The 2014 regular season is in the books! Selection Sunday is three days away! The NCAA tournament starts in less than a week! Before we begin celebrating the most wonderful time of the year, though, someone needs to put together a video with that Vitamin C song playing over this season’s highlights. It’s the only way I’ll be able to truly move on from things. I’m thinking it needs to cover at least the following:
• Tweets from people watching the Champions Classic at the start of the season and changing their stance on Andrew Wiggins every 10 seconds
• Ohio State’s comeback against Notre Dame
• Tyler Ennis’s shot to beat Pitt
• Justin Cobbs’s shot to beat 21-0 Arizona
• Jordan Sibert’s shot to beat IPFW
• Treveon Graham’s shot to beat Virginia
• Shabazz Napier’s shot to beat Florida
• Russ Smith’s shot to beat Cincinnati
• Spencer Butterfield’s shot to send the Utah State–San Diego State game to overtime
• Rasheed Sulaimon’s shot to send the first Duke-Syracuse game to overtime
• Rakeem Christmas’s block on Rodney Hood
• Jim Boeheim flipping out at the end of the second Duke-Syracuse game
• Ted Valentine getting in Mick Cronin’s face
• Sean Harris’s high-top fade
• Pretty much everything Marcus Smart did
• Nik Stauskas throwing his shoe to the Cameron Crazies
• Creighton’s onslaught in its first game against Villanova
• Doug McDermott’s final home game
• Rick Ray saying “Fuck you” to Marshall Henderson
• The Utah Valley–New Mexico State court storm and subsequent fight
• Marcus Paige and T.J. Warren going nuts in the same game
• Shabazz Napier’s game against Memphis
• Melvin Ejim’s game against TCU
• Wiggins’s game against West Virginia
• Every instance of Fran McCaffery losing his shit
• Every instance of the Iowa cheerleader losing his shit
• The Justin Jackson mean face
• The Indiana fan who got so mad during the Syracuse game that she took off her clothes
• Russ Smith’s dunk on Julius Randle
• Deonte Burton’s dunk on Ryan Watkins
• An “In Memoriam” for P.J. Hairston, Mitch McGary, Kevin Ware, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jerian Grant, Chane Behanan, Joshua Smith, Brandon Ashley, Mike Jarvis, and Pat Knight — and Josh Hairston, Jordin Mayes, and Tyler Olander
If you made a list of things I omitted, it would probably be just as good as what I included, which is why someone also needs to make a video of everything that happened this season that wasn’t on the list. I’d also like a supercut of all the times Dick Vitale said “unbelievable” this year. Somebody get on that.
Anyway, since this is the season’s final edition of the most powerful power rankings in college basketball, I’m turning to the same gimmick I used last year to help you fill out your brackets: outlining why each team in my top 12 will win the national championship … and why each will fail to make it out of the first weekend. That way, you’ll have analysis paralysis, second-guess everything, and eventually pick Mercer to reach the Elite Eight.
Why the Jayhawks will win the national championship: In short, Kansas will win the national championship because Kansas has the best players. Assuming Joel Embiid’s back is good to go, the Jayhawks will have two of the top three NBA draft prospects in Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, plus fellow 25-plus-point threats in Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, and Naadir Tharpe. Getting every Jayhawk to play well at the same time has been a struggle for much of the season, but if Bill Self can somehow get everyone clicking, the Jayhawks will cruise to the championship. Kansas has played the toughest schedule I can ever remember a team playing, which means it’s used to being in the spotlight and should be ready for anything the tournament delivers. It also means Kansas has as many wins over ranked opponents this season as the top four teams in the country (Florida, Wichita State, Villanova, and Arizona) combined. The Jayhawks have proven they can play with anybody; they’re battle-tested; they won the nation’s best conference by two games; and on paper, they’re better than every team in America.
