One of the most exciting months of sports is quickly approaching.
Hello March Madness!
NCAA college basketball teams are battling in conference play and poising themselves for deep runs at the Big Dance. While all teams hope to cut down the nets at the Final Four and play for a national championship, these six college basketball heavyweights are headed for a disappointing March.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers hail from the almighty Big Ten Conference, traditionally known for its football, but the times are changing.
Minnesota packs a punch as their big men wreak havoc on defenses with the interior presences of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams. While Tubby Smith's team has capable play from the guard position come tournament time, Minnesota has problems that will lead to a disappointing performance at the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota's rebounding prowess can carry them deep into the tournament, but their downfall comes from committing too many turnovers and their inability to hang with fast, athletic teams who spread and run the floor. The Golden Gophers only two losses have been at the hands of elite Big Ten teams, Indiana and Michigan, and their performance against Michigan points out their flaws for tournament play.
March Madness speeds up the tempo of games and pushes teams out of their comfort zone.
Minnesota will fall into this trap as they did against Michigan. In their loss at Michigan, Minnesota also missed free throws as they shot 63 percent from the line. When playing against athletic teams, the Golden Gophers cannot afford to waste free points and run the tempo.
If Minnesota cannot protect the basketball and assert their rebounding dominance to the fullest in each round, they are headed for an early exit.
Ohio State's basketball team relies on the offensive play from Deshaun Thomas. As one of the best scorers in the country, Thomas provides a solid lift at the offensive end as he can create shots out of nowhere and attack even the stoutest defenses.
But, one player is not good enough for the Ohio State Buckeyes when it comes to March.
Aaron Craft's defense and smart point guard play gives a boost to this Buckeyes team in intense games. Yet, Craft lacks the ability to be the number two scorer on a team that needs someone to step up.
Ohio State lacks the multidimensional play needed to survive in the tournament. Deshaun Thomas's offense even on the best of nights is not good enough for the Buckeyes, who are going to be headed back to Columbus earlier than they hoped.
The Arizona Wildcats have a talented group of young players anchored around their veteran guard Mark Lyons. Lyons fits into Coach Sean Miller's system spectacularly since the two of them were together at Xavier.
Arizona knows how to score and has a group of players with tournament potential, but they are an inconsistent team whose record does not reflect their struggles.
The Wildcats squeaked out a win in overtime against Colorado with the assistance of a highly controversial call that Colorado coach, Tad Boyle, is most likely still angry about. Arizona's only mark in the loss column is against an under-the-radar Oregon Ducks team, but the Wildcats do not dominate any specific aspect of the game. They can score and shoot at a fairly high team field-goal percentage, but they lack the tests in an overall weak Pac-12 Conference.
Arizona's easy schedule combined with an inexperienced core of players will prove to be their downfall in March.
Gonzaga has one of the more underrated players in the country in junior forward Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk shoots 65.7 percent from the floor, makes his free throws, and averages 18.0 points per game. With an interior presence this strong from a highly talented collegiate-level player, the Gonzaga Bulldogs can ride Olynyk through the regular season.
Unfortunately, Gonzaga is a mid-major team that only plays one tough conference opponent each season, Saint Mary's. Gonzaga is not tested enough throughout the conference play portion of the regular season and has not performed well in recent tournaments.
Despite high rankings and yearly appearances in the Big Dance, Gonzaga has not made it past the Sweet Sixteen since 1999 even when they have earned high seeds in the tournament. This Bulldogs team is a talented bunch of players, but the competition gets tougher and tougher in the tournament which surrounds Gonzaga with skepticism when March rolls around.
The Louisville Cardinals have one of the best coaches in college basketball with Rick Pitino marching up and down the bench. Year in and year out, Louisville plays in a typically tough Big East and battles it out with the top teams in college basketball.
The Cardinals have strengths on the defensive side of the ball as Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva power a stifling defense. Russ Smith can flat out score putting up 19.3 points per game. Louisville is one of the best defensive teams in Division One as they rank third in steals per game with 11.44.
But, Louisville's weakness is protecting the basketball. They average 12.17 turnovers per game which is not going to cut it in March. The top teams do not turn the ball over in games. When a team is not handling the basketball, they are missing opportunities to put up points and control the tempo of the game. Peyton Siva needs to become an elite point guard when managing the game and not commit turnovers.
Louisville's defense can only bail them out so much and their luck will run in March if they do not protect the rock.
Last year, the Duke Blue Devils fell victim to one of the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. The mighty basketball powerhouse lost to the 15th-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks, led by one of the best scoring guards in college basketball, C.J. McCollum.
Legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski will do everything in his power to avoid a devastating early loss in March. Duke has the inside presence, guard play, and scoring abilities that all teams dream of having during March Madness. Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Quinn Cook can carry this team deep into the tournament.
But, Duke possesses one flaw that does not bode well for tournament teams. The Blue Devils rank 122nd in rebounds per game and 245th in offensive rebounding.
Inefficiencies in rebounding lead to second chance opportunities for opposing teams and minimal second chance opportunities for the Blue Devils. Coach K will work to find a way to fix Duke's rebounding issues, but they do not have much time especially with the current injury to senior forward Ryan Kelly. Plumlee is Duke's only major presence on the glass right now so they will need Kelly, come tournament time, to impact their rebounding game on both sides of the floor.
Duke is a very talented team that has the potential to win it all, but if they do not fix their rebounding woes, the Blue Devils will be reliving their worst fears with another tough loss to a low-seeded team.