How national championship bids could be derailed for these top teams
First off, congratulations to all the teams on the following list. Each of the 13 teams on the list below looks like a team that could win the national title.
Now that we're finished with the formalities, Athlon Sports is going pick out each team’s biggest weakness.
No team in college basketball is perfect, not even the one sitting in Kansas with the perfect record. In a one-game elimination scenario just one opponent needs to exploit one soft spot to end a top team’s national championship bid.
For teams like Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Kansas, Duke and more, these are the things that might doom a title bid. These are the fatal flaws.
Fatal flaw: Free throw shooting
At one point, Arizona’s biggest weakness looked like it might be the absence of 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley. After a couple of stumbles, the Wildcats are back to their early season form even without Ashley in the post. One of the Wildcats’ major flaws instead is free throw shooting. Arizona converts only 66.2 percent of free throws, which puts the Cats just inside the top 300 nationally.
Fatal flaw: Game-altering defense
Opponents facing Creighton will admit that Doug McDermott is going to get his 25 points or more. And Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat will snap out of their 3-point shooting slump sooner or later. The issue for Creighton is what it’s been every season of the Doug McDermott era: Defensive play. While the Bluejays may be the best offensive team in the country, they’re outside of the top 100 in defensive efficiency. Their block rate, steal rate and defensive turnover rate are among the worst in the Big East.
Fatal flaw: Lack of a big body
Duke has two of the most versatile 6-8 forwards in the country in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. What those two can’t do, though, is defend around the rim. Duke is a far better defensive team than it was early in the season, but the Blue Devils could run into trouble against a team with a good post presence. Seven-footer Marshall Plumlee, though, is gaining more and more playing time to give Duke some size to go with the 6-9 Amile Jefferson.
Fatal flaw: Who is the go-to scorer?
What a problem Billy Donovan has: His team is almost too balanced. The top five scorers average between 14.5 and 9.3 points per game. Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ most important player, but Casey Prather, Michael Frazier or even Dorian Finney-Smith may end up taking the last shot.
Fatal flaw: Inexperience
Few teams have grown up more than Kansas from the non-conference season to the conference tournaments. With five new starters, three of which are freshmen, Kansas had room to grow. In the Jayhawks’ three Big 12 losses, freshman Andrew Wiggins struggled from the floor, particularly from long range. If that occurs in the later rounds of the Tournament, Kansas could be upset. However, this team still won the Big 12 regular season title and may be a No. 1 seed. Experience might be overrated.
Fatal flaw: No Gorgui Dieng
Montrezl Harrell has had a fine season, contributing in unexpected ways in the offensive end. Harrell went 11 of 17 from the field against Memphis, including a rare 3-pointer. After the 6-8 Harrell, though, there’s a major drop off tot he next two big men in the 6-9 Stephan Van Treese and the 6-10 Mangok Mathiang. The absence of Dieng on defense was a major question to start the season and remains that way.
Fatal flaw: Defense around the basket
This is where Michigan will miss Mitch McGary, one of the key cogs to the trip to the championship game last season. Michigan may be a better offensive team that it was a year ago, especially after Caris LeVert has given the Wolverines an additional weapon. But can Michigan defend well enough around the basket for a run in the Tournament? Big Ten opponents shoot 52 percent from 2-point range against the Wolverines.
Fatal flaw: The team we’ve seen is the team we’re going to get
The line on Michigan State all season has been that as soon as the Spartans get healthy, this team can challenge for a title. An intact roster hasn’t happened yet. Even as Branden Dawson returned, point guard Keith Appling’s ailing wrist remained an ongoing concern. Meanwhile, Gary Harris has shown signs of a player who has been asked to carry the team for weeks. There’s a likelihood not everyone will be healthy and rested for the Tournament run, and the team Michigan State has had in the last month will be the one that goes to the postseason.
Fatal flaw: Frontcourt depth
With Jerami Grant injured and DaJuan Coleman already out for the season, Syracuse against Georgia Tech had to go with a lineup starting Tyler Robinson, a freshman who had played 130 minutes all season. Unless Rakeem Christmas gets going, Syracuse doesn’t have a reliable scorer in the post. And without depth, foul trouble or another injury could hit this team hard.
Fatal flaw: Size in the frontcourt
The easiest answer for Villanova’s fatal flaw is “Creighton,” a team that drilled the Wildcats for two of their three losses this season. The other answer for Villanova’s most glaring weakness is the lack of a big body in the frontcourt. Villanova has big guards — James Bell and Darrun Hilliard are both 6-6, Josh Hart is 6-5. But the only regular taller than 6-7 is Daniel Ochefu, a 6-11 forward who averages 21.3 minutes per game.
Fatal flaw: Tempo
Teams that run at a slower pace often run into trouble in the NCAA Tournament, and the Cavaliers rank 342nd in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. The Cavaliers are still able to score in spurts, but a team that rarely tops 70 points could have a ceiling in the Tournament.
Fatal flaw: 3-point shooting
Oddly enough, the same thing that propelled Wichita State to last year’s Final Four may hold Wichita State back in a bid to repeat. The Shockers hit 14 of 28 3-pointers to upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the round of 32 last year. Now, long-range shooting may be one of Wichita State’s few weaknesses. The Shockers shoot 33.7 percent from 3.
Fatal flaw: Defense
The instinct is to say the Badgers’ style of play and limited offense could cause them to stall in the NCAA Tournament as they have in years past. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Wisconsin plays a bit faster than it used to, and it has more weapons in the offensive end than it has in some time. Meanwhile, though, Wisconsin’s defense has been ordinary by Bo Ryan standards, ranking 42nd in defensive efficiency. Wisconsin struggles to get turnovers, and its perimeter defense has been suspect at times this season.