cougars can shoot the three point ball just as well as any team. Tyler Haas is not the only scorer on this team, they have a number of guys who can score 15 per game. I watched BYU battle Saint Mary’s in mid-January. At the time, BYU was the highest scoring team in America. BYU struggled to guard center Brad Waldo for St. Mary’s down low in the post when he really wanted to score. Additionally, BYU was out-rebounded 41-28 in this game. Anson Winder was injured for this game, which was a loss of 15 points per game. BYU lost a very hard-fought battle against Saint Mary’s that made me more a believer of West Coast Conference teams than a non-believer in the loser. I also witnessed BYU battle with Utah earlier this season. The Cougars also lost that game, but showed that they can score in transition very well if the other team’s guards sag in for offensive rebounds.
Weakness: Free throw percentage
The chanticleers are my pick to become this year’s Florida Gulf Coast. Coastal Carolina returns four of five starters from last year’s team that contested Virginia during the 1-16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament. They contest at the rim, though they don’t have a true center. In the Big South Championship game, Coastal Carolina also fouled Winthrop often and made them earn it at the line. Warren Gillis scores well from the 2 spot. They get solid bench contributions. The one player who did not log minutes in that Virginia game, sophomore Elijah Wilson, came off the bench to score 19 critical points. Badou Diagne is always the guy who jumps off the screen when I watch Coastal. He’s a 6’7″ junior who looks and plays like a college version of Luol Deng. However, he contests a lot of shots at the rim. He registered no blocks in the Winthrop win, but was definitely a factor on defense. Diagne grabbed 5 rebounds and used three of his fouls well.
Editor’s Note: I am quite possibly the only person at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas rocking the Coastal Carolina t-shirt. Love them +20.5 points.
Davidson Strength: Equal opportunity offense Weakness: Inside scoring It’s not just the residue of Steph Curry’s legacy at Davidson, but the insertion into the A-10 conference that has very talented high school players joining this school. Davidson is one of the best coached teams in America. They run a motion offense that keeps defenses guessing. A back-door cut is so predictable but undetectable. Check the roster. There’s an international identity to this team, which adds to the mystery of its composition. Davidson ranks among the top five schools in the nation for three pointers made per game. A weakness I will list, for now, is inside scoring. The coach joked earlier this season that the team has been so successful from behind the 3PT arch, that the staff would only allow them to shoot threes an entire game. Speaking of an entire game, the Virginia Davidson game showed me something: the Wildcats confused the Cavaliers early in the game, but struggled to have the staying power to endure an entire game with a lead.
Strength: Good shooting team
Justin Sibert, Scoochie Smith and Dyshawn Pierre return from a team that made last year’s Elite 8. However, the Flyers lose Devon Scott and another player with a dismissal from the team. Coach Archie Miller is working the reverse PR-spin from what Coach Calipari is doing down in Lexington, KY. Miller says that he has the happiest players in the nation because he only has seven players eligible so they all get playing time. (This is the same Archie Miller who gave 11 players minutes in the ’14 NCAA Tournament game against the Florida Gators). This lack of depth will inevitably catch up with them. Additionally, the Flyers do not have a player taller than 6′ 6.” Credit the Flyers for exceptional conditioning. They can play a 40 minute track meet, even with seven guys.
Strength: Freshmen who play like upperclassmen
Weakness: Free throws
Despite all the publicity that Kentucky’s freshmen get, Duke has the two top freshmen in the country, in my opinion. Jahliil Okafor is the best big man in basketball. Tyus Jones is the most clutch player in America. Okafor showed that next-level gear against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in a street fight won by the Blue Devils. Jones showcased his ice-in-the-veins nature against Wisconsin, St. John’s and UNC, to name a few. Against UNC, he scored the last seven of 9 points in regulation. Duke won in overtime, despite hitting only 15 of 30 free throws in regulation. This team definitely plays better against bigger teams with the final Plumlee (two others played for Duke) brother. Rasheed Sulaimon is the first suspension in Duke program history (in who can remember how long). Freshman Justise Winslow has picked up the slack since Sulaimon’s absence. He’s scored double digits in every game since. He averaged 14.5 points in the first six games after the departure.
When I’m watching a mid-major basketball team, I’m watching for the ball to do the talking. I don’t want to see players, especially in the post, filibuster with one-on-one stuff. I want to see a team like SF Austin or Davidson that shares the ball. A pass will *always* travel quicker than a dribble. Montana and Eastern Washington each share the ball okay, but got away with moves in the Big Sky Championship that will I doubt we’ll see in the NCAA Tournament when they’re a 15 or 16 seed. Each team has big men that were fed and got back-down interior looks after a pivot and dribble. For example, 6’8″ Vinky Jois got to the free throw line by establishing his interior offense for Eastern Washington. I remember the Syracuse Montana game when the Orange erupted and embarrassed the Grizzles. That’s what I see happening this year. Montana REALLY struggle getting out of the gates against Eastern Washington (and its game was played at home). I also look for a STAR. Harold the show Areceneaux and/or Damian Lillard aren’t walking through that door. However, sophomore Tyler Harvey emerged and won the league championship game for the Eagles. Congrats to them, I just don’t see this team’s success translating to the big dance.