Why the Jayhawks will lose on the first weekend: One problem: Games aren’t played on paper, and the Jayhawks are prone to making freshman mistakes. Turnovers plague them every few games, and they seemingly can’t be bothered to give a real defensive effort more than a couple games in a row. Given their length and athleticism, and the fact that Self is a defense-oriented coach, the Jayhawks should have one of the top five units in college basketball. There’s no reason Kansas should allow West Virginia to shoot 53 percent a week after letting Oklahoma State shoot 64 percent in the second half.
Well, no reason other than Kansas’s players not caring, which brings me to my next concern: I don’t get the feeling that winning really matters to these guys. Don’t get me wrong, I know the Jayhawks want to win. But with teams like Florida, Wichita State, Villanova, and Arizona, you can feel the sense of urgency. You can watch them on any given night and tell that they “get it.” There’s defensive pride when they need big stops and crisp offensive execution during big possessions. They know when it’s time to nut up or shut up, and while they don’t always pull out the win, they have a tenacity that Kansas simply doesn’t. Kansas may want to win a national title, but other elite teams seem to feel like they have to, and that’s a crucial distinction.
11. North Carolina
Why the Tar Heels will win the national championship: I wrote last week that a loss at Duke would actually be a good thing for North Carolina, and now that it’s happened, I still feel that way. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and say that a loss to Pitt in the first game of the ACC tournament should give UNC fans more hope heading into the NCAA tournament than the Heels being crowned ACC champs. I know this is counterintuitive, but I’m convinced the Heels play with a certain edge when no one gives them a chance, and if they can get that edge back, there’s no telling how good they can be. Marcus Paige alone is talented enough to single-handedly win Carolina a few tournament games; throw in an aggressive James Michael McAdoo, an engaged Leslie McDonald, J.P. Tokoto’s swarming defense, and the fact that UNC outrebounds just about every opponent, and suddenly the Heels are as good as any team.1 The path to the national title is paved with games against ranked teams. Seeing as how Carolina has beaten five of them, including three top-five teams, already this season, there’s no reason to think the Heels won’t be up for the challenge.
Why the Tar Heels will lose on the first weekend: Other than the selection committee giving them a lower seed than they deserve and forcing them to play Kansas in the second round just so the rest of the country can get a good laugh, you mean? Well, let’s start with the obvious: The Tar Heels lost to Belmont, UAB, Miami, and Wake Forest this season. At some point during their 12-game winning streak, the Heels passed the “plays to the level of the competition” baton off to Indiana, but UNC fans must still be terrified that the Heels will revert to their old ways and blow a first-round game against a 13- or 14-seed.2 I mean, as impressive as that 12-game ACC win streak was, it’s worth noting that Carolina barely won those last three games (all against teams that won’t make the tournament) before getting its ass handed to it by Duke.
UNC also has some pretty huge flaws that can’t be ignored. For starters, the Heels are atrocious from the free throw line and really have only 1.5 guys who can shoot 3s (Paige is the one and McDonald is the half). This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if Carolina played great defense, and sometimes it does — but sometimes it lets Duke shoot 51 percent while allowing Amile Jefferson to grab one fewer rebound than UNC’s starting five combined. So yeah, good luck trying to figure out which North Carolina will show up this March.
10. San Diego State
Why the Aztecs will win the national championship: Everything about SDSU’s ceiling became evident during the 19-1 second-half run the Aztecs delivered against New Mexico on March 8. In those seven minutes, San Diego State played defense unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The Lobos had been carving up the Aztecs, but then Steve Fisher switched to a 1-3-1, and faster than you can say, “How has San Diego State won only two NCAA tourney games in program history?” a New Mexico offense with three studs looked like it was trying to eat soup with a fork. It was the single best coaching decision of the season,3 as it allowed the Aztecs to use their length, force a slew of turnovers, and get easy transition points on the other end. If the Aztecs can play defense like that for three more weeks, and get offense from Xavier Thames and one other contributor each game, they’ll be able to make a championship run.
