One Reason Why Each Top 25 School Won't Win It All

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2012

One Reason Why Each Top 25 School Won't Win It All

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    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your favorite team is not perfect.

    Even you Indiana fans.

    Obviously someone has to win the national championship, but if we are going to play glass half-empty, there is at least one shortcoming for each squad.

    Read on to see one reason why each Top 25 team will not win the national championship.

    The rankings reflect the most current AP Top 25 Poll (as of Nov. 19) and pace-adjusted statistics are via kenpom.com.

No. 25: San Diego State

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    Offense


    The Mountain West may be the best non-power conference in the country this year, and San Diego State is a big reason why.

    The Aztecs, behind superstar Jamaal Franklin, should scare some teams in March. However, if they are going to do that, they will need to improve on a very average offense from a season ago.

    San Diego State ranked a middling 94th in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive rankings in 2011-12, which probably won’t be good enough to upset multiple power-conference teams in the tournament.

    The Aztecs have struggled to score in a very small sample size this season, which is cause for concern. Somebody besides Franklin and Chase Tapley is going to have to step up.

No. 24: Baylor

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    Rely too much on Pierre Jackson

     

    Baylor has plenty of offensive weapons and will score all season long, but there is really one one option when crunch time rolls around.

    Pierre Jackson is mister everything for the Bears, as evidenced by his lofty scoring, assist and steal numbers.

    Yes, other players score, but much of that scoring is the direct result of Jackson setting up his teammates and finding them open looks off his own penetration.

    If Baylor is going to win the national championship, Jackson would need six straight excellent games. Chances are, someone will contain him during that stretch.

    The early loss to Colorado demonstrated exactly what happens to the Bears when Jackson struggles—they become stagnant and have great difficulty scoring and finding open shots.

No. 23: Colorado

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    Not quite talented enough

     

    Few teams in the entire country had a start as impressive as Colorado’s.

    The Buffaloes defeated Atlantic 10-contender Dayton, nationally-ranked Baylor, and a scary Murray State squad that is led by one of the best players in America.

    As great as the start has been, Colorado simply doesn’t have the depth of talent on its roster to pull off a national championship run.

    That may be a bit simplistic, but the Buffaloes don’t shoot a great percentage, don't rack up many assists, and will have less talent than a number of NCAA tournament teams.

    The backcourt is very capable and Andre Roberson is about as underrated as they come, but there just aren’t enough weapons to be cutting down the nets in April.

    That doesn’t mean Colorado can’t still make a special run in March.

No. 22: Cincinnati

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    No true big man threat

     

    It’s hard to get a read on Cincinnati early in a season because its nonconference schedule always ranks among the worst in the nation.

    Unfortunately, that type of scheduling is a disservice to Bearcat fans because they have one of the most overlooked teams in the country. A big reason why Cincinnati is so overlooked is because it never gets to play a big game until conference season begins.

    Alas, the Bearcats will not win the national championship without a true threat in the middle.

    Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright formulate one of the best one-two punches in the Big East, but to win six straight games in March there needs to be some type of inside presence.

    Cincinnati will still put together a great season. It just won’t include a championship.

No. 21: Connecticut

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    Isn’t it obvious?

     

    Connecticut will not win the national championship because it is not eligible to play in the NCAA tournament.

    Moving on.

No. 20: Oklahoma State

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    Injuries/depth

     

    It is way too early in the season to be dealing with potentially crippling injury issues, but that is exactly what Oklahoma State is doing right now.

    The Cowboys are off to a terrific start that includes a beat down of North Carolina State, but the black cloud of depth concerns hovers over them.

    Brian Williams is already out for the season with a wrist injury. What’s more, Jean-Paul Olukemi hurt his knee against Akron; Marek Soucek injured his knee in the team’s win over Tennessee; and Michael Cobbins will be out for quite some time with a toe issue.

    Injury and depth concerns, this early, do not bear well for the future at Oklahoma State. A championship run typically takes a deep stable of horses, which the Cowboys may not have at their disposal.

No. 19: Memphis

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    Won’t be battle tested at all

     

    A common thread among many non-power conference teams that make a deep run in the NCAA tournament is a difficult nonconference schedule.

    While that may mean dealing with an early loss or two, it typically pays dividends in March when the level of competition increases from conference play.

    Memphis, on the other hand, will not be battle tested at all by Selection Sunday.

