One Reason Why Each Top 25 College Basketball Team Won't Win It All in 2013-14
It has only been 40 calendar days since the college basketball season began, and yet every single team in the Top 25 has given us a reason to doubt its ability to win it all this year.
Inevitably a champion will be crowned, and it will almost certainly come from this pool of 25 teams. In fact, each of the last 10 national champions was ranked in the top seven of the AP Poll in Week 7 of its respective championship season, so best of luck to the 344 teams who don't fit that description.
However, whoever pulls it off will be overcoming at least one serious red flag.
It's yet to be determined whether it will be Arizona fighting through difficulties in the transition game, Syracuse withstanding the need for Trevor Cooney to hit triples in bunches or Louisville repeating as champion by solving its woes at the free-throw line.
There are still a handful of undefeated records around the nation, but one thing is for certain.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics on the following slides are current through the start of play on Tuesday, December 17.
25. Iowa Hawkeyes
Reason Iowa won't win it all: Roy Devyn Marble or bust
Iowa has played in five games this season that were decided by fewer than 15 points. In those five games, Marble was responsible for 88 of the team's 320 field-goal attempts.
Next on the list is Aaron White with 45 field-goal attempts.
In close games, Marble has taken 27.5 percent of Iowa's shots. By comparison, the notoriously free-shooting Marshall Henderson attempted only 25.3 percent of Ole Miss' shots last season.
It's certainly not uncommon for a team to rely heavily upon one player, but that's a bit extreme—especially for a player shooting 40.5 percent from the field, 30.4 percent from three-point range and 65.8 percent from the free-throw line. Jabari Parker is responsible for 26.1 percent of Duke's field-goal attempts on the year, but at least he's shooting 55.1/46.9/75.4 in the process.
24. San Diego State Aztecs
Reason San Diego State won't win it all: No true point guard
I love Xavier Thames as much as the next guy, but a point guard he is not. Yet, he is the team's primary ball-handler and is leading the Aztecs in assists, even though he has the same number of made three-point field goals as assists this season.
Overall, they are averaging just 10.1 assists per game.
There are 32 other teams who entered play on Monday averaging fewer than 10.5 assists per game.
Their combined record?
Only two teams even made it into the 2013 NCAA tournament while averaging fewer than 10.5 assists per game, and neither Colorado nor Illinois made it past the round of 32. And scoring is higher this year than it was last year, so it's even more egregious to have so few assists.
The Aztecs have looked impressive so far this season, but the lack of a true point guard will eventually catch up with them.
23. Missouri Tigers
Reason Missouri won't win it all: Too many turnovers
Missouri hasn't played anything close to a difficult schedule, but the Tigers have still had serious difficulty avoiding turnovers.
They committed 14 turnovers against Western Michigan on Sunday, 15 against West Virginia, 16 against Hawaii, 18 against UCLA and 21 against Gardner-Webb.
Imagine what would happen if and when they run into a team with an aggressive defense such as Syracuse, Louisville or Memphis.
Coupled with their lack of a true point guard to distribute the ball, the Tigers have an assist/turnover ratio of 0.84. The only other ranked teams with a ratio worse than 1.07 are Kentucky (0.93) and San Diego State (0.87). The Wildcats play a ton of freshmen, and we just covered the Aztecs' assist woes on the previous slide.
What's Missouri's excuse?
22. Massachusetts Minutemen
Reason Massachusetts won't win it all: Lack of quality depth
Chaz Williams and Cady Lalanne might just be the best inside-outside duo in the country, but the team regularly plays only seven guys—and one of those seven, Trey Davis, is shooting just 30.2 percent from the field.
If one player gets into foul trouble, gets injured or has a bad shooting night, there isn't anyone coming off the bench to pick up the slack.
Considering Lalanne and Williams have combined to commit 29 personal fouls (out of a possible 40) in Massachusetts' four games decided by fewer than 10 points, it's hardly a stretch to presume that could become an issue at some point during their tournament run.
21. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Reason Gonzaga won't win it all: Lack of interior depth
Last season, Gonzaga had all of the interior depth. Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski made up one of the best four-man frontcourt rotations in the country.
