Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Real Bracket Busters

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 had never made the Final Four prior to two seasons ago. Well, where does the Final Four come from? Despite the high seeds holding form recently, it usually varies. However, there are some trends that one can glean from a quick look at the last 30 Final Fours.

In general, you can pencil at least one No. 1 seed into the National Semifinals. Despite the anomaly that occurred three 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 at 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 Indianapolis.

Don’t Trust These Teams

Georgetown: The Hoyas have the pieces to hang with anyone in the country, and they have proven that by beating Duke, Villanova, Pittsburgh and several other quality teams. However, they are a prime candidate to be threatened in the early rounds. The main reason for that is the style that Georgetown plays. They have one of the better trios in the country in Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe, but some of that talent is negated by the fact that their offensive system allows lesser talented teams to stay in the games. To wit, Georgetown has lost to South Florida, Rutgers and Old Dominion this season. Furthermore, the Hoyas struggle on the glass at both ends of the floor and turn it over way too much.

West Virginia: On paper, the Mountaineers have one of the best teams in the country. However, their personnel gives me pause when looking at teams to make a deep run in March. Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones form one of the better forward trios around, but their lack of a consistent point guard is troubling. Darryl Bryant has played well at times this season, but his inconsistency has forced coach Bob Huggins to start five forwards on some occasions. While that creates problems defensively, the Mountaineers are susceptible to teams that can get to the rim and penetrate into the lane. Offensively, West Virginia rarely gets to the free-throw line and is not overly efficient from the field.

Pittsburgh: If you’ve noticed, I’m not a huge fan of some of the teams near the top of the Big East this season. The Panthers have been one of the biggest surprises in the country, but they are likely to be overseeded come Selection Sunday. Pittsburgh is a young and inexperienced bunch that has been carried by the backcourt duo of Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. However, the Panthers lack a consistent inside scorer and their offense becomes stagnant when Gibbs and Wanamaker aren’t scoring. Pittsburgh doesn’t show that well from the field, and is very susceptible to off nights from the perimeter. Jamie Dixon will have this team ready to play, but a team with a go-to post player and an ability to control the glass will defeat the Panthers.

Gonzaga: Going into the season, the Bulldogs were expected to reach the NCAA Tournament again, but they weren’t supposed to be this good. Gonzaga is rolling right now, sitting at 21-4 and in line for a top-four seed. While they have plenty of impressive pieces, this team could bow out during the first weekend. Matt Bouldin is one of the best players in the country, and Elias Harris is becoming a dominant post player. Outside of them, though, this team has problems. Demetri Goodson is wildly inconsistent at the point, Steven Gray has struggled from deep and Robert Sacre has disappeared too often lately. The Bulldogs have a tendency to the turn the ball over and go through long stretches where they are completely ineffective.

Temple: No offense to the Atlantic-10 or Owls fans, but this one is somewhat obvious. Temple has a great resume, with four wins against teams ranked in the top-25 in the RPI and a No. 11 RPI. Qualitatively, though, I’m not sure Temple is one of the top 30 teams in the country. On the offensive end, Temple does not shoot the ball well at all, and they rarely get to the free-throw line. In fact, the Owls receive just 15.7 percent of their points from free-throws – No. 341 in the country. On the defensive side of the ball, Temple relies on slowing the game down and forcing offenses to take difficult shots. The bottom line is that Temple relies too heavily on controlling the tempo and won’t be able to get enough consistent offense to make a deep run.

Don’t Overlook These Teams

Baylor: To win in March, a team needs to have playmakers on the perimeter who can create their own shots and a consistent big man down low that is capable of controlling the backboards and getting points in the paint. The Bears have those pieces, in the form of one of the better trios in the country: guards Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn and center Ekpe Udoh. Dunn is capable of lighting up the scoreboard from deep and Carter is tough to stop with the ball. Down low, Udoh has been one of the biggest impact transfers in the country. Baylor shoots the ball well from both inside and outside the arc, and are also dominant at crashing the glass. Defensively, they defend inside the arc tremendously well and force teams to beat them from deep.

