PRETENDERS VS CONTENDERS
Every year in college basketball, there are teams that are blown up like a puffer fish, and some that are the real deal. I have been eyeballing some teams… looking at their records, and I have compiled a list of who I think is for real, and who is all hat and no cattle. Feel free to make your own list, as all this is purely subjective:
KU. A national championship along with the Hall Of Fame in the same year. Wow. We will be playing in KC in the regional finals, so once every decade, we do catch a break.
Dook. A guaranteed spot in the Sweet 16 due to the first two games being home games for the Rat and company. They do have enormous talent, however.
UNC- First two games in Greenville helps mucho. Deep, talented team with acres of size. Yes, we would beat them, but they are really good. Joel Berry would get his head handed to him by our guards.
Nova. Well coached, with tough playmakers. Great defense. I pull for them to lose every game.
AZ- Stubby has a talented team, and they play defense.
Oregon - Dillon Brooks.
Louisville - Best interior passing in college bb, combined with very good defense. Mahmoud is a 7 foot dribble driver. Yikes!
Baylor - Yes, we dominate them, but others don’t. Huge front line.
Gonzaga - Nice team, but is a 4 seed hiding out in the 1 seed slot.
Florida - Oh my goodness, what a fluke this is. 1 top 25 RPI win over Kensucky catapults you to a 3 seed. They have played a weak schedule, and have built up quite a paper tiger. 1-3 against RPI top 25. Their 2nd best win is against Arkansas, for heaven’s sake. Florida’s RPI is built, in part on losing to Gonzaga. Guaranteed to not make the 2nd weekend.
UCLA- Yet another team that gets catapulted in the rankings for beating Kensucky. No defense at all … the lost child of Loyola Marymount.
Kensucky - I noticed that the Mildcats narrow victory over Georgia was featured ahead of KU’s victory over number 4 Baylor on ESPN’s website. So was UNC’s victory over Virginia. As was Dook’s narrow victory over Danny and the Deacons. And so it goes. When a team beats Kensucky, they immediately climb in the rankings tremendously, and become the new media darlings, ala Florida and UCLA. But I don’t think Kensucky is that good, as evidenced by their 1-4 record against RPI top 25. They don’t defend well enough to make it to the 2nd weekend, imo.
Virginia - They simply don’t have the athletes, or the guard play to go very far. They still have the great packline defense, but they are simply a mid-range jump shooting team without the size or ability to make baskets at the rim. Every offensive possession is difficult for them.
These are just my thoughts. What’s your list?
@KUSTEVE Very nice capsules. But I actually think S Carolina will get to the Sweet 16 with a fair chance of getting to a regional final.
Unless they play us in an earlier round. Then F Martin will be so hyperintensified that he might just discorporate. First, the usual glare, then glowing eyes, then steam, then…BOOOOOOM!
The NCAA moved all the tournament games out of North Carolina because of the transgender bathroom…hmmmm?..issue?
@JayHawkFanToo I was thinking Greensboro- Greenville is in SC… well, maybe the ACC Invitational is over, at least for now.
UCLA is a pretender for the Championship IMO but not the first weekend. Regardless of their struggles on defense I can’t imagine a team will be able to stop them until the Sweet 16. This team has scoring efficiency, depth, and talent to get as far as their offense will take them. I know a lot of people will be looking to them to be an upset victim but this is still the #1 offense in the country for a reason. I’m struggling with what to do with them. Right now 50/50 both ways.
Baylor- Still believe they will be tough to beat in March regardless of their reputation.
Gonzaga- I do think this is their best team. I’ve seen as many games as I could to get a good opinion of them.
Louisville- Maybe the best team that plays the most ugly style of basketball possible. They are just so huge at almost every position. When Mitchell is shooting well they are really tough.
Villanova- Defending Champs are as good or better then last years version. Every time I watch them and try and find holes in their team you just have a hard time finding it. The word that best describes them - pests!
Oregon- Playing like the team that was hyped in the pre-season. Guys are healthy and they are playing with a tremendous amount of energy and confidence.
Purdue- Biggie Swanigan and company are a tough out. I think Swanigan will be a tough matchup for teams outside the Big-10.