Unfortunately, Olynyk and Harris left for the NBA, and Gonzaga replaced them with Luke Meikle and Ryan Edwards—two big men who have combined to play 47 minutes this season.
As a result, the Bulldogs' frontcourt depth is now 7'1" Karnowski, 6'9" Dower and pray they don't get into foul trouble. Aside from the aforementioned freshmen who have barely played this season, the next-tallest player on Gonzaga's roster is 6'6" Drew Barham.
Both Dower and Karnowski fouled out with three minutes remaining in Gonzaga's loss to Dayton. Dower was saddled with foul trouble for most of last week's narrow win over West Virginia.
If foul trouble has crippled this team's big men against Dayton and West Virginia, it's only a matter of time before it incapacitates them in the tournament.
20. Colorado Buffaloes
Reason Colorado won't win it all: Shooting and defending the three
On the offensive end, the Buffaloes are shooting just 32.0 percent from long range on the season. Askia Booker's buzzer-beating three-pointer against Kansas was one of the most memorable triples of the season to date, but despite those half-court heroics, he's making just 26.5 percent of his three-point attempts.
That hasn't stopped him from attempting nearly five three-pointers per game and almost single-handedly keeping the team's shooting percentage below average.
On defense, they're allowing opponents to make 7.8 three-pointers per game, despite facing just one opponent (Elon) that averages better than 8.4 made three-pointers per game. In that game against Elon, the Phoenix made 13 three-pointers.
According to KenPom (subscription required), 40.4 percent of field-goal attempts by Colorado's opponents are three-point shots—the 17th-highest such percentage in the country.
If they don't improve their play outside the perimeter on both ends of the court, the Buffaloes' trip to the 2014 NCAA tournament won't last much longer than their one-game trip to last year's tourney.
19. Kentucky Wildcats
Reason Kentucky won't win it all: Free-throw percentage
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the biggest Achilles' heel of John Calipari's team is the inability to convert free throws.
As far as the opportunities themselves are concerned, no team in the country is better at getting to the line than Kentucky. The Wildcats average 34.5 shots from the charity stripe per game.
Unfortunately, they are just barely making better than two out of every three from the free-throw line, shooting 67.0 percent.
Julius Randle and both Harrison twins are shooting better than 74 percent—good news for Kentucky since those three players lead the team in free-throw attempts. However, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson are all shooting worse than 50 percent.
Just wait until teams start employing the "Hack-a-Cauley-Stein" strategy to come back from a 10-point deficit in the final minutes.
18. Kansas Jayhawks
Reason Kansas won't win it all: Three-point shooting
The Jayhawks aren't quite as anemic behind the arc as North Carolina, but they certainly don't have a go-to guy for triples, either.
Through 10 games, Andrew Wiggins is the team leader in made three-pointers with 11 of them. Three of those came in the final three minutes against Florida last Tuesday, so it's possible that he's starting to develop that killer instinct.
For the time being, however, there's not a single player on the team shooting better than 40 percent from downtown, and the team is shooting just 31.8 percent.
To be fair, though, three-point shooting was our biggest concern about Louisville (33.1 percent) before the Cardinals won the tournament last year.
17. Iowa State Cyclones
Reason Iowa State won't win it all: Scoring defense
Iowa State is the highest-scoring team in the country, but the Cyclones have also given up their fair share of points. Through eight games, they have already allowed three opponents to score at least 82 points.
Had Michigan been at full strength, the Wolverines probably would have reached 82, as well.
They have yet to face a team that has gotten hot from behind the arc, either. BYU, Iowa and Michigan each shot worse than 30 percent from three-point range against the Cyclones.
Iowa State is averaging just shy of 45 rebounds per game, good for sixth in the country. However, that has more to do with the high-paced offense than it does an actual advantage on the glass. In their four games against competent teams, the Cyclones had an overall rebounding margin of minus-nine.
The game against Baylor on January 7 will be a strong indicator of how well this team can do against an opponent that can shoot threes and rebound.
16. Florida Gators
Reason Florida won't win it all: Free-throw shooting?
We're putting a question mark next to this one, because we still have no idea what kind of team Florida is actually going to be.
