Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's Never Too Early to Look at March

Let’s face it: NCAA Tournament pools are won by people who pick the right sleepers to reach the Final Four, and those that have the foresight to spot a high-seeded bust when they see them. Those cute, 12-over-5 upset picks that everyone in your office had? That doesn’t do it. The big money (figuratively speaking, right?) is made when you choose the middle-range seeded team that makes a deep run, or when you have a top-seeded team getting knocked out in round two.

We all know the basic rule of thumb: all four #1 seeds have never made the Final Four. Well, where does the Final Four come from? Last season, we saw a #2, a #3, a #4, and a #11. The previous season, there were two #1s, a #4, and a #5.

In short, you can pencil at least one #1 seed into the National Semifinals. Including last season’s anomaly, there have only been two years since 1979 that no #1 seed has reached the Final Four. Double-digit seeds are also not very likely to reach the Final Four. It has happened twice since 1979. However, it is not uncommon to see a team that is sixth-seeded or lower in the Final Four, and fives are also fairly prevalent. The rest of the Final Four teams? Mostly teams seeded two through four.

What’s the point of all this, you ask? We are only nearing the end of January, but it’s time to look at some teams that can A) ruin your bracket or B) carry your bracket to the top of the standings. The teams in Group A that I will discuss are potential high-seeded teams that I don’t think have the necessary make-up to make a deep run in March. Group B teams are squads that will likely be seeded five through eight or lower, but have what it takes to pull off a few upsets and end up in Atlanta

Don’t Trust These Teams

Ohio State: Sure, the Buckeyes have an outstanding freshmen class. Sure, Thad Matta has Greg Oden. However, I’m not totally convinced about this team. Oden is still not a dominating force on the offensive end. He doesn’t have great post moves, and struggles when he is double-teamed. Moreover, if he tires or gets in foul trouble, OSU severely lacks post depth. On the perimeter, both Daequan Cook and Ron Lewis have seen their numbers go down in recent weeks, demonstrating inconsistency and a growing reliance on Oden. Additionally, this is a young team that does not force a lot of turnovers on defense and is susceptible to good three-point shooting teams, and teams that can throw tall, long athletes at Oden.

Oklahoma State: OSU hasn’t been the same since their non-conference schedule. They were destroyed by both Kansas and Texas A&M, and have not looked overly impressive in any of their four home games (save for maybe the triple-overtime classic against Texas). The bottom line is that this team is very vulnerable in the early rounds. They are not deep at all, and are absolutely awful against pressure defenses. The Cowboys turn it over a lot and don’t have many offensive options outside of JamesOn Curry and Mario Boggan. They don’t rebound well, and are not a very good shooting team.

Memphis: The Tigers have not impressed me much this season when watching them. They are not as good as last year’s team, especially on offense. For a John Calipari team, the Tigers are surprisingly bad from three-point range. Memphis takes over 22 three-pointers per game, yet hits less than a third of them. Moreover, the Tigers are awful from the free-throw line, and they don’t pass the ball as well as they did a year ago. Their draw-and-dish game is lacking. UM has a very deep perimeter group, but they are somewhat inconsistent. If Memphis is having a bad shooting night, it could be lights-out for the Tigers.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles are playing some of the best basketball in the country lately, but what worries me about them is their tendency to play to their opponents’ level. This team has lost to North Dakota State, and beat Idaho State, Valparaiso, and South Florida by a combined eight points. While Marquette can beat nearly any team on a good night, their inconsistency scares me. Moreover, for a team with such outstanding guards, their offense is not overly productive. They don’t shoot the ball well from behind the arc, and they turn the ball over too much. Additionally, they are not very balanced, with the guards carrying most of the load. Their lack of size on defense and inability to rebound will hurt them as well.