Why the Aztecs will lose on the first weekend: Everything about SDSU’s cellar became evident during the 15-0 run New Mexico put on the Aztecs on March 8. I mean, those five minutes forced Fisher to pull the desperation 1-3-1 trigger in the first place. The Aztecs had absolutely no answer for Cameron Bairstow or Alex Kirk during that stretch, primarily because SDSU has virtually no size outside of Skylar Spencer. Granted, nobody in college basketball has a big-man tandem as good as New Mexico’s, but the larger takeaway holds: The Aztecs are screwed when their defense isn’t creating problems. They simply can’t keep up offensively. Thames does what he can, and guys like Winston Shepard, JJ O’Brien, and Dwayne Polee have had big games, but points are hard to come by more often than not. If a team can find success against SDSU’s defense, transition opportunities will be limited, which will compound the Aztecs’ problems and could lead to an early exit.
Why the Blue Devils will win the national championship: I’ve been saying for a while that Jabari Parker should be the first pick in the NBA draft, because it’s become clear that the only way to stop Parker one-on-one is to hope he stops himself by failing to be aggressive and settling for too many 3s. When he avoids that, it takes help from every spot on the court to keep Parker in check, which creates open shots for one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams. It also means defenses can’t key on Rodney Hood as much as they’d probably like to, since Hood is also a potential lottery pick who can score from anywhere on the court. If Parker and Hood dominate, Duke won’t need much from the rest of its guys to win a title. But if the Blue Devils do get something else — if Andre Dawkins makes it rain; if Sulaimon plays like he did last tournament against Creighton and Michigan State; if Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook can be the stable and experienced backcourt they’ve proven to be; and if Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee can provide some semblance of an inside presence — give Duke the trophy now and call it a season.
Why the Blue Devils will lose on the first weekend: If Duke’s offense is the first six episodes of True Detective, then its defense is the last two. When the Blue Devils lost 94-83 to Kansas in the second game of the season, critics said Duke’s defense and lack of a reliable big man would eventually doom the Devils, and four months later, nothing has really changed. Yes, Jefferson and Plumlee have made huge strides in the post, and if Coach K wants to get some easy buckets on the low block, Parker is certainly capable of taking his game under the basket. But this defense is so bad that it’s easy to forget that Duke has a long history of both great defenders and guys who aren’t the best defenders but mask their deficiencies with firm two-handed floor slaps.
In the last two games alone, Duke let a team that averages fewer than 70 points per game (Wake Forest) hang 82 and a team that often struggles offensively (Carolina) shoot 59.6 percent. Cameron Indoor was the place sick offenses went to heal this season. Duke’s combination of terrible defense and a heavy reliance on 3-pointers is basically throwing up double middle fingers to conventional NCAA tournament wisdom, making the odds of an early upset really high.
Why the Buzzcuts will win the national championship: At its best, this Wisconsin squad is like every other Bo Ryan team, only more versatile and well balanced. The Buzzcuts are the only team in America starting five guys who are all capable of both making 3s and using post moves to score on the low block. Think about what that must make the scouting report look like for Wisconsin opponents. Every starter’s breakdown probably says the same thing: He’s a threat from deep, midrange, and on the block. He can shoot, dribble, pass, and rebound. He can … well, he can pretty much do it all.
Wisconsin is the best in the country at taking care of the ball, all five Buzzcut starters average 9.5-plus points per game, and the sixth man, Nigel Hayes, averages 8 points per. How do you guard a team like this? Where do you even start? You pretty much have to pick the two guys you’re going to dare to beat you and then cross your fingers that they don’t, which rarely happens. When you add the traditional Ryan defense to an offense like this, it’s easy to see why Wisconsin won 16 straight games to start the season despite playing one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in America.
Why the Buzzcuts will lose on the first weekend: Wisconsin fans are already reaching for their pitchforks, and I haven’t even said it yet. But I can’t not say it, so here it goes: Despite finishing in the top four in the Big Ten in each of his first 12 seasons at Wisconsin, Ryan has never been to the Final Four and has made it out of the tournament’s first weekend only five times. Now, it should be noted that most of Ryan’s teams have fallen into the “good but not great” category, so expecting Wisconsin to contend for Final Fours every season is unfair. Still, an obvious pattern has emerged.
