The Achilles' Heel for Men's College Basketball's Top 10 Teams
Every college basketball team has a weakness, but they're generally less glaring for the teams perched atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
With zero undefeated men's teams left at the Division I level, every team has proved to be beatable at least once during the 2019-20 season.
Here, we've turned our focus to the top 10 teams in the latest AP poll and tried to nail down the Achilles' heel that might derail each of them in their quest for a national title.
From struggling on the boards to lacking a go-to scorer and everything in between, each of the nation's best teams has at least one notable flaw that could lead to their downfall during March Madness.
No. 10 Creighton Bluejays
Achilles' Heel: Rebounding
The Creighton Bluejays have used one of the nation's most efficient offenses to post a 22-6 record. They currently rank sixth in KenPom.com's offensive efficiency rating.
However, their defense has been mediocre at times, and their inability to control the glass could wind up being their undoing.
"Their front line doesn't really scare anybody," an anonymous coach told Seth Davis of The Athletic. "You can rebound on 'em."
In their most recent loss to unranked Providence, they were outrebounded 37-26 in what wound up being a dominant 73-56 win for the Friars.
The Bluejays are not particularly deep, with only six players averaging more than 15 minutes per contest. aNo one from that core group is taller than sophomore forward Christian Bishop, who stands a lean 6'7" and 205 pounds.
Keeping the rebounding differential in check will be one of the biggest keys to success for Creighton in March.
No. 9 Maryland Terrapins
Achilles' Heel: Three-point shooting
The Maryland Terrapins are shooting a dismal 31.9 percent from three-point range on the year, which is tied for 253rd in the nation.
Despite those struggles, they have not been shy about uncorking the deep ball. Their 665 attempts from deep rank inside the top 100 nationally.
Here's a look at how the team's five most frequent shooters have fared:
- Anthony Cowan: 53 made threes, 34.9 percent from deep
- Aaron Wiggins: 48 made threes, 31.8 percent from deep
- Eric Ayala: 34 made threes, 26.4 percent from deep
- Jalen Smith: 27 made threes, 36.5 percent from deep
- Donta Scott: 22 made threes, 33.3 percent from deep
The fact that 6'10" rim protector and double-double machine Jalen Smith is the team's most accurate three-point shooter speaks volumes.
As long as they don't fall in love with shooting threes and make it the focal point of their offense, they have the talent to work around this particular weakness. But that can be easier said than done when the opposition starts bombing away from deep.
No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats
Achilles' Heel: Offensive Rebounding
The Kentucky Wildcats are averaging just 9.7 offensive rebounds per game, which is tied with perennial powerhouses Eastern Michigan and Binghamton for 202nd in the nation.
Junior Nick Richards has emerged as a force down low after playing sparingly last season, leading the team in rebounds (7.9), offensive rebounds (2.7) and blocks per game (2.2).
However, the Wildcats don't create enough second chances, especially for a team that ranks 200th with a 32.7 percent mark from downtown.
Their inability to limit offensive boards ceded has also been an issue at times. In their most recent loss to Auburn on Feb. 1, they pulled down just five offensive rebounds while allowing a staggering 16 on the other end.
This is the kind of weakness that could be exploited if it rears its ugly head during March Madness.
No. 7 Duke Blue Devils
Achilles' Heel: Lack of a consistent deep threat
Prior to last season, when they leaned heavily on the slashing abilities of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, the Duke Blue Devils have long been a team that relies on the three-ball.
Most recently, Grayson Allen (102 threes, 37.0 percent) and Gary Trent Jr. (97 threes, 40.2 percent) both knocked down more than 2.5 threes per game during the 2017-18 season.
This season, the team does not have an elite off-the-dribble scorer, and it is also lacking a reliable threat from beyond the arc.
Freshman Matthew Hurt leads the team with 41 threes at a blistering 41.4 percent rate, but he's been held in check more than once. It's no coincidence that in Duke's losses to Stephen F. Austin, Clemson and Louisville, Hurt made only two total three-pointers on five attempts.
With the offense built around sophomore point guard Tre Jones and freshman center Vernon Carey Jr., it's up to the other guys to knock down shots when they get an open look.
If that doesn't happen, the Blue Devils could run into some early trouble.
No. 6 Florida State Seminoles
Achilles' Heel: Turnovers and ball-handling
The Florida State Seminoles once again have a long, athletic roster full of positionless players. While that can make them tough to guard, it also leaves them without multiple viable facilitators.
"They really only have one ball-handling guy in Trent Forrest," an anonymous coach told Seth Davis of The Athletic. "... If a team can take care of the ball against them and they don't shoot it well, they lose."
Forrest is a senior, and he leads the team with 4.2 assists per game. But he also averages 3.0 turnovers per contest, and giveaways have been an issue all season.
At 13.4 turnovers per game, the Seminoles are tied for 197th in the nation.
Of the 10 players who log at least 10 minutes per game, seven of them have an assist-to-turnover margin of 1.0 or lower on the year.
If the Seminoles run into a stout defensive team during the NCAA tournament, they will have to do a much better job taking care of the ball. Otherwise, their carelessness could cut their run short.