    Yes, the Tigers play some good non-league games, including one against Louisville in December, but many of them are against teams that aren’t quite expected to play at the level they have in the past.

    For example, Xavier and Tennessee are both dangerous squads, but both programs have had more talented teams in the past than they do in 2012-13.

    The Conference USA will not be strong enough to prepare Memphis for six straight tourney wins.

    Memphis will still have a great season, and win some games in March, but it won’t be ready for a national championship.

No. 18: UNLV

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    Overconfidence may be an issue

     

    UNLV is more talented than the majority of the teams in the six power conferences. That will pose a problem for the rest of the squads in the Mountain West.

    Second year head coach Dave Rice has done a terrific job stocking the Runnin Rebels’ cupboard with loads of talent on the recruiting trail.

    Anthony Bennett and Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch (one of 2011’s top prospects who is not yet eligible) give UNLV a formidable frontcourt presence.

    Throw in the depth that comes with Anthony Marshall, Carlos Lopez, Justin Hawkins and superstar Mike Moser, and it is clear why the Rebels will be favored in almost all of their games.

    The only real concern, outside of all this talent coming together as expected, for UNLV this season is a dash of overconfidence. After all, it’s not unrealistic to expect this team to run rampant over the vast majority of its Mountain West competition.

    If UNLV remains humble enough and all the talent can mesh (a big if, but not unrealistic), a surprise Final Four run is not out of the question.

    But an overconfident squad will not win the title.

No. 17: Gonzaga

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    Seeding

     

    If it wasn’t clear to the country that Gonzaga is really good, it certainly was after its massacre of West Virginia.

    The Zags are both talented and deep. Przemek Karnowski, Elias Harris, Gary Bell Jr., Sam Dower, Guy Landry Edi, Kevin Pangos and David Stockton provide Mark Few with more weapons than he is going to know what to do with.

    I expect Gonzaga to win plenty of games this year in the WCC, which will result in a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. It’s hard to imagine a WCC team getting a better seed than that.

    This means that the Bulldogs will be matched up with a top-seeded team in the Sweet 16, which will end their drive to a national championship.

    But if they can grab a better seed than that, watch out.

No. 16: North Carolina State

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    Hype may have been too much

     

    This should not be interpreted as an overreaction to one game.

    Yes, North Carolina State was possibly exposed against Oklahoma State, but every team is going to have a terrible game at one point or another.

    However, the Wolfpack simply aren’t used to being the hunted in the ACC.

    In a conference that includes traditional powerhouses Duke and North Carolina, not to mention some of the most difficult venues to play at in the entire country, the spotlight may be shining a bit too bright on the young NC State team.

    Nevertheless, if Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis and C.J. Leslie all decide to return to school next year, the Wolfpack will have a year of experience being the favorites under their collective belts.

    If that is the case, NC State will be on the shortlist of favorites for the national title in 2013-14.

No. 15: Michigan State

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    Frontcourt scoring

     

    Michigan State’s scoring so far this season has come from three sources—Garry Harris, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson.

    All three are more than capable of carrying their team on any given night. However, all three are also backcourt players (Dawson is more versatile than the other two, but he is still closer to a guard than a center).

    If Michigan State is going to win the national championship, or even challenge Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten, it is going to need some scoring from the frontcourt eventually.

    Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are effective rebounders and clog the middle on defense, but neither has posed as a formidable offensive threat yet. That is going to have to change.

    Otherwise, the fans in East Lansing are going to be clamoring for Draymond Green to return all season long.

No. 14: Creighton

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    Defense

     

    As long as Doug McDermott, arguably the best offensive player in the nation, is on Creighton’s roster, scoring will not be an issue.

    The big man averaged nearly 23 points and eight rebounds a game, while shooting an astounding 60 percent from the field and almost 50 percent from three-point range last year.

    However, there are two sides of the ball, and the other may pose a problem for the Bluejays.

    Creighton ranked a dismal 178th in pace-adjusted defense a season ago, which was the primary reason why McDermott and company did not advance as deep into March as they would have liked.

    If that defensive efficiency does not improve by a wide margin, there is not a chance that Creighton will be crowned the national champions at the end of the year.

No. 13: Missouri

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    Consistency concerns

     

    In terms of pure talent, Missouri may be able to give Kentucky a run for its money in the SEC this season.

