Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.
This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.
Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.
Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.
Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.
9. West Virginia
Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.
Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.
Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.
Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.
Why they won’t win it all: The most glaring weakness for Texas is free-throw shooting. Anyone who scoffs at the importance of free-throw shooting has never watched basketball before. The Longhorns shoot an abominable 62% as a team from the line and that number has only plummeted during Big 12 play. Their starting backcourt of Avery Bradley (48%) and Dogus Balbay (51%) are an absolute disgrace from the charity stripe. Imagine what their percentage would be if J’Covan Brown wasn’t a 93% shooter. Balbay can also be a problem offensively because his jump shot is about as effective as mine. Through all of Damion James’ fanfare, he can mold into a disinterested defensive player, and Dexter Pittman’s immaturity has resulted in constant foul trouble. Many have also argued that Texas has too much depth- that nobody knows their roles and when they should expect to play. This could lead to collective frustration. The perfect example is Jordan Hamilton, who played two minutes in the loss to Baylor then 19 minutes Monday against Oklahoma State.
Bottom line: Texas has the talent to reach the Final Four. I still love their starting five and that type of perimeter defense is invaluable in March when Texas runs into elite scoring guards. Jordan Hamilton is also progressing as a legitimate shooting option and Jai Lucas can also hit from downtown. This team has Final Four potential, but a disastrous free throw shooting performance and inconsistent outside shooting could be their downfall in an Elite Eight nail-biter.
Why they can win it all: Anyone who watched Georgetown methodically annihilate Duke on Saturday knows they have some serious weapons. John Thompson’s Princeton offense tends to limit turnovers and has resulted in the 14th most efficient offense in the nation. The Hoyas shoot over 50% as a team from the field and the development of Chris Wright as a steady and capable point guard has been fun to watch. Georgetown has three capable scoring options on any single possession that average over 15 PPG and can play inside or outside. Greg Monroe is the best passing big man in the nation and averages nearly a double-double. Monroe can post up smaller defenders and utilizes a variety of tricky post moves that result in layups or brings bulkier defenders to the free throw line-extended to sink mid-range jumpers. Austin Freeman has turned into a deadly long-range shooter at 48% from deep. Defend him too closely to the perimeter and Freeman has the sneaky quickness to blow by a defender and convert at the rim. Georgetown isn’t quite the defensive team that Thompson believes the Hoyas can be come March, but the 32d-most efficient defense in the country is nothing to scoff at.
Why they won’t win it all: Thompson keeps shooting this down, but depth could be an issue for the Hoyas. Freeman, Wright, Monroe and Jason Clark all play over 32 MPG and Thompson really only feels comfortable going six-deep in important games with Jerrelle Benimon getting the occasional run as the seventh guy. If Monroe gets pushed around and into foul trouble, the Hoyas could be sunk because Julian Vaughn isn’t a scoring threat in the low post. Georgetown doesn’t get to the free throw line very often (Freeman has only taken 56 free throws all season, a very low number for a shooting guard) and they’re fairly pedestrian when they do, although Clark, Wright and Freeman are all over 77% and that’s all you really need. Georgetown also turns the ball over quite often at 15 per game, mostly because post-mates Monroe and Vaughn can be sloppy with the basketball.
Likely scenario: Georgetown is right on the fringe of being a Final Four favorite. Chris Wright has truly elevated his game running the Hoya offense. When he’s scoring the basketball and providing Georgetown another threat from outside to compliment Freeman, they can beat anyone in the nation. I worry about trusting the same group that collapsed down the stretch and flamed out in the NIT last season, but this is a matured team with a totally different mindset. Their comeback over Connecticut and obliteration of Duke has convinced me the Hoyas may remind their fans of the 80s glory days this March.
6. Michigan State
Why they can win it all: Tom Izzo has reached an unbelievable five Final Fours since 1998-99 so the Spartans obviously have a coach that knows how to guide his team through the rough terrain of March basketball. Point guard play is infinitely important down the stretch and Kalin Lucas has grown out of a mid-season funk to re-establish himself as one of the top three floor leaders in the sport. Michigan State is also tremendously athletic from Lucas to high-flying Raymar Morgan to the dunking capabilities of Durrell Summers and Chris Allen. The Spartans are also quite balanced on both ends of the floor, ranking in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Draymond Green really emerged during Michigan State’s memorable run to the National Championship and is having another stellar year as a double-digit scorer, underrated rebounder (8.0 RPG in just over 25 MPG) and elite passer for a big body. Tom Izzo’s teams always rebound and this year is no different.
(Ed. note: The severity of Kalin Lucas’ ankle injury suffered Tuesday night changes everything for this team’s future.)
