Thursday, January 22, 2009
Mike Bradley: Playing Favorites Has Never Been So Hard
College basketball has always been known for its parity, but this is getting ridiculous.
Wake beats then-#1 UNC. Louisville beats then-#1 Pitt. Virginia Tech beats then-#1 Wake Forest. Hell, even NJIT got their first win in 53 attempts.
Up to this point, everyone has discussed "Big East vs. ACC" and which conference is deeper, but the last three national champions have come from the Big 12 and SEC. So let's dive into the whole NCAA landscape (in several parts).
Contenders: UNC, Duke, Wake Forest
Despite stumbling out of the gate, no team has as much top-to-bottom talent as the Tar Heels do, with POY-candidate Tyler Hansbrough and floor general Ty Lawson leading the team full steam ahead into March Madness. Meanwhile, Duke seems poised to make one of their
classic runs in the tournament after a few hiccups the past few years against the likes of West Virginia and VCU. The senior leadership of sharpshooter Greg Paulus and the world-class athleticism of Gerald Henderson finally blossoming into superstar talent has the Blue Devils thinking "National Championship." Not to be left out, Wake Forest is playing the type of basketball that can bring back memories of the glory days with Chris Paul. Super-Sophs Jeff Teague and James Johnson are playing like season vets while freshman phenom Al-Farouq Aminu has lived up to everything he was billed as during his prep years. With three legitimate contenders, the ACC looks ready to make some noise this March.
Pretenders: Miami (FL), Clemson, Boston College, Virginia Tech
Of all the teams I think of as pretenders, Miami has the most potential to prove me wrong. Led by bullseye shooter Jack McClinton, The Hurricanes have the ability to put up points in bunches on any given night. But on the nights McClinton isn't hitting his bunches of threes, Miami usually has a tough time putting the ball in the hoop. One real scoring option in the month of March spells disaster for the 'Canes. Then you have Clemson, the quintessential fast-starter of the ACC. Starting off with a school-best 16-0 start, the Tigers have been dealt blowout losses by UNC and Wake Forest. If you can't beat them in January, you won't beat them in March. BC and Virginia Tech are only on this list because of their high profile wins versus North Carolina and Wake Forest, respectively. Don't buy into them. Plain and simple.
Contenders: Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh
The preseason favorite is the current favorite still in my mind. A veteran-loaded team, UConn features do-it-all senior Jeff Adrien and floor leader AJ Price, as well as skyscraping big man Hasheem Thabeet. Add to that the steady guard play of Jerome Dyson and the energy off the bench from heralded freshman Kemba Walker, and you have the depth needed on a National Championship contender. Down in Louisville, Rick Pitino has yet another talented team poised to take on the tournament field. With a balanced roster with veteran leadership combined with young talent, the Cardinals looked poised for battle come March. Senior leader Terrence Williams teams with the phenomenal junior Earl Clark and the currently-underperforming Edgar Sosa to provide strong leadership for Freshman of the Year-candidate Samardo Samuels. Without Sosa's 3-point stroke returning, Louisville could face some tough times in March, but their stable of athletic, skilled forwards is something that should be unmatched by any team in any conference. Then there's Pitt. I don't know what it is, but it feels like Levance Fields has been leading this team for the past decade. While it may not be that long, Fields, as well as sweet shooting Sam Young, provide valuable senior leadership to a team notorious for choking in March. To counteract all the "old men" leading the team, the Panthers have a 6'7'', 265-pound sophomore wrecking ball in DeJuan Blair. Fresh off of a 20 point, 10 rebound performance against equally-rotund Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku, it's clear the young man is ready for the big stage. Here's to hoping the rest of this team is up to the task as well.
Jury is Still Out: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette
One of the most frustrating teams in the country has to be the Syracuse Orange. A team that rarely loads up their nonconference schedule scored major road wins against then-ranked teams in Florida, Kansas, and Memphis. Led by a top PG prospect in Jonny Flynn, Syracuse mixes a combination of inside scoring (Onuaku and sophomore Rick Jackson) with solid outside shooting (Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf), but there is a missing element. Much like last year's Memphis team with slightly less talent, the Orange lack a killer instinct. Shooting a combined 62.5% from the charity stripe doesn't help matters either. If Jonny Flynn learns how to take over games or the whole team learns how to hit a foul shot, Syracuse could make some noise. If not, it could be another early round exit for Syracuse. The only team more confusing than Syracuse has to be the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas decimated the Orange at home, but losses to teams like Tennessee, Notre Dame, and West Virginia have to give fans a cause for concern. A team as talented as Georgetown shouldn't be losing home games to lesser conference foes or nonconference games to lesser conferences. While Greg Monroe is enough to make anyone salivate, overall team play needs to become more consistent before the Hoyas can be "for real." Some might say a 5-0 conference record should land a team on the "Contenders" list, but it's hard to grant any merit to that record when the best team they beat was an underachieving Villanova team. While they run out one of the best groups of guards in the country with Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Dominic James, it's hard to take a team seriously when their leading rebounder is standing at 6'6''. If the guards go cold, it's hard to see Marquette keeping it close with ANY team come March.
Pretender: Villanova, West Virginia, Notre Dame.
You know what they say; Inconsistency killed the Wildcat. Another team with a lot of guard and perimeter play and not enough banging inside, the Wildcats don't seem to have enough to make any noise in the tournament (despite the remarkable improvement shown by senior forward Dante Cunningham). As far as West Virginia goes, the worst thing to do would be to buy into the recent upset of Georgetown at home. It's not every day that Austin Freeman, DaJuan Summers, and Greg Monroe combine to go 9-for-30 from the field. An young, upstart team, I do like the Mountaineers...in 2009-2010. Notre Dame might be the biggest shocker on the list because of the presence of reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody combined with lights out shooters Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, and Tory Jackson. However, their probem isn't scoring. Their defense is where they will truly suffer in March. Shooters run cold, and if the Irish run cold, they aren't going to lock anybody down. Until they show a commitment to defense, they might as well plan for a short showing in all of the Madness. *