NCAA Bracket 2014: How to Stop Each Team in the Sweet 16

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 25, 2014

NCAA Bracket 2014: How to Stop Each Team in the Sweet 16

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    The narrative of the NCAA tournament has been that it's wide open. Before the brackets came out, most of us who cover college basketball, myself included, had been of the opinion that there were at least 10 teams that could win the title.

    One week in, I'm not changing my mind.

    Every team in the country has a flaw—even No. 1 overall seed Florida—and the tournament, especially at this point, often comes down to matchups. Every one of these coaches has a particular team that he would prefer to avoid.

    I went through the Sweet 16 and identified each team's biggest weakness, how to exploit it and the one potential matchup that each team does not want to happen.

Florida

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    Biggest Weakness

    If Florida has one weakness, it's perimeter shooting. Michael Frazier makes 44.4 percent of his threes and Scottie Wilbekin 39.7 percent, but after those two, the Gators do not have another player (with at least 10 attempts) over 32 percent.

    This should be in big, bold letters on the scouting report, because this is the key to guarding the Gators.

     

    How to Exploit It

    You have to take away rhythm looks for Frazier and Wilbekin and pack the paint with the three other defenders.

    Tennessee was able to do this pretty effectively in the SEC semifinals. Florida runs Frazier off a lot of screens and then tries to get him spotted up when Wilbekin or Kasey Hill drives. Jordan McRae did a good job of staying attached, and Frazier got up only two three-pointers.

    Elsewhere, Florida likes to run Wilbekin off a lot of ball screens. Best-case scenario is that he passes the ball to someone spotting up on the perimeter that isn't Frazier. The Vols were able to switch most ball screens because their bigs are athletic enough to guard on the perimeter.

    So it helps if you have athletes and length at every position. Wouldn't every coach in America love to be so lucky?

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Michigan State

UCLA

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    Biggest Weakness

    Perimeter defense. If you're a talented slashing guard, you should welcome playing the Bruins.

    Take a look at some of the performances put up against the Bruins by perimeter scorers this year:

    • Missouri's Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross combined to score 63 points in an upset win;
    • Nick Johnson scored 22 points in the first meeting, an Arizona win;
    • Stanford's Chasson Randle scored 26 points in Stanford's lone win in three tries against UCLA;
    • Oregon's Joseph Young averaged 26.7 points in three games against UCLA.

     

    How to Exploit It

    This is pretty obvious. Get the ball to your best perimeter scorer in spots where he's comfortable.

    If there's one UCLA defender to attack, it's Norman Powell. He's the worst UCLA defender in the rotation, according to Synergy Sports Technology's numbers (subscription required).

    The Bruins also lack a good shot-blocker inside, which is another reason slashing guards have had success.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Iowa State

Dayton

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    Biggest Weakness

    No rim protector.

    The Flyers have good size on the perimeter, but if you can get into the paint, they don't have a good shot-blocker at the rim. As a team, they average only 2.5 blocks per game.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Get the ball inside.

    The best two paint scorers in the A-10—Saint Louis' Dwayne Evans and VCU's Juvonte Reddic—both had success against Dayton. Evans averaged 20 points in two games, and Reddic scored 18 points in VCU's only game against Dayton, an 80-66 road win.

    The Flyers have had the luxury of playing two opponents, Ohio State and Syracuse, that lack a true low-post scorer. Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis did have success when he was able to penetrate into the paint.

    Whether you get the ball in there through penetration or by passing it to your big men, attacking the rim is the way to beat Dayton's defense.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Florida

Stanford

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    Biggest Weakness

    Getting sped up.

    If Kansas coach Bill Self could do it over again against Stanford, he would have gone to his full-court press much earlier than he did.

    The strength of the Cardinal is their length and playing in the half court on both ends. If you can turn them over and get out in transition, they're vulnerable.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Press and trap.

    Kansas gave Dayton the blueprint. What the Jayhawks could have done better was capitalizing off those mistakes.

    The way Stanford is playing defensively in the half court, you don't want to let that defense get set. It's difficult to run off Stanford's misses, because Johnny Dawkins drops his guys back instead of trying to attack the offensive glass.

    Forcing turnovers is the answer. And the best way to do that appears to be getting buckets and allowing your defense to set up a full-court press.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Florida

Virginia

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    Biggest Weakness

    Three-point defense.

    Virginia has been solid overall defending the three-point line—opponents shoot 32.2 percent from deep—but Tony Bennett's pack-line defense has been susceptible to some hot shooting nights.

    Green Bay made seven of its 14 threes in its upset over Virginia, Tennessee went 11-of-18 in a blowout win, and Duke shot 10-of-22 in its one win over Virginia.

     

    How to Exploit It

    The goal of Bennett's defense is to protect the paint at all times. So the way to get open looks is through penetration. Get the defense moving side to side and then get a guard to attack off the dribble.

    When this happens, Virginia's defenders are taught to clog up the lanes. Bennett's guards really do a good job of recovering, but there is a window of opportunity to get up good looks from deep with quality penetration.

