The Kansas Jay-Hawks lost only two games during the regular season against Tennessee and Oklahoma State and going into March Madness 2010, they are the #1 favourite to win it all. The two losses proved that the Jay-Hawks can be beaten, but in this day and age, what team in what sport can’t be on any given day (just ask the Patriots). If a team has enough grind and grit to put together six straight wins in mid-to-late march though, they will become the best College Basketball team in America. Being the team to beat, every team who goes up against Kansas will be giving 110%. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to be the team to beat the best. We have seen it in numourous sports for decades now. Not only does the underdog give 110% but generally the average fan cheers for the dog as well. For Kansas to get passed this, the need to focus on three things. First off, Coach Bill Self needs to realize he has to play the guys who are playing well on that given day, regardless of the reputation they have built for themselves. With that being said, Jay-Hawks guard Sherron Collins hasn’t played up to his potential in the last month, and Self shouldn’t hesitate to yank Collins and put in Tyshawn Taylor with Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed (as he has in recent weeks). Second, Kansas needs to ride forward Marcus Morris who has become the most dependable offensive option by being able to drive the lane, or pull up for a jumper. Morris will be a beast on the offensive boards and if any team wants to play zone against the Jay-Hawks, Morris will make them their bitch. Last but certainly not least, Kansas needs to stop playing up to the potential of their opponents and not be afraid to put out a strong 40-minutes and bury an inferior opponent. After all, that’s how you prepare yourself for the big show and the only way the Kansas Jay-Hawks can cruise through the first couple rounds (as they should), is to take no prisoners and give all they got… even if they are playing somebody like Sienna University.
As a sports writer/blogger I would never tell you where to place your money. I provide the in depth knowledge that you need in order to make the bet you feel most comfortable with. With that being said, if you want my advice, Syracuse might just be the best team in the NCAA to place your money on. Don’t let the recent loss to Louisville late in the season fool you (the Cardinals beat the Orangeman twice including to finish off the season dropping Syracuse out of the #1 ranking in the nation). Many sports outlets including the Associated Press is even listing Kentucky ahead of Syracuse but if the recent loss left a sour taste in your mouth and unsure if you fully believe in the Orangemen, let me begin. This team is a deep, talented and well coached team full of great individually talented players. TheCoach expects one of the four number one seeds in the March Madness bracket to be cutting down the net while their fans rush the court. Why are the Orangemen so good you ask? What does TheCoach feel puts them above fellow powerhouses Kansas, Kentucky or even fellow Big East rival Villanova? Defence and personnel my friends, simple as that. Up front, Wesley Johnson, Kris Joseph and Arinze Onuaku all average 10+ points per game, 3.5 blocks, and pile up a staggering 19 rebounds a game. These three guys are not only talented dominate forces inside the paint, but are massively intimidating to opponents at the same time. Moving along to the defence. When one of, if not the greatest coach in NCAA history Bob Knight is quoted saying “Syracuse’s zone defence is one of the best I have ever seen in basketball”, that is high praise coming from a man who has racked up the most wins all time as an NCAA coach. Knight has seen his share of defences during his time, hell he’s thrown a chair or two at them as well… and to compliment the Orangemen like he did, holds weight. Don’t worry about Syracuse starting off the tournament slow either, they’ll be psyched up and battle ready after having a challenging regular season in the Big East Conference as well as the oh-so-greuling Big East Tournament.