    However, the Tigers are going to need to play with a level of consistency that may be difficult for a team that is loaded with transfers that will have to mesh right away.

    Center Alex Oriakhi from Connecticut, Keion Bell from Pepperdine, and Earnest Ross from Auburn headline that list of transfers that will be joining Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey in Columbia.

    Speaking of Pressey, Missouri needs more consistency from its point guard as well. There are some games when he racks up impressive assist numbers, and then others when setting up his teammates seems to fall by the wayside.

    Frank Haith will have his work cut out for him if he wants to take home the national title. Stringing together six consistent games in March will not be easy.

No. 12: Kansas

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    Offense

     

    The offense may be there for Kansas as the year goes on, but it is painfully evident early on that the Jayhawks are missing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

    Bill Self’s squad ranks near the middle of the country in a number of offensive statistics, including points per game, assists per game and field-goal percentage.

    It is admittedly a small sample size, but it will be difficult to win the Big 12, yet again, if Kansas can’t score enough points.

    It wouldn’t hurt if Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford start hitting more three-point shots, and Jeff Withey is going to have to be more than an intimidating defender this year.

    It’s a safe bet that the Jayhawks will figure it out and take home another Big 12 crown, but the national championship may have to wait for another year.

No. 11: UCLA

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    A lot for the freshmen to handle

     

    Who knows, maybe UCLA’s impressive freshman class will pick up right where Kentucky’s left off last year and continue the theme of freshmen-dominated national title games.

    But it’s probably a safer bet to assume that will not happen.

    Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker have all the talent in the world, but it is asking a lot for a trio of freshmen to carry the weight of the most successful college basketball program in history on their collective shoulders.

    The Bruins looked outmatched in their early loss to Georgetown, although Parker did not play because of a back issue.

    UCLA will undoubtedly improve as the season goes on, but a national title is simply expecting too much.

No. 10: Arizona

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    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Mark Lyons

     

    Mark Lyons has the ability level to win plenty of games for Arizona this season.

    He is also just frustratingly inconsistent enough to lose them for his team as well.

    The former Xavier shooting guard is being asked to man the point in Tucson this year, and that is a tall order. Fortunately for Lyons, the coach that recruited him to be a Musketeer is leading his current Wildcats team.

    The problem with Lyons running the point is that his career assist-to-turnover ratio is basically one. That means he has turned the ball over about as many times as he has assisted another basket in his collegiate career.

    That’s not the winning formula for a point guard in March.

    Throw in the fact that he was known as a questionable teammate at Xavier, and there are some red flags to be concerned about.

No. 9: North Carolina

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    Is there enough there besides James Michael McAdoo

     

    How many programs can lose four players to the first round of the NBA draft, and still be in the Top 10 the very next season, besides North Carolina and Kentucky?

    The Tar Heels saw Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall all called to the stage by David Stern last summer.

    James Michael McAdoo is the heir apparent to the North Carolina superstar throne, but that may not be enough to challenge for a national title.

    Roy Williams will need players such as Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald to help Michael McAdoo if the Tar Heels want to beat out Duke and NC State for the ACC crown.

    Michael McAdoo will lead UNC in points and rebounds, but he will need some help to take home the title.

No. 8: Kentucky

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    Rebounding

     

    This may be overreacting to a very small sample size, but Kentucky ranks near bottom of the country in rebounds per game so far.

    The nine offensive rebounds Duke grabbed played a large role in the Blue Devils’ victory over the Wildcats.

    Again, this could be just the result of a few games, but John Calipari is going to need his team to step up in the rebounding department if he hopes to repeat as national champions.

    Nerlens Noel will get his, but what about everyone else?

    Alex Poythress has been effective on the glass, but there is a sharp drop off after those top two.

No. 7: Florida

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    Will someone rebound besides Patric Young?

     

    Florida always has an incredible amount of athleticism and speed that helps the Gators run circles around many of their opponents.

    That was clearly evident when they destroyed the mismatched Wisconsin Badgers earlier this season.

    However, Florida won’t be able to show off that athleticism if it doesn’t have the ball enough.

    The Gators finished 130th in the country in total rebounding a year ago, which is not exactly the recipe for a deep run in March.

    Even more worrisome for Gator fans, the team’s leading rebounder from 2011-12, Bradley Beal (6.7 per contest), departed for the NBA after just one season in Gainesville.

