That’s Debatable: Surging Team With Best Long-Term Prospects?Posted by WCarey on February 9th, 2012
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the rest of the season. Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.
This Week’s Topic: There are a number of teams trending up — Notre Dame, Florida, Pittsburgh, St. Mary’s, Florida State, Iowa State, etc. Among these and other non-elite teams, which one do you think has the best long-term prospects this season?
Andrew Murawa, Pac-12/MW Correspondent & Pac-12 Microsite Writer
When I’m looking for a sleeper team in the NCAA Tournament, I like to see size, depth, good guard play and an experienced head coach. When I look at Wisconsin, I can check off all of those categories with confidence. Still, while Bo Ryan’s Badgers have made the Tournament in each of his nine previous seasons and won at least a game in eight of those years, they’ve advanced beyond the Sweet Sixteen just once, in 2005 before losing a hard-fought regional final to North Carolina. The Badgers struggled early to replace several key big guys, and senior point guard Jordan Taylor’s numbers haven’t been up to last year’s lofty realm. But things are picking up now, as Taylor’s scored in double figures now in 14 straight games and frontcourt guys like Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren have stepped into that typical three-point shooting big man role for Wisconsin. Given the right matchups, this team could be playing into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and possibly beyond.
Walker Carey, Correspondent
I am going with Notre Dame. Three weeks ago this answer would have been insane, but look what the Irish have accomplished in that time – wins at home versus Syracuse and Marquette and road victories over Seton Hall, Connecticut, and West Virginia. Mike Brey has his squad playing much better than anyone would have ever imagined. The most surprising part of Notre Dame’s resurgence has been that it has come without the services of preseason All-Big East senior forward Tim Abromaitis, who tore his ACL in late November. While at first the Irish struggled mightily without him, they are currently in a groove led by a variety of players. Sophomore guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, freshman guard Pat Connaughton, junior forward Jack Cooley, and senior forward Scott Martin have all been instrumental to the season’s turnaround. If the Irish continue to show great defense, smart basketball, and timely shooting, I think it is reasonable to believe that Mike Brey’s squad will be a force to be reckoned with in March.
Kenny Ocker, Correspondent
With the exception of its second inexplicable conference loss Wednesday night, Florida State has the best prospects throughout the rest of this season, mostly because of its conference form and remaining schedule. Before the BC debacle, the Seminoles had run off seven straight wins to sit atop the ACC. In those seven straight wins are victories against the three other ACC contenders — a 33-point shellacking of North Carolina at home, a 76-73 win at Duke, and a 58-55 win over Virginia at home on Saturday. According to Ken Pomeroy, Florida State is in a dead heat with North Carolina to become the outright ACC regular-season champion, but the Seminoles hold the tiebreaker against the Tar Heels because they only play once this season. The best part of this recent run of form for Florida State is that it has been keyed by the team’s offense, which ranks second in the ACC in efficiency, but the team’s stalwart defense hasn’t gone anywhere either. Although the Seminoles seemingly peaked with their Sweet Sixteen run last season, the potential is there for this team to reach those heights again this season, or possibly go beyond.
Evan Jacoby, Correspondent/Columnist
I don’t think you can include Florida, a preseason Top 10 team, in that ‘non-elite’ group. For the purposes of the question, I’m going with Temple. I’ve seen them multiple times and they just look like a team with the tough mentality to get wins in the NCAA Tournament. They have tremendous guard play with upperclassmen Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt, all of whom who can score and have different skill sets. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson is vastly improved this season and they just got starting center Michael Eric (averaging 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game) back from injury. They shoot 40.2% from three on the year and hold opponents to 30.2%, a massive margin. They’ve been to four straight NCAA Tourneys and finally won a game last year; I’m guessing they win two (or more?) this season if they wind up with a #5 or #6 seed. I believe in Fran Dunphy, with or without the ‘stache.
Kellen Carpenter, ACC Microsite Correspondent
Florida State is the reasonable favorite to win the ACC. They have the third best defense and the second best offense in a conference, that while down, looks less down than some of the other power conferences. Since the beginning of conference play, Leonard Hamilton’s team has displayed an enviable consistency. The Seminoles play great defense and can make threes: the textbook recipe for March success. The Seminoles have beaten Duke in Cameron, North Carolina by over 30, and a very good, nationally ranked Virginia team. This team is for real, and while the country at large may not be ready to acknowledge it, Florida State is going to be a factor in March.
Tom Wolfmeyer, Columnist
We’ll find out for sure on Thursday night whether they’re for real, but St. Mary’s appears to be the class of the WCC this year and quite possibly the best team in the West to boot. Whether that’s good enough to do some national damage in March remains to be seen, but laying waste to BYU both home and away and Gonzaga in Moraga suggests that Randy Bennett’s team might be as good or better than the 2010 group led by Omar Samhan that sprinted all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl were key contributors to that group, and both players along with transfer forward Rob Jones, are the heart and soul of this year’s team. The key is that the Gaels can score on anybody — they are the 12th most offensively efficient team in America — so their success will hinge on matchups that allow them to get into a shootout with their opponent. From the looks of what they’ve done to the WCC so far this season, they might just be in position to make another leap this season.
Despite my lack of confidence in Leonard Hamilton’s ability to have NCAA Tournament success (although he did go to the Sweet Sixteen last year), I have to say it’s Florida State. The Seminoles are a completely different team than the one that lost to Princeton and was crushed at Michigan State and Clemson. With a defensive efficiency ranked in the nation’s top five, Florida State will be in every game it plays. The question is offense but that has been answered in ACC play. FSU ranks second in the league in offensive efficiency and has shot the three ball at a 42% clip in conference games. The one concern I have is turnovers. The Seminoles give the ball away an average of 17 times per game but as long as they’re able to force their opponents into giveaways (#30 defensive turnover percentage) and use their defense to limit points off turnovers, FSU has the highest ceiling of any non-elite team.