Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Good & The Bad of The Top 8

So here I was at my computer. Sitting. I was trying so very hard to think a good blog idea that people will read. Then it hit me. Break down what's good and what's bad about the AP Top 8. However, some may have opened this thinking I was referring to college football. I am most certainly not. I'm talking basketball. You can leave this page. Now, for those of you who actually want to read this blog, continue on. But, first, here are the eight teams that will face my criticism.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels (14-0; 1,772 votes)
2. Memphis Tigers (12-0; 1,744 votes)
3. Kansas Jayhawks (13-0; 1,667 votes)
4. Washington State Cougars (12-0; 1,534 votes)
5. UCLA Bruins (13-1; 1,499 votes)
6. Michigan State Spartans (12-1; 1,419 votes)
7. Georgetown Hoyas (10-1; 1,324 votes)
8. Tennessee Volunteers (12-1; 1,259 votes)

I'll start with number eight and work my way down the list in descending order.

#8 Tennessee Volunteers
Key Players: Chris Lofton (15 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast), J.P. Prince (14 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast), Tyler Smith (13 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast).
The Good: It's truly a collective effort with this group. They have six players averaging at least 8 points per game, and eight players are averaging at least 18 minutes of playing time. This all indicates that Bruce Pearl is getting his players to buy into the kind of system he wants them to play, which is to pressure the team on defense and run with the ball when they get it. After suffering a 19-point loss to #16 Texas, Tennessee has won seven straight games with wins over Xavier and Gonzaga. They have a couple tough tests coming up with Mississippi, Vanderbilt, and Ohio State.
The Bad: Chris Lofton is not playing the basketball he's capable of playing out on the court. His sophomore and junior seasons were successful when he averaged 17 and 21 points, respectively. However, there has been a significant drop-off and he's averaging only 15. He has had four games with ten or less points. He only had four all of last season, two of which came when he was injured. Next is the problem I have with their frontcourt. Their "big guy" down low is only 6'9", and he's only averaging five rebounds. Their next tallest guy is Tyler Smith who, at 6'7", is putting up decent numbers but still lacks the great rebounding total (his average is 6). That will kill them against a good rebounding team like Mississippi.
March Forecast: I see this team making a run to the Sweet 16, but not much farther than that. As I mentioned earlier, they just don't have a good interior player.

#7 Georgetown Hoyas
Key Players:
DaJuan Summers (13 pts, 6 reb, 2 ast), Roy Hibbert (12 pts, 6 reb, 2 ast), Jonathan Wallace (10 pts, 2 reb, 3 ast).
The Good: The Hoyas are 11-1 and look ready to run the table in the Big East, as long as Pitt stays out of their way. They are 7-0 at home this season and have very good depth with nine players averaging at least 18 minutes of play per game. Patrick Ewing Jr. has been playing pretty well as of late as well. In the big game with Memphis, he posted a nice stat line of 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. His problem? Shooting from the outside. Back to the team as a whole though, Georgetown has outscored their opponents by an average of 73-52 since the loss to Memphis.
The Bad: The have played a weak schedule so far with the exception of Memphis, whom they lost to. Roy Hibbert was downright terrible in that game as well with only 6 points, 6 rebounds, 0 free throws attempted, 3 turnovers, and 4 personal fouls. Of the top 8 teams, I think Georgetown is the second weakest behind Washington State. I watched the entire game against the Tigers, and NOT ONE player stepped up for them at the end. They don't have a go-to player, and, in my humble opinion, Roy Hibbert is overrated.
March Forecast: Not much more than a Sweet 16 for this team. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they got knocked off in one of the early rounds.