My biggest concern with this specific Buzzcut team is that the reliable Ryan defense is as unreliable as it’s ever been. Yeah, Wisconsin has delivered some impressive defensive performances this season, but far too often, the wheels fall off and a team that’s always preached toughness and discipline suddenly looks soft. Just look at the opponents’ field goal percentages in Wisconsin’s six losses: 51.6 (Indiana), 54.7 (Michigan), 58.9 (Minnesota), 47.9 (Northwestern), 42.9 (Ohio State), and 52.0 (Nebraska). Aside from Ohio State’s, those are unfathomable totals for a Wisconsin defense. Basically, Wisconsin’s offense is as good as it’s ever been under Ryan, but the Buzzcut defense is as bad as it’s ever been under Ryan. Like Duke, the Buzzcuts could be one cold shooting night away from yet another disappointing March.
Why the Wolverines will win the national championship: Creighton, Duke, and Michigan boast the three best offenses in the sport in some order, and the gap between them and the rest of the country is so big that including a fourth team in that group would be insulting to those three. Creighton is the most fun to watch and Duke has the most talent, but Michigan has the most sustainable offense because the Wolverines don’t rely on 3s quite as much. Also, even though Nik Stauskas is the clear no. 1 option and Caris LeVert is the clear no. 2, Michigan actually has a ton of balance. Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, and Zak Irvin4 could all score 25-plus points in a game if they really had to. And as easy as it is to say that the Wolverines don’t really have a post presence, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford are certainly capable of contributing 10-15 points. I mean, in Big Ten games this season alone, Stauskas, LeVert, Robinson, Walton, and Irvin all scored 19 or more points at least once, and Horford and Morgan scored 14 points at least once. That’s insane.
Last I checked, the objective in basketball is to be better at putting the ball through the basket than the other team. For my money, the Wolverines are the best in America at doing just that, which is why another trip to the national championship game isn’t out of the question.
Why the Wolverines will lose on the first weekend: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: This is a great offensive team that doesn’t play very good defense. I ragged on Duke’s defense, but Michigan’s might be worse. Out of 351 Division I teams, the Wolverines rank 202nd in field goal percentage defense, 279th in steals per game, 296th in rebounds per game, and 297th in blocks per game. Michigan fans got on me last week for writing that I didn’t think the Wolverines could play grind-it-out basketball, but none of those fans offered any proof that Michigan actually can. The reality is that Michigan is 4-4 when scoring 69 or fewer points and 0-1 when scoring 59 or fewer. If an opponent gets Michigan in an up-and-down game, it might as well throw in the towel at halftime. But if it can slow Michigan down, pound the boards, and force the Wolverines to play defense, one of the best teams in America will suddenly look average.
It’s halftime, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for Dick’s Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get there. Let’s get down to business.
During Thursday’s Iowa–Michigan State game in East Lansing, how did Vitale end up talking about John Saunders?
A. The camera cuts to Spartans football coach Mark Dantonio. Vitale says he was talking to Dantonio before the game and was blown away by his passion for MSU. Dan Shulman chimes in and offers proof, saying Dantonio mentioned how excited he is for the upcoming hockey games between Michigan State and Michigan. After telling Shulman that he remembers that, Vitale waits a beat before using hockey in Michigan as a segue to dropping this piece of trivia on viewers: Saunders played hockey at Western Michigan in the ’70s.
B. A graphic appears onscreen promoting an upcoming game between Oklahoma State and Iowa State. It features a picture of Melvin Ejim. Vitale says Ejim is his pick for Big 12 Player of the Year. As he explains why, Shulman cuts him off to say that this, coupled with Vitale’s nod to Nik Stauskas as Big Ten Player of the Year, will make Vitale a lot of friends in Canada, since Ejim and Stauskas are both from the Toronto area. Vitale laughs and says that only Shulman, a native Canadian, would notice something like that. After a beat, Vitale says that Saunders, who’s also Canadian, would’ve noticed, too.
