Monday, February 26, 2007

I Feel a Case of the Madness Coming On

These last few weeks of the regular season always receive extra attention, as it's generally perceived that this is the time that teams start coming together and taking their games to the next level in anticipation of the big dance. However last year, Florida lost three games in a row in late February (at Arkansas, vs Tennessee, at Alabama) before catching fire and winning 11 in a row en route the championship. So maybe I shouldn't too much stock in the last few weeks. Still, I'm sure most coaches would prefer that their teams were peaking around this time. With that said, here are three teams on the rise and three teams that picked a bad time to struggle as March Madness approaches:

Gellin'

Kansas
All season long, any discussion of the elite teams has always focused on five schools- Florida, Ohio State, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and UCLA. In that regard, Kansas at #6 has been flying under the radar. Since losing to Texas A&M at the beginning of the month, Kansas is 6-0 and has won their games by a combined score of 516-343 (average margin of victory: 28.8 points). The Jayhawks are in my opinion the best offensive team in the country, having broken the 90 point mark six times this season and boasting five players who average scoring in double figures. Kansas has one road game left at Oklahoma before hosting Texas in the season finale. Wins there combined with a good showing in the tournament, and Kansas might be able to steal a #1 seed.

Georgetown

Much like last year, I can already tell that I'm going to advance the Hoyas too far in my bracket and get burned. Georgetown has won eleven Big East games in a row, most of them in convincing fashion. I love watching John Thompson's team play, with their athletic version of the Princeton offense combined with a very aggressive defense. When they're playing well, they can beat any team in the country; and they're playing exceptional basketball right now. The brackets aren't even out, and I'm talking myself into putting them into the Final Four (beating Ohio State to advance in a great matchup of Oden vs Hibbert).

UCLA
At the beginning of the month, I would have projected UCLA as a sweet 16 team, but not necessarily Final Four. However the last two months, the Bruins have elevated their game on the offensive end and are a legitimate threat to cut down the nets in Atlanta. The biggest difference between this team now and a few weeks ago has been their inclusion of the big men into the offensive gameplan. Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute have both become viable threats to the point that Arron Afflalo now sets interior picks to free up the post players for an entry pass. Add into the mix that Josh Shipp has started attacking the rim again, and you've got a team that is suddenly very difficult to defend. The only downside for the Bruins is that UCLA has been a notoriously slow starter this year and they do still go through stretches when they're stagnant on the offensive end. I'm sure those will be areas of emphasis in the last remaining games and the Pac-10 tournament.

Slippin'

Wisconsin
The Badgers have lost two in a row and have been held to 55 and 48 points in those two games. The good news is that this is a team full of veteran players and they shouldn't let these two games affect them too much. The bad news is that they've likely lost Brian Butch for the rest of the year as the result of a gruesome dislocated elbow (I'll post the clip soon), and Alando Tucker is 11 for his last 30 from the field. As an aside, I'd like to relay something a commenter at Sportsline.com pointed out. Sunday, in what was a brutal piece even by his own low standards, Gregg Doyel wrote about the Badgers,
"The Badgers weren't good enough to win the national title -- period -- and that was before cryin' Brian Butch left Sunday's game with an elbow injury that might end his third consecutive disappointment of a season. The Badgers can make do without Butch's soft play and yucky body."

Yucky? Really? Anyway that directly contradicts what Doyel wrote last December in a column about players that had been surprisingly good:

"Brian Butch, Wisconsin: He's no project anymore. He's a player."

So how exactly is this a third consecutive disappointing season exactly? And mocking a college junior for crying after a brutal injury was absolutely classless.

North Carolina
The Tar Heels are young, so some ups and downs are to be expected. But a lot of the other top teams are young as well. Kansas' five top scorers are three sophomores and two freshmen. Ohio State is led by freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr. UCLA had no seniors at senior day. At any rate, losing three of seven games is reason for concern. Here are a few postgame quotes after North Carolina lost to Maryland Sunday night:

"This is very frustrating," North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough said. "We can't crumble whenever the game gets tight. We have to be tough."

"We lacked focus. We didn't convert the way we should down the stretch," forward Reyshawn Terry said. "We had another breakdown. We keep hitting the same wall. It's making me a little nervous, honestly."

Obviously, these are not the words of a confident team, and confidence is a key element at this point in the season.

Florida
On the other side of the confidence spectrum is the Florida Gators who appear to be overconfident right now. Either that or they're just bored with the regular season and are waiting for the NCAA tournament to begin. But while that mentality might work in pro basketball (example: any team that's had Shaq on it), it's very dangerous in the college game. Just ask last year's UConn team. Florida has lost two of their last three games, and I anticipate that they won't win the SEC tournament. However, they'll still get a high seed in the NCAA tournament, and at that point, it will be up to them to "flip the switch" if they want to repeat as champions. Florida still has the best starting five in America, so I'm not counting them out by any means; but if I had to make a prediction, I see this them getting upset in the elite 8.

For what it's worth, here are my current power rankings:

1. UCLA
- Afflalo playing like a champion before leaving for the NBA
2. Kansas - Looking more and more like this year's version of Florida
3. Ohio State - It feels like they've underachieved, yet they'll be ranked #1 in this week's polls. Not too shabby.
4. Florida - Taking their abilities for granted right now.
5. North Carolina - Nothing will surprise me with this team in the tournament. They could lose in the first round as a #2 seed or they could win it all.
6. Texas A&M - Big statement game at Texas this Wednesday.
7. Georgetown - Hibbert could use the tournament to become a lottery pick.
8. Memphis - Like Nevada, it's hard to evaluate this team given the competition in their conference.
9. Wisconsin - Have shot 35% their last two games. It's a bad time to go cold.
10.Texas - Every #1 seed should be scared to death of facing the Longhorns early.

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5 Comments:

At Mon Feb 26, 07:42:00 AM PST , Blogger NFL Adam said...

You forgot Nevada.

 
At Mon Feb 26, 08:28:00 AM PST , Blogger insomniac said...

Nevada was in the "others receiving votes" for me.

 
At Mon Feb 26, 10:31:00 PM PST , Blogger twins15 said...

I'm loving Kansas right now as well... they're as talented as anyone, and they're finally starting to play consistent basketball.

 
At Mon Feb 26, 10:34:00 PM PST , Blogger insomniac said...

Oklahoma gave Kansas a nice scare tonight. You definitely have to slow the game down if you want to have any chance to beat the Jayhawks.

 
At Tue Feb 27, 09:39:00 AM PST , Blogger NFL Adam said...

My wife is a Kansas fan. She asked me the other day, and she does follow the hoops, how Kansas was doing. I think they are somehow sneaking under the radar.

Either that, or she is sick of going to SDSU and CS Fullerton games.

 

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