    The offense best suited to attack Virginia is one that can spread the floor, attack with quick guards and then spot up shooters around the three-point line.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Michigan

Michigan State

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    Biggest Weakness

    Keith Appling's confidence.

    Appling has not been the same guy since he sat out three games with his wrist injury. He's still doing a good job setting up his teammates, but he has lost confidence in his own ability to score, particularly from outside.

    Before sitting out, Appling shot 40.5 percent from beyond the arc and knocked down an average of 1.5 threes per game. In the 11 games he's played since returning, he's made only two of his 13 attempts, with the only two made threes coming in one game against Iowa.

    Appling has also been less aggressive driving the ball. In his first 22 games, he averaged 5.4 attempts per game at the line, and he's averaging only 1.9 per game since.

     

    How to Exploit It

    The best way to take advantage of Appling's lack of confidence is to use his man as a help defender and try to force him to take outside shots. The last thing a guy who is questioning his shot wants is to be left wide open and made to feel like he has to shoot.

    As well as Adreian Payne is playing right now, it would be wise to use Appling's man to double down on the big man every time he catches the ball.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Arizona

Iowa State

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    Biggest Weakness

    Post defense.

    Back-to-the-basket big men have given the Cyclones issues all season, and Fred Hoiberg's team is even worse off now without Georges Niang.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Throw the ball into the post. Hoiberg has to be thrilled that his team is facing UConn in the Sweet 16. The Huskies lack a true back-to-the-basket scorer to exploit the fact that Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue, both 6'6", are now playing the majority of the minutes inside.

    The Big 12 teams that gave Iowa State the most trouble, like Kansas when Joel Embiid was healthy, had that true low-post threat. 

    North Carolina's biggest mistake was not the botched timeout at the end of the game; it was not giving Kennedy Meeks, who scored 15 points, more touches. 

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Michigan State

Connecticut

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    Biggest Weakness

    Disappearing DeAndre Daniels.

    It's really hard to completely take away Shabazz Napier because he has the ball in his hands most of the time. The teams that have had the most success against UConn have been able to slow UConn's second-leading scorer, Daniels.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Daniels has really improved this season as a three-point shooter—44.7 percent compared to 30.9 percent last year. Kevin Ollie effectively uses Daniels as a stretch 4, often spotting him up beyond the arc or using him as a screener for pick-and-pop action.

    What makes Daniels so dangerous is that if you close out hard to take away his three-point shot, he's good at putting the ball on the floor and getting his shot off the dribble.

    The smart thing to do is to make sure whoever is guarding Daniels is sticking to him. Most of the time this is a big man, and that's why it's tough. Most big men naturally gravitate back toward the paint. There's no reason to do this against the Huskies because they don't have a scoring big man.

    Iowa State has the solution in Melvin Ejim, an athletic 4 who should have no problem sticking with Daniels on the perimeter. Michigan State, a possible Elite Eight opponent, would also be in good shape with Branden Dawson, who is athletic enough to guard on the perimeter.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Michigan State

Arizona

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    Biggest Weakness

    Free-throw shooting.

    The Wildcats shoot only 65.5 percent at the line, and Aaron Gordon is the worst at 42.9 percent. In their last three losses, they've shot 50.8 percent at the line.

     

    How to Exploit It

    This is one of those uncontrollable aspects of the game, but bad free-throw shooting is usually contagious, and the best way to bring it out of the Wildcats is to try to take their confidence away. Arizona's confidence typically comes from two things: 1) how Nick Johnson is playing; and 2) easy buckets off highlight dunks.

    You have to keep an eye on Gordon at all times because the Wildcats are constantly running him to the rim and trying to sneak him behind the defense on the baseline. With Johnson, when things aren't going well on the offensive end, he'll start to force the issue. 

    This sounds pretty obvious, but the most important thing to do against Johnson, and really all of the Wildcats, is try to take away the paint and make them take outside shots. The first 10 minutes are key; get them doubting themselves and that will eventually show up at the line. 

    And if you're able to keep the game close, it could come back to bite them down the stretch. 

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Virginia

San Diego State

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    Biggest Weakness

    Scoring when Xavier Thames is off.

    The Aztecs are extremely reliant on Thames on the offensive end. Their four losses have come in four of Thames' most inefficient games. In those four games, he averaged 13.5 points on 15.8 shots per game.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Thames is really good at creating his own shot off the dribble, and the Aztecs run him off a lot of ball screens. A shot coming from any other Aztec is always better than a shot from Thames, so doubling Thames off the ball screen is not a bad idea.

    Thames is still going to figure out ways to get up shots, so it helps to have a really good on-the-ball defender to put on him and make the shots he does take difficult ones.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Tennessee

Baylor

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    Biggest Weakness

    Three-point defense.

    Scott Drew plays a lot of zone, and for most of the year, that has meant giving up good looks from the perimeter. Baylor opponents make 35.2 percent of their threes. Nebraska and Creighton, however, have not been able to take advantage, combining to shoot 9-of-45 from the perimeter.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Creighton, on paper, was a terrible matchup for the Baylor zone. The Bluejays were the best three-point shooting team in college basketball and a great group of passers that typically had five capable shooters on the floor.