Why they won’t win it all: Michigan State’s isn’t especially tall as far as their forwards and centers are concerned. While strong rebounding from wings like Allen and Summers and pure effort from Green and Morgan can offset this weakness, the fact is Michigan State doesn’t have a player over 6’8 in their regular rotation. Garrick Sherman, Derrick Nix and Tom Herzog are simply not talented enough to play on any sort of regular basis when the games start to really matter. The loss of Goran Suton could really emerge on the rebounding front come March. Another point of concern of State is three-point shooting. Durrell Summers is the single greatest objector at 27% despite taking 60 three-point shots this season to date, while neither Lucas or Allen are dead-eye or especially trustworthy outside bombers.
Likely scenario: I feel as though this team doesn’t quite have the arsenal to reach Tom Izzo’s sixth Final Four, but that could certainly change in the coming weeks if Summers catches fire from outside and/or Kalin Lucas keeps improving as the season wears on. I felt last year that the Spartans weren’t quite good enough across the board to reach Detroit and they managed to find a way. This seems to be a recurring theme during Izzo’s tenure as Michigan State head coach.
Why they can win it all: Another season, another batch of electric guards for Jay Wright and Villanova. Their unblemished mark in the Big East may largely be as a result of a softer schedule, but it’s not like this Villanova team can’t make the Final Four or further. For all of the fuss over their “lackluster” frontcourt, the Wildcats rank 15th in the nation in team rebounding and they’re still trying to incorporate a late-starting Reggie Redding and Mouphtaou Yarou into their rotation. Both Antonio Pena and Taylor King have taken enormous strides to become more than one-dimensional players for Jay Wright. Quite frankly, there’s no point guard I’d rather have leading my team into the NCAA Tournament than Scottie Reynolds. The senior floor leader is having his most efficient and clutch season to date. Reynolds has an innate ability to penetrate and draw fouls and can also nail a variety of jumpers with a high degree of difficulty. Backcourt mates Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes are also capable three-point shooters. Villanova has the third most efficient offense in the nation and they score over 85 PPG while shooting 47%. Get into a jump shooting or free throw shooting contest with this team and you’re probably going home unhappy.
Why they won’t win it all: Defense is an issue for Villanova. They rank 68th in defensive efficiency and surrendered 84 points to Louisville, 75 to Temple, 89 points to St. Joe’s and 86 points to Maryland. To be fair, three of those four games were played without the services of their best defender, Reggie Redding. Still, the loss of Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham has been felt on the defensive end. They’re not especially adept at forcing turnovers or stopping dribble penetration. While King, Pena and others have made strides, I’m sure Villanova fans aren’t completely comfortable going into the tournament with this group of forwards and centers hitting the glass. They could face the likes of Damion James, DeMarcus Cousins, JaJuan Johnson or Cole Aldrich in what would be a glaring mismatch.
Likely scenario: Villanova reached the Final Four a season ago with largely the same team (at least in the backcourt), so they certainly have that capability this year. Jay Wright is an outstanding coach and the senior version of Scottie Reynolds is the perfect point guard to lead a team into April play. I’m still a bit hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of a team with their frontcourt personnel, though. I’d be shocked if this team didn’t reach at least the Elite Eight.
Why they can win it all: Cohesiveness and halfcourt defense are the two biggest reasons why Purdue can treat their fans to a close Final Four road trip similar to Michigan State a season ago. The tight group of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer and E’Twaun Moore have logged thousands of minutes together over the past three seasons. Unlike teams such as Kentucky or Syracuse that have dealt with turnover and are still learning each other’s tendencies, Purdue’s players will possess that extra sense of knowing where their teammates will be on the floor at all times. Purdue will also receive a huge boost when sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson returns full-time from a foot injury as floor general. The Boilermakers once again rank favorably in PPG allowed and defensive efficiency, a number bolstered by the exceptional perimeter defense of senior Chris Kramer. Moore gives coach Matt Painter an elite slashing and mid-range shooting option on offense while Johnson, when motivated, can be a scoring threat inside.
Why they won’t win it all: Purdue is brutal shooting the ball from three at just 32% as a team. Keaton Grant has completely tapered off as any type of offensive weapon while Hummel and Moore haven’t quite found consistent strokes. Kramer can be an offensive liability while Johnson has drawn the ire of Painter for a lack of aggressiveness and general interest. Also, who really knows if Jackson will be the contributor he was as a freshman if the Boilermakers rushed him back too early.
Likely scenario: I have a feeling I’ll be penciling in Purdue in the Final Four when the brackets are released. They have a top-25 efficient offense and defense, have played together for three years and will be pushed by the goal of playing in front of a partisan crowd in Indianapolis. We saw Hummel’s capability scoring in bunches against Ohio State, so I’m not overly concerned about three-point shooting. This team can certainly reach the Final Four and beyond.