C. Following a discussion about Michigan State’s disappointing season, Shulman asks Vitale which team he thinks has been a positive surprise. Vitale says Villanova, noting that while he wasn’t really expecting much from the Wildcats this season, they might be as good of a team as Jay Wright has had. Vitale then reminds viewers that Nova made the 2009 Final Four with Scottie Reynolds and the 2006 Elite Eight with Kyle Lowry. Shulman then mentions that Lowry now plays for the Toronto Raptors, who are currently in third place in the East. Vitale then jokes that Shulman and Saunders must be ecstatic about that.
Why the Cavaliers will win the national championship: In case you haven’t noticed the pattern: College basketball is full of one-dimensional teams this year. Very few teams are great on offense and defense, which is why I think this NCAA tournament will be as wide-open as ever. Virginia is one of those few teams, though. The Cavaliers lead the country in scoring defense by a wide margin and are seventh in America in field goal percentage defense. They don’t force a ton of turnovers, but that’s because their philosophy is to not take chances in the passing lanes and instead play fundamentally sound defense that forces opponents into tough shots.
Because the Hoos play so slow, their offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, but they have a bunch of guys who know their roles, execute them perfectly, and are capable of pouring in points. Just ask Notre Dame and Syracuse fans. This season Tony Bennett has proven he’s more than just a pretty face. The guy is coaching his balls off, and he’s got a ton of talent at his disposal, which is why Virginia could reach heights it hasn’t hit since the 1980s. The Hoos didn’t go 16-2 and win 13 straight in the ACC by accident.
Why the Cavaliers will lose on the first weekend: I don’t hate slow basketball as much as the average fan probably does, but I certainly don’t like seeing great teams rely on a slow approach. It’s not that I think “it’s boring” or “it’s setting the game back” or “it resembles a fat guy trying to get out of a recliner.” It’s just that it doesn’t make sense to me strategically. Yes, it’s important to value possessions. But over time, water finds its level. Wouldn’t the more talented team want more possessions so it has plenty of chances to prove it’s better? If you asked coaches of 15- and 16-seeds what their best-case scenario would be heading into a tournament game against a 1- or 2-seed, most of them would probably say something like, “I just hope we can keep it close so we have a chance to tap into some tournament magic at the end.” Virginia’s style of play makes it so much easier for that to happen, because lesser teams can beat Virginia simply by making 10 to 15 great plays. If that same team makes 10 to 15 great plays against Iowa State, it still loses by 20. Virginia has obviously found success doing things its own way, but I’d like to see more of a middle ground between valuing possessions and acknowledging that its players are better than almost every other team’s, especially now that Virginia isn’t playing an underdog role anymore.
Why the Wildcats will win the national championship: Arizona didn’t exactly close out the regular season on a strong note, beating a terrible Oregon State team by five just three days before suffering its worst defeat of the season at Oregon. But there’s still plenty to love about the Wildcats. For one, Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell are perfect together and make up as strong a backcourt as you’ll find. Both are great defensively. Offensively, Johnson plays the scoring role, while McConnell (whose Twitter handle is @iPass4Zona) is a pass-first point guard perfectly suited for what this team needs. Zeus “Zeus” Zeuszeuski has turned into a legitimate NBA prospect, which is remarkable considering the nicest thing I would’ve said about his game last season was “At least he’s not Angelo Chol.” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the most underrated freshman in America, and Gabe York can get hot from deep in a hurry. And oh yeah, there’s that lottery pick named Aaron Gordon who has been phenomenal in his last five games, even though his free throw shooting is the basketball equivalent of Jaden Smith on Twitter.5
Arizona’s defense is as good as any, and as the tail end of February proved, the Wildcats have the firepower to put a ton of points on the board. With wins at Michigan and San Diego State, a neutral-court win against Duke, and two of three losses coming on the final possession, it’s no wonder Arizona is still no. 1 in the RPI, on KenPom, and in ESPN’s BPI.
