Wednesday, February 13, 2008

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 two No. 1s and two No. 2s. The previous season, there was a No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and a No. 11.

In short, you can pencil at least one No. 1 seed into the National Semifinals. Despite the anomaly that occurred two seasons ago, there have only been two years since 1979 that no top-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 sixth 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 middle of February, 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 San Antonio.

Don’t Trust These Teams

Georgetown: On the surface, it’s difficult to dislike the Hoyas. They have a great center in Roy Hibbert; plenty of Tournament experience; tough, consistent guards; and a system that gives them a good chance of beating anyone in the country. However, I don’t think they are explosive enough to beat elite teams or live up to the high-seed they will undoubtedly receive. They don’t have any truly go-to-guys aside from Hibbert, and even he isn’t an automatic bucket when he gets the ball inside. Furthermore, Georgetown is 0-3 against teams in the top-25 of the RPI and the Hoyas haven’t looked remotely dominant in about a month (outside of their game against St. John’s). A disciplined team that can neutralize Hibbert can beat the Hoyas.

The Badgers have been one of the most surprising teams in the country this season, with Bo Ryan leading them near the top of the Big Ten despite the losses of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor. Still, the same thing that got them knocked out of the NCAA Tournament early last season – lack of offensive firepower – will be their downfall again this season. No one on the team averages more than 12.7 points per game and the Badgers are an awful three-point shooting team as a whole. They do have a variety of different scoring options, but I’m not sure any of them are good enough to carry Wisconsin late in the games when it needs a basket. Rebound the ball and make them shoot three-pointers – that’s the way to beat the Badgers.

Indiana: Another Big Ten team, but it’s not lack of scoring that will be the fatal flaw for the Hoosiers. Indiana has plenty of that, from star guard Eric Gordon to dominant big man D.J. White to a plethora of wings and guards that can fill it up. Looking at the roster, it’s hard to find faults with Indiana because of the aforementioned ingredients it has, but the fact of the matter is that the Hoosiers still haven’t beaten anyone that is a lock to get to the NCAA Tournament. They are still very young on the perimeter, and will struggle to defend the interior and rebound against teams with multiple talented big men. Additionally, they don’t share the ball very well – they have the same amount of assists as turnovers. The Gordon-White combo will only carry them so far.

Stanford: One of the hottest teams in the country and the co-Pac-10 leader? A group that has won seven in a row in arguably the deepest and best conference in the nation? I know it doesn’t sound right currently, but I simply don’t see this team making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament barring an unbelievable individual performance from Brook Lopez. They just don’t have enough scoring options outside Lopez. Lawrence Hill is a shell of what he was last season, and Anthony Goods has scored in double-figures just once in the past eight games – and those are the team’s second and third-leading scorers. The Cardinal don’t shoot the ball overly consistently – not from three, two or the free-throw line. While they have the go-to player in Lopez to win a few games, I don’t know if they have enough elsewhere to reach their potential.

Texas: To be honest, I like the Longhorns. I love their backcourt of D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams, and I think the versatility of Damion James and Connor Atchley make them very difficult to match-up with offensively. The thing is, the Longhorns’ offense is easy to contain if D.J. Augustin can be kept on the perimeter. He is one of the best point guards in the country, but their entire offense revolves around him getting into the lane and creating for himself and his teammates. Abrams and Atchley can’t create for themselves, and James has been extremely inconsistent lately. If Augustin is forced to settle for perimeter shots instead of dribble-drives, Texas’ offense will fall apart and they will lose – it’s that simple.

Don’t Overlook These Teams

The Cardinals were a preseason top-ten team in nearly every publication across the country because of their talent and potential. Well, despite their inconsistency throughout most of this season, that talent and potential is still there – and it seems to be coming out more and more lately. Louisville has plenty of options offensively, and most of those options are difficult personnel match-ups. In fact, the two best playmakers and passers on the team might be Terrence Williams and David Padgett – both frontcourt players. As long as Edgar Sosa can play consistent at the point (he did last year during March) and the perimeter guys knock down shots, this team is going to be very difficult to beat in the postseason.

Clemson: The Tigers have collapsed each of the past two seasons and have been up-and-down for most of the last two and a half months. However, this team is different than the last two versions of Clemson. They have shown the ability to play with any team in the country, taking North Carolina to overtime twice this year. James Mays and Trevor Booker form a very good inside duo at both ends of the floor, and K.C. Rivers and Cliff Hammonds are excellent all-around players on the wing. The Tigers also play a difficult defense to prepare for in one day; they will press all game, with the athletic Mays at the top. When they are forcing turnovers and getting points in transition, they are one of the most impressive teams around.

USC: This hinges heavily on the health of guard Daniel Hackett, who has a stress fracture in his lower back but it is undetermined how much time he will miss. With him in the lineup, I think the Trojans have the talent to beat anyone in the country. Hackett is a versatile and multi-talented wing who can make a difference at both ends of the floor. Of course, O.J. Mayo is a supremely skilled guard who can take – and make – big shots. Dwight Lewis is a solid guard, as well. Up front, Davon Jefferson is a match-up nightmare for most teams, and Taj Gibson has the ability to dominate at both ends. If this team is hitting on all cylinders, it can certainly make a deep run in March. With all the young players, though, that is a big “if.”

Pittsburgh: I’m usually not a fan of Pittsburgh; the Panthers normally falter in the early rounds in March and don’t really do much better than their seed would indicate. This year, however, could be different. Once Levance Fields returns from injury to run the point, he immediately shoots them back into the top tier in the Big East. Sam Young is a very athletic scorer up front, and big man DeJuan Blair has the potential to dominate inside. Throw in solid shooters and the typical Pittsburgh defense, and this team can win a couple of games in March – and upset a higher seed. The effectiveness of Fields is the key, though; if he comes back to his form of earlier in the season, the Panthers will be tough.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores have been an interesting group to follow this season. It seems that their bandwagon was filling up earlier in the season when they went undefeated in the non-conference, but then everyone pretty much jumped off of it when they lost four of five games early in the SEC season. However, since then, they have won four in a row – including a 41-point annihilation of a very hot Kentucky team last night. Not many teams have the inside-outside combo that Vandy has in wing Shan Foster and big man A.J. Ogilvy. The Commodores have plenty of experience after last season’s Sweet 16 run, and they share the ball very well. A few breaks here and there, and Vandy could win a couple of games.


  1. I wouldn't write Lawrence Hill off just yet - look at his lines in the last three games.

  2. Quote on Wisconsin "lack of offensive firepower" must have not seen the 3 point shooting at Indiana last night...

  3. How many top 50 teams has Indiana beaten? ZERO. Good job in exposing them.