10 Biggest Red Flags for NCAA Tournament Hopefuls as Selection Sunday Approaches
One of the most prominent lessons of this college basketball season is that, even with the NCAA tournament less than a week away, no single unstoppable team has emerged. Even the leading title contenders will bring some notable weaknesses with them into Selection Sunday.
Georgetown has been one of the nation’s hottest teams in the second half of the season, but its impressive Big East showing has obscured major question marks on offense.
A great defense is well and good, but when a would-be national champ can be held to 46 points on its home floor by Towson, it’s going to raise eyebrows.
Herein, a closer look at the Hoyas’ scoring troubles along with nine more serious concerns for teams that will bring sky-high hopes with them into March Madness.
10. Wisconsin’s Defense Is Mortal
Wisconsin has been a frequent overachiever in NCAA tournament play, largely because its punishing defense keeps virtually every game close.
This year, however, the Badgers have endured some surprising letdowns on the end of the floor where they’re usually among the best in the country.
When Wisconsin suffered a massive upset at home against Purdue, it allowed the unheralded Boilermakers to shoot 45.6 percent from the field, not to mention 50 percent from three-point range.
Even more worrisome in the context of the Big Dance is a neutral-site loss to Creighton earlier in the year. The Badgers surrendered 46.6 percent shooting that night, allowing the Bluejays to hit more free throws (22, on 25 attempts) than the Badgers attempted (16).
9. Ben McLemore Is Awfully Erratic
Kansas redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has played his way into the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft.
For all his monumental talent, though, McLemore is still a freshman, and he’s been playing like it over the last three weeks of the Big 12 schedule.
In that stretch, the youngster has had his best game of the season (36 points against West Virginia) but also his two worst (seven points apiece against Iowa State in overtime and Oklahoma State in two OTs).
The Jayhawk offense doesn’t have the depth to survive another no-show by its leading scorer if McLemore falters against an Elite Eight- or Final Four-caliber foe.
8. Living by the Three-Pointer Means That Michigan Can Die by It, Too
When Michigan’s offense is on top of its game, there are few scarier teams in the nation. Much of that explosiveness comes from a wealth of long-range shooters who have allowed the Wolverines to hit 38.8 percent of their three-pointers as a team.
However, when the Wolverines start missing from beyond the arc, things can go south in a hurry.
Losses to Indiana (7-of-23 from deep), Michigan State (6-of-19) and especially Penn State (5-of-20) make it clear that, even more than most teams, all Michigan needs is one bad shooting night to play itself right out of the postseason.
7. Miami Is in Uncharted Waters
Much has been made of the importance of experience in Miami’s success this season.
The Hurricanes do start four seniors (led by 24-year-old Kenny Kadji), but their veteran status is going to mean very little when tipoff time arrives for the program’s first March Madness game in five years.
The current ‘Canes have zero NCAA games and just two postseason NIT games to draw on as a team, hardly enough to keep them from being vulnerable to Big Dance jitters.
On top of that, they’ll be facing enormous expectations as a likely No. 2 seed. Given their late-season struggles against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, winning games as the favorite rather than the underdog may not be a trivial task.
6. Turnovers Are Killing Michigan State
Entering the season, point guard looked like it was going to be one of the Spartans’ most reliable positions, with veteran Keith Appling backed up by athletic freshman Denzel Valentine. The reality has been far less rosy for Tom Izzo.
In three of the Spartans’ last four losses, they’ve amassed more turnovers than assists (including the one-point defeat at Michigan, where the last of State’s 18 turnovers became Trey Burke’s decisive basket).
Neither Appling (1.6-to-1) nor Valentine (1.3-to-1) is even close to the 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio you want to see from a point guard, either.
Against top NCAA tournament competition, it won’t take many wasted possessions to turn the tide of a close game against the Spartans.
5. Louisville’s Three-Point Shooters Don’t Scare Anybody
Louisville's Rick Pitino made his name by exploiting the three-point shot more effectively than any other coach. His current team, though, is better off eschewing the three-ball.
The Cardinals rank a dismal 236th in the nation in three-point accuracy (.327), the weakest aspect of a half-court offense that’s better than last year’s model but still decidedly suspect.
If Louisville runs into a hot offense that can build an early lead, it’s going to face a serious uphill battle to erase a deficit without being able to count on hitting the trey.
4. Florida Can’t Win Close Games
Florida’s combination of iron-clad defense and impressive team speed has helped the Gators run more than a few opponents right out of the gym this season.
Unfortunately for Billy Donovan’s squad, the NCAA tournament is not the place to count on blowout victories.
Florida’s 2012-13 record in games decided by 10 points or fewer is 0-5, capped by a loss at Kentucky in which the Gators fumbled away a seven-point lead with under eight minutes on the clock.
In spite of the senior leadership of such offensive standouts as Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy, the Gators just haven't found a go-to guy to put games away for them in pressure situations—such as the situations they're guaranteed to face as they advance in March Madness.
3. Georgetown’s Offense Might Not Show Up
Defensively, Georgetown has been one of the country’s most reliable teams all season long. When it comes time to score points of their own, though, Otto Porter Jr. and his mates have had some serious issues.
Even during their dominant Big East winning streak, Georgetown had some ugly offensive performances as a team (53 points on .388 shooting against Louisville, 57 points on .352 against Syracuse).
Turnovers have also been an issue at times for a team that doesn't have a full-fledged point guard, such as when Villanova capitalized on 22 Hoya giveaways to upset Georgetown in Philly.
2. Duke Is Still Vulnerable on the Glass
Getting Ryan Kelly back cured a multitude of ills for Duke, which hasn’t lost all year with the 6’11” senior in the lineup. Still, Kelly’s triumphant return against Miami overshadowed the one problem even he hasn’t been able to help the Blue Devils solve.
The Hurricanes came within one possession of beating Duke on its home floor (despite Kelly's awe-inspiring game) because they outrebounded Coach K’s squad by a commanding 37-25 margin.
The Blue Devils’ best opponents have pounded them on the boards all season, and in a close game in the tournament, those couple of possessions lost or gained could finally come back to haunt Mason Plumlee and his mates.
1. Gonzaga Hasn’t Faced a Top-Tier Frontcourt All Year
Strength-of-schedule questions always haunt Gonzaga, whose West Coast Conference opponents rarely put up much of a fight (aside from rival St. Mary’s).
This year’s Zags have certainly played some fine teams (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Butler, Illinois), but all of those top opponents have one weakness in common.
There isn’t an elite frontcourt player in the bunch to challenge Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris.
With their height and skill, Olynyk and Harris have eaten up smaller opponents all year. Of course, that’s a far cry from facing Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble of Miami or Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne of Michigan State for 40 minutes.
The Bulldogs will hold their own against any team in the country, but it’s an open question whether their vaunted offense will lose its championship edge when they have to take on someone their own size.