Last Tuesday's game against Kansas is the closest to a full roster that Florida has played with all season—and that was with Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill coming back from ankle injuries and Chris Walker still academically ineligible.
If and when the Gators have a fully healthy and fully eligible roster, they might be the most dominant team in the country.
Judging them for what they currently are, though, we find a team that needs to improve at the free-throw line. Over their last three games—a one-point win over Florida State, a one-point loss to Connecticut and a six-point win over Kansas—the Gators have shot 61.3 percent from the charity stripe, missing a grand total of 29 free throws.
15. Memphis Tigers
Reason Memphis won't win it all: Over-reliance on fast-break points
The 2013-14 Memphis Tigers look an awful lot like the 2012-13 VCU Rams.
That's a strange "complaint" to make, considering VCU was a No. 5 seed in last year's tournament, but it seems like the blueprint to beat them is quite similar.
Memphis is averaging 84.8 points per game with 9.6 steals per game while shooting just 48 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from long range. VCU scored 77.5 points and averaged 11.8 steals while shooting 45 percent overall and 35.5 percent from behind the arc.
Neither team had particularly gifted shooters, but each scored a lot of points by creating turnovers and getting a good number of uncontested buckets.
Stopping them from scoring is as "simple" as not committing a ton of turnovers.
Go ahead and ask LSU (24 turnovers), Austin Peay (22 turnovers) and Nicholls State (18 turnovers) how simple that blueprint is to follow, but Memphis will eventually run into a team with guards who are capable of committing fewer than 10 turnovers.
With Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols in the post, Memphis' half-court offense is better than it had been over the past few years, but the Tigers are infinitely more beatable if you force them to play five on five.
14. North Carolina Tar Heels
Reason North Carolina won't win it all: Three-point shooting
This could change drastically if they ever get P.J. Hairston or Leslie McDonald back from suspension, but the Tar Heels have only one player, Marcus Paige, who has made more than three three-pointers all season.
As a team, they are shooting 29.8 percent for the season, and averaging 2.8 made three-pointers per game.
This obviously hasn't crippled their offense too badly, since they have beaten Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State while making a grand total of seven three-pointers in those wins.
Coupled with the 61.1 percent free-throw shooting, however, it's hard to imagine this team winning six consecutive games in March. They'll eventually face a deficit that they can't quickly overcome with threes or a lead they can't hang onto with free throws.
13. Oregon Ducks
Reason Oregon won't win it all: Lack of quality big men
Oregon has played three games against major-conference opponents—Georgetown, Illinois and Ole Miss.
In those three games, Waverly Austin—the only player on Oregon's roster taller than 6'8"—played a total of 28 minutes. He scored three points, grabbed three rebounds and committed 11 fouls.
Mike Moser is 6'8" and leads the team in rebounds with 7.6 per game, but he is also tied for the team lead in three-point attempts.
Save for 6'6" Elgin Cook, the Ducks don't have anyone who seems particularly interested in getting points by banging bodies in the paint.
Perhaps that will change when they get Ben Carter (and Dominic Artis) back from a nine-game suspension this week, but that might be wishful thinking for someone who averaged just 2.4 points per game last year.
12. Baylor Bears
Reason Baylor won't win it all: Steals per turnover ratio
Baylor neither takes care of the ball nor does a particularly good job of taking it away from its opponents.
This disparity was on full display in the championship game of the Maui Invitational against Syracuse, in which the Bears committed 20 turnovers while creating only two steals.
In their six games decided by 15 or fewer points this season, the Bears have an overall turnover margin of minus-35. On the season, they are committing 3.15 turnovers for each steal.
It's pretty difficult to win six straight games when you're averaging almost six more turnovers per game than your opponents.
11. Wichita State Shockers
Reason Wichita State won't win it all: Slow starts
The Shockers are 10-0, but they have trailed at halftime in six of their games. They were also tied at halftime in one game and held just a two-point lead over Western Kentucky at the intermission of that game.
Those types of shenanigans can be overcome against the likes of William & Mary, Tennessee State, Tulsa and Oral Roberts, but let's see how long they last in the tournament while spotting early leads to some of the best teams in the nation.
