By: Chris O’Brien
If you’re new to this series, the concept is how wide open college basketball is this season. There’s really no difference between the No. 1’s and No. 2’s, and none of those eight teams are a clear favorite. Then once you get to the No. 3 line, there’s not much difference between those teams and teams that might come in as a No. 10.
What this means: the tournament could be crazy. Crazier than normal. The second a No. 1 or No. 2 seed goes down, that region is wide open. Anything could happen. I honestly believe this year’s tournament has 40 teams that could make a run at the Final Four.
32. Miami FL
33. Virginia Tech
34. Ohio State
35. Texas A&M
36. Arizona State
On the Medium Rare College Basketball podcast, I said the problem with these types lists is you spend all this time looking for the team that showed glimpses of greatness, were Top 5/Top 10 at one point then lost their way. Maybe they can re-capture earlier performance.
But what ultimately makes an upset an upset is that we couldn’t see it coming. There’s no logic to it.
So I created a category called “teams whose case to make the Final Four is they don’t have a case to make the Final Four.” And this year my nominee for this team would be TCU. We sent out this Tweet the other night:
I want to put my #TCU Horned Frogs in perspective. 11 losses by a grand total of 60 points. That’s just 5.45 points per loss. And if you take out their two biggest losses of the season (16 pt, 12 pt) that’s just 3.55. Kenpom has them at No. 22. #TrustTheFrogs
— Medium Rare Basketball (@MediumRareBBall) March 9, 2018
Couple shots away from being a Texas Tech or West Virginia in terms of record and conference standing. If Bucknell pulls the stunner on Michigan State, look for TCU to quietly slink their way into the Sweet 16.
No other team is adding the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft to their roster for the NCAA Tournament. Dangerous, dangerous second-round matchup for Xavier. Get past Xavier, that bracket is wide open.
Miami was that team that hovers around the Top 25 but never had a signature win.
Then they got the big one @ North Carolina on the Tar Heels’ Senior Night. Finished the season with a good close win over Virginia Tech. Miami entered the ACC Tournament on a four-game winning streak.
What to like about this team/why they could make a run: Athleticism. Really like 6’11” big man Dewan Huell and the guard play of Lonnie Walker IV. Plus every loss in the ACC was by under 10 points.
But be careful, don’t overlook their losses to Georgia Tech, Boston College, and New Mexico State. Those three blemishes will have me looking closely at first-round upset potential. They also can’t shoot free throws and not great at rebounding. Most importantly, their leading assist man Bruce Brown Jr. has been out for five weeks with a foot injury. A chance he’ll be back for the ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament, but that could be disruptive too trying to work him back in.
Crap, I’m talking myself out of Miami. Onto the next one!
Similar to NC State, VA Tech has elite wins over Duke, North Carolina, and the big one @ Virginia.
Five players score over 10 ppg. As a team, they are 8th in field goal percentage. Top 50 in ppg.
Downside: Not a great rebounding team and can be sloppy with the ball. One really questionable loss to Saint Louis, but give ’em a break, that was all the way back in November.
Proven they can beat top teams? Ohio State knocked off Michigan State when they were No. 1 in the country and took out Purdue, on the road, when Purdue was No. 3.
This is a team that started out 9-0 in the Big 10, and after that Purdue victory, the Buckeyes were sitting at No. 1 in the conference at an impressive 13-1 mark.
Their losses early season weren’t bad either (Gonzaga, Butler, Clemson, North Carolina) all of those have aged nicely. And Ohio State has a new coach this season. Those first 10-15 games they were still learning how to play for Chris Holtmann.
Ohio State is led by 6’7” senior Keita Bates-Diop who leads the team in points, rebounds, blocks (19.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg). Diop made a big leap from last year when he was an under 10 ppg scorer.
The Buckeyes are No. 36 in defensive efficiency and No. 40 in offensive efficiency. For perspective, that’s a better defensive mark than Louisville, Wichita State, and Tennessee. Offensive efficiency is only five spots behind Oklahoma.
So what’s not to like? That last week of the season. Ohio State got blown out at Penn State (by 23) and lost again at Michigan (not a bad loss, the Wolverines are hard to beat at home). They’re also not a great rebounding team and rank 177th in 3-pt shooting. I think the danger for Ohio State, likely coming in on the 4 or 5 line, is what happens if a No. 12 or No. 13 team is shooting lights out, can the Buckeyes mount a comeback in a short amount of time without reliable 3-pt shooting?