Why the Wildcats will lose on the first weekend: Even though Sean Miller has played more guys since Brandon Ashley got hurt, Arizona still has depth problems. The Cats will let as many as nine players see the court in any given game, but Arizona really has only six guys who can reliably deliver big minutes, and one more (Elliott Pitts) who could help eat minutes but isn’t really going to make significant contributions while he’s out there. What happens if Arizona runs into foul trouble? More important, what happens if Johnson and York aren’t hitting 3s? There’s no way Arizona will win six straight games by relying on Johnson throwing up forced shots and letting the big guys play volleyball on the glass. The Cats have shown glimmers of offensive brilliance this season, but they’ve yet to show they can sustain that for weeks at a time. How effective Arizona’s offense will be game to game is a mystery, which is why I could see the Cats scoring 55 points in a second-round loss.
Why the Wildcats will win the national championship: If you asked four different Villanova fans who the Wildcats’ best player was, there’s a decent chance you’d get four different answers. James Bell, Darrun Hilliard, and JayVaughn Pinkston average between 14 and 15 points per game, while Ryan Arcidiacono averages 10 points per game while also leading Nova in assists. I could point to statistics, computer rankings, and all sorts of other stuff to highlight why Villanova is so good, but this is the key to me: Villanova has four guys who could each be considered its best player. That doesn’t make sense. I mean, how many tournament teams can say that? The prevailing thought is that not having an alpha dog to turn to in big spots is the sign of a flawed team, but in Villanova’s case, it’s very much a good thing, because there’s no way of knowing which Wildcat is going to take over each game. Egos clearly don’t exist in Villanova’s locker room, which becomes evident when watching how in-sync its defense is and how much the players share the ball on offense. That balance is what has made the Wildcats consistently great all season, and has them positioned to land a no. 1 seed.
Why the Wildcats will lose on the first weekend: In Villanova’s only three games against ranked teams since December 1, the Wildcats went 0-3 and lost by an average margin of 21.7 points. Nothing else needs to be said.
Why the Cardinals will win the national championship: The defending national champions are on an absolute tear right now, winning nine of their last 10, including two on the road against ranked teams and a 33-point blowout of UConn despite Russ Smith shooting only twice. That last part should be especially scary for the rest of the country. How many 20-shot games would you have guessed Smith would have this season with Chane Behanan, Peyton Siva, and Gorgui Dieng gone? How many double-digit assist games? Because, in what may be the upset of the year, Smith has the same number of 20-shot games as he does double-digit assist games (three). He’s taking smarter shots and getting teammates involved more than anyone could’ve imagined, which is part of why Montrezl Harrell has recently played like an All-American. With those two leading the way, a stifling press, and a coach who’s done it twice before, the repeat national title that seemed unattainable a couple months ago is now within reach.
Why the Cardinals will lose on the first weekend: Here’s every Cardinals fan’s worst nightmare: Louisville’s opponent takes care of the ball and gets easy buckets on the other end to start the game, forcing Rick Pitino to call off the press. Harrell gets into foul trouble. The Chris Jones who combined to go 2-19 in Louisville’s two games against Memphis shows up. Terry Rozier and Mangok Mathiang play like freshmen. Luke Hancock misses his first couple of 3s, becomes hesitant to shoot, and spends the rest of the game shot-faking and driving to the basket to throw triple-teamed garbage at the rim. Smith senses that his teammates don’t have their A-games and tries to do everything himself, which results in him going 9-for-28 from the field. Unfortunately, that worst nightmare isn’t all that implausible.
2. Wichita State
I did this last year with Gonzaga and I did it earlier this season with Wichita State, and since both of those were so much fun, I figured I’d do it again. Without further ado, I’ll let people from the comments section of recent Wichita State articles cover all the relevant points for the Shockers.
