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Rather than give you a mundane breakdown of brackets and “my Final Four” – If you must have it Louisville Kansas, Indiana and Ohio State – here is a breakdown of the tournament looking at different categories and different teams. I hope you enjoy and I will continue to update this every day with more info on the NCAA Tourney, especially this week when there are games all day long Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday…..
It is a crazy year though – think about this – the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 both have 5 teams in the field, the ACC only has four…..
So here we go:
The Five most Fun players to watch:
Hey, it isn’t just about scoring, it is about playing with some flair, getting after it, playing the right way – or just being a guy who lets it fly, makes it rain or has a flair for the big shot.
1. Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss – Is there any doubt this guy should be at the top of this list? Dude averages 20 points per game, yeah, but this is a guy who loves to talk trash, loves to agitate the other teams. His shot selection is awful sometimes, he comes off as a bit of a punk, but how can you not love watching a guy who has this much fun?
2. Doug McDermott, Creighton – Forget that he averages 23 points per game – the guy has a smile on his face about 80 percent of the time and plays with such a love and enthusiasm for the game that he is a joy to watch. And dude can flat out play, he can score in a variety of ways and given that his team wants to outscore everyone they play (as opposed to win with defense), he gets plenty of opportunities to shine.
3. Sean Armond, Iona - World B. Free loves this guy, I am sure. You remember World B., the guy who people said “never met a shot he didn’t like”. That’s Armond in a nutshell. He has no fear and there is something fun about watching a guy like that play.
4. Khaliff Wyatt, Temple – The Owls are more of a grind it out, defensive team than most but in true Temple tradition, they play great defense, are physical, try to control tempo a bit – and rely on a guard or two (in this case Wyatt) to score enough points to keep them in games – and he usually does.
5. Shabazz Mohammed, UCLA – A key injury probably takes the Bruins – who I loved to get to the Final Four until Jordan Adams went down - out of my “look out for this team” category as they may win a game or two but don’t have quite enough probably to get much further. But we’ve seen these wing guys like Mohammed (think Marquette and Wade, Syracuse and Anthony) go nuts in the tournament and carry their teams and I’ve watched this kid enough times to know he has that in him. He clearly is big time and Ben Howland is letting his guys play this year so don’t be surprised if he drops 35 on someone in this tournament.
The Five Teams seed lower than No. 4 (meaning No. 5 or lower) who could get to Final Four. I am not saying they will or even will get out of the first round, I am saying they are good enough to get there based on what I have seen this year.
1. South No. 7 San Diego State – I know the Aztecs rely heavily on two players to score – and that’s a problem in the tournament at times but they also have a lot of other players who are capable of stepping up and scoring in a pinch and Steve Fisher is great tournament coach. The Mountain West is a great league this year and so this team is battle tested and can win a number of ways.
2. Midwest No. 12 Oregon – The Ducks played really well early, not so well in the middle of the season, and then really well late. Dana Altman is a great coach and the thing with the Ducks is if they can lure you into their game, they are very efficient at what they do. Winning the Pac 12 proves to me they are capable of beating anyone.
3. Midwest No. 6 Memphis – The Tigers aren’t great. They could be one-and-done. But…..and there is always a but…their athleticism and ability to pressure teams and trap teams makes them a difficult team to play against because you cannot simulate what they do as you don’t likely have the athleticism or speed they have.
4. East No. 5 UNLV – Hey there is no Larry Johnson or Greg Anthony – but there is a Khem Birch and this team really plays the right way. I think they have a tough road, but their ability to score and score in transition and Birch’s ability to protect the hoop – thus enabling them to extend their defense without fear – makes them a scary team.
5. South No. 6 UCLA – Look, I don’t want to talk out of both sides of my mouth – the injury to Adams is huge – but, with Mohammed playing at a high level and what’s left on this roster – this to me is still a scary team.
The Five most fun teams to watch:
Hey, in these days of “controlling tempo” and “grinding it out” there are still some teams who play the game the right way and get after it – and thus are fun to watch. I was watching old videos of the teams of the early 90’s and late 80’s and I’ll be honest, basketball was much better in that era and part of the reason was the game was played baseline to baseline and teams got after it. Even those Duke teams, with Grant Hill and Antonio Lang and Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner, that era from about 1992-1997 really went after it and got up and down the court.
