Nightmare Matchups for Potential No. 1 Seeds in the 2019 NCAA Tournament

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2019

Nightmare Matchups for Potential No. 1 Seeds in the 2019 NCAA Tournament

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    Earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men's tournament is a major accomplishment. While it guarantees nothing, it typically affords a team the most promising route to the Final Four.

    But landmines always show up along the way.

    As the 2019 men's tournament approaches, fans of the premier teams in the country should be hoping to avoid specific opponents. Look, the players don't have time to care about it. They're not going to dissect the bracket like we, as viewers, do.

    Certain styles, strengths and weaknesses can clash, though. We've identified teams that will likely be seeded fifth or lower that could bounce a specific potential No. 1 seed in March Madness.

    Honorable mentions are included on each slide, noting other likely NCAA tournament teams with similar styles. This section also highlights top-four seeds that are particularly bad matchups.

Duke Blue Devils

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Biggest strength: As long as Zion Williamson is healthy, Duke will have the talent advantage. RJ Barrett did an admirable job handling the offense when Zion was sidelined due to a knee injury, but Williamson gives the Blue Devils two downhill attackers who are difficult to stop. They rank seventh nationally in two-point percentage.

    Biggest weakness: Duke's shooters are willing, but they're not efficient. Only one member of the rotation (Alex O'Connell) shoots better than 35 percent from three. If the Blue Devils can't attack the rim, they can't expect a perimeter weapon to bail them out.

    Nightmare opponent: Cincinnati's defensive style is an ideal counter to Duke. The Bearcats rank 20th in two-point defense, and their opponents take the 61st-highest rate of threes. Additionally, with the nation's 17th-best turnover rate on offense, Cincinnati can limit Duke's lethal transition opportunities.

    Honorable mentions: Texas Tech, Houston

Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Biggest strength: Put simply? Scoring. Behind the star duo of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga boasts the nation's best field-goal percentage (53.2) and lead in points per game (88.8). Mark Few's squad also owns an above-average 36.5 three-point clip.

    Biggest weakness: Gonzaga's most contested games happen when its opponents crash the glass effectively and play at a relatively slow tempo. All three of the Bulldogs' lossesTennessee, UNC and St. Mary'sare among their five worst percentages in total rebound rate.

    Nightmare opponent: Maryland ranks sixth in total rebound rate and 275th in tempo, per The Terps are comfortable with guard Anthony Cowan Jr. operating in the half court, and the frontcourt pair of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith would be a challenging matchup for Hachimura and Clarke.

    Honorable mentions: Louisville, Utah State

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Biggest strength: Kentucky is tough to beat at the rim. In addition to blocking the 19th-most shots in the country, the 'Cats have secured rebounds at the third-highest clip. Five players average four-plus boards, and Nick Richards is close behind at 3.4 per game.

    Biggest weakness: Both offensively and defensively, Kentucky is no better than average on the perimeter. All five of the Wildcats' losses happened when they shot below 30 percent from outside, and they rank 204th in three-point defense. Kentucky has the talent to perform well on both ends, but the team is not consistent.

    Nightmare opponent: Last season is last season, but Virginia Tech only lost to Kentucky by seven points in Lexington. Besides, a strong majority of that Hokies roster is back. Buzz Williams' squad ranks eighth with a 39.4 three-point clip and plays at an even slower tempo than Kentucky. In a low-possession game, the Hokies' prowess from behind the arc could shape the result.

    Honorable mentions: Villanova, Wofford, Wisconsin, Syracuse

Michigan State Spartans

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    Biggest strength: Michigan State ranks seventh in total rebound rate and is particularly adept at creating second-chance opportunities. Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins combine to collect more than six offensive rebounds per game. It also helps to have Cassius Winston, the Big Ten Player of the Year, at point guard.

    Biggest weakness: Turnovers aren't always a problem, but careless offense is MSU's quickest avenue to a poor showing. Four of the Spartans' worst nine turnover rates resulted in losses.

    Nightmare opponent: No team is/Few teams are better than Auburn at creating havoc. Entering the Big Dance, the Tigers earn takeaways at the highest rate in the country. They also have enough three-point shooters to capitalize on MSU's occasional issues defending the perimeter.

    Honorable mentions: VCU, Cincinnati, Duke

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Biggest strength: As usual, North Carolina does a tremendous job pushing the pace and creating favorable shot opportunities. It starts with allowing the 14th-lowest rate of offensive rebounds and is effective because the Heels have a three-point clip of 36.5 percent.

    Biggest weakness: The trouble with playing such a rapid tempofifth-fastest, per KenPomis UNC occasionally struggles to defend the perimeter. The Tar Heels have allowed a long-range mark above 40 percent in four of their seven losses.

    Nightmare opponent: For better or worse, Villanova is going to launch threes. Only two teams attempt them at a higher rate than the Wildcats, who also utilize the 22nd-slowest pace in the nation, per KenPom. Villanova would likely frustrate the Heels significantly if it dictated the tempo while winning the three-point battle.

    Honorable mentions: Wofford, Marquette

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Biggest strength: Tennessee has a balanced scoring attack with superstar Grant Williams leading the way. The Vols are extremely unselfish, holding the eighth-best assist rate in the nation and 12th-highest conversion of two-point shots.

    Biggest weakness: They really don't shoot threes well, though. Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander are quality options, but everyone else is below 37 percent. Tennessee only has three games of 10-plus triples, so the offense isn't built to play from a deficit.

    Nightmare opponent: No perfect recipe exists to defeat the Vols, but a strong rebounding team with a decent three-point threat is an important start. Utah State has pulled in the fourth-highest rate of available boards, including the 63rd-best on offense. Plus, the Aggies have perimeter weapons in Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill and sixth man Diogo Brito.

    Honorable mentions: Cincinnati, Baylor

Virginia Cavaliers

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Biggest strength: Yet again, it's remarkably difficult to score on Tony Bennett's team. Virginia ranks second nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and playing at the nation's slowest tempo means opponents have a limited number of possessions. It's also important to note the UVA offense ranks third in three-point percentage.

    Biggest weakness: Tempo giveth, tempo taketh away. The Cavaliers don't force many turnovers, so it's essential they are more efficient offensively than the other team. If UVA isn't shooting well, the methodical pace has regularly proved problematic when previous Bennett teams have trailed in March Madness.

    Nightmare opponent: Since Wofford upset UNC last season, the Terriers won't be fazed by the matchup. The big issue for UVA is Wofford ranks 19th in turnover rate and second from three-point range. That's largely because of Fletcher Magee, who needs three triples in the Big Dance to claim the NCAA career record. Three other rotation players boast a three-point clip of 41.4 or better.

    Honorable mentions: Marquette, Michigan State, Texas Tech, Duke


    Statistics courtesy of or Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.