NCAA Bracket 2012: Michigan and 5 Other Teams Nobody Wants to Play
College basketball is often about matchups, both of personnel and styles of play.
Just as every coach and team salivates watching tape of some upcoming opponent, they dread the thought of having to play others.
Now, obviously, no one wants to play the Kentucky's, or the Syracuse's or the North Carolina's of this tournament—not unless they have an urgent wish to get back to campus.
What the headline is suggesting is the not-so-obvious teams who are, well, just a pain in the ass to have to play.
So, for our purposes, if you are a No. 1 through No. 4 seed (with the exception of Michigan since, hey, they were in the title!) we are simply going to assume no one is anxious to make your acquaintance. We'll also eliminate simple dark-horses or, to use everyone's favorite term-du-jour for the next couple of weeks, the "Cinderella's."
That doesn't mean one of these teams may not end up being deemed as such should they win a couple of games, but we're not using say, a Long Beach State, who may simply be better than the seeding they were given.
No, we're looking for those teams where coaches and maybe players said, "Ah, (fill in your favorite expletive)," when they heard they were a first-round opponent or saw them in their path in the brackets.
In half the cases, it's the coach and his style you don't want to play. In two more, it's the personnel.
And, in one instance, it's a combination of the two.
So, without further ado, I give you the "Dirty (Half) Dozen."
We might as well start with the "assigned" team in the headline and get them out of the way.
John Beilein is the only active collegiate coach to have achieved 20-win seasons at four different levels—junior college, NAIA, NCAA Division II and NCAA Division I.
In addition, he is one of only eight head coaches to have taken four different schools to the NCAA tournament. (To satisfy your curiosity, the teams are Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan. The other coaches are Lefty Driesell, Jim Harrick, Lon Kruger, Tom Penders, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Eddie Sutton.)
Okay, so the man can flat-out coach.
But what makes him and thus Michigan one of the teams nobody wants to play is Beilein's style of play on both ends of the floor.
Beilein has always believed in spreading the court on the offensive end. His teams are usually loaded with good, long-range shooters, and his teams don't just whip it around the perimeter. There's constant movement.
And don't go to sleep as a defender, or the back-door pass is coming.
This means that opponents have to stay after it on their defensive end where offensive-minded players sometimes like to catch their breath.
Beilein likes to zone on the defensive end of the floor. Depending on his personnel, he'll employ the two-three or one-three-one.
This too can create frustration for other teams since they rarely see either defense, especially the latter.
While I thought the Maize and Blue got a generous seeding due to the lofty opinion of the Big Ten held by many quarters around the country, one thing most everyone will agree on is that nobody looks forward to playing them.
Pretty much proving, at least in some instances, that college basketball is style over substance, Shaka Smart and his Virginia Commonwealth Rams are back for another go-round.
After an unlikely run to last year's Final Four, VCU graduated four of their top five scorers.
But this year's edition, after a 2-2 start to conference play, raced through the remainder of the Colonial Athletic Association regular season and conference tournament, going 19-1 over their last 20 games.
In the process, the Rams ended Drexel's 19-game winning streak in the conference title game and left the Dragons on the outside looking in.
Smart's "havoc" defense, reminiscent of Noland Richardson's "40 Minutes of Hell" Arkansas teams, presses full court after all baskets and dead balls. The VCU defense averages just under 11 steals, four blocks and 18 turnovers a game. They don't shoot it well, but "havoc" creates some easy baskets in transition.
All in all, this is a team you don't want to face.
Normally, a team who finished tied for ninth in its conference doesn't sound like someone nobody wants to play.
But in Connecticut's case, like you sometimes hear in traffic court, they are guilty with an explanation.
First, the defending national champs are grateful to have even finished well enough to make this year's tournament. During a stretch that included the absence of coach Jim Calhoun for eight games while he received treatment for spinal stenosis, the Huskies looked everything from lost to downright indifferent.
But upon his return, UConn won its regular-season finale and two games in the Big East tournament before falling to Syracuse, which probably sealed the opportunity to defend its crown.
Of course, a guy named Kemba has moved on, but make no mistake, this team is still laden with talent.
Leading scorer Jeremy Lamb and the freshman flyswatter, Andre Drummond, have received recent help from Shabazz Napier, who seems inspired by his coach's return.
So throw the past performance sheet out when looking at these guys, folks. This is a team nobody wants to play.
The Commodores just knocked off the NCAA tournament No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament championship.
Of course nobody wants to play them!
Well, Vandy received a No. 5 seed itself, so by our original agreement to eliminate only No. 1 through No. 4 seeds, they qualify.
And trust me, nobody wants to play these guys.
The reasons are simple. Vandy is hard to defend because its leading scorers, John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, have unlimited range, and both convert threes at more than a 43 percent clip.
They're the type of duo you need to defend all the way to the coaching box hash mark, and both can beat you off the dribble.
In other words, a nightmare to defend.
No one likes to play a team with outstanding three-point shooters because there are simply nights where there's no solution to stopping a man who's in the zone.
But Jenkins and Taylor are responsible for nearly half of the Commodores ' points.
And that creates a double-edged sword for Vanderbilt. On good nights, they can beat anyone, but if the threes aren't dropping, the next stop might be home to Nashville.
The Virginia Cavaliers are two wins away from being the nation's new darling.
In a season that has seen Tony Bennett's ranks depleted by transfers, bone fractures and a suspension, UVA has soldiered on with basically five players (one of whom is playing with a fracture in his non-shooting hand).
And "Bennettball" is a style of play no one enjoys going against.
Employing the "Pack Line" defense, a method of defending invented by his dad (legendary coach, Dick Bennett) the Cavaliers allow the second-fewest points per game (behind Wisconsin) in the country.
And this isn't just a phony stat, a la the Pete Carril Princeton teams who led the country in defense because they also trailed the country in offense. UVA is also second (behind Stephen F. Austin) in fewest points allowed per possession.
And the Cavs aren't completely helpless on the offensive end.
Led by Mike Scott, who finished second to Tyler Zeller in ACC Player of the Year voting, the Cavaliers have been beaten by more than three points just twice this year.
You might beat them, but you don't want to play them.
After the embarrassing melee with Cincinnati, the Musketeers fell off the radar screen, suffering losses in five of their next six games as the team dealt with multiple suspensions.
Late in the year, Xavier seemed to be regaining its early-season form it had when the Muskies defeated SEC tourney champ Vanderbilt on the Commodores' home court.
Xavier ran into a super-human effort by St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson in the Atlantic 10 final, and it may have cost them a seeding line or two.
The Musketeers have a reputation as a hard-nosed team that has been marred by the early-season incident against Cincinnati. There's no excuse for what occurred, but in Xavier's defense, Cincinnati was frustrated at being manhandled and initiated all the ugliness.
Now Chris Mack's charges have regrouped and rededicated themselves to making people forget those five minutes and remember that Xavier has a proud basketball history that includes a visit to the Elite Eight in 2008.
Tu Holloway runs the show for the Musketeers, averaging 17 points and five assists per game. But even more importantly, in tournament situations, Holloway is one of the leading foul shooters in the country, converting at an 86 percent clip. If Xavier has the lead late, Holloway may keep the Musketeers advancing.
The combination of a solid basketball team who's also on a mission makes for a team nobody wants to play.