The Super Bowl is over a week in our rear-view mirror, so by now, you’ve seen all the bracket projections, conference races, and AP rankings you can handle. But what you really want to know is who’s going to cut down the nets in Atlanta. We’ll count down from 30, and these rankings won’t be which teams are playing the best right now, who’s the hottest, or who has the best resumes.
This a gut-feel list of who we’d bet on to win the National Championship – whether it be talent, coaching, team makeup, or any other reason we feel plays a role. In Part I, we started at 30 and went through 9. In this installment, we’ll give a rundown of our “Elite Eight” and some more in-depth info on those teams.
The Best of a Top-Heavy League
8. Miami FL
While Miami may be the hottest team in America now, experience tends to be conducive to success in mid-to-late March. Head coach Jim Larranaga has been there before, but coaching a George Mason team as a Cinderella is much different than navigating your way through March with the target on your back that comes along with being a 1-seed.
Duke is still missing Ryan Kelly, and even if they get him back, this isn’t the same team that had arguably the best November we’ve seen in recent memory. Their interior struggles can be seen in their Offensive Rebound Percentage (218th). When the game slows down in the Tournament, easy buckets are key. It’s hard to get those without rebounding offensively.
The Tourney Can Highlight Their Weaknesses
Both of these teams are among the elite. Both have strengths and weaknesses that allow them to succeed over the course of a long regular season. But in the Big Dance, it only takes one freak occurrence to topple the best of teams. Here’s what each team does (or doesn’t do) that could bite them in a one-game sample size.
Syracuse got James Sutherland back on Sunday, but that doesn’t solve their biggest potential flaw. Their style of play is one that could get them surprised by any opponent who has a hot day from the outside. There are only 12 teams in the nation whose 3PA/FGA Defense is higher. In layman’s terms, Syracuse yields a high amount of three point attempts relative to total field goal attempts. They made the Elite Eight last year, but a Round of 32 loss in 2011 as a 3-seed and Sweet 16 losses in 2010 and 2009 as a 1-seed and 3-seed, respectively, speak to the unpredictability in their style of play.
Michigan is currently rated 3rd in Adjust Offensive Efficiency, mainly on the strength of their 7th-rated Effective Field Goal Percentage and 2nd-ranked Turnover Percentage. They’re remarkably weak, however, at getting to the free throw line. Only six teams in the nation go to the line less frequently per possession. And not one team in the whole nation gets a smaller distribution of their total points via free throws.
4. Michigan State
Here are the individual resumes of these coaches:
- Tom Izzo: 10 Sweet 16’s, Seven Elite 8’s, Six Final Four’s, One National Title
- Rick Pitino: 10 Sweet 16’s, 10 Elite 8’s, Six Final Four’s, One National Title
- Billy Donovan: Six Sweet 16’s, Five Elite 8’s, Three Final Four’s, Two National Titles
26, 22, 15, and 4. That’s a lot. Not to mention anything of Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Derrick Nix of Michigan State; Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, and Chane Behanan of Louisville; or Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Patric Young, and Eric Murphy of Florida. In other words, these teams don’t just have coaches – they have players.
The Strongest Weaknesses
They’re the top offensive team in terms of points per possession, they play at a fast enough tempo (62nd) to force opponents to adjust to them, and they can score from anywhere on the floor. Tyler Zeller can do it inside, Christian Watford is a stretch-4, Victor Oladipo is a slasher, and Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey, and Jordan Hulls can bomb it from deep.
Oladipo can also shut down any star player that plays the point, the 2-guard, or swingman. There really is no dominant team this year; they all have their flaws, but Indiana’s are the ones we feel are most easy to overcome. That’s why the Hoosiers are the team we’d wager on first to cut down the nets in early April. It will take Tom Crean working his way past at least one of the coaching titans listed above, but I think he has the horses to do it.