Duke Blue Devils
Every year going into March it seems like the Duke Blue Devils have one of the top ranked teams in the nation. In 2010, this wasn’t to be expected as Sports Illustrated didn’t even have them projected to be in the top 10 before the season got underway (SI had them ranked 12th). Currently, Duke sits 4th in the nation and should by all means have a #1 seed in one of the four brackets when the madness begins. Mike Krzyzewski, known mostly as “Coach K” brings a vast amount of coaching experience that not many other coaches can touch. Coach K has been around for so long, he has seen ever player imaginable including every style of player go through the NCAA. I mean, this guy was coaching Duke when Jordan was playing in North Carolina… insane! The Blue Devils finished off the season with a record of 26-5 with their losses coming to Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Georgetown, Maryland and a surprise loss to North Carolina State. It was an improvement from 2008-09 season when they finished up 30-7 and were sent packing during the sweet 16 round. In case you don’t remember what happened, that is what TheCoach is here for… Villanova blitzed by the Blue Devils with a final score of 77-54 and it was the fifth consecutive year that Duke had failed to reach the elite eight portion of the tourney. I do feel things will be different this year for a team who has come together better than anyone expected. Jon Scheyer, the start guard for Duke is leading the team with 18.9 points per game, at the same time bringing in over seven rebounds. Scheyer is doing this as a guard and to put it in perspective, one other player for Duke, their centre Brian Zoubek is averaging over seven rebounds per game. Along with Scheyers high point totals, his fellow guard Nolan Smith averages 17.6 per game, while forward Kyle Singler put up 17.2. The three players together average 53.7 points per game (the same amount that Duke scored against Villanova last year when they were eliminated). The only way to get better, is to never give up and have a will to keep improving. As much as it hurt, last summer Jon Scheyer returned to his parents house and realized they hadn’t deleted the Villanova debacle off the DVR. Scheyer sat down for the entire pain staking 40 minutes of game play and came away thinking one thing… ‘We can’t let that happen again’. Duke must get back to the Elite Eight. Must.
The Kentucky Wildcats are for real. With a record of 29-2, they will almost guaranteed be another #1 seed in one of the four brackets come March Madness. Kentucky hails from the South Eastern Conference and their biggest rivals are Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Tennessee was one of the two teams who the Wildcats were unable to beat (although they did split the season series 1-1, winning the 1st game by 11, losing the 2nd game by 9). Yeah, all the talk revolves around John Wall, who is expected to go high in the NBA draft, if not first. But before we get into John Wall, lets talk about the backbone of any team… defence! A few months ago, the Wildcats were struggling on defence. The NCAA tracks a teams efficiency to adjust defensively throughout the game, and a few months ago Kentucky was ranked in the mid-60′s in that department (not a ranking a team desires if they want to contend for the NCAA championship). Throughout the season though, the Wildcats stepped up and forced opponents to shoot a low 40 percent on two-pointers which places them as one of the best in the nation in that category and they also block nearly 20% of their opponents shot attempts… with all that being said, they also don’t foul very much. They have improved in every way possible defensively. Offensively, Kentucky really shouldn’t have to worry as they has four players (Wall, Cousins, Patterson and Bledsoe) who all average over 10 points per game. Led by John Wall who averages 16.8 points, along with 6.2 assists per game, its clearly Wall who spreads the love to the rest of the team. Patterson is averaging 7.5 rebounds a game which in most cases would lead ANY team but DeMarcus Cousins is a freak and averages over 10 boards a game!! It’s no wonder the Wildcats cash in 40%+ of their misses by offensive rebounds. Unfortunately for Kentucky, their downfall could be turnovers. As we all know, NCAA basketball can be won or lost by how much a team turns the ball over and in essence how the other team capitalizes off it. The Wildcats average approximately as many turnovers as they force and you can’t have that if you want to win it all. It could also be that Kentucky is EXTREMELY inexperienced as they have been rumoured to be the 10th youngest team in the nation (out of 347 squads). If the Wildcats want to go far in the tournament, believe it or not, they will need to depend on Demarcus Cousins as much as John Wall.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Coach Bobby Huggins is all about defence, which would lead you to believe that the West Virginia Mountaineers would be all about defence… don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. The Mountaineers have been more dominant on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side, but the defence is nothing to slouch about. On offence, West Virginia dominates the boards, pulling down rebounds on over 1/3 of their shots missed. Led by Huggins, this team has also been taught ball control, rarely turning the ball over and slowing the game down by using up the shot-clock. Their average number of possessions per game sits below the average for the nation, which by no means is a bad thing. Controlling the clock and how much the other team handles the ball can win you a national championship… trust me. But can the Mountaineers win it all? Hmm… personally I don’t think so but if they step it up on defence, create turnovers and defend the three-ball, anything and I mean anything is possible. As long as they can continue to play WVU basketball, by controlling the ball and forcing turnovers (the more forced on less possessions by the other team the better). West Virginia also currently keeps their opponents below the national average from behind the arc… the Mountaineers are no team to take lightly folks. The downfall of West Virginia could simply be the intensity that they have never seemed to play with… former champions of past years bring it night-in-night-out and that is what you have to do. All you need is six straight wins and you are the national champion… sitting back and letting the other team take control will send the Mountaineers packing early. At the same time, West Virginia just needs to play basketball and not get to psyched up. If they do, they will get into foul trouble (something they already have problems with) and without their leading scoring Da’Sean Butler (15.8 points per game) or Kevin Jones (15.1 points per game), West Virginia won’t stand a chance against higher seeded teams. Butler and Jones need to carry the team through the tournament, while involving the rest of the team but not be afraid to hog the ball a little bit when needed. After all, the reason WVU is so good is because of Butler and Jones.
