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The Most One-Dimensional Teams in College Basketball

Jake CurtisFeatured Columnist IIJune 14, 2016

The Most One-Dimensional Teams in College Basketball

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    Either by choice or necessity, some college basketball teams pin their hopes on a distinctive style or a single player.

    If it lacks the versatility or willingness to adapt to various situations or opponents, a team is labeled as one-dimensional.

    Sometimes that tag provides an identity the coach and players can embrace. Sometimes it limits what a team can do, especially in the postseason.

    One-dimensional teams either excel only in one aspect of the game or live and die with the performance of their lone star.

    In ranking the most one-dimensional teams, we considered only teams that have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. None of those teams is strictly one-dimensional, but these 10 have limited adaptability.

10. Charlotte 49ers

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    Charlotte has a number of long, athletic players who make the 49ers an excellent interior team offensively. But the team's offensive prowess ends there.

    The 49ers rank 341st among 345 Division I teams in both three-pointers made per game and three-point percentage (26 percent)

    Charlotte upset Butler because it was forced to attempt only five three-point shots, making two. However, the three opponents since then induced Charlotte to attempt 38 three-pointers. The 49ers made only six and lost all three games by lopsided margins.

    Even Central Michigan, which is last in the Mid-American Conference, stayed competitive with Charlotte by playing a sagging zone defense.

    Should the 49ers squeeze into the NCAA tournament, opponents will pack in their defense. It will limit the 49ers' ability to maneuver in the paint, begging them to try to win from long range.

9. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama is contending for an NCAA tournament berth because Anthony Grant has it playing outstanding physical defense. 

    The Tide has held 11 of their last 13 opponents under 60 points.

    However, Alabama has very little offense and no reliable scorer. It has been held to 60 points or less 14 times and has scored more than 70 points in regulation time in only one SEC game. It even lost a game in which it held its opponent to 49 points, falling to Auburn, 49-37.

    Defense is critical in the postseason, but teams prone to long scoring droughts seldom last long. Butler showed in 2010 that a team can get to the finals with a team based on defense. But not since Wisconsin reached the Final Four in 2000 has a team with an offense as limited as Alabama's made a splash in the postseason.

8. Belmont Bruins

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    Belmont is an underrated team capable of pulling off an upset in the NCAA tournament. But that shocker will come only if the Bruins are hot from long range.

    Three-point shooting is not Belmont's only asset, but it is by far its best attribute and the only thing that can ruin a big-name foe.

    The Bruins are sixth in the nation in three-pointers made per game (8.9) and 10th in three-point percentage (39.7).

    They made 11 of 15 three-pointers in an 11-point road victory over a 23-7 Eastern Kentucky team. But they were just 8-of-38 from long range in a 29-point loss to Kansas.

    In the postseason, such dependence on three-point shooting can be a blessing or a curse. Davidson was a similar team in 2007 and 2008 when it had Stephen Curry and other good shooters. The Wildcats flamed out in the first round in 2007, but they pulled off three major upsets the next season.

7. South Dakota State Jackrabbits

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    South Dakota State could be a concern for NCAA tournament opponents for one reason: Nate Wolters.

    Without Wolters, who averages 22.8 points and 5.7 assists, the Jackrabbits are not in the discussion for a postseason berth. When he didn't play against Minnesota, the Jackrabbits lost by 24 points.

    With him, they are a threat. His 19 points helped South Dakota State give Baylor a scare in a 68-60 first-round NCAA tournament loss last season.

    Standout point guard play can lead to early-round tournament upsets. Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor demonstrated that in a first-round victory over Duke in 2007, and Ohio's D.J. Cooper did likewise in an upset of Michigan last season.

    More often, the lack of a supporting cast is too much for a lower-level team to overcome, as was the case for Long Beach State's Casper Ware last year.

6. Virginia Cavaliers

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    Virginia's basketball identity is based more on coach Tony Bennett's system than on the players in it.

    The Cavaliers' complicated defensive system and patient offense allow them to grind out low-scoring victories against more talented teams.

    They have held nine opponents to 45 points or fewer this season. That keeps them in every game. Virginia won one game in which it scored only 46 points, beating Tennessee, 46-38.

    However, the Cavaliers lack an explosive offense, averaging just 65.3 points. An inability to play effectively from behind led to inexplicable losses to Delaware and Old Dominion.

    The Cavaliers struggle when they are forced to play an up-and-down game, as was the case against North Carolina. They can only play effectively at one pace, making them one-dimensional.

    Although Joe Harris has become a star within the system, Virginia has no one who can consistently create his own offense.

    As noted previously, not since Wisconsin in 2000 has a team with such offensive limitations made a major impact in the NCAA tournament.