Georgetown Strength: Shooting from distance Weakness: Defensive rebounding I was in attendance at Madison Square Garden for a key non-conference matchup between the Hoyas and the Indiana Hoosiers. (Click here to read my full game recap). What jumped out to me was the limitations of Joshua Smith, the center for the Hoyas. Indiana is light on experienced and talented post players, and Georgetown was still out-rebounded while Smith committed 4 fouls and committed 3 turnovers. Georgetown also shot only 53% from the free throw line in this game after 26 attempts. That worries me if they play bigger teams in the NCAA Tournament. What is encouraging: the fact that supplemental wings Aaron Bowen and L.J. Peak supplied some pop to the offense when the guards weren’t getting shots. Those guards, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Jabril Trawick, scored a combined 41 points. They’re the Big East’s most skilled and experienced backcourt.
Gonzaga Strength: Experience, inside-out offense
Weakness: Athleticism on defense More: I truly believe this is the best Gonzaga team I have ever seen. There was a ton of off-season hype, but they are playing up to it. Sabonis’s international experience effectively sheds his freshman label, Wiltjer is literally a champion, and Pangos (by all accounts) is healthy this year.Hampton Strength: Guard play Weakness: Post scoringCredit the Hampton Pirates for a very strong performance in the MEAC Championship game. This team has terrific guard play, a trio that scored in the teens and twenties apiece versus Delaware State. Hampton double-teamed the post and stud center Kendall Gray. Gray was kept to just 6 points and fouled out as the Pirates were relentless to the rim. They don’t score a ton from inside, but that’s okay. They turned the ball over only 7 times and registered 13 assists in a relatively low scoring win before the free throw shooting contest began. I just looked up the stats. Hampton is inside the nation’s top 50 in rebounds but outside the top 300 in assists. I guess that’s what happens when a team’s guards can all score. Also take into account that both Hampton and Delaware State finish the season with records around .500. Despite this fact, I think Hampton will compete in the first half of a first round game.
Indiana Strength: Pure shooters Weakness: Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s inconsistency In my Nov. 8th article, I wrote about how Yogi Ferrell can lead this team to the tournament. I picked them as a super sleeper to challenge for a championship. Well, that won’t happen, although I have a small wager on it. I feel like sophomore center Mosquerea-Perea couldn’t perform for six straight games. Unfortunately, for the Hoosiers, they are having trouble watching him piece together a full productive game at this point. Against Montrezl Harrell and the Louisville Cardinals, HMP began the game with two momentum-building dunks. Guys like me thought to myself “where did this come from?” These are the performances that standout during the NCAA tournament. I have no doubt he can energize in this way. Mosquera-Perea averages 8 points on the season, including that 10 point effort against Louisville. However, he scored only 4 in a loss to Eastern Washington (you read that correctly) and 3 in a loss to SMU. I write all this, because the Hoosiers are already set in the back-court. My belief in Yogi Ferrell is well-documented, but it’s the confident play of James Blackmon, Jr. that has me even more encouraged with the Indiana guards. Blackmon Jr. is one of the best freshman in the country because of his silky smooth shooting and surprising athleticism at the rim. This game against Wichita State is a perfect basketball matchup. Each team’s strength is around the perimeter and shooting.
Iowa Strength: Defensive tenacity Weakness: Guarding scorers in the backcourt Iowas is a team that fluctuates its defensive schemes and does so well. That is not an easy thing to do. It is difficult enough to coach young men to run a sound offense. When you start subbing guys in and out on the defensive end while alternating between zone, match-up zone, full court, man and a heavy-handed double team, you have heads spinning as if you just finished reading this sentence. Coach Fran McCaffery has smart guys who can pull it off. I was happy to see Coach McCaffery also substitute out point guard Mike Gessell in late-game defensive scenarios against Ohio State in the first conference game. In fact, McCaffery played 8 Hawkeyes 16 minutes apiece or more. Gessell, like his counterpart Peter Jok, struggle in guarding stud combo guards. Employing some taller more athletic defenders such as Jarrod Uthoff (who looks quite comfortable in his return to his native state as former Iowa POY). On the offensive end, the Hawkeyes share the ball as well as any team in America. Aaron White will graduate as one of the best scorers in Iowa’s history. He surpassed the 1500 career points mark just before the ball dropped on New Year’s.