Ohio State Buckeyes
When you think Ohio State, you generally think football but come March Madness, the Buck-eyes will have you forgetting all about football and have all eyes focused on the hard-court. Having a record of 24-7 has made people want to back the Buckeyes not only on the gridiron, but all season long fans have turned out to cheer on their basketball team… not an overly common theme in Ohio State. The main reason the Buckeyes are so good is because of their diverse, yet talented starting five. Lead by Evan Turner who is arguably one of the top 5 players in the nation, OSU can run the floor with any team out there. Although Turner leads the team in scoring with 19.5 points per game, he has a core of teammates he knows he can trust every night. The skills Evan Turner has is impossible to miss. The guy can dribble, drive, pass, shoot, dunk and plays both the guard and forward position. Not only does he put up points but also leads the team in assists and rebounds (also in the top rankings in the Big 10 Conference for both). Team-mate Jon Diebler has proved his is a threat from beyond the arch making Ohio State even more dangerous offensively and beside the outside game the Buckeyes possess, Dallas Lauderdale has just enough of an inside game to keep opponents honest. The Buckeyes starting five is the best in the Big 10 Conference and quite frankly, one of the best in the nation. OSU has the ability to go deep in the tournament. With four of the seven losses coming against North Carolina, West Virginia, Purdue and Butler, the Buckeyes will need to learn how to beat top ranked teams if they want any chance to win the tourney though. Every team has a weakness and the Buckeyes have a big one. Once you get past their starting five, they have a very short bench that lacks power, is mediocre at free-throw shooting, and has a horrible inside game. If Turner and others get into foul trouble, OSU could be leaving the dance a lot earlier than expected. However, every other team this year listed in my write up have shown themselves to be vulnerable in one way or another. With Ohio State’s talent, Turner’s Athleticism and a confident starting five, its not unreasonable to suggest OSU could be in the final four.
To win the national championship, you need to be strong both offensively and defensively and that is something the Purdue Boilermakers are and come the Final Four tournament, they could be a very dangerous team. Offensively, Purdue thrives from shooting the ball often due to the fact they rarely turn the ball over, and not only that but rarely do opposing teams have the opportunity to block the Boilermakers shots. Even when they try to, generally they end up fouling one of the Boilermakers (and Purdue also excels at the free-throw line). High percentage shooting can win you a game and give you a quick lead faster than anything. Well, anything but defence that is. Defensively, Purdue is one stingy team inside the paint as they tend to keep opponents to low percentages inside and block a good amount of shots. Putting it bluntly, the Boilermakers do everything on defence, that they don’t do on offence. They average in the mid-20′s for turnovers, while rarely giving up the ball, they block shots and make teams take unwanted shots, something they don’t do as a team. The one weakness (and in college basketball, it’s a big one), is that Purdue sucks shooting and defending three-pointers. They allow opponents to shoot a higher percentage than they do themselves and if you are facing a team with plenty of long-range shooters… you are done. Expect Purdue to come out gunning and be a tough team to beat as they play a full 40-minutes night-in-night-out. E’Twaun Moore has emerged as the Boilermakers star player, as the team can count on him to drive the lane or pull up for a 20 footer, but at the same time being one of their best three-point shooters. He is without a doubt Purdue’s go-to-guy but don’t forget about fellow junior Robbie Hummel who is, without a doubt the most efficient Boilermaker, turning the ball over the least, making the highest percentage of his shots, and being almost perfect at the free-throw line. Other than the two of them, JaJuan Johnson is a 6’10″ forward who will rack in at least two blocks per game while senior guard Chris Kramer picks up just under 4.0 steals per game. Lastly, Lewis Jackson may just fly under the radar. He hurt his foot and had to have surgery this year and only started five games. If he can get back to full strength for the tournament, it will be one more weapon that opposing teams will have to watch out for.