5. Bucknell Bison

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    Bucknell is much like South Dakota State in that its success is built around one player. In Bucknell's case. it's 6'11" center Mike Muscala.

    The Bison are 24-5, mainly because Muscala is averaging 19.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. When he had  25 points and 14 rebounds at Missouri, the Bison nearly pulled off a major road upset. When he had just 10 points against Penn State, Bucknell lost a three-point game it could have won.

    Unlike South Dakota State point guard Nate Wolters, Muscala is a low-post player who does not dominate the ball. That will make it easier for an opposing defense to take him out of a postseason game if it is determined to do so.

    Kansas' Danny Manning (1988 NCAA championship) and Navy's David Robinson (1986 Elite Eight) were big men who led similar one-dimensional teams to surprising postseason success.

    It is rare, though, and Muscala is not in Manning's or Robinson's class.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State has some talented players, including defensive standout Aaron Craft. But on the offensive end, the Buckeyes are almost one-dimensional in their reliance on forward Deshaun Thomas.

    He is averaging 19.4 points, more than nine points more than the team's second-leading scorer. He's also the team's top rebounder, at 6.1 a game.

    Thomas was held under his scoring and rebounding average in four of the Buckeyes' six losses. By contrast, he scored 25 points, nearly half his team's output, in a 58-49 victory over Wisconsin. In short, the Buckeyes generally need Thomas to put up big numbers to survive.

    He will be the focus of opposing teams' defensive game plan in the postseason.

    Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony and Marquette's Dwyane Wade carried their teams to the Final Four in 2003, and Connecticut won the 2011 title largely because of Kemba Walker's scoring.

    However, none of the Final Four teams last year relied so heavily on one player's offense.

3. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Much like Virginia, Wisconsin is the product of a distinctive system that makes it somewhat one-dimensional.

    Bo Ryan's patient, structured offense, coupled with a tough, physical defense, creates half-court games in which Wisconsin thrives.

    The Badgers can control tempo. They lead the nation in fewest turnovers, committing just 9.4 a game. They are seventh in scoring defense, yielding just 55.3 points a game. They limited Indiana to 59 points in their upset victory in Bloomington, Ind.

    The Badgers have trouble adapting if a game becomes an up-and-down contest of individual skill and athleticism.  They rank 270th nationally in scoring offense, at 67.4 a game. No player averages more than 11.6 points, and none is great at creating his own shot.

    Wisconsin seldom lets games deviate from the slow pace it prefers, even in the postseason. The Badgers have won two NCAA tournament games each of the past two seasons, and they got to the Elite Eight in 2005 before their talent limitations stopped them.

2. UCLA Bruins

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    UCLA is impressive when it plays a free-wheeling game that enables its players to display their individual talent.

    They looked like world-beaters when Arizona allowed them to jump on top in a wide-open, fast-paced game the Bruins won 84-73 in Tucson.

    However, the Bruins look very ordinary when they are forced to play a physical, half-court game.

    They got clobbered by Cal, which pushed the Bruins around from the start and forced them to try to score out of the half-court.

    The Bruins are a collection of talented perimeter players who need space to display their individual skills. The closest things to an inside presence for UCLA are the Wear brothers, and they have attempted 44 three-pointers between them.

    Momentum and matchups will tell the Bruins' postseason story.  If the Bruins play a finesse team, like a Missouri, UCLA could get on a postseason roll. If they face a physical team that forces UCLA to walk the ball upcourt, like a Wisconsin or Michigan State, the Bruins are likely to struggle.

1. Creighton Bluejays

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    Creighton has perhaps the best offensive player in the country in forward Doug McDermott. He averages 23.4 points, third best in the country, and he can score in every way imaginable.

    However, no other player on the team averages in double figures.

    In addition, the Bluejays rely on precise half-court execution to get shots. They can't produce much in transition, and they don't have players who can break down a defense or create offense on their own.

    McDermott looks like he'll carry Creighton into the NCAA tournament. But if he can't score out of the Bluejays' half-court offense, they can't win. That's the definition of a one-dimensional team.

    He had 30 points in a victory over Wisconsin and 41 in a win over Wichita State that put Creighton in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference. But when he scored just eight points against Indiana State, the Bluejays lost by 21 points.

    It makes Creighton a dangerous, yet vulnerable, team in the postseason. McDermott's scoring potential gives Creighton a chance for an upset, much like C.J. McCollum in Lehigh's victory over of Duke last season.

    If McDermott has a bad game or runs into a defensive matchup he can't solve, the Bluejays could lose badly.

    Last season, he scored 16 points in a one-point first-round win over Alabama and had 20 points in a 14-point second-round loss to North Carolina.

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