#6 Michigan State Spartans
Key Players: Raymar Morgan (18 pts, 7 reb, 2 ast), Drew Neitzel (14 pts, 3 reb, 5 ast).
The Good: Raymar Morgan has emerged as a threat down low and has combined with Neitzel to form one of the better inside-outside combinations in the country. They've had a couple good wins as well, which include beating Texas, BYU, and NC State. They lost to highly-ranked UCLA by only five points. They have a very good chance at winnning the Big Ten with their biggest opponents being Indiana and Wisconsin. Goran Suton is doing a decent job for the Spartans on the boards, averaging 8 rebounds per game to go along with his 9 points.
The Bad: If Morgan or Neitzel has a rough game, then the team may be in serious trouble. Against Kevin Love and UCLA, Morgan went for only 10 points and 2 rebounds, well below his season averages. They lost that game. It's their major area of concern when they lean so heavily on two players like that.
March Forecast: This team is definitely capable of getting to the Elite 8, depending on the draw. They may even sneak into the Final Four. Now winning when they get that far? It most likely will not happen because teams with good big men will start to shut down Morgan.

#5 UCLA Bruins
Key Players: Kevin Love (17 pts, 10 reb, 2 ast), Josh Shipp (15 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast), Russell Westbrook (12 pts, 3 reb, 6 ast).
The Good: What's not to "love"? (pun not intended) The Bruins have impressive wins over Michigan State, Stanford, Cal, Davidson, and Maryland, all of which may be dancing come March. They have a big game coming up against #4 Washington State. It will be a tough test and will prove how serious of contenders they are. More good news is that this team has recovered from most of the injuries they had earlier in the season. Darren Collison is back averaging 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. UCLA has eight players averaging at least 18 minutes of PT, and five players are averaging double figures in points.
The Bad: This team falters once in awhile from behind the arc. Against Texas, the shot a whopping 29% from deep. The inexperienced Love also has trouble in big games, which is natural for freshmen like himself. He had only 11 points and 5 rebounds in the game. Another underclassman, Westbrook, had trouble scoring only 7 points and 2 rebounds. These young guys for UCLA have trouble when the games become more meaningful. I just hope for their sake they don't crumble at the end of the season when even more pressure is put on them.
March Forecast: This team is very skilled, and I'd say they are a Elite 8/Final Four team depending, of course, on who stays healthy and who responds well at the end of games.

#4 Washington State Cougars
Key Players: Derrick Low (13 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast), Kyle Weaver (12 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast), Aron Baynes (12 pts, 7 reb).
The Good: The Cougars have six players logging a lot of minutes for them right now (22+). All six are averaging at least 9 points per game. They are riding a 13-game winning streak (they're undefeated) and have posted wins over Washington and Gonzaga to name a few. The have two big games coming up against USC and UCLA. As a team, Washington State shoots 77% from the line, 34% from deep, and 50% from the field, all of which are decent numbers. They defeat their opponents by an average score of 69-50. The Cougars have held their opponents under 50 points seven times in thirteen games, which is a credit to their defense. They average 7 steals and 4 blocks per game.
The Bad: Their cupcake schedule will be the downfall of them. They've been playing teams like Boise State, Mississippi Valley State, Baylor, Portland State, Citadel, North Carolina A&T, etc. They could quite possibly lose four of their next five games and fall tremendously in the rankings. Washington State has one, maybe two, good teams they've played, and they've only won by an average of four points.
March Forecast: The Sweet 16 will be as far as this team will go. Struggling with teams like Air Force and Baylor, the Cougars can't compete with the powerhouses of tough conferences.

#3 Kansas Jayhawks
Key Players: Darrell Arthur (14 pts, 6 reb, 1 ast), Darnell Jackson (13 pts, 7 reb, 1 ast), Mario Chalmers (12 pts, 3 reb, 5 ast).
The Good: Kansas is 14-0 and have wins over Arizona, USC, Georgia Tech, and Boston College. They've won those games by an average of ten points. They also have depth. Eight Jayhawks average 17+ minutes of playing time. Kansas also averages 11 steals and 6 blocks per game. They shoot 39% from deep and 53% from the field. And, finally, they've scored 85 points or more in nine of their fourteen games. This team can put the ball in the basket better than a lot of teams that are ranked this high.
The Bad: Free throw shooting is crucial come tournament time. Kansas shoots just 64% from the charity stripe. Darrell Arthur averages a horrid 3.1 turnovers to every assist. Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun aren't much better. Back to the free throw concern though, their best player at shooting them is Brandon 76%. They haven't one guy that they can depend on to sink free throws at the end of games. This problem will be the death of the team.
March Forecast: Elite 8 or a Final Four is where this team will probably be at the end of March. However, as I mentioned earlier, they won't make it to the National Title Game because of their free throw shooting.