Why they can win it all: Kentucky has more raw talent than any team in the nation. Nobody can match their backcourt and frontcourt tandems of John Wall and Eric Bledsoe along with Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins when it comes to pure talent, potential, explosiveness and ability. Wall can take over a game late hitting mid-range shots or using his unmatchable speed to penetrate and draw fouls, while Bledsoe is more than capable of scoring in bunches and using his strength to reach the charity stripe. Cousins is the most efficient rebounder in the country, a double-double machine that has emerged as quite possibly the best freshman in the nation, while Patrick Patterson is efficient, steady and reliable, capable of exploding at any moment with superb strength in the paint and an effective mid-range jump shot. Darnell Dodson and Darius Miller (whoever isn’t starting of the two) can come off the pine and stretch the defense given their capabilities from three. Free throws could be a problem for John Calipari once again (only 68% as a team), but no single player is glaringly horrific while Wall, Dodson and Bledsoe are all over 70%.
Why they won’t win it all: Kentucky winning the national title would squash the theory that experience matters in March as the Wildcats rank 333d in experience according to kenpom.com. Another point of concern is that John Wall is hitting the proverbial freshman wall (pun intended). The star point guard hasn’t scored more than 20 points in SEC play and has 18 assists to go with 13 turnovers in his last three contests. Patrick Patterson also seems all too comfortable with being a role player when he has lottery talent and needs to play with the same ferocity he displayed as a freshman and sophomore.
Likely scenario: Folks are souring a tad on Kentucky because of the South Carolina loss and Wall’s struggles as of late, but this team can certainly win a national championship. As I said before, nobody matches the Wildcats’ talent level and John Calipari is a master instructor and motivator. I’d be shocked if they’re not one of the four teams playing in Indianapolis in early April.
Why they can win it all: Jim Boeheim seems to have the perfect team for that 2-3 zone defense — long, athletic, disruptive and strong in transition once they force turnovers. Wesley Johnson has surpassed any expectations as a first-year Big East performer. Johnson can leap out of the building, hit mid-range jumpers and utilizes his God-given length to be the perfect disrupter at the back end of the zone. Point guard play was a question mark in November for Syracuse but the two-headed tandem of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine seems more than capable. Andy Rautins has turned into much more than a mediocre outside shooter. He’s a dead-eye three point popper, a tremendous defensive player that creates steals and transition opportunities and also happens to be one of the best passers in the business. They also have three forces down low that hit the glass with rage. This is as complete a basketball team as there is in the nation.
Why they won’t win it all: Syracuse has the same woes from the free throw line as Texas, although they have been slowly improving. Boeheim cannot play Arinze Onuaku late in games because of his woes from the free throw line, meaning Syracuse lacks his rebounding capabilities late in games. Rick Jackson and point guard Brandon Triche are also poor FT shooters. They also turn the ball over 16 times a game and it’s never prudent to give elite opponents unnecessary possessions. A sophomore and freshman leading the way at point guard is another point of slight concern for Boeheim. Other than that, it’s hard to find much that suggests Syracuse can’t win the whole damn thing.
Likely scenario: Syracuse is undoubtedly the biggest surprise in the nation this season, a team predicted borderline top-25 that lost to Le Moyne preseason transforming into a favorite to raise another national championship banner. They have athleticism, steady point guard play, outside shooting, rebounding, shot blocking and a legend on the sidelines. Orange diehards expect a Final Four from this ultra-talented bunch.
Why they can win it all: Their memorable road win at Kansas State boosts the Jayhawks back to #1 in the polls and #1 in these rankings as the re-established favorite to hoist their second banner in three seasons. Kansas ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, a mark of a team that’s destined to reach the Final Four if recent history is any indicator. The Jayhawks are first in the nation in effective FG% defense and rank in the top-15 in both two-point and three-point FG%. Sherron Collins playing through painful leg cramps to make the game-deciding layup on Saturday night is a glimpse of why he can lead a team to their ultimate goal. Cole Aldrich seems to have gotten past his early-season inconsistency to pose the scoring and rebounding post threat he was a season ago. Wings Tyshawn Taylor and Xavier Henry can attack the basket or make the occasional three-point jumper while Marcus Morris has emerged as a perfect frontcourt complement to Aldrich. Kansas can run their offense around the shooting of Collins, Brady Morningstar or Tyrel Reed or the low-post scoring capabilities of Aldrich and Morris. Bill Self has so much depth and scoring options, it’s simply not fair.
Why they won’t win it all: Sometimes Kansas can get into the habit of standing around and watching Sherron Collins shoot too much. Sometimes Marcus Morris can commit dumb fouls and Self has to sit him on the bench and replace Marcus with his less-talented twin brother. Sometimes Cole Aldrich becomes too passive and doesn’t demand the basketball in big spots. Sometimes Tyshawn Taylor plays scared and doesn’t incorporate himself into the offense. Sometimes Xavier Henry can disappear, evident by single-digit scoring totals in four of his last six games. There’s some concern for Self in terms of dependable production from his individual pieces.
Likely scenario: I’d say it’s likely Kansas is your 2010 National Champion. I see this group coming together down the stretch and playing unstoppable basketball behind the toughness of Collins and the domination of Aldrich in the post. Kansas can’t be stopped when they’re on a rhythm offensively and truly don’t deserve the credit they should for being an elite defensive team. They’d be my pick to win the national title if the season ended today.