Iowa State Strength: Amphibious Weakness: Vulnerable to bullies on the block When I say amphibious, I mean that this team can play underwater, in the air, in the paint, from the free throw line and on the three point stripe. The Cyclones game travels. Everyone on this team can hit a three pointer. George Niang is the quintessential Cyclone. He is a power forward playing center. Niang lost some 50 pounds in the last year. He played high school ball with Norleans Noel and Wayne Selden Jr. Despite his evolving frame, he knows how to get a shot off. By having defenses respect Niang’s three point prowess, Fred Hoiberg’s pro sets opens the entire floor on offense. In fact, they can score in transition too. Brice DeJean-Jones, Naz Long, Montae Morris and Dustin Hogue can all get red hot, I mean NBA Jam hot, at any time.Kansas Strength: Depth Weakness: An established go-to scorer Most people who watch Kansas agree that Wichita-native Perry Ellis should be fed more often in the offense. Ellis is the team’s leading scorer by far. However, you’ll notice the Jayhawks experience long stretches where they don’t run the offense through him.
Kentucky Strength: That you don’t need me to explain them Weakness: That you haven’t seen them lose yet Turn on ESPN or any other mainstream analysis. Talk to me on April 1st.
Weakness: I haven’t seen this team, but the size
I have not seen this team play, but reading its stats, I don’t like the blowout losses to KU, West Virginia, Yale and, especially, Loyola Maryland. The Leopards ranks 8th in the nation in assists, which is great for them. The Patriot League has been competitive in recent years, but I don’t think that trend continues here.
Strength: Transition offense
Weakness: Guard play (especially tracking Josh Gray’s injury)
LSU is great in transition but lacking in half court offense. Point guard Josh Gray is a little selfish with the ball and Keith Hornsby has an awful hitch to his shot. Gray may be the reason this team doesn’t make the big dance. He is not a good distributor.
Strength: City toughness
Weakness: Three point shooting
Shane Reynolds is one of the best three point shooters in the country, yet Manhattan shoots under 20 percent from behind the arch. If Reynolds gets hot, he could get NBA Jam-type hot. Ashton Pankey is the Maryland transfer who does a bit of everything for the Jaspers. If a team can make him really work on defense at the power forward spot, that’d be a huge positive. Pankey has range on offense, shot fakes and has a great face-to-the basket game driving the lanes. Jermaine Lawrence is very good all-around player at 6′ 10.” Guard Emmy Andujar is probably your poster boy from the team that gave Louisville a challenge in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament. Manhattan is very deep, but still only returns two starters from that 2013 tournament team. That said, any team that can fatigue an upbeat Iona offense because the sheer number of contributors, is deep. It’s rare to see Iona with tired legs (yet, as I alluded to below, they were victim to a monumental collapse at the hands of BYU in 2012).
Maryland Strength: Dez Wells Weakness: Youthful turnovers I was SHOCKED to see Maryland ranked 12th in the nation as they played a fragile Michigan State team for the first game of conference play. Naturally, the game went to double overtime and Maryland got the win; thus solidifying its high ranking (which I still poke holes in). Maryland beat Iowa State in November. Aside from that high quality win, the Terrapins really do not have another impressive win. Michigan State has lost Adriean Payne and Gary Harris in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft. For whatever reason, Brandon Dawson does not look like the offensive enforcer he could be. Travis Trice is a nice complimentary player, but cannot be relied on as a go-to guy. However, this blurb is not about Michigan State. It’s about the fact that Maryland (new to the Big 10) will sustain this top 25 ranking by default over the course of non-conference play. Come the NCAA Tournament, look for them to be a major candidate for upset alert as a 4 vs. 13 seed.
Strength: Ability to get red-hot shooting
Weakness: Free throws Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, this is a transitional year for Michigan State. Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice can get super hot from 3 at any point. However, I question when the Spartans do not feature senior stud Brandon Dawson late in games. A cast of youngsters like “Tum-tum” are carving a niche for themselves with ninja-like stealthiness. However, my face turns purple like Tom Izzo in a much-needed timeout when I try to brainstorm who on this team can go get a bucket at the rim. When they do get to the free throw line, Sparty is in last place in the Big 10 in free throw percentage. It hovered in the low 60’s for a percentage. Late this season, the answer has been Trice and Valentine from behind the line. Live by the three, die by the three. We shall see what happens.
Strength: Lacey’s leadershipWeakness: Assist to turnover ratio
When you watch the Wolfpack, the eye test would tell you its strength is ball-handlers. However, they average 12 assists to 11 turnovers per game. The Wolfpack rank outside of the top 250 in total assists per game. A strength of theirs is creating turnovers with its guards hands and making the opponent’s guards work hard on defense. That doesn’t necessarily equate with sharing the ball. I love Trevor Lacey’s leadership. He transfers from Alabama, where he played in some SEC battles over his three year career there. LSU, meanwhile, has fluctuated between Josh Gray and Tim Quarterman handling the primary point guard responsibilities. I see this game as looking like the most street-ballish game of the Thursday/Friday combo.