10. Connecticut Huskies
Reason Connecticut won't win it all: Rebounding
The Huskies have five players who are 6'9" or taller, and yet it's 6'1" Shabazz Napier who has 50 percent more rebounds than anyone else on the team.
Amida Brimah is 7'0" and averaging 3.2 blocks per game, but he has been able to corral only 1.6 rebounds per game.
They have out-rebounded their opponent in just three of their nine games. Yale grabbed 22 offensive rebounds against Connecticut but lost the game by 18 points by barely shooting 30 percent from the floor.
Napier is grabbing seven rebounds per game, but the Huskies will need some big man to start averaging better than five boards per game if they're going to hang with a team like Michigan State or Arizona in the late rounds of the tournament.
8a. Villanova Wildcats
Reason Villanova won't win it all: Needing more from Daniel Ochefu than he can provide
Over the last two weeks, Villanova has made an absolute mockery of the Philadelphia Big 5, beating Penn, Saint Joseph's and La Salle by an average of 24.7 points per game. There might not be a more dominant-looking team in the country right now, but we were still able to find a weak link.
Ochefu is Villanova's only player who is both taller than 6'7" and averaging more than 2.8 minutes per game.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, he is also averaging 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes and having a lot of difficulty staying in games against teams with a post presence.
Occasionally going with a small lineup wouldn't be the end of the world if Villanova had great perimeter defense, but it doesn't. Both Iowa and Delaware made 11 three-pointers against Villanova in the closing days of November, combining to shoot 44 percent from long range against the Wildcats.
With Ochefu frequently in foul trouble and three-pointers coming at a dime a dozen against them, it's tough to see the Wildcats playing enough defense to win six straight games in the NCAA tournament.
8b. Duke Blue Devils
Reason Duke won't win it all: Lack of quality big men
Josh Hairston is 6'8" and the starting "center" for the Blue Devils, but he has scored just 24 points while committing 30 fouls this season.
Amile Jefferson got off to a good start to the year, but the 6'9" forward has just 21 points and 18 fouls in Duke's last seven games.
Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook make arguably the best 1-2-3 scoring punch in the country, but what does Duke bring to the table beyond that? Unless Marshall Plumlee suddenly becomes a viable option for quality minutes, the Blue Devils will get victimized by a team committed to winning the game in the paint.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Reason Oklahoma State won't win it all: Over-reliance on Marcus Smart
It's hard to fault the Cowboys for putting so many eggs into arguably the best basket (producer) in the country, but it just might be their undoing.
It's certainly possible that Smart could replicate Kemba Walker's run through the 2011 NCAA tournament, but that's likely asking too much.
Smart is a great scorer, but he isn't a great shooter. At 32.1 percent from three-point range and 70.1 percent from the free-throw line, he's susceptible to cold spells against opponents who pack it in and keep him from getting to the rim.
Smart scored just two points in the final 12 minutes of Oklahoma State's two-point win over Butler. He had only four points in the last 11 minutes of the Cowboys' only loss of the season.
Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are very capable scorers, but if Smart disappears like that against a team in the Elite Eight, it would almost certainly be the end of Oklahoma State's tournament run.
6. Louisville Cardinals
Reason Louisville won't win it all: Free-throw shooting
Louisville has seven players who have attempted at least 25 free throws this season—none of whom have attempted more than 40.
Of those seven players, four are making at least 76 percent of their free throws, with Luke Hancock leading the way at 91.9 percent.
At the other end of the spectrum, three of them are shooting worse than 57 percent from the charity stripe, with Chane Behanan's 41.0 percent serving as one of the worst marks in the entire country.
Unless the Cardinals plan on completely disregarding interior defense at the end of the game or winning every tournament game by double digits, they'll likely have Montrezl Harrell (56.3 percent) and/or Mangok Mathiang (56.3 percent) on the court in situations where the opponent is looking to foul to extend the game.
5. Michigan State Spartans
Reason Michigan State won't win it all: Injury bug
Gary Harris suffered an ankle injury in early September and has missed multiple games this season with a sprain that won't seem to go away.
Adreian Payne has played well over the past month while dealing with plantar fasciitis, but there's no telling when that injury will rear its ugly head and cause him to play at well below 100 percent.
Keith Appling has been playing with a sore hip and a sprained wrist.
