By: Chris O’Brien
In the first post of this series, I showcased the eight teams that could win it all. For a refresher:
- Michigan State
- North Carolina
The next grouping I call the “Teams That Can Beat Anyone.” Put them against any of those Top Eight teams and they have a really good shot at knocking them off.
But winning the full six in a row? That’s the thing about college basketball, for as much chaos and variety of teams that make it to the Elite 8 or Final Four, the list of champions isn’t that diverse. There are very few championships that don’t involve the historic Blue Bloods (or UCONN). Looking at the last 20 years, the list is really just Maryland, Syracuse, Florida as the “outsider” champions. Could this be the year we add another?
Teams that can Beat Anyone
12. West Virginia
14. Wichita State
Michigan wasn’t average before their Big 10 tournament run. They had wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, Texas, and UCLA. They finished 4th in the Big 10, and Top 15 in the AP poll.
They’re like any other John Beilein Michigan team, No. 2 in turnovers and Top 10 in defense. That is a great recipe for March, one that took them to the Sweet 16 last year where they played Oregon closer than Kansas did later in the Elite 8.
Wagner’s got some Dirk Nowitzki to him. Simpson and Rahkman have been playing really well lately. I still think Michigan State is a safer Final Four pick, but the Wolverines are not far behind.
If you look around this site, you’ll see we have dedicated blogs to Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State. We also have one on Notre Dame. I really feel like my lack of a Kentucky blog is a glaring empty space in a Blue Bloods collection.
So I’m going to leave this blank. If you’re a Kentucky fan reading this sentence, I want to hear from you and ultimately publish your post on why (and why not) Kentucky can get to the Final Four. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m going government shutdown here, no Kentucky coverage till I find a fan to pass the keyboard to.
Senior-heavy, experienced team. Second best three-point shooting team in the conference. No one in the East Region will have an answer for Isaac Haas. Carsen and Vincent Edwards provide scoring balance. Potential hiccup against Arkansas in the second round.
West Virginia was 15-1 with wins over Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma. They were the No. 2 team in America and were looking like the favorite to win the Big 12, ending the Jayhawks’ streak (at that point in time they were 4-0 in conference).
Then they lost five of six. Which sent them free-falling out of the Top 25.
But hey, I’m going to try and make the case that those five losses weren’t that bad.
- Lost @ Texas Tech by one point
- Lost to Kansas in a game they led by double digits late
- Lost @ TCU by nine
- Lost to Kentucky, similar to Kansas, they were up 15 at the half
- Lost @ Iowa State by 16
The one win in that stretch: an impressive 35 point dismantling of Texas.
Texas Tech game, one point, could have gone either way. Kansas and Kentucky, they had control of those games for 25+ minutes. That first half against Kansas looked like something from the Gladiator. The Mountaineers were really close to being 19-3 after that stretch rather than 16-6.
West Virginia finished second in the Big 12 and played Kansas close for the Big 12 championship game.
West Virginia has National Defensive Player of the Year running the point in Jevon Carter. Dude averages three steals a game. Also scores around 17 ppg. Daxter Miles Jr. is the other key senior guard, totally capable of scoring 25-30 if he gets hot from three. And then the Gladiator himself, Sagaba Konate, he’s third in the country in blocked shots at 3.3 a game. He is essential to “Press Virginia” as the last line of defense at the rim.
Plenty of depth on this team. Ten players play ten minutes or more, six above twenty minutes. Gotta give respect to Bob Huggins too, few coaches have more trust and respect from their teams than the big guy.
I also kind of like a team who takes their losses in one bad chunk. You can take that Microsoft office snipping tool to the January block, crop it out, and this is back to being a 19-3 team.
The tricky part about West Virginia in your bracket is they are a better bet in the second game than game one. Game one, the other team has had a week to prepare for the press. Game two, it’s a scramble. Murray State turns the ball over a decent amount, expect those numbers to be higher against Press Virginia.
It all leads to a situation where if I can feel confident enough about that first game, the dominos begin to fall and I end up with Huggins’ squad in the Elite 8, maybe the Final Four.
Ah, Cincinnati. The hardest name to spell in college basketball.
If you want defense, this is your team. No. 2 in field goal percentage defense, No. 2 in scoring defense, No. 8 in 3-pt FG percentage defense, 11th in blocked shots. Around the Top 25 in steals per game too. They’ve held teams to 55 points or fewer 15 times this season!
