2012 NCAA Tournament: The 5 Best Teams That Will Not Make the Final Four
The 2012 NCAA Tournament, aka the best time of the year, is quickly approaching. March Madness has consistently been one of the most exciting sporting events due to its unpredictable nature, Cinderella stories, and its ability to vault a relatively unknown school into the national spotlight (see Davidson, Butler, George Mason etc).
With that being said, for every Cinderella story, there is a top team that under-performs.
Here are the five best teams that will NOT make it to the Final Four this year.
No. 5 Duke Blue Devils
The Duke Blue Devils will, in all likelihood (barring anything ridiculous, which is completely possible because it's college basketball), receive a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That being said, I have less confidence in this Duke team than any Duke team that I can remember.
The Blue Devils sit at 18-3, with losses coming at Ohio State, at Temple, and a heart-breaker at home against Florida State. Duke has enjoyed a pretty easy schedule this season (they have only faced four ranked teams thus far), and the ACC is weak to say the least.
What worries me most about the Duke Blue Devils is their defense. They are currently ranked 227th in total defense, allowing 69.1 points per game. Duke will struggle against an athletic team with size who can pound the rock down low on the post. Their interior defense can be suspect; the Plumlee brothers won't match-up well with players like Perry Jones III or Jared Sullinger.
I don't have a good vibe about Duke this year, don't be surprised if they exit early from the dance.
No. 2 Syracuse
The Syracuse Orangemen (22-1) are no doubt a solid squad, but the Big East could be the most overrated conference in college basketball. In addition, Syracuse has only played two ranked teams throughout the entire season (No. 9 Florida and No. 20 Marquette).
Syracuse just feels like a trap team this year (like Pitt and Duke were in last year's NCAA Tournament). They have a great regular season, but they seem destined for an upset.
The most alarming aspect of this squad revolves around their sub-par rebounding. They are currently ranked 194th in rebounding margin (grabbing 35.5 rebounds per game and giving up 35.8 rebounds per game).
Even with their 7'0" center, Fab Melo (who is averaging only 5.7 rebounds per game), the Orangemen are ranked 134th in total rebounds per contest, tied with Portland State and Bucknell.
The key to success in the NCAA Tournament (or in any basketball game) is to limit the amount of opportunities your opponent has to score, which is accomplished by rebounding the ball. A team like UNC (averaging 16 offensive rebounds per game) will have a distinct advantage.
Don't fall in love with these top teams that coast through their regular season. Come tournament time, it never seems to work out the way it should.
No. 10 Michigan State
The Michigan State Spartans (17-5) began the season with an extremely difficult one-two punch; Duke and UNC respectively. After losing both games, State won the next 15 games in a row.
The Spartans are solid all the way around; 13th in the nation in rebounds per game (39.9), 19th in assists per game (16.2), and 36th in field goal percentage (47.5).
The cause for concern is State's lack of depth beyond Draymond Green and Keith Appling. Michigan State fans held their collective breath as Green was helped off of the floor against Illinois, but it looks like he should be fine, suffering only a knee sprain.
Green's strength is his incredible rebounding skills (he leads the Big Ten in rebounding with 10.3 per game) and his dominance down on the block. If State's opponent double-teams Green down low, they can force the ball out of his hands.
Appling's amazing quickness to the basket and his ability to run the fast break definitely give State an edge. Good transition defense, and a collapse on his dribble drive can take away this strength.
Without these two players playing well, State's offense will struggle. This will lead to Coach Izzo's team being shown the door early in the Big Dance.
No. 9 Murray State
I know Murray State has been an incredible story all year long, as they are the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball. But at some point you need to ask yourself, is this team the real deal?
Here is the quick answer: No. For starters, the Racers have played one ranked team this season, the Memphis Tigers (who are no longer ranked).
Their schedule has featured matchups with SIU-Edwardsville, Lipscomb, Tennessee-Martin and Jacksonville State. If anyone can tell me where Lipscomb is located without using Google, I will be very impressed.
In addition, Murray State does not rebound well, which is a recipe for disaster in the NCAA Tournament. They are ranked 252nd in the NCAA in rebounding, with their tallest impact player standing at 6'7".
The Murray State Racers are definitely a feel good story this season, but they will get knocked off quickly in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
No. 8 Kansas
The Kansas Jayhawks (18-4) are in first place in the Big 12, which is impressive considering this division is home to three of the top 10 ranked teams (No. 4 Missouri and No. 6 Baylor).
Thomas Robinson will get serious consideration for National Player of the Year, and Tyshawn Taylor has been spectacular. The Jayhawks have had an extremely tough schedule, with out of conference games against No. 1 Kentucky (L), No. 5 Duke (L), and No. 3 OSU (W*, without Jared Sullinger).
Kansas has 10 very difficult games remaining, including two against Missouri, at Baylor, and at K-State. This stretch, combined with what will be an ultra-competitive Big 12 tournament, could prove to be draining for this team.
Free throws are a concern for Kansas; they are ranked 176th in the country in free-throw percentage (68.5 percent). How many times have we seen a close game come down to the team that can hit from the charity stripe?
In addition, Bill Self's teams have had a propensity of getting knocked out prematurely from the tournament over the past few years. They lost in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament to Northern Iowa after being the No. 1 seed with a 29-2 regular season record. In the 2011 NCAA Tournament, they lost to VCU in the Elite Eight after being the No. 1 seed and compiling a 29-2 again in the regular season.
Unfortunately, I have the same feeling about Kansas this year.