Do those really sound like the types of injuries that will just go away during two months of Big Ten Conference play?
A fully healthy Michigan State team is almost a guarantee to make the Final Four. Will we ever see that team, though?
4. Wisconsin Badgers
Reason Wisconsin won't win it all: Scoring depth
Truth be told, this was the hardest nit to pick. It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that the bracketologist struggled to find fault in the team with the highest RPI in the nation.
However, prior to Nigel Hayes' 17-point outburst against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, the Badgers didn't have a single bench player averaging better than 4.0 points per game.
They go eight men deep on a good day, but Hayes, Duje Dukan and Bronson Koenig aren't typically expected to do much scoring. They combined for just 37 points in Wisconsin's four games against teams likely to make the tournament—Florida, Marquette, Saint Louis and Virginia. That amounts to an average of 3.1 points per player per game.
On the bright side, Wisconsin does a fantastic job of defending without fouling. In the four aforementioned games, the team averaged just 16 fouls per game, so—barring injury—it's unlikely that the bench players will be placed in a situation of needing to carry the team on the scoreboard.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Reason Ohio State won't win it all: Rebounding
It might seem silly to find fault with a team that has won every game it has played by double digits.
However, the Buckeyes' rebounding margin is more than a bit concerning, perhaps even more so because of their average margin of victory.
Against the undersized Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State merely had a plus-one edge on the glass. Central Connecticut State didn't play a single person taller than 6'7" against Ohio State, but the Blue Devils out-rebounded the Buckeyes 29-28.
Even more disturbing than those close battles against mid-majors is how badly they were beaten on the glass against "real" teams. Maryland and Marquette were never close to winning their games against Ohio State because they combined to shoot 3-for-36 from three-point range, but they also combined to out-rebound the Buckeyes by a 94-65 margin.
What happens when Ohio State plays a quality team that isn't having its worst shooting performance of the season?
Perhaps we'll find out on Saturday when the Buckeyes play Notre Dame. We'll definitely find out at some point during the Big Ten Conference schedule.
2. Syracuse Orange
Reason Syracuse won't win it all: Inconsistent scoring from Trevor Cooney
Very few players shoot it from long range as well as Cooney. Entering play Sunday, he was one of seven players with more than 30 made three-pointers and a three-point percentage of better than 48 percent.
However, in the games in which he isn't draining threes, he doesn't have a ton of value.
It's a little reminiscent of Jordan Hulls' role at Indiana last year. Hulls was good for a handful of assists, and Cooney has averaged 2.5 steals per game, but their real value to the team is behind the arc.
Cooney has five games this season with at least five made three-pointers. Syracuse has won those games by an average margin of 17.2 points.
Cooney also has five games this season with two or fewer made three-pointers. Syracuse has won those games by only 10.4 points on average. The three most recent games of this ilk were decided by an average of six points per game.
He's the only player on the team averaging better than one made three-pointer per game. When he isn't firing on all cylinders, neither is the Orange's offense.
1. Arizona Wildcats
Reason Arizona won't win it all: Difficulties in transition
Provided we can trust the time stamps on play-by-play logs, 54.2 percent of the made field goals by Duke and UNLV against Arizona came within 12 seconds of when they gained possession of the ball.
In those two games, only 31.4 percent of Arizona's made field goals occurred within 12 seconds of acquiring the ball.
What the heck do those numbers mean?
Basically, Arizona is much more comfortable playing a game in which both offenses get into their half-court sets.
Michigan jumped out to its early lead against Arizona on Saturday by forcing steals and pushing the tempo. However, the Wolverines became way too tentative in the second half and accidentally let Arizona back into the game.
Aside from Spike Albrecht's desperation three-pointer with two seconds remaining in the game, Michigan's only second-half bucket that came less than 12 seconds after acquiring the ball was the alley-oop dunk that Glenn Robinson III converted while Kaleb Tarczewski was still on the ground at the other end of the court.
Make the Wildcats run up and down and back again, and they become beatable. It not only neutralizes the height advantage that they have against just about every team in the country, but it also tires them out, forcing them to go deeper into the bench than the seven-man rotation that has played 92 percent of the team's minutes this season.