Why the Shockers will win the national championship: “Funny to see all these haters talkn bout the shockers, u remember them in final four last year an 31-0 this year.. Regaurdless there of there schedual, U ALL KNOW WHO THE SHOCKERS.ARE !!! An for that keep haten, This team is for real..” —Billy Younts (Wichita, Kansas)
Why the Shockers will lose on the first weekend: “Aww. Aren’t WSU fans just soooo cute? Nothing as cute as when a baby takes his first step. And oh, he gets brave after that! Of course, until he tries to take off walking again and falls flat on his butt! LOL. Yeah, we’ve all been there, but it’s cute to watch the younguns. Even Coach Marshall is a youngun, himself. I mean, this is his first shot at glory. What you ACTUAL ‘sheep’ like to call ‘hate,’ since you all parrot Greg like a good Polly does to get a cracker, is really just intrigue, along with EXPERIENCE. It’s kinda like watching someone drive a manual transmission for the first time. Not because you’re a hater, but because you KNOW what’s likely to happen, and it’s somewhat entertaining.” —Ron McClure Jr. (New Salisbury, Indiana)
Now seems like a logical time to revisit one of my favorite George Carlin bits.
Why the Gators will win the national championship: There are so many reasons the Gators will win a national title that I have to make a list:
• Their four senior starters have been to three consecutive Elite Eights.
• Both losses were true road games in which their best player, Scottie Wilbekin, was suspended (vs. Wisconsin) or on the bench with an ankle injury as the guy he would’ve been guarding hit the game winner (vs. UConn).
• Billy Donovan.
• They’re one of only two teams (Wichita State being the other) in the top 10 of KenPom’s adjusted offense and adjusted defense ratings.
• They’re the only major conference team to go undefeated in conference play.
• Billy “The Gerent of Jortland” Donovan.
• They bring the best sixth man in college basketball (Dorian Finney-Smith) and two McDonald’s All Americans (Kasey Hill and Chris Walker) off the bench.
• Chris Walker has lip tattoos on his neck.
• Four guys average 10-plus points per game, and a fifth averages 9.4 points per.
• Billy F’ing Donovan.
• After going 0-6 last season in games decided by six points or fewer, the Gators are 8-2 in those same games this season.
And most important:
• If you type “Scottie Wilbekin L” into Google, “Scottie Wilbekin looks like Prince” comes up as a suggestion.
Why the Gators will lose on the first weekend: The Gators are close to locking up the no. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, but they’re far from perfect. For starters, Florida’s half-court defense isn’t nearly as good as you might think. Florida’s overall defense is great because the Gators pressure the ball, funnel ball handlers in desired directions, and then trap the ball when it gets to a vulnerable spot on the floor. Teams that maintain their poise against the Gator press and get into their offense without panicking, however, can find success in the half-court.
Speaking of half-court, Florida’s offense has been prone to lapses when transition opportunities from turnovers aren’t generating points. This is most likely because — as much as Florida fans would argue otherwise — the Gators really don’t have much individual talent. Florida is good because of its experience, cohesiveness, and belief in the system, whereas pretty much every other elite team is good because it has a couple NBA prospects. Other than Wilbekin every now and then, Florida doesn’t really have anybody who can create his own shot, which handcuffs the offense. I don’t actually think Florida will lose on the first weekend, but I also think it’s crazy to assume the Gators are going to cruise to a national title just because they start four seniors with a ton of tournament experience.
The Unlikely Friendship of the Week
This week’s episode of The Journey on Big Ten Network highlighted Adreian Payne’s friendship with a little girl who’s fighting cancer, and it was just as great as everything The Journey does. Grab a box of tissues and prepare to be a Payne fan for the rest of your life.
(By the way, BTN ran a similar piece last season that’s also worth watching.)
It’s OK. I cried too.
The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is B. See you for the start of the NCAA tournament next week!