Missouri: Based on personnel, the Tigers might not have what it takes to reach the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. However, no one wants to face Missouri in the Big Dance. The Tigers are an absolute nightmare to play, due to their style. They press throughout the game and push the ball at every opportunity. Missouri creates turnovers and forces opponents to do things they would rather not do. Even in the half-court, the Tigers are constantly putting pressure on the ball, making opponents take bad shots and rushed attempts. Offensively, Missouri can knock down the three with consistency and has plenty of perimeter players who can get to the lane and finish. Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller are a dynamite backcourt defensively, and Kim English is capable of getting hot offensively. With their depth and balance – and their style of play, of course – this team is going to be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

California: I know, I know – the Pac-10 is horrendous this season and won’t make any noise in the NCAA Tournament because it is only going to get one bid. However, hold that thought for a second. California is the favorite to win the Pac-10 Tournament, and will be a tough team in the Big Dance. Jerome Randle is a jitterbug at the point and has the ability to take over a game at anytime, while Patrick Christopher is a big-time scorer on the wing. Theo Robertson is another scorer on the perimeter, and Jorge Gutierrez is an absolute pest defensively. Furthermore, for a team with so many shooters, it gets 55.3 percent of its scoring from two-point range. The Golden Bears have more balance than one might think, and have the pieces to compete with any team in the country.

Illinois: I couldn’t pick whether to go to with Illinois or Ole Miss for this spot, but the Fighting Illini have four top-50 wins, are battle-tested and have great inside-outside balance. Illinois has victories over Wisconsin, Michigan State, Vanderbilt and Clemson – this team will not back down from anyone. Demetri McCamey is an all-around producer at the point, while Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis anchor the Illini down low. Freshman D.J. Richardson can shoot the three, and Brandon Paul is solid. Illinois takes care of the ball, takes good shots and can score from inside and outside the arc. Defensively, Illinois controls the glass and guards the three-point line very well. If McCamey is controlling tempo and the Illini are knocking down their outside shots, this team is tough.

Georgia Tech: You can never really count out a team with this much talent. No matter whom Tech plays in the first round, it is likely to be the more talented squad. The Yellow Jackets have one of the best post duos in the country in Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, two players capable of taking over down low. On the perimeter, Iman Shumpert is a supremely talented point guard who has been ridiculously inconsistent this season. He scored 30 against UNC earlier this year, but has been held scoreless the past two games. However, Tech has plenty of other options at the guard position. The Yellow Jackets have the ability to play lockdown defense from inside and outside the arc, and their talent on offense can appear at anytime. 

Special Mention

Texas: To be honest, I wasn’t sure where to place Texas when I first wrote this column. Heading into their game against Missouri on Wednesday night, the Longhorns still had a chance to be a top-four seed – and they would have been a vulnerable high seed. However, after the loss to the Tigers, Texas is now the most talented and most dangerous six or seven seed in the NCAA Tournament. Despite their recent struggles, what high-seeded team is going to want to see Texas in the second round? Damion James is a dominant forward, Dexter Pittman is capable of controlling the paint and the Longhorns have a host of perimeter players who can score, led by freshman Avery Bradley. Moreover, Bradley and Dogus Balbay pressure the ball defensively, jumpstarting Texas’ defense. Rick Barnes has plenty of talent and depth on this team, and they are still capable of making a run in March.

1 comment:

  1. I'd also look to Virginia Tech as a potential low seed to make a big run. They're still on the bubble and likely if they make it in will be between an 8-11 seed due to their weak schedule, but depending on their draw I could see them going to the sweet sixteen or deeper.

    They have solid defense that keeps them in games no matter who they're playing, a few different scorers and some great role players, and they have become an incredibly clutch team in the second half. Basically the perfect recipe to make an NCAA run.