    Baylor did a great job of identifying where the best shooters were, particularly Doug McDermott, and the Bears made sure he didn't get any looks. This takes great awareness and focus, and the Bears were on point in that game.

    What we learned is that it doesn't just take good ball movement; you have to be able to penetrate the zone as well. That's what Iowa State did to beat Baylor in the Big 12 tournament championship game. DeAndre Kane was able to penetrate the zone and had seven assists, and the Cyclones made eight of their 15 threes.

    Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson will need to penetrate like Kane did to knock off Baylor.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: UCLA

Wisconsin

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    Biggest Weakness

    Interior defense.

    The Badgers' two-point defense (46.1 percent) is the worst it has been since 2009, when the team went 20-13 and was a No. 12 seed.

    The main difference between this defense and Ryan's usual defenses is the ability to stop opponents at the rim. Frank Kaminsky has the size at 7'0", but he's not a great defender. Wisconsin opponents shoot 60.2 percent at the basket compared to 54.1 percent last season, according to Hoop-Math.com's numbers.

     

    How to Exploit It

    A scoring big man is the best way to beat Wisconsin. Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson combined for 32 points in Sparty's Big Ten tournament win, and Baylor's inside tandem of Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin could present problems for the Badgers.

    The Wisconsin guards are also not as adept at preventing penetration as they have been in the past. Opposing guards should look to be in attack mode, as getting to the rim with penetration is easier to do against this team than Ryan's typical pack-line defense.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Arizona

Kentucky

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    Biggest Weakness

    Other than consistent effort, perimeter shooting is the area of concern for these Wildcats.

    Kentucky has been inconsistent from the perimeter all season. It's not that John Calipari doesn't have capable shooters—James Young and the Harrison twins can knock down open shots—but they've all been pretty streaky all year.

    When Young and Aaron Harrison are on, as they were against Wichita State (combined 7-of-12 from deep), UK's offense is extremely tough to guard.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Calipari wants his guards to attack. The easiest three to make is one that comes off a kick out from penetration.

    The most effective defenses against the 'Cats are ones that can keep the Harrisons out of the lane without help. If you help, that's when they get lobs at the rim or kick-outs.

    Put your strongest on-the-ball defenders on the Harrisons and try to bait them into taking contested jumpers.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Arizona

Louisville

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    Biggest Weakness

    Bad Russ Smith.

    Bad Russ shows up less often than he has in the past; however, Smith has not played well in either of the tournament games—6-of-19 shooting and 13 turnovers—and Manhattan and Saint Louis have had something to do with it.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Bait Smith into taking bad shots or trying to make high-degree-of-difficulty passes.

    The Cardinals run a lot of ball screens for Smith, and the last thing you want is for him to be able to turn the corner and get past his defender.

    Saint Louis guarded ball screens by having the screener's man fall back. Smith is going to burn you sometimes with that approach by making tough shots, but you'll live with that and if he gets hot, then you can adjust.

    If the Cardinals are struggling to score, Smith has a tendency to try to do too much, which happened the first time Louisville played Kentucky.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Virginia

Tennessee

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    Biggest Weakness

    Perimeter shooting. The Vols make only 32.6 percent of their threes.

    Their strength is obviously inside with Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. They also have big guards like Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae who like to get into the lane.

     

    How to Exploit It

    The key is trying to push Stokes and Maymon off the blocks. When they catch the ball deep, game over. They also like to establish position to set themselves up for offensive rebounds. The Vols are the fourth-best offensive rebounding team in the country, per Kenpom.com (subscription required).

    The defenses that have been successful against Tennessee have good size inside and perimeter players who are not overwhelmed by the size and speed of Richardson and McRae. Try to make Tennessee settle for outside shots and you've got a good shot.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Kentucky

Michigan

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    Biggest Weakness

    Interior defense. The same could have been said for last year's Michigan team until the NCAA tournament, when Mitch McGary turned into a beast.

    Michigan opponents shoot 49.8 percent inside the arc, ranking Michigan 220th in two-point defense, according to Kenpom.com (subscription required).

    Without McGary this year, Jordan Morgan has done a respectable job, but he's two inches shorter and not really an intimidating figure in the paint. With another big man next him, that maybe wouldn't be as big an issue, only John Beilein always plays a small lineup with Glenn Robinson III, a true wing, at the power forward spot.

     

    How to Exploit It

    Throw the ball inside.

    Attacking the Wolverines isn't complicated if you have big men comfortable playing with their back to the basket. Some teams who are not used to playing through their bigs have tried to force-feed the post in the past, and that works against them. Florida, for instance, tried to attack Robinson with three-point ace Erik Murphy in the Elite Eight last year, and he missed all nine of his two-point attempts.

    You have to stay true to who you are, but if you typically play through your posts, as Tennessee likes to do, that's an advantage against Michigan.

     

    Worst Potential Matchup: Baylor

     

    C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.