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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Examining the Weaknesses of Title Contenders

This has been a year of upsets and parity in college hoops, making it one of the most fun seasons in awhile to follow. There is no media darling who is projected to waltz to the final four and plenty of mid-major teams capable of pulling off early round upsets. All of the top teams have noticeable weaknesses and could be out before the Sweet 16 if they draw the wrong team. With that said, here is a look at what the top teams DON'T want to see awaiting them come Selection Sunday.

Indiana - Indiana is my favorite to win it all as of now, but they still have their flaws. Away from Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers have been suspect to coming out flat and lacking the intimidation factor they have at home. They have lost to a couple of halfcourt teams - Wisconsin, Butler, Minnesota, and nearly falling to Georgetown - and have struggled a lot with physical play inside. Just this week, Trevor Mbakwe proved that if you punch Cody Zeller in the mouth, he will be tentative the rest of the game. And with Christian Watford playing next to him, there is plenty of room to score in the paint. Making Indiana defend for 35 seconds is key. Each of their loses have come when teams chose to slow the pace down and attack the middle of the Hoosier's defense. Another thing that is helpful to beat Indiana is having a good pair of guards and and big man inside that can deter Indiana from getting to the foul line. The Hoosiers lead the nation in free throw attempts.

Duke - Getting Ryan Kelly back certainly helps their problems as he will create space for Plumlee inside on offense while also stabilizing the defense. Kelly takes a lot of pressure off Curry and Plumlee, who were the only two consistent options they had. And with Plumlee's limited offensive game and Curry's size, it wasn't hard to key on them and slow them down. Now the attention focuses to the defensive end, specifically the guards, were they are undersized and lack the swagger of previous teams. In the past, Duke had guys like Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, DeMarcus Nelson, and Nolan Smith leading the defense and slapping the floor while daring an opponent to drive on them. Now they have Curry and Cook - neither very intimidating - and both have been very susceptible to allowing 3-pters over their head. Teams with good shooting guards should provide them problems and if you lack good guards at all - you will also have a chance against them. Maryland beat them partially because Duke guard's were unable to capitalize on the unforced turnovers by the Terps and transition opportunities. Curry and Cook aren't guys who will pressure guards into mistakes.

Gonzaga - One thing that will improve your chances in beating the Bulldogs is having quick guards. Pierre Jackson, Marcus Smart, Brandon Paul, and Chris Anderson have all been able to shake up Gonzaga's defense and get them off balance. Kevin Pangos isn't especially quick laterally and with no shot blockers inside, there isn't much to deter slashers from getting into the lane. But simply getting into the lane with a quick guard won't be enough to beat them. Gonzaga has plenty of offensive firepower and the opposition will need to respond with hot shooting from outside the arc. Thats how Illinois made Gonzaga look more beatable than they have appeared the rest of the year - they took advantage of their slow perimeter defense to get into the lane and then knocked down the open jumpers that came out of it. Opponents have a great assist to turnover ratio against the Zags and there will be plenty of good point guards in the tournament that could give them trouble.

Michigan - All you have to do is stop Trey Burke. Ok, it is not that easy unless your name is Aaron Craft. But there has been framework laid out by other teams that has been successful. Illinois and Indiana have given Burke trouble by switching on every ball screen. Burke struggled to get his shot off over taller defenders, yet still settled for many jumpers. If you get Burke taking long contested twos the entire game, you don't complain. Michigan is a team that is very perimeter oriented and loves to space the floor. Switching on screens and sticking to your man will help negate what Michigan tries to do by spreading out the floor and  drawing extra defenders for kickouts to open shooters. The last thing you want to do is allow a guy like GRIII or Nik Stauskas to get open looks against you and start to get confident. On the other side of the ball, Michigan struggles with ball screens themselves where the can find themselves out of position from being too aggressive hedging. You can get good looks from outside against them and big men like Cody Zeller have killed them rolling off screens. You want big men who are good in pick and roll action and who can also rebound the ball. Michigan State and Wisconsin have taken advantage of Michigan's lack of size inside. Another weakness - Michigan is one of the least experienced teams in the nation.

Miami - The constant theme surrounding Miami this season is how good they are when they are healthy. Up until their past two losses, they had a legitimate excuse for their previous slip-ups. Durand Scott missed the first game of the year while Reggie Johnson didn't play during the tournament in Hawaii. Another thing people forget is Durand Scott played the Indiana State and Arizona games with a messed up ankle. The thing is, is depth is part of the game and Miami doesn't have it. If one of their key players gets in foul trouble, they could be in big trouble. A team that has a knack for getting to the line could force Miami to use some players that rarely get off the bench. In their worse loss of the year to Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons did just that - forcing Julian Gamble out of the game early while Rion Brown finished with 4 fouls. Miami has handled bigger teams just fine as they have some great big MEN (emphasis on men) of their own, but guys like Travis McKie, Brandon Ashley/Grant Jerrett, Ryan Kelly, and Indiana's cast of big men all are big men who spend a lot of time on the perimeter. Those have been the teams Miami has struggled against. You aren't going to be more athletic or tougher in the paint against Miami so there is no point in trying - the teams that have a shot at beating them are the teams that will play away from that and connect on a lot of shots from beyond the arc.

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