Pretenders- The rest of the ACC- Duke, UNC, Virginia, FSU. I just don’t see these teams having what it takes.
Arizona- Very good team but Sean Miller has never gotten over the hump. Don’t see it happening.
West Virginia- Style of play should get them to the round of 16. When they play good teams they are vulnerable. Tech blew it yesterday.
Kentucky- Talented enough to win any game but I don’t think they have put it together enough for it to matter in March. Can’t wait to hear Calipari crying about how they lose.
@BeddieKU23 agreed except for North Carolina. I think they and UCLA have the most potential overall. Not sold on FSU or Arizona yet.
I’m dropping UNC a bit because of the loss of their starting SG Williams. He certainly wasn’t their best player but he was apart of the cog. They are definitely talented and have 2 guys (Jackson, Berry) that can carry them in in March. Just making an educated guess here.
UCLA and UK are contenders.
@BShark UK is a fraud this year. They’ve beaten one good team this year and that’s it. They’ve lost us, UCLA, Louisville, and Florida and beat UNC. That’s their resume on a national level, 1-4 against teams generally considered to have a chance at a Final Four run this year. UK will be out no later than the Sweet 16 this year.
@BShark I agree.
I’m not a fan of UK, but it seemed like we had to play a great game to beat them. It was single digits, we trailed most of the game (I know it’s become a common occurrence), so I’m thinking that I can’t call them a fraud without diminishing our team a bit.
UCLA is pretty athletic and has an experienced guard. That’s usually a good formula in the post-season. And their regular season is pretty solid.
And Gonzaga is a bit trickier to evaluate, but I would not overlook them. They are dismantling lesser teams, and it’s tempting to blame it on the opponents. But watch how they do it-- the blocks, the offense they run and note the way they play together. They have the elements to knock out plenty of the top 20 teams. I may have to eat my words if they get knocked out in the second round, but they look capable of going deep to me, and the coaches (in the USA Today poll) certainly could spread their votes to others, but it’s pretty concentrated at the top. It means something to be undefeated - especially with all the double-digit victories that they’ve had.
I would say it’s more wide open this year than most but he’s my views. Contenders- KU we have looked so good and bad at times but like the 2012 Jayhawks if we can be close at the end we are never out. UCLA- probably the best offensive team around, very fast and athletic, I think they have the talent to hang with anyone. Nova- Jay Wright has upped his game the last few years and has a ton of weapons and experience. UNC- I think they have the team with best inside out game and have the highest ceiling of any team. Pretenders- Gonzaga- we always hear about how it’s their year. They have no FFs and 1 elite eight, ever. They may make the sweet 16 but that’s all I’d bet on. Oregon-Is this year’s OU team to me, they could be in the FF or have a bad night shooting and go home very early. Baylor- played us tight but also has some bad losses. They are long and athletic but I never trust a Scott Drew team very far, I think they have lost in the first round 2 straight years if I’m not mistaken.
Here’s my list of contenders and pretenders
Kansas: You don’t win all the close games they do without being mentally tough and this is a team that has on multiple occasions this year swept weeks against top 10 teams.
Villanova: Defending national champs and now have the confidence to know they can do it.
Gonzaga: They are crushing teams in a weak conference this year. You who else does that, the UConn women. Gonzaga is doing exactly what they should to the WCC.
Oregon: Made the Elite 8 last and return most of those pieces.
Arizona: Sean Miller has made 3 Elite 8’s in Tuscon and has a lot of the same questions about his ability on the big stage that Self did pre 2008.
Louisville: Pitino’s team plays ugly and every projection currently has them as KU’s 2 seed, but they win games. A KU-UL game might end up being a race to 50 and set college basketball back decades as far as aesthetics go, but that would be a battle.
UCLA: Their defense will be their downfall. Offense wins games, defense wins championships.
UK: 1-4 against other possible Final Four contenders.
Florida: Florida is a good team, but not good enough
UNC: Injuries are their downfall this year. With a healthy team, this is a title favorite along with Villanova.