    Will Yeguete has done an effective job rebounding the ball alongside Patric Young so far this year, and it is absolutely critical for Billy Donovan that he continues to do so.

    Otherwise, a national title is out of the picture.

No. 6: Syracuse

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    Center position

     

    Fab Melo was more important to Syracuse’s success last year than he got credit for.

    The Orange came into the NCAA tournament with only one loss but were exposed by Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes down low in the Elite Eight without the suspended Melo in the paint.

    Jim Boeheim will probably use a rotation of Rakeem Christmas, Dajauan Coleman and Baye Keita in the middle this year now that Melo is gone.

    All of these players are decent pieces, but together they don’t provide with Syracuse with the talent level and game-changing ability it will need to win the title.

    The Orange will struggle with consistency from the center spot all year, which could very well be their undoing in March.

No. 5: Duke

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    Rebounding concerns

     

    Duke may have started the season a little lower in the rankings than it was used to, but a victory over Kentucky has Coach K’s squad back in the Top five.

    However, like the Wildcats, rebounding concerns could eventually be the Blue Devil’s kryptonite.

    Duke finished a very un-Duke-like 65th in the nation in rebounding in 2011-12, and lost one of its best rebounders on the roster in Miles Plumlee.

    Through a very short sample size this year, the Blue Devils rank an alarmingly 253rd in the nation in total rebounding, and that includes a game against a rebounding-challenged Kentucky team.

    Mason Plumlee will grab plenty of boards this year, but Duke will not win the title if someone else doesn’t too.

No. 4: Michigan

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    A lot riding on the shoulders of a freshman

     

    I feel like a broken record at this point by bringing up rebounding problems for so many top teams, but it is a serious issue for a number of squads.

    Michigan is one of those teams.

    To really get a grasp on how much improvement there needs to be on the glass, consider the fact that Michigan ranked a putrid 311th in the country in rebounding last year. In the grind-it-out and physical Big Ten, that won’t cut it for two seasons in a row.

    So far, the Wolverines have been crashing the boards at a much better rate this season, and that is due to the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary.

    But it is a lot to ask of a freshman to completely turn around one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation from a year ago in that department.

No. 3: Ohio State

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    So much riding on two players

     

    Anyone who watched the first few games Ohio State played could tell you how important Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas are to the Buckeyes’ success.

    Within that small sample size, Craft leads the Buckeyes in assists and is second in steals (something he will eventually lead) and scoring. Thomas leads the team in points and rebounds.

    But the thing that jumps out is the fact that both players average nearly 40 minutes a game, so far, despite the fact that Ohio State has won every game by double digits.

    This is a concern among fans of the Scarlet and Gray, but there is a chance Thad Matta will run his two best weapons into the ground by the NCAA tournament.

    Of course, there is also the chance that they are both young college kids who are more than capable of handling the heavy workload.

    Either way, the Buckeyes are going to need consistent production from elsewhere if they hope to cut down the nets.

No. 2: Louisville

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    Possible inconsistency on offense

     

    Louisville returned the majority of its contributor’s from last year’s Final Four team, including Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng.

    While this has automatically qualified the Cardinals as a contender in any national title discussion, it is not as if last year’s squad didn’t have some problems.

    Rick Pitino’s group finished 103rd in pace-adjusted offensive rankings last year, and struggled to score for long stretches of time and even games.

    It is hard to get a gauge on where the Cardinals are offensively in 2012-13, so far, because they have gotten fat off of cupcakes.

    But if Louisville does turn around its offensive production this season, there is no reason to expect anything less than a Final Four trip.

No. 1: Indiana

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    Defense could be an issue

     

    Indiana is the best team in the country, at this point, and is the favorite to take home the title when it’s all said and done.

    However, the one thing that can stop the Hoosiers from doing just that—is their defense.

    Last year, Indiana ranked 64th in pace-adjusted defensive efficiency, which isn’t exactly horrible. Still, that’s not national championship caliber, either.

    If you think Indiana’s offense is good enough to overcome a middling defense in March, remember the Hoosiers’ 102-90 defeat at the hands of Kentucky in the Sweet 16 last season.

    Offense can come and go on any given night in the tournament, but it will be difficult to win that crystal ball for Tom Crean’s team if the defense isn’t improved this year.

    Don’t be surprised if it is.