Duke: Yes, it’s easy to pick on the Blue Devils. And no, I don’t have a huge bias against them. But every year, someone comes up with the insightful “But they’re Duke and have Coack K” quote, and pencils them deep into their bracket. Please don’t do that this year. The Blue Devils do have an outstanding defense, but it’s their offense that will end up doing them in. It starts at the point guard spot, where Greg Paulus has been extremely inconsistent and downright awful at times. Duke turns the ball over a lot for such a well-disciplined team, and they don’t have a go-to-scorer to get points down the stretch. Defensively, their one Achilles’ heel is their lack of athletes. If a team can spread Duke out and penetrate to the basket, they will knock off the Blue Devils.

Don’t Overlook These Teams

USC: What, you didn’t think a Pac-10 team would be on this portion of the column? With such a deep conference, a squad like the Trojans could end up as a 9 or 10 seed and get lost in the mix. However, USC could be a sleeper come March. They have an outstanding perimeter group, led by Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt. Their wings are athletic and quick, and can do a variety of things offensively. Taj Gibson is a beast down low, providing offensive balance. Their defense is excellent due to their long athletes on the perimeter and the shot-blocking prowess of Gibson down low. They don’t rebound the ball well, though, and will struggle against bigger teams.

Georgia: The Bulldogs have won five of their last six to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture, but I liked Georgia way before that streak occurred. That started way back on December 16th when the Bulldogs took on Gonzaga. At the time, the Zags were 9-2 and had just annihilated Washington by twenty. Well, that night Georgia dominated Mark Few and co. Their offense was outstanding, and their up-tempo style was fun to watch. The Bulldogs have more guards than a state prison, led by the ultra-quick Sundiata Gaines and the do-it-all Mike Mercer. Going into the season, their weakness was post play, but JC transfer Takais Brown has really stepped up since being inserted into the starting lineup. Throw in their clutch ability to win close games, and this team could be tough.

Southern Illinois: Here’s my mid-major choice. The Salukis have arguably the best half-court defense in the country, and will pose all sorts of nightmares to most teams in the bracket. They are very aggressive defensively, and will get up on the ball for 35 seconds. They force a lot of turnovers, and have two very quick guards in Tony Young and Jamaal Tatum. Offensively, they are not as impressive as they are on the other side of the ball, but they get the job done. Tatum and Young can both shoot the ball and penetrate, while Randal Falker gives them a post presence. Matt Shaw is an inside-outside threat up front. They slow the pace down, and get really get teams out of their game plans.

Virginia: They say guards win in March, and if that’s the case, the Cavaliers will be a darkhorse. UVA has one of the best backcourts in the country in point guard Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. They carry most of the load for the Cavs, and both have the ability to have huge games on any night. The pair combines for over 37 points per game, a number that is even higher in ACC play. Both can shoot the ball from the outside, as well as drive to the basket for finishes. They can rebound well for their size, and distribute as well. The Cavaliers don’t have great big men, but Jason Cain is serviceable, and Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph are two more solid perimeter performers.

Indiana: If I had done this column in December, the Hoosiers would have been nowhere near it. However, Kelvin Sampson has Indiana rolling in Big Ten play. They really struggled offensively for most of non-conference play, but they are much improved and have the #9-most efficient offense according to Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com). D.J. White is an excellent big man, and the Hoosiers have an extremely deep perimeter group, led by Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway. If Indiana is hitting their three-pointers, look out. Defensively, they play typical Kelvin Sampson defense. They are physical and force opponents to take bad shots.


  1. Right on with the classifications. I have a little bit more faith than you in Marquette, but I agree with everything else. Nice job.

  2. Honestly, I really like Marquette. I think they have the ability go a long way in March. However, they have a lot of weaknesses that could come to the forefront during the Tournament.

  3. Completely agree w/ your assessment of Southern Illinois as a tough, tough matchup for any team in the tournament. They bring unbelievable defense with a quasi-Princeton style of offense (in terms of clock management) that can get teams that have them outgunned into these tough 55-53 kind of games. I'm a Creighton alum, so certainly no lover of SIU, but I think SIU's nasty D will carry them to the Sweet 16 this year.