Baylor: Scott Drew has finally gone back to more man defense, but his X’s and O’s have always been Baylor’s downfall and will be again this year.
Duke: Same story as UNC, injuries have kept them from their ceiling this year.
WVU: Not enough offense this year
I think there are about seven true contenders - KU, UNC, Oregon, Nova, Arizona and UCLA. I would be fine if we got Louisville as our 2 because we have plenty of experience against extreme length. One of these games, you’d have to think that our guys are going to put together a good all around game and not just squeak by. We haven’t had one all season so you know its coming soon.
@HawkChamp It’s not Louisville’s length that’s the issue. It’s their style of play. Louisville is basically a better version of West Virginia and we all know WVU kicked our asses in Morgantown and KU was lucky to not get swept by them this year. Of the current 2 seeds, Louisville is by far the worst match up for KU. If the refs call it tight, KU won’t have the depth to absorb the fouls that would be called in that one.
@Texas-Hawk-10 We’d run zone, and beat them. If you can shoot the 3, which we can, we can beat them.
@KUSTEVE Sounds easy enough, but WVU dominated KU for 78 of 85 minutes this year and UL does everything better than WVU does. Considering the success WVU has had against KU in recent years, UL is probably the worst match up KU could draw in the NCAA tournament as a potential 2 seed.
@KUSTEVE I agree. Remember, Baylor beat Louisville in the Bahamas
@Texas-Hawk-10 I’ve watched multiple games this year with Louisville, and I have never seen them press like WVU, although I’m not saying they couldn’t. I don’t think they are as good as WVU, but that is my opinion. I don’t think their guards are as good as they’ve been in years past. I 100% agree I would prefer a different team as a number 2 in our bracket.
I have to agree with you about Louisville. They are not really pressing this year and maybe its due to the personnel they have. They are light on guard play and have more bigs with NBA size then any team in the nation. What I think makes them a tough matchup is the obviously the length that they play with at every position as well as their rebounding prowess. Rebounding controls the pace of the game and against KU it would seem they would have a big advantage rebounding against us. Now KU has been able to overcome rebounding deficits by just being a tougher team and making perimeter shots so anything could happen against them.
@BeddieKU23 If we can make Louie take jump shots, we could beat them. They have tremendous difficulty against zone defenses, so we would have to zone them.
This season, KU really did not have a problem with WVU press and bringing the ball up like in previous years; I really don’t think Louisville’s press will be much of an issue either.
Nice summaries. I approach it from a slightly different perspective, but still end up with a similar list of contenders - which I would define as a team that is actually capable of winning 6 straight games against good to really good competition (not just making the Final Four). If history is a guide, there are a few key attributes that have been common to almost all the champions over the past 15 years or so (with the 2 most recent UConn teams being notable exceptions to most of the common elements).
First, win-loss record. Other than the UConn teams, every titleist has had 6 losses or fewer -and only two champs had that many. On the flip side, most champs has 4 or 5 losses - only two had fewer - UK in '12 and the Hawks. What that seems to suggest is that the teams were battled tested - indeed, all came from power conferences and also had a few key non-conference games.
Second, talent. For the most part, all the champions had at least one high level NBA talent on the roster and in most cases, multiple future NBA players. Again, the two recent UConn champs were probably the least talented, although the '11 team did have Kemba Walker. Having the most talent doesn’t assure a title (see UK every year), but it’s tough to win without superior talent.
Third, efficiency ratings. Most of the champions over the past 15 years have been in the top 10 of the Kenpom ratings (champs ended up near the top; not surprising given the quality wins in the tournament itself). Again, the two UConn teams are the exceptions. Perhaps most importantly, defensive efficiency ratings seem to be particularly key - the point made that defense wins championships. The lowest DER for any champion was UNC in '09 - #21. But, they had the top OER rating. This has implications for a few teams this year, including…
How does this shake out. On the first point, it is likely that at least 2 of the top ACC teams will have 7 losses; maybe 3 of them. UNC, Duke, Louisville have 5 losses and FSU has 6. They all have games remaining against one another and then the conference tourney. Purdue has 5 losses now. So does Baylor. Kentucky does as well, but you could see them winning out. Is this dispositive?
