Five Fatal Flaws Among the Top Five TeamsPosted by David Harten on October 28th, 2013
There’s a reason that no college basketball team has finished a season undefeated since Indiana in 1976. Throughout an entire season, the daily grind exposes flaws. Some are correctable while others prove to be a lasting problem. At the beginning of each season, each of the roughly 350 teams in Division I has something to address. Let’s check out the top five teams from the preseason ESPN/USA Today poll and see which flaws will cost certain teams some non-conference games if they don’t get their issues corrected.
- We start with #5 Arizona and will work our way to the top. The Wildcats don’t seem to have many flaws on paper. With returnees like Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley joining a crazy-talented recruiting class of Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, there will be plenty of talent in Tucson. But, with Solomon Hill (13.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG), Kevin Parrom (8.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 48.3 percent FG) and Mark Lyons (team-leading 15.6 PPG) all gone, the Wildcats will need a new offensive leader. All that scoring would have helped when the Wildcats willplay Michigan in Ann Arbor. Gordon is a leaper with decent offensive game, but therein lies the problem. Johnson will be the veteran leader, but he hasn’t shown a penchant for consistent scoring, finishing last season with only one 20-point game. So which Wildcat steps up and takes control when the pressure mounts on the road?
- At #4, Duke welcomes back a number of veterans and an elite freshman class headlined by Jabari Parker. So their scoring will be there, even if Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly (47.5 PPG last season combined) have exhausted their eligibility. But looking past the inevitable replacement of the scorers, rebounding will be something the Blue Devils will have to improve upon or suffer with. The leading returning rebounder is Quinn Cook’s 3.9 boards per game. A number of teams on the Blue Devils’ non-conference schedule could take advantage of that, particularly Kansas, with Memphis transfer Tarik Black and Joel Embiid patrolling the post for the Jayhawks.
- Regardless of whether Chane Behanan comes back to the team in a reasonable amount of time, #3 Louisville is facing a problem with post depth. For the time being, without Behanan – the junior who finished as the team’s second-leading rebounder (6.5 RPG) last season and poured in 15 points and 13 rebounds in the NCAA championship game – coach Rick Pitino said Wayne Blackshear will play the power forward spot, a position that he’s not accustomed to. Behind him, the inexperience is evident, with freshman Akoy Agau and redshirt freshman Mangok Mathiang, working as reserves. And with the undersized but active sophomore Montrezl Harrell and fifth-year senior Stephan Van Treese lined up to replace Gorgui Dieng at center, it’s going to be a by-committee deal at the four spot until Agau can develop or Behanan finds his way back on the team (as many believe he will). With or without Behanan, Kentucky has the beef up front (among other things) to beat the Cardinals on December 28. Louisville better hope Behanan gets back quickly, because what little experienced depth they have down low will be a necessity if the Cardinals hope to repeat as national champions, and it’ll definitely be needed to get past Big Blue.
- It seems like since Tom Izzo took over Michigan State (#2 in the poll), the Spartans have always been solid at every position. Adreian Payne is the stalwart in the post. Keith Appling will man the point, and a host of talented other players will help balance the attack. But if there’s one thing that could bring Sparty down, it’s the lack of scoring depth on the bench. Appling’s 13.4 PPG leads the group, followed by Gary Harris (12.9 PPG), Payne (10.5 PPG) and Branden Dawson’s 8.9 PPG. Those are likely four starters. After that, there’s a serious drop-off. Derrick Nix’s 9.9 PPG is gone. Denzel Valentine averaged just 5.0 PPG last season. So a number of role players will have to make up for that lost depth in the scoring column. Tom Izzo schedules tough in the non-conference slate, and along with the obvious choice that an insanely-deep Kentucky team can take apart a squad without enough scorers, watch for North Carolina to be able to do the same. With James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston (if he returns by then) and an improved Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels will be able to put it on the Spartans.
- And then we get to #1 Kentucky. The direction to go would be to say “the Wildcats are too young,” but recent history suggests that’s never the problem. Last season, talent cohesion, rather than talent itself, was the problem. This year that could also become an even bigger problem given all the talent on this team. While John Calipari has proven to be a great manager of egos, this is somewhat uncharted territory, even for him. If Andrew Harrison can’t get everyone on the same page, there could be some early teeth gnashing in Lexington. Providence would be the best sleeper candidate to take down the Wildcats, because in their December 1 meeting at the Barclays Center, the Friars will return seven upperclassmen including leading returning scorers Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Hinton.