New Mexico State
New Mexico State hasn’t been blown out of a game all season. The Aggies worst loss of the year was its first game of the year. They lost to Wichita State by 17 but matched the Shockers point production in the second half. The Aggies also turned the ball over 20 times in that contest. They have two seniors in the post who get the job done. You may remember Sim Bhullar, the 7’3″ center from the Aggies recent tournament teams. Well his brother is a sophomore but also the fourth big man off the bench. That gives you an idea of the size they maintain. They also hit 8-15 3PT’s in the WAC Championship game, showing some real balance.
North Dakota State
Strength: Versatile bigs in transition
Weakness: Finding easy baskets Red shirt freshman A.J. Jackobson is playing like a veteran at this point with a lot of confidence. This is not the same team that defeated Oklahoma in the 5-12 matchup in last year’s tournament. Just guards Lawrence Alexander and Kory Brown return from that starting lineup. (Sophomore Carlin Dupree also passes the eye test). They even have a new coach in David Richman. I like that the only returning starters are guards. Alexander helps the bison with the 7th best turnover ration nationwide. North Dakota only turns the ball over 9 1/2 times per game on average. On offense, there is a ton of ball-sharing on the perimeter. Guards dribble hand-off and weave to try and find a driving lane. There is not a terrific amount of moving away from the ball and towards the rim. The Bison rarely find an easy or open shot on a backdoor cut. North Dakota has some lumberjacks down low that will give up some foot speed but never girth. Important to note: those lumberjacks had the wood laid to them early in the season to both Texas and Iowa. both team beat them by more than 30 points.
Strength: Defensive rebounding
Weakness: Streakiness North Florida won the Atlantic Sun Conference, AKA the league that sent Mercer and Florida Coast toward successful NCAA Tournament appearances. North Florida is big. North Florida has so much size, it beat Purdue. The Ospreys have a 6’6″ guard who is a leading scorer in Jalen Nesbitt. Demarcus Daniels is the defensive player of the year, but scored in the post well against SC Upstate in the championship game. In fact, he single handedly won the game with 22 points off of the bench. What concerns me is that the Ospreys gave up a 12 point halftime lead at home to SC Upstate during a home-court championship game. Therefore, the Ospreys are streaky and also rank outside the top 200 on total rebounds nationwide. Despite its size, this team also takes a lot of three-pointers. North Florida shut down one of SC Upstate’s dominant scorers in their tournament win.
Weakness: Transition defense
I saw Northeastern get chewed up in transition against UMASS earlier this season. Not only, did they not get back on defense on turnovers, but in loose ball action they struggled to stop penetration. Honestly, they made UMASS look like “Showtime” for portions of this one. Northeastern comes from the Colonial Athletic, which sent sacrificial lamb Delaware last season to a 13 point loss versus Michigan State. Northeasten players can make an open shot, but are not tops in the country in three-pointers made, which is a common assumption about these level teams. Their top scorer is a 6’8″ “big man,” Scott Eatherton, whose main focus Thursday maybe defending guys like Jerian Grant penetrating. Against Detroit, they also succumb to a more athletic team, allowing a Charlie Villanuevaish freshman Paris Bass to have a then-season high. I don’t like Northeastern to win (or cover). Notre Dame is one of the hottest teams in the nation.
Strength: Can score from all 5 positions
Weakness: Not a great defensive team
Is it just me, or has this team been a perennial 6 seed my entire lifetime? (That would be 32 years, for those counting at home). A six seed and no Sweet 16, in most cases. On defense, my theory is that they don’t see an overwhelming amount of dribble penetration in practice. Therefore, when players put their head down and don’t look to pass, sometimes the Ole’ defense is employed to let them score. The guy who jumps out at me in watching is the center, Augustine. He can run the floor as well as accept feeds on a half court set. Jackson, Cauvington and Grant are the mainstays you can count on. I think this team will be one of the best value picks to make a Final Four. I’d imagine they’d register somewhere between 50/1 and 125/1 depending on the timing and/or casino. Watching this team playing offense can be a beautiful thing. The ball really does continuously move. There isn’t a ton of dribbling into dead-ends, which plagues the college game in my opinion. Of course, literally as I’m writing this, Notre Dame is blowing an enormous lead against Miami. The defensive rebounding, and toughness in general, made me question whether that 6 seed will ever develop to a Sweet 16 after all.
Ohio State Strength: Pure shooters Weakness: Free throw game I know, putting the free throw game as a weakness appears, in itself, weak. But as a jump-shooting team, Ohio State should be in the top 100 in the nation in free throw attempts, but is not. They rank 181st in the nation in free throw percentage (69%) and only shoot about 23 free throws per game. Watching Ohio State, I always wish for Amir Wiliams to be more aggressive. After watching him for four years, I think what you see is what you get. The guy is 6′ 11″ and averages 7 points and 5 rebounds. The guy who has had a meteoric rise is De’Angelo Williams. We knew he was good as a McDonald’s All-America. But, as a freshman, who could have expected a triple double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) in a late-season game against Rutgers? Ohio State ranks in the top 10 in the nation on assists and shooting percentage. Ohio State looks a lot like its Big 10 counterpart, Indiana. They get a majority of scoring from the guard spots. However, late this season that is all in question as second-leading scorer Marc Loving was excused from the team.