So with that in mind, here are the five most fun teams to watch in this year’s NCAA Tounament:
1. Northwestern State – Forget about the fact that this is the highest scoring team in the nation – 82 ppg – this team plays an extremely wide open style of hoops and they get after it. It is a team loaded with athletes and length and frankly it won’t shock me if this team gives Florida fits. I once saw Northwestern State live in an NCAA Tournament game and all they did was upset Steve Alford’s Iowa team and mostly because they were just too athletic.
2. Iona – Yep, the second highest scoring team in the nation (81 ppg) but more importantly, the Gaels have one of the most exciting guard tandems in Lamont Jones and Sean Armond, who combine to average 40 a game – and both are capable of going off for 40 in any game. Armond is really fun to watch as he has absolutely no conscience and has no problem pulling up from 23-feet and letting one fly on a fast break.
3. Creighton - I love Creighton and I love watching Doug McDermott play. The beauty of Creighton is they score a ton but they can’t guard anyone, so their games are almost always going to be exciting. McDermott is obviously the key – this team can’t win if he doesn’t go for 20+.
4. Louisville – The Cardinals are a much better fit in the ACC than the Big East as the Cardinals are a baseline to baseline team who can do it all – they can shoot, they can score in transition, they have “spurtability” and frankly, when they slap that pressure on and start trapping teams all over the court they can make teams cry. I love watching this team play.
5. VCU –How could you have the “Havoc” on this list? I saw VCU live – that defensive pressure and interchangeable part thing (the Rams substitution is almost like hockey with full line changes) is amazing. These guys just run all over the place, trap all over the place and get the game moving at such a pace that you get tired sitting in your seat watching it. What a fun bunch to watch.
Five teams who will make it ugly:
Hey I was power forward in college and my general role on the team was to rebound and make sure my five fouls counted – and I usually did get my money’s worth out of them. So I can appreciate muckers, grinders and fighters and these teams are teams that you’d rather chew broken glass than try to score against.
1. St. Louis – The Bilikens are so ridiculously good at playing defense without fouling but they have no problem at all building a wall and staying in front of guys for 35 seconds and then rebounding the ball. You will not get good shots against them, they have length, athleticism and they are physical as hell. It is one of those teams that can and will grind you and grind you and frustrate you until they break your spirit and offensively they don’t make mistakes and don’t turn it over – so you aren’t going to get the game moving at your pace.
2. Wisconsin – The Badgers are a slightly more skilled version of Pitt – they want to run 34 seconds off the shot clock on offense and get a layup or open 3 at the buzzer and defensively they just bruise the hell out of you and rebound the ball so you get one shot at them per possession and it generally isn’t going to be a good one. I could clearly see Wisconsin winning a game 45-41.
3. Butler – The Bulldogs aren’t quite as good defensively as they were during those magical runs to the Final Four, but good luck trying to score against them if they are playing their game. We have seem a few games get away from them this year but Brad Stevens believes in building a wall and guarding and this team does it as well as anyone.
4. Florida – Yep, we think of Billy Donovan and the Gators and think of his career at Providence and that Rick Pitino-light system he runs. He has great guards, they can generally score – but here is a little secret for you, the Gators are in this field and where the best team in the SEC because they can lock you down and make it miserable for you to score. The Gators are third in the nation in scoring defense (53.7 ppg).
5. Bucknell – The Bison are in a league that is less reliant on athleticism and more reliant on good possessions and efficient offense so naturally they play lower scoring games than other teams. But don’t think their defensive numbers (58 ppg against) are entirely a product of slowing games down. The Bison’s guards get after you and they have one of the best big men in the field – 6-foot-11 Mike Mascula – to protect the rim.
Five Best Teams in the Field.
I know what the ranking say. I know what the experts say. But I have watched a ton of basketball this year and I know what my eyes say. So in my humble opinion, these are the five best teams in the field – as in, if they play their “A” game they will beat pretty much everybody.
1. Louisville – What more can be said? The Cardinals are playing the best basketball of anyone right now and they have everything it takes to win the national title. I had them No. 1 in my preseason AP poll and I still think they are the best team and if they play their “A” game six times they win it all.
2. Kansas – I know what the stereotype is, that this Kansas team is a little bit soft and mostly because of that horrible TCU loss I think. But the Jayhawks have it all in my opinion and every time I watch them I come away thinking that they are far more physical than you think and combine that with their athleticism and ability to score, I’m not sure I see many weaknesses.