#2 Memphis Tigers
Key Players: Chris Douglas-Roberts (17 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast), Derrick Rose (14 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast), Joey Dorsey (8 pts, 10 reb, 1 ast).
The Good: This team may very well be the most talented team in the entire nation. They may also be the best team in the nation. The Tigers go about 9 or 10 deep, but they'd almost have to with the frenetic pace that they play at. It's hard enough for teams to keep up with them, let alone actually beating them at the end of the game when Memphis still has fresh legs coming in and the other team is tired. They shoot a lot of three-pointers and are decent at making them with 37% of them making it through the hoop. Memphis averages 9 steals and 7 blocks per game, which have only helped them to their fantastic 13-0 start. Of all the undefeated teams left, I think they have the best shot of anyone at going the distance undefeated. The Tigers have had impressive wins over Oklahoma (by 10), UConn (by 11), USC (by 4), Georgetown (by 14), and Arizona (by 13).
The Bad: Free throw shooting should be a major concern of John Calipari. His team shoots an absolutely abysmal 57% from the line. Their best is Doneal Mack with 75%. However, NOT ONE other person on the team shoots even 70%. The only other possible problem for Memphis is the incredibly weak conference schedule. They play in Conference-USA, which doesn't boast many top teams, yet they have managed nice wins over tough teams in their non-conference schedule.
March Forecast: The Final Four and beyond for Memphis. They are definitely one of the two best teams in the country. After watching the Clemson vs. North Carolina game recently, it's very possible to say they are the BEST team in the country.

#1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Key Players: Tyler Hansbrough (22 pts, 10 reb, 1 ast), Wayne Ellington (18 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast), Ty Lawson (13 pts, 3 reb, 6 ast).
The Good: If not for the loss of Bobby Frasor, I may be even more excited about the chances this team has at a national title. With the scare that was provided to UNC by Clemson recently, I think this makes the Tar Heels even more dangerous when March rolls around. They've proved that they can come through in the clutch. North Carolina basically has six players that receive most of the playing time and contribute most of the scoring. As a team, they shoot 38% from deep, 74% from the line, and 50% from the field. Danny Green and Wayne Ellington are the ones you need to watch out for when they spot up from deep during a game. North Carolina has beaten, most notably, Davidson, BYU, Ohio State, Valparaiso, and Clemson. However, none of those teams are currently ranked with the exception of Clemson.
The Bad: They've had a weak non-conference schedule as they have faced a total of ZERO ranked teams. They also are without the services of Bobby Frasor, as I mentioned earlier. If Lawson gets in foul trouble, they don't have a reliable backup point guard to go to. Those are my only two worries with this deep, well-coached, and experienced Tar Heel team.
March Forecast: Anything less than being at the Final Four will be a huge disappointment for this team. I don't see them falling out early in March either.

That's all I have to say in regards to the main premise of this blog. But I'm not done, and you should definitely not stop reading this blog. I will now talk about my overly premature Final Four picks. It's very early, but I'll go with North Carolina and Memphis as the sure ones. I'll put Kansas in their as well. For the fourth spot, I don't think it will be anyone else that was mentioned in this blog. It may be UCLA or Michigan State, but I'll go with the Texas Longhorns. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams make this one of the tougher backcourts to defend in the country. For more on the very impressive Clemson/UNC game, click on this link. Have a good day!

Poll Result- 60% of voters thought that Pitt would make it as far as the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament this year while 20% thought they would lose in the 1st or 2nd round. Also worth mentioning is the 20% that thinks the Panthers are going to make it to the Final Four this season.

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