Blueprint to Beat the Top Seeds in 2013 NCAA Tournament
The teams on the top two lines in the NCAA tournament this season have lost to (skip to the next paragraph if you have a weak stomach) Florida Gulf Coast, a Larry Bird-less Indiana State, TCU and South Florida.
Louisville and Kansas were the top two No. 1 seeds, and both lost three straight games.
This year was...odd.
The reason everyone at the top was so generous with the No. 1 ranking was that they all have flaws.
So, let's go ahead and unmask those vulnerabilities that could send any of the top seeds home before the Final Four and identify two teams in each region that could get it done.
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What Makes Indiana Vulnerable
When the Hoosiers are really rolling, Cody Zeller is getting easy buckets and Jordan Hulls is getting good looks from deep.
It's not just Hulls and Zeller who make the Hoosiers the most efficient offense in the country, but they are the two players a defense will want to take away. This isn't easy, but it can be accomplished.
With Hulls, the key is simply staying tight and not letting him get good looks. Wisconsin knocked off IU twice by limiting Hulls, a 46.4 percent three-point shooter, to 1-of-8 from distance.
Zeller is one of those scorers who is usually going to get his points, but you want to at least make it tough. In IU's five losses, Zeller is shooting 48.3 percent. In 27 wins, he's shooting 59.3 percent.
The teams that beat IU got it done by making sure Zeller didn't get any transition buckets, and then also taking away angles that allow him to score easily in the half court. You must play physical with Zeller and make him score over the length.
Who Could Knock Off the Hoosiers
UNLV: The Rebels' interior defense is their strong suit, and they have a lot of athletic bigs they could throw at Zeller in Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch and Quintrell Thomas.
Butler: Brad Stevens has already proven he has the formula in an 88-86 overtime win on Dec. 15.
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What Makes Miami Vulnerable
If you watched the Ryan Kelly return game, you know that Miami chose to leave Kelly unguarded several times—even though that man could not miss.
This wasn't a one-time thing.
In the Hurricanes' three late-season losses, here are three lines that stood out:
- Wake Forest's C.J. Harris made all five of his three-point attempts and scored 23 points.
- Kelly shot 10-of-14 and scored a career-high 36.
- Georgia Tech's Chris Boldin hit four threes and scored 21 points.
So it's simple. Find someone to go all Ryan Kelly on the 'Canes and you win.
Who Could Knock Off the 'Canes
Illinois: Brandon Paul does not need any convincing to chuck. Paul is a streaky scorer and a scary player to go against in one game.
Syracuse: Miami has shot 27.5 percent from deep in its six losses. Syracuse's zone has baited many teams into shooting threes, and many have gone cold. The zone would help limit Shane Larkin's penetration. The Orange also have a shooter in James Southerland who has that "get hot" ability.
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What Makes Kansas Vulnerable
Big men who can shoot it.
The Jayhawks are at their best when Jeff Withey can patrol the paint and give away nothing easy at the rim. So the best plan of attack against Withey has been to force him to guard outside.
Three teams have done that well: Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor.
Oklahoma beat Kansas with Romero Osby scoring 17 points against Withey. Iowa State took Kansas to overtime twice with Georges Niang shooting outside. Niang made only eight of 24 jumpers, but just by shooting them, he pulled Withey out.
Baylor knocked off KU most recently by magically turning Cory Jefferson into an outside shooter overnight. Jefferson, who had never made a three in his career, knocked down all three of his treys against KU. He also made seven of his eight jumpers, according to CBS Sports' shot chart data.
Who Could Knock Off the Jayhawks
North Carolina: The small-ball Tar Heels are fine with avoiding the paint and settling for jumpers. They also have a big who can pull Withey away in James McAdoo. McAdoo had a nice game against Kansas in the Elite Eight last year, scoring 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
VCU: It's not the Rams' offense that should worry Kansas; it's their defense. The other vulnerability for the Jayhawks is point guard play and turnovers. Elijah Johnson averages 3.1 turnovers per game, and the Rams are the best team in the country at forcing giveaways.
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What Makes Georgetown Vulnerable
The Hoyas climbed to the rankings in the last half of the season because of defense and Otto Porter.
The Hoyas don't put up a lot of points (64.6 per game), but when you play a snail's pace, points per game can be a deceptive stat.
Luckily, we live in a world where we can consult Ken Pomeroy, who can tell us whether the Hoyas really do struggle to score or not. Pomeroy has John Thompson III's team at 62nd in adjusted offensive efficiency. Georgetown is the only top-two seed outside the Top 25 in that stat.