Oklahoma Strength: Heady guard play Weakness: Elite athletes in the paint Coach Lon Krueger is the only coach in D1 history to lead five programs to NCAA tournaments. I think this is the best team he has ever had at Oklahoma. I’ve liked Spangler’s toughness for the past two seasons and know he gets the added janitorial services of TayShawn Taylor. As well as those big guys do the dirty work down low, they will rarely posterize players with above the rim athleticism. You’ve seen this liability at the rim on display in matchups this season against larger Wisconsin and Texas clubs. It could be their Achilles heal. Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard could possibly be the most balanced back-court trio in America. Only teams like Wichita State, Gonzaga and Villanova come to mind for comparison-sake. Watching the Sooners, I don’t think of their identity as a transition scoring team. However, they quietly are 3rd in the nation in transition scoring!
Strength: One of the nation’s best scorer’s in Joe Young
Weakness: Scoring from roll players
I think that Oregon has overachieved this season, after losing players to both shenanogans and injuries. The one constant has been Joseph Young, who can score from everywhere. He is reminiscent of Oregon Duck alum’s Tajuan Porter and Aaron Brooks. Conversely, I don’t like waiting for a second and third scorer to step up. Fellow back-court mate Jalil Abdul-Bassit failed to score in the Pac 12 Championship game. The Oregon Ducks like playing an up-tempo game, but if their role players are consumed with overcompensating for a lack of height at the rim, it could be a long night of eventually fatigued basketball. I think the X Factor for this team is generally Elgin Cook. Like Dustin Hogue for Iowa State, when he scores on 6-10 possessions, Oregon is tough to beat.
Strength: The threat of Hammons and Haas playing together
Weakness: A true “high-low game”
Apparently NBA prospect A.J. Hammons is okay with being the Boilermakers 6th man. At least, that’s what Purdue’s S.I.D. would have you believe. In fact, that role was sponsored in the “Motel 6th Man of the Game” during his 7th consecutive appearance off of the bench against Wisconsin. Purdue is going to crush some team that sneaks into the NCAA Tournament if that team lacks any sort of size. I actually believe that Purdue’s coach is withholding this Ace in in the pocket. He will wait until the NCAA Tournament to play Haas and Hammons together and totally overwhelm any other 8, 9, 10, 11 or 5 seed. Hell, Purdue could be a 12 seed. Bottom line, if they sneak in, watch out. For tonight, the night that I’m writing this, the Purdue Bolermakers missed an opportunity to win. They had Wisconsin on the ropes in their house. However, I couldn’t name for you the Purdue point guard. That’s a lie. He’s not Megatron, but his name is Jon Octeus (Prime). I feel Octeus can help the Boilemakers take that next step if he rotates away from the post-feed to find himself some open jump shots and knock them down.
Providence Strength: Scorers with upside Weakness: Defense at the rim Senior LaDontae Henton epitomizes what the Friars dynamic is, and I’m sure many underclassmen on the team will grow to become. By NBA standards, he is a summer league try-out at shooting guard. By NCAA standards, he is a guy who can drop 35 points in a game and change the complexion of it. Tyler Harris (brother of Orlando Magic’s Tobias Harris) and Kris Dunn (McDonald’s All-American and former Connecticut Mr. Basketball) are similar minded-guys on offense. They can score when the play breaks down and the team needs a bucket. However, I feel like they really miss a Rick Mahorn-type in Kaem Batts down low. In the 2013-14 campaign, Batts really gave the Friars an edge in the toughness department. He grabbed rebounds and guarded some post options to help propel Providence into the NCAA Tournament (and Big East Crown). Providence can cut into a deficit quickly with all of its athletic scorers. I just don’t know that they can out-defend you at the game’s end.
Robert Morris Strength: Good on-ball defensive tenacity Weakness: Defensive rebounding Robert Morris allowed St. Francis to score16 second-chance points in the first half alone in the NEC conference championship game. Not surprisingly, neither team was extremely tall, so it came down to hustle plays. Robert Morris has three 2nd team all-NEC players, all of whom are prototypical Tri-State ballers. Lucky Jones, Rodney Pryor and Marquiese Reed are all between 6’3″ to 6’6″, handle the ball and can shoot. They’ll also attack the glass for a board and get in their players gym shorts on defense. Robert Morris hit a very appropriate 8 of 16 from the 3PT line. I liked seeing the judgement in which they shot the three-point shot. Despite being down 6 at halftime, there was no panic. In fact, St. Francis was down to Robert Morris by 4 points with 18 seconds remaining. Brooklyn hit a three to cut it to one point. Robert Morris made two free throws, then made the most mortal of sins by fouling a three pointer shooter. Despite the lapse, Robert Morris escaped with a 66-63 victory.