Talent. UK and Duke are clearly have the most future NBA talent, but that has been true in the past. UCLA may have the next most talent. The key is that several other teams have at least one likely very good NBA player (I’m looking at you JJ) or more than one who will stick in the league. That’s enough given past history.
Metrics. Most of the listed contenders are fairly balanced - they have upper tier OER and DER ratings. UCLA is the outlier - they simply do not play defense at anything close to the level of a typical NCAA champion. Worrisome is that although the Hawks DER has improved a bit, esp. after Baylor, our current Kenpom DER is #28 - again, that is outside the final DER for any prior NCAA champion. We clamped down in the second half against Baylor - the question is whether the guys can continue to stay focused on the defensive end (and that may mean more minutes for Vick at the expense of Svi).
Taking them one by one:
Gonzaga. I’ve seen 3 of their games and I really like this team. Balanced and tougher than most prior Few teams. I think they are capable of going deep. They remind me somewhat of WSU a couple of years ago - great regular season and some quality wins (AZ, FL and ISU) - and blowing out lesser team, but have they been challenged enough to get through the gauntlet. I’m skeptical.
Villanova. They seem fully capable of winning it again - although I’m not sure they won’t miss Arch and Ochefu.
AZ/Oregon - I lump them together - both have talent and clearly are capable of making E8/FF runs. But neither of them beat anyone out of conference, and they simply haven’t demonstrated that they can beat teams that play a more physical style.
UK - can’t write them off with the talent they have, but they are young and the talent doesn’t seem Unibrow like incandescent. Watched them struggle to put away Georgia which was without its best player most of the game (Maten - who put 30 on us). They beat UNC in a shoot out, but that’s it.
UNC - I’m not as high on them as some others - they aren’t that good defensively (although held UVA to 41 points) - but they certainly can score and rebound well, esp. ORBs. But, it seems that they are capable of making a 6 game run.
Duke - the question is whether they are finally starting to gel and live up to the hype? They also aren’t very good defensively - just gave up 90+ points to Wake Forest! - but with the talent and K’s experience, they also seem fully capable of winning 6 in a row. Will be interesting to see how the last couple of weeks play out in the ACC.
Louisville/FSU - lumping them together as I think they are of a type - both have beaten several really good teams, but also inexplicable losses. Very big and athletic. I don’t think they are consistent enough to win 6 games, but I think either would be really difficult match-up for the Hawks that I would like to avoid.
Purdue/Wisconsin - I’ll throw in a couple of B10 teams just because, but I don’t think either of them is as good as the above teams. Swanigan can dominate, but doesn’t have a lot of help. Wisconsin is a nice, solid team that plays well together, but they haven’t beaten anyone of consequence.
Baylor - capable of E8 (again) or FF, and they have a great collection of wins (minus one against KU, of course), but that seems to be their peak.
Okay - the Jayhawks. We’ve demonstrated we can beat the best teams and win close games. Yes, I think we can win 6 straight, but if I’m being honest, I also think we have a smaller margin of error than some of the other teams. We routinely allow opponents to hang around and that’s a recipe for disaster in the tournament - miss a few FTs, go 2-20 from 3, or the other guys are lights out (like ISU). If DG can pick it up (I really think he is key), with JJ and BIFM, I like our chances. But, in the best case scenario, I would expect more of what we’ve experienced over the past month - every game within 6 points and a lot more gray hair…RCJH…
but with the talent and K’s experience, they also seem fully capable of winning 6 in a row.
You missed the part that goes… with Coach K ability to berate the refs into submission and giving him all the calls, Duke has a distinct advantage.
I think the general thought is that Louisville is a pressing team but this year they have not used it like they have in the past. I’ve seen them sporadically use it but not over the course of a whole game. I think all the bigs that Pitino has makes it kind of impossible to play that style of play. He just doesn’t have any quality guards outside Snider & Mitchell this year.
And your right the press has not been an issue for KU against West Virginia as far as getting the ball up the court.
Really good post. It’s always interesting what others see from the same team over the course of the season.
