Welcome back to the NCAA Tournament preview! Today I'll take a look around at some of the power conference teams that just might have a shot at making it to New Orleans, if they catch a few breaks along the way.* Later in the week I will look at teams that are stronger potential Final Four candidates, and then the teams with legitimate championship aspirations. Let's get right into it.
*Pac-12 teams need not apply.
Notre Dame - To be perfectly honest, I don't think Notre Dame
has much chance at all of going far in the tournament. They're only
here because they did finish alone in third place in the Big East, and
they can claim to be the only team to register a "W" against Syracuse
this season, albeit they did it at home and with Fab Melo in street
clothes. They also deserve credit for playing this well despite losing
their best player, Tim Abromaitis, after two games. They swept UConn
and West Virginia, won at Louisville, and of course beat the Orange, but
they also went 0-4 on neutral courts, including getting demolished by
Missouri to the tune of 87-58 back in November. The Irish will need a
LOT of luck to win more than one game in this year's tournament.
Purdue - As good as the Big Ten was this year, a 10-8 record
shouldn't pass muster to make a list of maybe-kinda-sorta potential
sleeper Final Four teams, right? Apart from a puzzling 65-45 blowout
loss at Penn State (seriously?), none of their losses could be termed
"bad." They sport non-conference wins over Miami and Temple, and of
course the great story of forward Robbie Hummel, who endured multiple
ACL tears that cost him what should have been a memorable senior season
last year with E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. With his buddies now
wearing Celtics green, Hummel has led the team this year, along with
Lewis Jackson. The Boilermakers will need to cross their fingers that
they wind up with similarly undersized opponents in their draw if they
want to win a few games, but they just might have enough in the tank to
do that, unlikely as it is.
Cincinnati - Unlike their crosstown rival Xavier, Cincinnati
took some momentum out of the famous brawl against the Musketeers in
December, reeling off seven straight wins and ten of eleven. While they
are your usual rough-and-tumble Big East outfit, they do have trouble
scoring and lack a lot of size, with only two key players who are not
guards. One of those is 6'9", 260-pound Yancy Gates, who was suspended
as a result of the brawl but is a very effective weapon inside for the
Bearcats, averaging close to a double-double. He will command respect
from opponents, and has a quartet of guard teammates (Sean Kilpatrick,
Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Jaquon Parker) who also know how to put
the ball in the basket. But Cincy lacks serious scoring punch as a
team, and will need to avoid a draw that includes big teams that can
score on them.
Iowa State - The Cyclones have something that no other team has, with the possible exception of Michigan State; a 6'8", 270-pound behemoth who can run the offense as the point guard. Fred Hoiberg, certainly the most popular player in Iowa State history, will often use star forward Royce White as his point man, and White has obliged by leading the Cyclones in pretty much every statistical category. This wrinkle alone will be enough to cause some matchup problems that may carry the Cyclones into the second weekend. They do, after all, have wins over Baylor and Kansas to their credit, along with a sweep of Kansas State. If opponents can't neutralize White, Iowa State has the potential to pull off a surprise upset or two.
Georgetown - Ah, Georgetown. So methodical that they never
fail to surprise, whether it's that they're better than expected or
worse than expected. The consensus opinion this year seemed to be that
they would struggle mightily after losing stars Austin Freeman and Chris
Wright, so naturally they turned a 10-1 non-conference record, the lone
loss in the opening round of the Maui Invitational to Kansas. They
seem to play the same regardless of opponent or personnel, being nearly
impossible to blow out, and also rarely winning big. Just a month ago
they almost walked out of the Carrier Dome with a win, falling 64-61 in
overtime to Syracuse. With Wright and Freeman gone, Jason Clark and
Hollis Thompson have picked up much of the scoring slack, and Henry
Sims, Otto Porter, and Nate Lubick have been very effective big men for
them. Because they tend to dictate the pace of the game so well,
Georgetown will never be out of a game, except perhaps if they try to
get their backdoor layups against Anthony Davis. Almost everything is
on the table for this team, whether it be a first-round loss or a Final
Florida State - One thing that you can always count on from Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles is that they will play tough defense and keep the game close. Of their four double-digit losses, three of them came in East Lansing, Gainesville, and Miami, all against good teams. The fourth loss was at Clemson, one of the ACC's loudest and most intimate venues. Of course, they also keep the game close because they often have trouble scoring, 33-point obliterations of North Carolina notwithstanding. In addition to that wipeout of the best team in their league, they scored road wins at Duke and Virginia this year. The 'Noles have size and athleticism to stifle any offensive attack, and plenty of experience in the form of Michael Snaer, Bernard James, and the delightfully named Deividas Dulkys. Free Shoes made it to the Sweet 16 last year before being upended by VCU, and this year's version believes it can play with anybody, making them a dangerous matchup for any team.
Michigan - You may think I'm a little nuts for giving Michigan
this much of a chance. That's fine. The Wolverines don't score
particularly well (201st in the country) and certainly don't rebound
(311th), and their best non-conference win was probably against Memphis
in the first round of the Maui Invitational. But they also tied for
first in a very tough and deep Big Ten, never lost two in a row, and
their only loss against a non-tournament team was at Arkansas during the
middle of their conference schedule. They beat Ohio State, Michigan
State, Wisconsin, Indiana (all at home), and Purdue (on the road). They
can throw five good shooters on the floor and spread the floor so they
get open looks. And John Beilein's teams are always hard to prepare
for. The point is, they've hung with many of the best teams in the
country, and beaten a few of them, and barring a matchup with a much
more athletic, bigger opponent, they can win two or three games.
Coming tomorrow; a look at some teams that may have a more realistic Final Four shot.