St John’s Strength: Dribble penetration Weakness: Depth Even if St. John’s has the depth, coach Lavin has yet to use it. In the Syracuse game, for example, the lineup of Obekpa, Green IV, Harrison, Pointer and Jordan logged 178 minutes total. When Rysheed Jordan left the team for “personal and family reasons,” the Johnnies lost a second straight game during the pivotal transition to conference play.
San Diego St. Strength: Double-teaming the post on defense Weakness: Tendency for scoring droughts Arizona transfer Angelo Chol joins the Aztecs to join a team that lost great PF Josh Davis. He adds some general toughness in the paint, but cannot be relied on as a go-to scorer. Dwyane Polee and Skylar Spencer need to be effective on the offensive end for San Diego St. to continue its momentum. I especially feel like this team goes as junior forward Winston Shepard goes. Shepard averages 10 points per game 10 games into the season. I feel, and it appears that he feels, he can be a 15 point per game guy. JJ O’Brien is also the All-American of glue guys on this team (and has been for years). San Diego State is like Virginia when it comes to its defense. An eight point lead for them is equal to an 18 point lead for some other teams. San Diego State and Utah played 25 minutes and produced a score of just 24-20. Another one of the Aztecs defensive accomplishments include double-teaming Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. and beating a hot Cowboys team in Laramie.
Strength: Coach Larry Brown, pro-style attack
Weakness: Guarding the three point line
I witnessed the Mustangs give Indiana some (literally) wide open looks which led to a first half where the Hoosiers shot 7-16 from the 3-pt stripe. I saw them later in the year, after losing Keith Frazier, and Nic Moore and the crew looked in control. They beat Tulsa handily in a game in Oklahoma. Despite the players SMU lost, they still have a lot of athleticism.
Stephen F Austin
Strength: Sharing the ball
Weakness: No rim protection
SF Austin has little rim protection (bottom third in blocked shots in its own conference). However, there are so many good things to say about this team. They lead the country with more than 17 team assists per game. They look more athletic than the team that beat VCU in last year’s tournament. 10 players get minutes. SF Austin did not have any big quality wins, losing in convincing fashion to Baylor and other. I would imagine this unit has retooled and improved over the course of the season since some of those non-con losses, because they looked well-connected in the Southland Championship. SF Austin reminds me a lot of Davidson in the way they share the ball but allow some easy baskets at the rim.I’m concerned about Bobby King’s injury. He is one of the most athletic players in a more athletic bunch.
Texas Strength: Leads the nation in blocks Weakness: Shot-happy point guards In a late season game down in Norman, Oklahoma, the Longhorns showed why they still have final four potential. Freshman Miles Turner guarded veteran big man TaShawn Taylor down low. This just illustrates the embarrassment of riches the Longhorns have as far as players with length. They have five players 6’9″ or taller and most built like Houston Texans linemen. For example, Turner is reportedly being pushed around in practice by ineligible Maryland transfer Shaquille Clear (6′ 8″ 290 lbs.). Still, Turner will be a lottery pick this spring in the NBA draft and I think could take a few tournament games over. I write with mixed feelings that Texas’s point guard play is a liability. Isiah Taylor is a score-first mentality player. If Rick Barnes, a coach who gets criticized all the time as a recruiter over a teacher, can motivate Taylor to better distribute, I think this team can win a championship. That said, Texas lost by only 6 points down in Kentucky this season without Taylor (hand injury). If Texas had Taylor, they could have won that game. I like to see point guard Kendal Yancey get more run at point guard with backup Javan Felix playing point as needed.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Texas Southern doesn’t pass my eye test. I know they beat Michigan State and Kansas State, but I’m not buying their stock. Coach Mike Davis does an excellent job in giving volatile players a final opportunity to play college basketball and to play in meaningful games. I just didn’t like how they struggled to score against the Southern team in the SWAC Final. I’m not on that bandwagon. Because of sanctions, Southern couldn’t have entered the Big Dance even if they had won. Still, Texas Southern got looks at the rim with penetration I don’t believe they’ll get anything close to in the tournament. As for those quality wins, K-State was a train-wreck this year and Michigan State had growing pains of its own. Everyone is hungry to find the next #15 team to beat a #2, but it won’t be Texas Southern.
Strength: Bulldog baskets
Weakness: Transition defense
UAB has some players who like to catch the ball at the free throw line, bang with a back to the basket, and score on a hook shot or floater. UNC killed the Blazers earlier this season in transition baskets and also back door screens from the high elbow opposite of the ball. I take into consideration that they won the Conference USA on their home court. I would have much rather see LA Tech or Old Dominion win that tournament and compete in the Big Dance. Alas, they’ll probably be over-seeded as an 11-13. They’re athletic, but not dynamic. I don’t love the Blazers.