3. Ohio State – Yeah, I know, I know – Indiana is the darling of the Big Ten. Here is what I see with Ohio State though that I don’t see with Indiana – if you want to play any style game you can come up with against the Buckeyes, they will happily oblige and then beat you at it. You want to drop the gloves and make it a physical battle? You better pack a lunch. You want to go up and down? No worries, they will be there with you. They have a go-to player, they have a lockdown defender – this team has it all.
4. Duke – The Blue Devils are another team who I don’t think people realize just how good they are. Yes, they are a little bit vulnerable to a team loaded with athletes but this team goes baseline to baseline much better than you think. They can shoot it, they have great guards and they have a great coach who knows how to win in March. This is a tough, tough out.
5. Indiana – The thing about the Hoosiers I love is they do have a great inside-outside game, they can defend in both the post and the perimeter and score in both places as well. The thing I don’t like about Indiana is I think the Hoosiers are a bit soft and if a good team wants to drop the gloves with them, I’m not sure they will handle it very well.
Five Teams who are Talented Enough to make a run but struggle with consistency and thus drive you crazy.
Nothing is more frustrating than a team with talent that seems to be able to win big games and then they play so well against great competition but lose to bad teams and play lackluster at times.
So these five teams, if they put it together, could make a run as they have proven it this year.
1. Michigan – No team has frustrated me as much as the Wolverines. I think given their talent they should be on that other list of the five best teams and at times they have shown that. But there is something missing – a toughness, a will to win – something is missing which is why they lost pretty much every big game they played and worse, loss to Penn State. I think talent wise this is a good team – but who did they really beat other than Michigan State, Ohio State and Pitt? The Wolverines were 2-6 against Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State – keep that in mind when you fill out your brackets.
1A. Syracuse – This team is way too talented to play as bad and weak as it does at times. There is all the elements there for a long run. There are also all the elements for a first-round exit. I hate watching this team play, they really drive me insane because they should be so much better than they are. Of course, Jim Boeheim probably thinks I am an idiot for saying so…..
2. Illinois – Why not stay in the Big Ten with another team seemingly loaded with talent that loses way too many games for my liking. How else do you explain a team that has wins over Indiana, Ohio State and Gonzaga --- and losses to Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa. I have seen the Illini play this year a number of times and here is what I will tell you – if they play well, they play their game, they have enough talent to be scary. But they are tough to figure out.
3. Missouri – I saw Missouri play Illinois earlier this season and said to myself “these are two Final Four teams.” The Tigers are another one of these “40 minutes of hell” teams and they like to get up and down the court. They are indeed athletic, they can score too – but that defense is broken way too easily (I saw Louisville carve them up)
4. Arizona – I love watching Arizona play – right up until the point where it is time for the Wildcats to go win a game. They seem to have all the elements – great guards, a good post game, a great coach, some athleticism, they defend well – but much like Michigan something seems to be missing. Think about this – unless I am mistaken and I don’t think I am, the Wildcats beat exactly ONE NCAA Tournament team after Jan. 1st (Colorado).
5. Ole Miss – You want to talk about a team that is hard to figure out – the Rebels are that team. They can beat anyone and if they get on a roll – like in the SEC Tournament which they won – they can be scary. They can also lose to anyone. And I think it has something to do with the fact that their emotional leader and top player, Marshall Henderson, is crazy. Crazy in a good way I suppose, but dude is a bit off. He can clearly light it up (20 ppg), his shot selection is extremely questionable at times, but if he is on he can turn your lights out. He also talks a lot of junk, acts like a nut and is the kind of player opposing fans and players just want to punch in the face.
And finally, the Worst Idea for a Tournament:
I like women’s basketball, I watch it enjoy it and think it is a very good game, much better than it is given credit for. But I’m sorry the women’s NCAA Tournament is stupid, why play it when the same handful of teams are going to get to the Final Four every year? There is absolutely no drama in this year’s tournament – and that is usually the case – as in the preseason everybody knew the Final Four would come down to Notre Dame, Baylor, UConn and either Stanford or Duke. Now in the postseason, four of those teams are No. 1 seeds, the fifth is a No. 2 and three of those teams are an absolute lock (Baylor, UConn and ND) to get to the Final Four. And the only reason Stanford isn’t a lock is the No. 2 in the Cardinal region is California – who has split with Stanford this year and it is obviously a rivalry game. Against any other No. 2 Stanford would be a lock to win. Think about this – the No. 1 seeds are the same No. 1 seeds as last year. And if you know nothing about women’s hoops you probably could have come up with at least three of those four names without seeing any standings or rankings. It is a big problem, the rest of the field beyond the elite is almost irrelevant these days.
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