Another point of emphasis in looking for a contender that can be used as a good tool is looking at the teams that made it the previous year. KU, Oregon, North Carolina, Villanova all made the Elite 8 and this year and they all return key players from those squads.
A team that is forgotten is Notre Dame that is seeking its 3rd straight Elite 8. Brey is a great coach, brilliant offensive mind. He still has pieces remaining that were on those Elite 8 teams. I would say its not likely this years squad can make it that far but they are one of the few sleeper teams that I’ll be interested in seeing who they are matched up against. Notre Dame’s offense is really hard to guard against and they are playing small ball with Bonzie Colson (all 6-5 245) of him at Center. They have went through periods of extreme highs and lows this season including blowing a marquee non-conference game against Villanova where they had a sizable lead in the 1st half.
I agree that KU’s margin for error is small but we have Frank Mason and the best freshman to come to Lawrence in a very long time leading this team. We always see the flaws in our own teams because we are so invested in them. I think how Frank Mason has played this whole year is a microcosm of what is to come in March when the pressure is on. Last year we had Perry, a great Hawk but we all knew he didn’t have the type of personality that typically leads a team through that 6 game gauntlet. This year we have that guy with swagger, the I’m not gonna let you beat me type in Frank Mason. It’s how we have won so many close games this year, having a leader and a team full of personalities that don’t want to lose. I think this is a hungry team with a hungry coach that is eager to prove himself in the big stage again. I hope I’m right
A quick thought about KU’s defense… I feel a part of it is due to the lack of depth. In the tournament there are more breaks, longer breaks etc… I think that benefits a team with really good players but poor depth and that they could ratchet up the defense a bit more consistently.
Could be, we just don’t have a consistent rim protector without Doke. And while Mason/Graham/Jackson play inspired defense- Vick & Svi are not consistent enough to make all 5 positions a wall. We have 1 or 2 leaky wheels in at all times. Bragg is not even worth mentioning, he’s just a body at this point stealing minutes. Lightfoot has actually looked like a quick twitch defender. But its clear Self doesn’t trust him enough.
The results might not be consistent but it’s fairly clear when the team ratchets up the pressure on the perimeter. Of course another risk is fouling out because the refs are calling it tight.
It seems like this team has benefited from learning how to play aggressive with foul trouble. I saw where Lucas has had 4 fours a bunch of times and has only fouled out once. Josh seemed destined to foul out against Baylor Saturday only to come back in the game with 6 minutes left and keep himself alive. Other then the fluke game against Tech where Mason was picked on by the ref, Mason/Graham have really done a great job staying out of foul trouble. And that could be by design as we don’t have other options to go to if they are not playing 35-38 minutes a game.
Here are my thoughts: a writer is being born!
Nice work. I look forward to more.
I’ve strayed too far into politics this season to keep close track of the other D1 teams to add much.
Seen UCLA 4 times on the tube cause wife is a UCLAN and agreed with you at first, but this Lonzo Ball is much better than I first thought. Ucla is like KU has been at times in the pass. Alford, like Self, understands the game deeply, and plays some geeks that don’t look like big time players, but that can do certain things well. UCLA is still tall at the end. Alford’s pint size kid seems the weakest link, but he keeps getting it done. UCLA isn’t a super team, but in a season of top 10 teams all with missing pieces, they seem in the mix.
Maybe all the teams are pretenders this season, but one will win?
I might need to walk back my Florida slam a bit. Either South Carolina is not as good as I thought, or this Florida team is much better than the last time i saw them. Now that is a very good passing team, with deadly 3 point shooters.
@KUSTEVE I will roll back my comments, too. After losing 4 of their last 5, I think SC, if they don’t blow getting in yet again this year, is headed for a round 2 out at best.
Florida is playing better and they are also hard to beat at home (example the Kentucky beatdown they gave a few weeks back). Losing their leading rebounder and rim protector in Egbunu is going to hurt them going forward. Still not sold on them past the first weekend but its good to see Florida playing good basketball again after some rough years.
What a difference a coach makes…
Right, especially one that wasn’t such a marquee name. White has turned around the program after Donavan left it high and dry