This team is just tough. Gritty. Made up of primarily juniors and seniors. Couple transfer guys with Kyle Washington (from NC State) and Cane Broome (from Sacred Heart). Four guys (Evans III, Clark, Washington, Cumberland) score in double figures which accounts for 64 percent of their total scoring. Clark is the heart and soul of this team, great all around player.
My problem with this team comes down to one game this season. At UCF. Cinci won 49-38.
Holding a team to 38 points is impressive, don’t get me wrong, it should arguably count for two wins. But that score could be a halftime score of a Big 12, Pac 12, or ACC game. What will happen when they run into a great offense in the tournament? A team that averages high 80’s?
A preview of that matchup may have taken place earlier this season against Xavier. Xavier (9th in points per game) put up 89 on the Bearcats in a 13-pt win.
If Cinci ends up on a No. 2 line, I think they could be vulnerable to high scoring No. 7 seeded teams like an Oklahoma, Creighton, or Arizona State.
And if they play Virginia later in the tournament we may see a game played in the 30’s.
Last year, Gonzaga’s team didn’t look like an overachieving mid-major, with 2-3 star recruits. They looked like a legit No. 1 seed with NBA talent.
The same is true for Wichita State this season. Shamet, McDuffie, Shaq Morris may all end up in the NBA.
Six seniors are in the rotation for Greg Marshall’s team. You might hear that this Wichita State team isn’t as good defensively as previous years, but don’t overrate that. Wichita State is still pretty solid, No. 61 overall in defensive efficiency. For perspective, Kansas is No. 77, North Carolina No. 104.
Offensive efficiency: No. 7.
Rebounding: No. 7
Assists: No. 3
I thought this stat was interesting, Wichita State has won 85 percent of their road games over the last five years, including a big one this year at Cincinnati. Riding a six-game winning streak right now, big game on March 4th against Cinci, see if they can get the season sweep.
Shamet, Morris, Willis Jr. and Frankamp combine to score 49.6 ppg. Reeves chips in another 8.5 ppg.
But keep an eye on McDuffie. Right now he’s sixth in scoring average on the season. But he’s only played in 16 games coming back from injury. The last two games he’s looked to be more back to normal scoring 15 against Tulsa and then 26 at SMU. If he stays at this level, which I think he will, Wichita State has a real shot at living up to their preseason Final Four hopes. Especially if they can land the Wichita location for their first two games.
Proven they can beat top teams? Nice list of quality wins for Rick Barnes’ team. The Volunteers beat Purdue, Kentucky (2x), NC State, and Texas A&M. They could really use the win against Florida this week to keep building up the resume.
The Volunteers were the top-ranked No. 4 seed when the Selection Committee revealed their near-end-of-season rankings. They are in second place in the SEC standings. And No. 42 in defensive efficiency. Then the simple eye-test, I saw the Purdue, Villanova, and one of the Kentucky games and Tennessee matches those teams in terms of size and athleticism.
So what’s not to like? 115th in ppg. 131st in rebounding. 224th in points scored. 206th in field goal percentage.
Their defense is good, but not great, will it be enough to carry those types of offensive rankings?
The SEC might be the deepest conference in college basketball.
It still feels weird because they’ve always been so heavily a football conference, but worth pointing out: the SEC did have three Elite Eight teams last year. They won the Big 12 / SEC challenge; Kentucky beating West Virginia, Alabama over Oklahoma, bottom-dwelling Vanderbilt took down TCU.
Florida’s 11-7 conference record could just be a product of a brutal schedule. They’re 20-12 overall, at one point listed as at No. 10 or No. 11 seed.
Best wins: Beat Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Auburn.
Other quality wins: @ Texas A&M, @ Kentucky
And almost took down Duke in the PK80 when Duke was No. 1.
But so many losses. They’ve had two separate three-game losing streaks.
Vulnerable to a first round exit? Yep. Lost at home to Loyola Chicago. Losses to Ole Miss, two to Georgia, one to Vanderbilt. The Bonnies or UCLA could both pose a threat.
Florida still has a lot of promise. You want great guard play in the tournament, Florida has Hudson, Chiozza, and Koulechov combining for 40 ppg. Hudson and Chiozza both shot 40 percent from three. Maybe the most interesting factor for the Gators is KeVaughn Allen. He scored 24 off the bench against Auburn, if they continue to bring him off the bench he might be the best 6th man in the tournament.