Sometimes, the best way to succeed in any sporting event (including the NCAA tournament) is to master one aspect of the game and do it so well that no one can beat you at it. Several teams in this year’s Big Dance have taken that lesson to heart, concentrating on one specialty to the near-exclusion of all else.
Wisconsin is notorious for relying on that approach, slowing down the game and sacrificing offense for an impenetrable, man-to-man 'D'. The Badgers are actually scoring more points than usual this year, but they’re still one of the most lopsided squads in the tournament field.
Herein, a closer look at Bo Ryan’s boys and nine more teams that make no secret of what they’re going to do and dare you to beat them at their own game.
One of the biggest surprises at the top of the national defensive rankings this year is the Jaguars of Southern. The champions of the SWAC allow just 57.1 points per game, 13th-best in the country.
Unfortunately for them, their offense isn’t nearly on the same lofty plane. The Jaguars stand 162nd nationally with 67.7 points per contest, thanks in large part to a dismal average of 11.4 assists a night.
That inability to score is a big part of the reason they’re a No. 16 seed. Against the devastating Gonzaga offense, even the Jaguar 'D' won’t be enough to put up a fight.
California’s backcourt pairing of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs combines for 34.2 points a game, making them one of the top scoring duos in the country.
What’s really extraordinary, though, is how the Golden Bear guards get their points—or rather, how they don’t.
Only 11 teams in the entire country have attempted fewer three-pointers than Cal’s 411. 175 of those do belong to Crabbe, but even so, it’s astounding to see a team that gets half its offense from two guards rely so little on the perimeter shot.
It’s also far from an encouraging sign for the team’s matchup with fifth-seeded UNLV. When Cobbs and Crabbe attack the basket, they’ll be driving into the teeth of a terrific frontcourt featuring 6’9” Khem Birch and his 2.6 blocks per game.
To be fair to Creighton, the Blue Jays’ defense could be a lot worse. With shot-blocker Gregory Echenique in the middle, the Missouri Valley champs allow 65.1 points per game (128th in the country) and 40.7 percent field-goal shooting (73rd).
However, Creighton’s offense would make a lot of defenses look like an afterthought. The Blue Jays lead the country in shooting percentage (a ludicrous .508) while ranking fifth in assists (17.2 per game) and 24th in scoring (75.4 points a night).
All that firepower will be too much for Cincinnati, which lives off its hard-nosed defense rather than any brilliance on the offensive end.
The 10th-seeded Bearcats look to be in a race they can’t win against Doug McDermott and his sweet-shooting teammates.
Unlike most of the teams on this list, Bucknell puts in a respectable showing on both offense and defense. Or, more specifically, Mike Muscala does.
No team in the tournament depends on one player as heavily as the Bison do on their superstar center, who accounts for more than 28 percent of Bucknell’s points by himself.
Muscala’s importance doesn’t stop there: he also records 31 percent of the Bison’s rebounds and a whopping 60 percent of the team’s blocked shots.
The pressure will be on Andrew Smith of sixth-seeded Butler to make Muscala work for his production. Smith, the last veteran remaining from the Bulldogs’ Final Four teams, is a fine defender but may be out of his league against the skilled Bucknell senior.
Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick is a prolific scorer, but he’s been far from an efficient one this season. With Kilpatrick shooting just .396 from the floor, the Bearcats as a team rank an ugly 305th nationally in field goal percentage (.405, tied with several others).
Defensively, though, Cincy has managed to make the opposition look even more scattershot than its own offense does. The physical Bearcat 'D' ranks 14th in the country, holding opponents to 38.5 percent shooting.
Unfortunately for Kilpatrick and his mates, that immovable object is about to meet an even more irresistible force. Cincinnati’s opening opponent, seventh-seeded Creighton, leads the country by shooting 50.8 percent from the field.
When you play Iowa State, your center might as well stay home. He certainly won’t have much to do on defense against the nation’s most three-point-happy offensive team.
The Cyclones lead the country with 325 three-pointers made, meaning that nearly 36 percent of all the shots they’ve hit (and almost 44 percent of their attempts) have come from beyond the arc.
The team’s solid .370 accuracy has paid off, as ISU stands fourth in the country with 79.6 points per game.
The Cyclones' reliance on the long ball may prove to be a particular help in their second-round contest with seventh-seeded Notre Dame.
Bruising center Jack Cooley is one of the best weapons the Irish have, but with lots of long rebounds and few inside shots, Cooley’s advantage over the smaller Georges Niang will mean little on the defensive end.
By pretty much any measure, Wisconsin is a bad offensive team.
The Badgers are in the bottom half of the country in scoring (66.2 points per game) and shooting (.426 from the floor), and no team in the tournament is less accurate from the foul line (.635).
The trade-off for all those flaws, though, is a defense that held mighty Indiana 24 points below its season average in the Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin’s scoring defense is the 10th-best in Division I (55.9 points a night), and no offense is safe against it.
That’s less-than-encouraging news for the 12th-seeded Ole Miss Rebels, who drew the Badgers as a second-round opponent.
Marshall Henderson and his mates score the seventh-most points in the country, but they’ve been held to 66 or under in their last three games. The Badgers are a good bet to make it four in a typically grinding victory.
In one sense, Northwestern State has already conquered its biggest challenge of the season.
The Demons, owners of the top scoring offense in Division I, claimed the automatic bid for the Southland Conference by beating the country’s top scoring defense, Stephen F. Austin.
Just because Northwestern State is at the top of the scoring charts, though, doesn’t mean they win their games all that easily.
The 81 points they score per contest aren’t too far above the 71.2 they allow as the country’s No. 273 scoring defense.
With so little interest in stopping the opposition, the Demons are a welcome sight for a Florida team whose offense has been struggling.
Florida’s own intimidating 'D' (third in points allowed, 2.5 behind the top-ranked Lumberjacks) will do enough damage to Northwestern State’s scoring average to allow the third-seeded Gators to cruise to a win.
The story of Georgetown’s rise to the top of the Big East standings and a No. 2 seed has been the sensational performance of Otto Porter, a terrific all-around player who scores 16.3 points per game.
That’s what makes it so remarkable that the Hoyas have one of the least functional offenses in the entire field of 68.
Georgetown’s average of 64.6 points a game places them 247th in the national rankings.
Of course, Porter and the rest of a long, athletic defense more than make up for those deficiencies with a defense that’s tied for eighth nationally (55.7 points a night).
The Hoyas don’t need to worry much about having their offensive woes exploited early, either, thanks to a meeting with 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast and its unremarkable 'D'.
Few teams take running and gunning to the extremes that Iona does. The Gaels score the second-most points in the nation (80.7 per game) while attempting the seventh-most shots.
Of course, that pace comes at a price, and Iona also allows more points per game than all but 11 teams. The Gaels come out ahead by an average of just over four points per contest, but it’s a fine line to walk.
Against the mighty Ohio State defense, Iona’s likely to fall off that line.
The Buckeyes rank 15th nationally in points allowed, and with speedy wing defenders such as Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. to joust with Momo Jones and Sean Armand, OSU won't let Iona get anywhere near 80 points in their second-round meeting.