No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs
Achilles' Heel: Lack of interior depth
Of the eight players averaging at least 10 minutes per game with the San Diego State Aztecs this season, only Yanni Wetzell (6'10", 240 pounds) and Nathan Mensah (6'10", 220 pounds) stand taller than 6'6".
That would already be an issue from an interior depth standpoint against bigger teams. Things became even more dire when Mensah suffered a respiratory issue that has sidelined him since late December.
An anonymous coach highlighted that as a concern while speaking with Seth Davis of The Athletic.
"They lost Nathan Mensah inside, so front-line depth is a concern. If they were playing in a power conference, they'd have some losses because the depth would get to them over time, whether foul trouble or injuries or different situations. Yanni Wetzell is very impactful, but when he's out of the game, they're a different team."
In SDSU's loss to UNLV on Feb. 22, Wetzell struggled through one of his worst games of the season, tallying only seven points on 3-of-6 shooting and 1-of-6 from the free-throw line.
If he isn't producing, the Aztecs don't have a viable alternative in the post.
No. 4 Dayton Flyers
Achilles' Heel: Lack of physicality
The Dayton Flyers rely on 6'9", 220-pound forward Obi Toppin for an awful lot, as he leads the team in points (19.7 PPG), rebounds (7.7 RPG) and blocks (1.4 BPG)
He's also the team's lone true physical presence.
"Their biggest weakness is a lack of physicality inside. You have to go right at 'em. You have to be aggressive with Obi Toppin. Try to deny him the ball as much as you can," an anonymous coach told Seth Davis of The Athletic. "They don't do a good job of boxing out. Obi doesn't want to pick up fouls, so you have to keep going at him down there."
It should come as no surprise that the Flyers' two losses have come against teams with good size.
Kansas center Udoka Azubuike exploded for 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting back on Nov. 27, while the Colorado team they suffered their second loss to featured the likes of Lucas Siewert (6'10", 230 pounds), Evan Battey (6'8", 264 pounds), D'Shawn Schwartz (6'7", 226 pounds) and Tyler Bey (6'7", 218 pounds).
If a team with good size can find a way to get Toppin into foul trouble, the Flyers could have a tough time compensating.
No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Achilles' Heel: Guard play
The departures of Josh Perkins to graduation and Zach Norvell Jr. to the NBA have left the Gonzaga Bulldogs with a significantly weakened backcourt.
Three players have handled the bulk of the duty at the two guard spots:
- Ryan Woolridge: 32.6 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 17.5 PER
- Joel Ayayi: 29.1 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 19.3 PER
- Admon Gilder: 25.5 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 19.2 PER
Gonzaga is getting solid production from all three players, but there isn't a future pro in that mix. That has left the Bulldogs with a less dynamic offensive attack than they've had in recent years.
In their recent loss to BYU, those three combined to score only 22 points on 7-of-23 shooting in 97 minutes of action.
Their other defeat came against Michigan back on Nov. 29, and the three guards scuffled again in that one, tallying only 20 points on 8-of-22 shooting in 80 minutes.
Forwards Filip Petrusev and Killian Tillie are dynamic players, but Gonzaga's lack of top-tier guard play could be a legitimate Achilles' heel during March Madness.
No. 2 Baylor Bears
Achilles' Heel: Lack of a go-to scorer
Who can Baylor rely on to get a big bucket in crunch time?
That's the biggest question surrounding this year's upstart Bears team, which has a roster filled with smallish guards who are interchangeable in a lot of ways.
Jared Butler is the team's leading scorer at 15.7 points per game. He has scored 20 or more points seven times this season, including a season-high 30 in the season opener. However, he has the same number of 20-point games that he does single-digit games in Big 12 play with four apiece.
In his last two games—a win over Oklahoma and a loss to Kansas—he poured in 41 points but shot only 15-of-38 (.395) from the field.
Defense is going to be Baylor's ticket to success in the postseason, but teams without a go-to star are often left scrambling when the game is on the line during March Madness.
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
Achilles' Heel: Free-throw shooting
Let's start by addressing the Udoka Azubuike situation.
The Kansas Jayhawks' towering 7'0", 270-pound center is shooting an abysmal 45.4 percent from the free-throw line on the season, and his 119 attempts are second on the team.
So while the team ranks 292nd in the nation with a 67.0 percent free-throw shooting percentage, that number has to be assessed in context.
With that said, Azubuike is far from the only offender. Here's a look at how the other seven members of the regular rotation have fared:
- Devon Dotson: 124-of-153, 81.0 percent
- Marcus Garrett: 51-of-79, 64.6 percent
- Ochai Agbaji: 33-of-49, 67.3 percent
- David McCormack: 31-of-38, 81.6 percent
- Isaiah Moss: 25-of-28, 89.3 percent
- Christian Braun: 18-of-25, 72.0 percent
- Tristan Enaruna: 11-of-22, 50.0 percent
There are a lot of weak links in that group, and failing to close out a game at the free-throw line has been the downfall of many great teams over the years.