Weakness: Guarding the three point line
Mamadou Ndiaye is the biggest man in college basketball. He has some foot issues and it’s evident he has trouble getting up and down the floor in a fast paced game. That said, he had a top ten play block against Hawaii in the Big West Championship game. Ndiaye scores well of course because of his size, but he also has decent touch for a giant. I also like UC Irvine’s team surrounding Ndiaye. There are other big men to spell him. Irvine’s unit with Ndiaye on the bench represented itself well. Will Davis II is a good looking 6′ 7″ senior who leads the team in scoring. I’m putting down guarding the perimeter as the weakness. Hawaii stretched the floor and got out to a 17-7 lead immediately on IC Irvine with their 4 guard lineup. If UC Irvine wins a 14-3, 15-2 matchup, it will be no surprise. UC Irvine won six straight to finish January. It also beat fellow-bubble tournament team Green Bay in a non-conference championship game in Las Vegas.
Strength: Athleticism in the open floor
Weakness: Defense UCLA ranked 80th something overall in the nation in points scored, but outside of the top 200 in field goal percentage. What does that tell you? It tells me that they play little defense, play an up-tempo game and take a lot of three-point shots. This UCLA team also reminds me of many others. When you say “UCLA basketball,” names come to mind. Last year it was Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams drafted round one of the NBA. Two years ago it was Shabazz Muhammad’s team, but other guys don’t come to mind. This year names like Kevon Looney, Norman Powell and Tony Parker jump off the page. But can this team play as a team? My eye test tells me there’s too much street basketball, one-on-one type of stuff for them to excel. Bryce Alford is an awesome point guard, not just a coach’s son, but he seems to be the only one committed to running an offense.
Strength: Point guard play
Weakness: Transition defense
Utah point guard Delon Wright is the real deal. He is a scoring point guard who can create open jump shots with his penetration. You’ll hear plenty about him–I’m sure you already have. However, don’t wait for the Jakob Poeltl train to come rolling into the station. The Running Utes don’t plan on getting on board his low-post scoring anytime soon. For now, he is collecting put-back baskets. As the “Running Utes” nickname would suggest, Utah is just not the team to slow the game down and let its big dog eat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwlvkxsUO2s&feature=youtu.be P.S. Junior forward Jordan Loveridge re-joined the team just before conference play began: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWnq_33ViUQ
Weakness: Offensive rebounding
I write this while shaking my head, because I truly wanted to see Keifer Sykes in the NCAA Tournament. But Valpo beat Green Bay in an energetic comeback on its homecourt to capture the Horizon Championship. Valpo put taller players on Sykes, an Allen Iverson-like scorer for Green Bay. The pressure bothered Green Bay and Valparaiso was able to score in transition. The Crusaders are known as a 3PT shooting team, but actually only drain about 38% of their threes. That ranks outside of the top 40. Vashil Fernandez is a special defender who, at 6′ 9″, can handle a team’s top scorer. Ball denials and larger defenders frustrated the Phoenix late. I have to put “resiliency” as the strength for Valpo, after overcoming a 6 point halftime deficit to then outscore Green Bay by 16 in the second half. Offensive rebounding is a weakness, as they grabbed just 6 and 7 in a Missouri loss earlier this year and championship game against Green Bay (respectively).
Strength: Full court pressure
Weakness: Susceptible to easy transition baskets
VCU’s Havoc defense is like lining up nine guys in the box on defense in football down three points at the two minute warning. Yes, most likely you’ll stop the run. But, if the offense lobs the ball up, you could also get beat on a home run. Enough sports analogies mixed in there? Okay, let’s get back to basketball then. VCU’s offense is finding itself after the loss of Briante Weber and settling in of Travean Graham. Guys like JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess and Jonathan Williams are answering the call by being more aggressive on offense. Melvin Johnson is knocking down threes and stretching defenses. Mo Ali-Cox is defending the rim. I can’t overstate how large of a win the game at George Washington on Valentine’s Day was. The Rams not only stopped the bleeding (avoiding its first 3 game losing streak in a decade), but they showed a blueprint for how to avenge Weber’s loss deep into March.
Weakness: Defending the high-ball screen
Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston joins Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma St.) on the all-forgotten team. They have been playing so long, flirting with NBA candidacy for so long, that their actual consistency and gradual progress is overlooked. In fact, that is how I feel about a couple of Villanova players. Daniel Ochefu has blossomed from a very raw bully inside into a feed-the-post scoring option. Coach Jay Wright is always known for stretching the defense. This Wildcats team does that as well as any past generation. Villanova’s guards and wings are terrific at giving a shot fake. I think they’d be so much better if they could knock down a mid-range jump shot consistently. Oftentimes if the shots aren’t falling from three, and they’re not getting to the rim (or free throw line), you’ll notice Villanova is suddenly in a tight game. For example, they took ten more three pointers (10-23) than St. John’s did to beat the Red Storm by 18 points. In the Big East Championship game against Xavier, I like how Villanova extended its defense past the half-court line to double team Dee Davis (point guard) full court. It was just another nice adjustment by Jay Wright to disrupt what Xavier does.