When you think of Villanova, if the words ‘offensive powerhouse’ don’t come to mind… something is wrong. They play a high paced fast tempo style of offence and can put up points with the best teams out there. The problem with being such an offensive powerhouse is that if you play a team who can match you offensively while playing defence, you will loose. A prime example is when Georgetown put up 103 against the Wildcats (who were 20-1 at the time) and it sent Villanova in a downward spiral to finish off their season. At 20-1, they had nine games remaining, and went 4-5 to finish off the season 24-6. Not being able to play defence at an elite level has allowed not only Georgetown, but other highly ranked teams such as Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse to beat Villanova as well. As I said, it’s great if you can put up 80-90 points in 40 minutes but when you allow your opponent to put up 90-100, it’s not so great. The Wildcats struggle at stopping opposing teams from cashing in on three-pointers and also send their opponents to the line way to much putting their star players into foul trouble. Not only that, Villanova’s adjusted defensive efficiency is horrible and in the last six years, no team that has made the Final Four has been ranked worse than 25th in that category… the wildcats are no where near 25th. Although I bash Villanova’s defence, they have an amazing offence that can put the nail in the coffin every night. Scottie Reynolds carries this team practically hitting 50% of his shots, and 1/3 of them come from behind the arc. Reynolds must be on his game to elevate the game of co-horts Corey Fisher and Dominic Cheek. The bottom-line is this, Villanova probably have no chance to win the Tournament if they are faced with teams such as Syracuse, Kansas or Kentucky but if some other teams can knock off the top-ranked teams before Nova’ plays them, expect the Wildcats to take full advantage of teams who can’t stick around with them. But it’ll be tough for them to make the Final Four but I will never say never because in March, anything can happen… isn’t that why we love the madness?
On The Bubble
Michigan State Spartans
The reason I list the Michigan State Spartans as an “On The Bubble” team is because generally as the season progresses, a team improves. This squad from MSU, I don’t feel have, and if anything, they’ve gone backwards. Before the season started, Sports Illustrated in their ‘College Preview’ issue listed Michigan State as the #2 team in the country, behind Kansas. Well, at least the Jay-Hawks have shown the nation that the whole SI-Jinx is bullshit but as for Michigan State… not so much. Being in the Big 10 conference can do that to a team. The conference is packed with four top 20 teams in the nation (Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin) and even Illinois, Michigan and North Western can beat you. A total of seven teams have a winning percentage of .600+ in the Big 10. Insane! Kalin Lucas leads the team with almost 15 points per game and four assists and unlike many other teams who I have talked about, Lucas does not have to rebound like other guards. The Spartans rely on their big forwards Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green who are both averaging approximately 7.0 (give or take) boards per game with 10.0+ points per game to boot. Also, Lucas can fall back on the Spartans other guard Durrell Summers, who averages over ten points and almost five rebounds per game as well. Kalin Lucas is the quarterback, and he does a great job of finding his receivers Morgan, Green and Summers for the score. The Spartans downfall is when they are playing big name teams (which their conference and the NCAA tournament is full of), they start to choke. With a record of 24-7 the Spartans could go far in the tournament, even to the final four. In order to do so, they have to learn to beat the teams who they couldn’t during the regular season (Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State). Those seven teams are all talented squads but cliche as it is… to be the best, you have to beat the best.