Defensively, the Hoyas are playing a lot of matchup zone, and that means you better be able to shoot the three to knock them off. Just ask Syracuse. The Orange made 5-of-31 in two losses to the Hoyas, then knocked down 7-of-18 in the Big East tournament to pull off the upset.
Who Could Knock Off the Hoyas
Florida: The Gators, if you can consult the Pomeroys of the world, are the better team. They also can shoot it from three (38 percent) and would welcome a zone played against them.
Michigan: The Wolverines put four shooters on the court at a time. Their bugaboo is defense, but they do have two players, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson, who can match up with Porter.
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What Makes Gonzaga Vulnerable
The Zags are a tough puzzle to solve because they've rarely been challenged this year.
Brandon Paul and Illinois proved that perimeter defense can be a weakness when he went off for 35 points against the Zags in early December. Oklahoma State got close to knocking off the Zags when Marcus Smart scored 23 in a 69-68 loss on New Year's Eve.
Essentially, if you have a great perimeter scorer, that's your best chance.
Who Could Knock Off the Bulldogs
New Mexico: Let's see here. Looking for a guy who can explode...Kendall Williams dropped 46 points on Colorado State this season. Yep, that qualifies.
Arizona: Mark Lyons playing out of position at point guard hasn't worked out so great for the 'Cats, but Lyons is the type of scorer, similar to Paul, who could get hot at any moment.
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What Makes Ohio State Vulnerable
This narrative almost seems tired at this point, but the one knock on the Buckeyes is they don't have a consistent second scorer next to Deshaun Thomas.
The one player who seems to rise to the occasion lately when they need buckets is Aaron Craft.
So if you can take away Craft and make Thomas be a volume shooter to get his points (because he's going to get his points), you have a shot.
It also helps to limit turnovers, as Craft and Shannon Scott are two of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and their steals often lead to easy buckets.
Who Could Knock Off the Buckeyes
Wisconsin: The Badgers are 1-2 against the Buckeyes, but that one win was convincing, 71-49, at home. Their guards are capable of dealing with OSU's pressure, and they've made Thomas a volume shooter: He's averaged 20 points in three games but has needed 53 shots.
Notre Dame: The Irish are similar to the Badgers in that they slow the game down and usually get a quality shot. The difference is they have a much more efficient offense. They also have a guard in Eric Atkins who should be able to keep up with Craft.
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What Makes Louisville Vulnerable
The Cardinals have the best defense of the last 11 seasons, according to Ken Pomeroy's advanced stats. The flaw in that D is that the Cards are so aggressive they foul fairly often.
In four of their five losses, opponents have shot 20 or more free throws. Notre Dame shot 49 freebies on Feb. 9. Granted, that was a five-overtime game, but FORTY-NINE.
Unlike most Rick Pitino teams, Louisville doesn't shoot it great from deep, either. One way to beat the Cards is to hope that Peyton Siva (31.4 percent from three) and Russ Smith (33.3 percent) are chucking and bricking.
Who Could Knock Off the Cardinals
Colorado State: The Rams rarely turn it over, they're starting five seniors, and they're getting to the line at a rate that ranks 24th in the country.
Saint Louis: Like the Rams, the Billikens are experienced and take care of the ball. They've beaten VCU's "Havoc" twice, and they rank 17th nationally in free-throw rate.
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What Makes Duke Vulnerable
The thought was that Ryan Kelly's return would help Duke's defense. Maryland's Dez Wells didn't seem to mind Kelly's presence, as he lit up the Devils for 30 points in the ACC quarterfinals.
Before that loss, it had been perimeter defense that had been the issue for the Devils when they've struggled.
Duke likes to apply a lot of pressure, but a player like Miami's Shane Larkin is able to use that pressure against Duke and get to the paint. Larkin averaged 21.5 points and 4.5 assists in two games against the Blue Devils.
Miami was able to spread Duke out and let Larkin go to work. If you have a guard like Larkin—few do—that's a good way to attack. Wells also showed that a slashing 4 man can have himself a game.
Who Could Knock Off the Blue Devils
Creighton: If Kelly's foot is still bothering him, that could be bad news against the best-scoring 4 man in the country in Doug McDermott.
Michigan State: Keith Appling has not been the most reliable player for the Spartans, but he has the quickness to beat Duke's guards. Adreian Payne is also a tough matchup for Kelly.