Strength: Full court pressure
Everyone talks about West Virginia’s full court pressure, but I think it’s big man Devin Williams is underrated. He is strong, tough on the boards, and can hit a free-throwish jump shot if left open. Juwan Staten is reportedly healthy heading into the tournament. The Mountaineers rank outside the top 275 in field goal percentage, so they’ll *have to* get some turnovers and easy transition buckets. Jonathan Holton, a 6’8″ forward who guards the inbound, is a guy to watch out for. He sets the tone for this defense and can hit the occasional three in a high-energy, open court attack.
Strength: Backcourt defense
Weakness: Inside scoring
Wichita State and Indiana mirror each other in a lot of ways. Wichita State is a tougher team defensively, but each is strong around the perimeter. Tekele Cotton is one of the nation’s best defensive players at shooting guard. Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker bring stability in the backcourt. Wichita State is young on the front court. That’s where they can be exploited.
Weakness: A go-to scorer against elite teams
Frank Kaminsky is an NBA player, and I respect him for coming back for a senior season, but I don’t see him dominating a game against Arizona, Kentucky, Texas or any other left-side-of-the-bracket team with size. I think that was evident in the loss at home to Duke earlier this season. I also expected more point production from Sam Dekker this season. I know that I’m grasping at straws for a critique of a great team, but that’s kind of the process we’ve all agreed to: “who’s gonna win your bracket?” For me, it won’t be Wisconsin. I feel like the Traeveon Jackson loss will eventually catch up to them. When Wisconsin lost to Rutgers earlier this year (without Kaminsky), I asked myself “why can’t Sam Dekker take over?” Nigel Hayes is another guy who will be an NBA player. However, for the time being, he’s at best the third option scoring for this team. I think that Wisconsin got a difficult tournament draw, starting with the best 16 seed in Coastal Carolina. This isn’t your father’s Wisonsin Badger team, which grinds out wins with great defense alone. They can really score the ball. But, if for some reason, Kaminsky is controlled, can Hayes and Dekker take over?
Strength: Guard play
Weakness: Rim protection
I feel like a broken record writing these identical strengths and weakness for Cinderella-capable teams. I saw Wofford beat NC State earlier this season. Wofford’s guards are skilled and aggressive. Aside from the NC State win, Wofford got blown out in two other games. When I watch Wofford, it looks like I’m 2/3 swing men, one point guard, and a center primarily focused on setting picks and playing defense. I’m surprised that, after almost losing to Furman in its conference championship game, Wofford is a vogue pick to challenge Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament. Yes Wofford has good ball handling, but that strength will be tested against Arkansas’s signature pressure.
Strength: Athleticism that can win over neutral crowd
Weakness: Strength in the post
I love the Cowboys. Let me say that up front. I saw Wyoming beat Colorado in an early season contest. They did it in convincing fashion. I also saw the Cowboys get beat by San Diego State because the Aztecs double-teamed Larry Nance Jr. and the Cowboys had little answers. Wyoming is one of the worst rebounding teams among all of the power conference teams in the country. However, they shoot lights out. Despite the loss, they shot 92% from the free throw line against San Diego State. The Cowboys have also consistently ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage during the season. What my eye test tells me, is that point guard Josh Adams makes the Cowboys compete in the wild west. Adams creates for guys like Hankerson, Jr. and Cooke Jr., who have great athleticism to finish a play. Wyoming’s other strength is that multiple guys can create shots for themselves. If you find a resource that records how many dunks each team has on the season, please let me know. Until then, I’ll claim that the Wyoming Cowboys have more dunks this season than any other NCAA squad. In the Mountain West Championship game, the Cowboys really endured the San Diego State Aztecs putting the clamp down on defense for an entire game. Nance was red hot from the start. He hit two threes in the first sequence and was solid on defense. The Cowboys held tough, hitting two free throws to seal it. Do not look at the 180+ RPI (or whatever number) and underestimate this team!
Strength: Head Coach Chris Mack.
Weakness: Vulnerable to slow starts
I watched Xavier lose to Butler then really struggle out of the gates in the following game against Villanova. The Musketeers really lack size at a lot of positions. Xavier struggles on ball-screen defense at times. Xavier’s center, senior Matt Stainbrook, probably brings the most stability to the team. He passes very well out of the post and has some traditional back-to-the-basket game. Look for the goggles. (They are Eye Test-approved). Point guard Dee Davis can get beat by bigger, aggressive, scoring point guards. But Davis can run an offense! Xavier will also make you work on your transition defense. J.P. Macura is a young linguini who can get the net wet when left open. Let’s do this: call the Jalen Reynolds the all-America “X” Factor. Check his stats and status before Xavier enters its respective postseason tournament. He could be a guy who takes the next step and scores the double digits consistently.