March Madness 2013: Elite Teams Sure to Head Home Early
It happens every season; we overvalue some teams and undervalue others by the time March rolls around. It could be an elite team that we think is better than it actually is running into a mid-major or small school who are better than we thought or a talented but inconsistent team with a penchant for not showing up when not properly motivated.
Figuring out which of these elite teams we think too highly of is one of the keys to a successful Madness bracket and winning that office pool or impressing your friends with your skills. But, which top teams and title contenders are heading into the Madness in a more precarious position than anyone thought? These teams are a great place to start.
I know, I know; everyone is firmly convinced that these Hurricanes are legit and that Jim Larranaga has another Final Four contender on his hands. It's true, this is a veteran squad who aren't going to go out and wilt under the bright lights of March, and they've certainly impressed in the regular season. But there's still some serious cause for concern here, and it's enough to give you pause before you automatically chalk the Hurricanes into a Sweet 16 berth and beyond.
First and foremost here is the offense, or lack thereof. Their 69.3 points per game rank them 130th in Division I in offensive production, and they've shown themselves capable of struggling from the field at times (see losses to Arizona, Indiana State, Wake Forest and Florida Gulf Coast).
On top of that, this isn't an overly talented squad. Experienced? Yes. Talented? Not as much. The Hurricanes work hard and grind teams, led by guards Durand Scott and Shane Larkin and forward Kenny Kadji. But who is the go-to scorer on this team in crunch time? We saw it against Duke; the Hurricanes didn't have that calming influence of knowing who to get the ball to in order to get the big shot.
Fans will point to their sterling 14-2 ACC record, but this is the worst season the conference has had in recent memory. North Carolina is in the midst of a down season, Maryland and North Carolina State are maddeningly inconsistent, Virginia is solid but hardly an elite squad and Florida State, Virginia Tech and the rest just aren't all that good. Isn't it possible that the veteran 'Canes feasted on inferior competition and will be exposed once they face sturdy competition in the Big Dance?
At the very least, Miami comes with tremendous risk once March rolls around. There's potential for a deep run, but given their resume, they're also a candidate to make an early exit.
The Cardinals have been in and out of the title conversation all season, thanks to a talented squad capable of locking down opponents on the defensive end of the floor. Rick Pitino's squad has the perfect balance of experience and youthful talent to make a deep run, meaning you can write them into the Sweet 16 with permanent marker, right?
Wrong. The fact is this Cardinals squad is vulnerable and a serious candidate to get taken out early. Sure, Russ Smith has emerged as a big-time scoring threat, and Gorgui Dieng remains a physical freak in the middle of the floor on both ends. But beyond Smith and Chane Behanan, who in Louisville's roster can be counted on to score? Not Peyton Siva, who is averaging just 9.8 points per game while shooting just over 41 percent from the floor. Not Dieng, who is still a work in progress offensively and struggles with his range regularly.
The fact is if the Cardinals face a squad who can close down Smith, they're in trouble. We saw it against Georgetown and throughout the Cardinals' three-game skid earlier this season. On top of that, while Siva's decision making at the point has improved, he remains capable of colossal brain farts when pressured.
In other words, this team's sterling record isn't as great of an indicator of postseason success as many think.
If there's a team who has "first-round exit" written all over them in the Top 20 right now, it's the Orange. Jim Boeheim's team has amassed a strong 22-7 record, and their defense remains as formidable as ever.
But, the matchup zone can't hide the flaws in Syracuse's game this year. The Orange struggle to find scoring from anyone, even star forward James Southerland. Forward C.J. Fair and guard Brandon Triche are buried deep in a massive shooting slump, and this offense doesn't have a lot of other reliable scorers on the roster. We saw it against Georgetown, and again against Louisville; if any of Syracuse's big three scorers are struggling from the field, this team tends to rush shots and make bad decisions, especially in the half court.
Combine that with a recent three-game swoon against good teams and a schedule that featured a grand total of one ranked opponent (then 20th-ranked San Diego State), and this team has all the makings of yet another early tournament exit for Boeheim and Syracuse.
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