The Buckeyes should finish the season 24-7, a resume not that far behind Purdue who I had in Tier 1.
Arizona State is like the sales rep who had an amazing 2017, but so far in the new year they’ve kind of been mailing it in. They’re showing up late to work. Taking long lunches. Playing a lot of golf.
You can’t just fire them because, well, they were really really good. If they can tap into that 2017 magic, they could become the best rep at the company.
But now it’s Q4 and they are well behind quota. Do you still give them the benefit of the doubt, or is it time to judge them by the poor performance of 2018 rather than the highs of 2017?
Arizona State started the season 12-0. And these were top-notch wins: Xavier (by 16), at Kansas (by 10), plus a win over Kansas State. They got as high as No. 3 or No. 2 in the AP poll, and realistically they had the resume to be No. 1.
But PAC 12 play has been a totally different story. The Sun Devils are 7-9 in conference, 8th in the standings. Ranked 8th in a conference that’s only going to send four or five, it’s time to fire them, right? They lost both games to Arizona too, so they didn’t pick up any big Top 15 wins.
But KenPom still has them No. 37, RPI has them No. 30. And they still have that three-guard attack of Trae Holder, Shannon Evans II, Kodi Justice that looked so unstoppable against Xavier and Kansas.
One of the big questions right now is determining the strength of the PAC 12. My theory, and again this is a Kansas bias, but both Arizona State and Washington beat Kansas pretty soundly in a true home game and a pseudo home game. Those two teams are now 8th and 6th respectively in the Pac 12 standings. The top of the Pac 12, Arizona, UCLA, USC, Utah, maybe it’s East Coast bias again and those teams should have been treated like Top 25 clubs. Hard to know until March.
It may turn out that the Pac 12 was just as deep as the Big 12 or SEC. And in that case Arizona State’s story isn’t “they’ve fallen apart” as it is like Kentucky, Oklahoma, Florida, even to some degree West Virginia, they’ve just had to play a ton of tough games.
One key for Arizona State is if power forward Romello White can get out of a little bit of a freshman slump. If he can get back to being a 10-and-10 guy it could provide just enough inside presence to pair with the dynamic guard play.
In high school, there was always that one team you’d play that had like three 6’6” guys in layup lines and you’d be like, “Uh oh.” Then your coach would remind you their record is only 11-7.
Talk about a messy team. Texas A&M started the season 7-0, with wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Penn State, USC (when they were No. 10).
Texas A&M was Top 5, went out to Arizona and only lost by three to a fully healthy Wildcats squad in need of a win.
Rattled off four more wins, a solid 11-1 record. I think it was their best start in program history.
Then came the SEC. The Aggies kicked things off by losing their first five conference games.
But there was an explanation. Texas A&M had a mix of injuries and suspensions to work through.
Got everybody back, they go 6-2: Yay, Texas A&M is back!
Then guard JJ Caldwell dismissed from the team. Wasn’t much of a scorer but was playing close to 16 minutes a game.
Then Duane Wilson, fifth-leading scorer, goes down with a knee injury. Out for the season.
Then they lose three in a row.
What Texas A&M still has is that elite size. The “layup line” intimidation factor.
These are NBA sized bigs. Tyler Davis, A&M’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder is 6’11”, 270 lbs. Robert Williams leads the team in rebounding, he’s another 6’10”/6’11” guy. And D.J. Hogg stands 6’9”.
Depending on who they draw–that is if they make the tournament–that frontcourt could be a real problem. I’ll be honest, it feels like Sweet 16 is the ceiling now without Wilson and Caldwell, but will have to look at the matchups in their region.
They’re No. 5 in rebounding. No. 6 in blocked shots. KenPom has them No. 30.
When you have a coach who coached so hard that he ripped his pants, hey, anything can happen.
The team that showed up for the Big East Tournament can definitely get through the bottom half of that bracket all the way to a potential Elite Eight showdown with Xavier, who they just knocked off.
But something to keep in mind, all three Big East Tournament games went into overtime. Could be seen as toughness, always fighting. Could be seen as they were this close to being 19-13, potentially cut from the tourney.