We’re less than six weeks away from the dance and I’m still ambivalent about which teams I think are true contenders for the 2014 tourney crown. If I had to pick my Final Four today, I suppose I’d go with Arizona, Syracuse, Michigan State (assuming they get healthy) and…geez…this is hard. Can I stick with a Thrilling Three? Aw heck, let’s call the my last Final Four team Kansadukanovowatucky.
That’s the problem this year. There are a lot of teams that show promise, but they also come with troublesome weaknesses. After I did the Champ Check this week–and noticed how few teams passed one of my three tests–I decided to assess the good, the bad and the upshot for the top 25 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. Here’s where I stand at this moment. By the time you read this, I might have already changed my mind.
(Note: This list is in the order of the current KenPom ratings. It’s not the order of my tourney favorites.)
- The Good: Big, talented squad that plays great D and hits the offensive glass.
- The Bad: Not as offensively efficient as your typical champion.
- The Upshot: Despite the Cal loss, still my favorite to cut down the nets.
- The Good: Strong on both ends of the floor, top 10 offensive rebounding team
- The Bad: Slower paced and lower scoring than most champions
- The Upshot: Win against Duke and play of Ennis sold me; Arizona’s biggest rival
- The Good: Nation’s most efficient offense, great three shooting…and Jabari Parker.
- The Bad: Soft defense, thin front line make Blue Devils vulnerable to upset.
- The Upshot: Parker can dominate, but defense dooms Duke to Elite Eight.
- The Good: Doug McDermott, nation’s best three shooting and second most efficient offense.
- The Bad: Soft defense and a propensity to turn the ball over.
- The Upshot: Maybe the Elite Eight, but more likely the Sweet 16.
- The Good: Great defense and Donovan’s habit of overachieving in the dance.
- The Bad: Low scoring, weak three shooting doesn’t usually add up to a deep run.
- The Upshot: Kentucky games will be telling, but for now, they’re Sweet 16 material.
- The Good: Balanced offense/defense efficiency, great depth and height.
- The Bad: Gesell is only real point guard; struggles down the stretch in close games.
- The Upshot: Hawkeyes have the talent for an Elite Eight run.
- The Good: Lockdown defensive squad with balanced scoring.
- The Bad: Plays at slow tempo but still struggles with offensive efficiency.
- The Upshot: Will be a tough out…but could get beat in any round.
- The Good: Nation’s best offense/defense balance, Russ Smith…and that Pitino guy.
- The Bad: Behanon loss hurts already thin frontcourt, struggles on defensive glass
- The Upshot: I don’t see another Final Four run in these Cards. Elite Eight, maybe.
9. Wichita State
- The Good: Great defense limits second looks; Early and Van Vleet still there
- The Bad: Weak three shooting, mediocre offense…and soft schedule.
- The Upshot: Butler managed to repeat its magic, but I don’t see it in the Shockers. Run ends in Sweet 16.
- The Good: High scoring, efficient offense; passed tests against Kansas and Iowa.
- The Bad: Creighton exposed weak three shooting defense.
- The Upshot: A good showing in Creighton rematch might convince me that Wright’s crew is Elite Eight material.
- The Good: Powerful offense, talent to burn with Wiggins, Embiid and Selden.
- The Bad: Sloppy ballhandling and weaker than usual defense for an elite team
- The Upshot: A Jekyll and Hyde team. They could get upset early…or reach the Final Four. I’ll go with the Elite Eight.
- The Good: Impressive efficiency on both ends of floor and a top-five player in Patterson.
- The Bad: Jamie Dixon—second biggest tourney underachiever behind Oliver Purnell.
- The Upshot: I’ve been burned by the Panthers too many times. They’re out in round two.
13. Michigan State
- The Good: Strong offense/defense numbers, pro quality players in Harris and Payne.
- The Bad: Recent losses show they can’t force Harris to shoulder so much of the load.
- The Upshot: Izzo and crew are laying in wait; once Payne and Dawson get back, this is a Final Four squad.
- The Good: Nation’s best offensive rebounding squad with beasts in Randle and Cauley-Stein.
- The Bad: So-so defense that doesn’t generate turnovers…weak foul shooters.
- The Upshot: One of nation’s youngest teams searching for floor leadership struggles to reach the Sweet 16.
- The Good: Great shooting squad with surprise one-two punch in Stauskas and LeVert.
- The Bad: Soft defense and thin frontcourt if McGary doesn’t come back.
- The Upshot: When Michigan is on, they can beat anyone…but penetrating guards and big teams will stop their run at Sweet 16.
16. Ohio State
- The Good: Great defense, hard-nosed backcourt leaders in Craft and Smith.
- The Bad: Struggles on offense with poor shooting, weak offensive rebounding.
- The Upshot: Not as bad as five of seven losses suggests, but not an Elite Eight squad either.
17. Iowa State
- The Good: Fast paced, high scoring squad with premier player in Kane.
- The Bad: Not super efficient on either end of the court, doesn’t create extra possessions.
- The Upshot: Offensively potent teams thrive in the tourney. Could the Mayor take the Cyclones to the Elite Eight?
18. San Diego State
- The Good: Among nation’s top three shot defending teams with true star in Xavier Thames.
- The Bad: Dismal shooting squad…and I really hate the Mountain West.
- The Upshot: Yes, they beat Kansas, but I don’t see the Aztecs getting out of the second round.
- The Good: Top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency with low turnover and high shooting percentages.
- The Bad: Hasn’t had any signature wins…young team led by Alford, a notorious tourney underachiever.
- The Upshot: Alford gets the Dixon treatment; I won’t believe until he proves it to me…so it’s out in round two.
- The Good: A solid offensive squad that protects the ball and spreads around the scoring.
- The Bad: A play-it-safe defense that’s not efficient enough for deep run…five losses in six games.
- The Upshot: Though not as bad as their recent slump suggests, I don’t see the Badgers getting beyond the Sweet 16.
- The Good: Rock-solid defense that generates turnovers, forces poor shooting and hits the offensive glass; stud player in Kilpatrick.
- The Bad: Poor shooting, inefficient offense…allows too many second chances.
- The Upshot: How far can strong defense take a team? These Bearcats could surprise and run to the Elite Eight.
22. Oklahoma State
- The Good: Balanced if not elite efficiency on offense and defense; up-tempo team that’s more than just Marcus Smart.
- The Bad: Aside from Texas home win, lacks signature win, sputtering of late.
- The Upshot: On paper, the Cowboys look better than their record indicates. I’ll peg them for the Sweet 16.
- The Good: Great rebounding squad compensates for weak shooting; McRae and Stokes strong tandem.
- The Bad: Streaky squad, capable of destroying Virginia one game, then losing at home to Texas A&M the next.
- The Upshot: Too up and down to depend on; they’re out in round one.
24. Saint Louis
- The Good: Among the nation’s top three most efficient defenses.
- The Bad: Ranks #164 in offensive efficiency. Oh yeah…and when your best win is against Dayton, you know your schedule is weak.
- The Upshot: The VCU game in two weeks will tell if the Billikens 14-game win streak is real. I say no…and they go down in round two.
- The Good: High-risk, high-reward defense, first in the country in steals and turnover percentage.
- The Bad: Good thing the Rams generate extra possessions, because they’re weak shooters.
- The Upshot: Typical Shaka Smart high-pressure squad that needs the right match-ups to spring tourney surprises. I’ll say the stars align for a Sweet 16.