The fact the Butler comes from the Horizon League Conference should be the only concern going into March Madness 2010 if you are a fan of the Bulldogs, who have high hopes after finishing off the season with the a 19-game winning streak (which stands as the longest currently in the NCAA). The reason you should be concerned is because out of the Bulldogs 19 straight wins, not one of them came against a top 25 ranked team. Even more concerning, Butler started off the season 6-3 win their losses coming against Minnesota, Clemson and Georgetown. None of those teams will be contenders in Indianapolis… and they’ll be lucky to even be their. Yeah, Butler needed to take some time to shake out the cob-webs but as previously stated, Syracuse is going to be battle-ready because of a Big East Tournament leading up to March Madness that will prepare them for anything. Butler prepares by playing teams like Wright State, Green Bay, Milwaukee and Valparaiso (teams ranked below Butler in the Horizon League Conference). If Butler continues their hot play though, and plays like they have on their home court this season (18-0), they will give higher ranked teams a run for their money. Bulldogs guard/forward Gordon Hayward is averaging over 15.0 points per game, while his fellow guard Shelvin Mack is just shy of 14.0 points per game and forward Matt Howard averages just over 12.0. Generally, Butler starts Ronald Nored at guard with Gordon Hayward at forward but being the Bulldogs best player, and coach Brad Stevens likes to put the ball in Hayward’s hands early and often.
Kansas State Wildcats
As part of the Big 12, the Kansas State Wildcats need to get back to where they were at the start of the season. I know this sounds crazy because a team should improve as the course of the season goes on and don’t get me wrong, they have. But what TheCoach means by this, is they need to get back to their “underdog” mentality of having something to prove. Now that they are a top 10 team, and almost knocked off the Jay-Hawks earlier this year, they have proved they are no team to take lightly. To finish off their regular season schedule (as a top 10 team) the Wildcats late in the game gave up as Kansas was starting to dominate and the following game, had an inexplicable loss to Iowa State (unranked and is 15-16 on the season). Clearly, when Kansas State has something to prove, they play better. Junior forward Dominique Sutton needs to settle himself down. When Sutton plays his best, the Wildcats as a unit play their best. He needs to get back to shooting open three-pointers, driving the lane and staying out of foul trouble, instead of taken contested shots, rushing layups and leaving his team without their top defender. Late in the season, Kansas and Iowa State took full advantage of zone defences and enjoyed easy points around the basket because of it. The only way Kansas State can stick it out with the big boys, is to play a high-pressed man-to-man traditional style defence.
New Mexico Lobos
The New Mexico Lobos are unheard of if you don’t follow College Basketball. They hail from the Mountain West Conference (where?) and their biggest rival is Brigham Young University (who?). You can’t be blamed if you’ve never heard of the Lobos or their four top scorers, who all average over 10 points per game by the way. The starting five players on New Mexico have started all 31 games this season and have had the luxury of being relatively injury-free. Darington Hobson is the Lobos star player but without a doubt, they have a core group of players who surround him and pick up the slack if Hobson is struggling. Hobson, a 6′ foot 7″ junior guard, puts up 15.8 points per game, brings in just over 9.0 rebounds and dishes out almost 5.0 assists. Two other guards, Dairese Gary and Philip McDonald both average 12.4 and 10.9 respectively. Not only that, their senior forward Roman Martinez is without a doubt the leader more than anyone on the team. Hobson may lead by example, but the Lobos are Martinez’s team as he has been there all four years playing his balls off. The Lobos are 29-3 with their only losses coming against Oral Roberts, San Diego State and UNLV and they finished off the season hot, winning their last 15 games. But as I said, it may worry you to hear they come from the Mountain West Conference but you shouldn’t be too fooled, as the conference has two strong teams in New Mexico and Brigham Young. For the first time ever, these two teams out the Mountain West Conference are ranked in the top 15 in the nation. Hmm. Also, UNLV and San Diego State are not teams to take lightly. If New Mexico can stay healthy and play their style of basketball, they should make the sweet-16 round with no problems. The Final Four? Don’t be as confident.
When all is said an done… it honestly doesn’t matter who wins the tournament… Does it?
You may wear your teams favourite shirt, get a car-window flag, or even paint yourself Syracuse Orange.
But when the madness begins… as long as you have a beer in your hand (and win your local office pool),
You’ll be glad you attend the Lions Den University
TheCoach will have a his bracket posted after Selection Sunday.
About the Author: TheCoach knows his stuff. Now you can either utilize the knowledge, or regret that you didn't.