Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 9:09 AM
Let's be totally frank here, ladies and gentlemen: It's not as if many of College Basketball's superpower teams have been sailing along these past couple of weeks as this past Tuesday night alone we witnessed road losses by both #1 Indiana (at 4-point underdog Minnesota) and #8 Florida (at 8-point pup Tennessee) and than just last weekend both current #5 Miami and current #9 Michigan State were bested in conference road tilts.
Throw into the mix last night's loss 84-78 by #4 Michigan at 12 ½-point underdog Penn State - a game the Wolverines once led by 15 points in the second half, mind you - and things have been getting real sticky for many of the country's true high-profile teams.
And you wanted to know if there were any "sure things" out there in College Hoops-land this year!
In today's edition of Jim Sez, we'll go down the list of #1-thru-#5 teams in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll (we'll get to the #6-thru-#10 teams this weekend) and we will spell out what should be the biggest fears these elite teams face as we head into March.
Most of it - you'll note - is on-the-court stuff but some of it concerns off-the-floor issues and so we'll do our best Dr. Phil imitation in telling you what very well could ail these "name" teams.
First, this quick and key reminder as we head into the hoops-crazy month of March beginning tomorrow:
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Editor-s Note: The College Basketball Conference Tournaments - or mini-tournies, as we like to call'em - are right around the corner and that means lots of weekday action. Keep up on the daily schedules and remember to call us after 11 a.m. ET on weekdays where there are afternoon tilts. The Horizon Conference will tip off the mini-tourney proceedings next Tuesday but please check for game times.
Now, here's the Top 5 teams and what problems they could be facing in March:
#1 INDIANA (24-4) - No doubt the Hoosiers found out the hard way that they could indeed lose games because of the glass. The Minny Golden Gophers snared a whopping 23 offensive rebounds while winning the board wars 44-to-40 and afterward Indiana head coach Tom Crean acknowledged that everything has to get better in the rebounding department from boxing out to being more aggressive chasing down caroms. As Crean put it, "We weren't physical enough on the glass. That's the bottom line." One other item that could be a Hoosier shortcoming: In these close games they almost rely too much on making the big three-point shot late - and one of these days Christian Watford is gonna miss a late bomb that the Hoosiers are used to him making. Simple as that!
#2 GONZAGA (27-2) - College hoops experts 'round the land agree this is the most well-balanced and explosive Zags team that Mark Few has had in his decade-plus on the job in Spokane. Note that Gonzaga averages 78.6 points per game (that's eighth nationally) with three double-digit scorers led by Player of the Year candidate C Kelly Olynyk (17.7 ppg) but can PG David Stockton be full trusted at crunch time - he ran away from the ball in the late stages of that big TV loss to Butler, remember - and could get pushed around by bigger/more physical point guards. The 'Zags would do well to stay away from Big 10 or Big East teams for the most part in this upcoming NCAA Tournament as those guards could make life rough on Stockton.
#3 DUKE (24-3) - As we pointed out in a Jim Sez column last week, the Duke Blue Devils still may not know their true identity: Are they a three-point shooting club first with G Seth Curry (69 triples) setting the stage or do they need physical big man Mason Plumlee (team-best 17.5 ppg) to make noise in the paint first and foremost? One thing for sure is that the Dookies sure could use the return of F Ryan Kelly as this team - surprise, surprise - is not very deep and could get worn down at tourney time. Reserve Josh Hairston must give Mike Kryzewski's squad some key minutes in March ... or else!
#4 MICHIGAN (23-5) - The maize-and-blue have been on the "tube" plenty this 2012-13 season and so everyone's had a good/long opportunity to analyze this Big 10 team's strengths and weaknesses and here's the skinny: The Wolverines are as athletic as any team in the country in the backcourt with superstar Trey Burke (18.9 ppg and 6.9 assists per game) leading the way and they can get rough-and-tough with you in the paint thanks to F Mitch McGary (5.7 rebounds-per-game) but shot selection can be a major problem for John Beilein's crew and G Tim Hardaway Jr. all too often hurls up a 25-footer out of nowhere that isn't exactly a part of the team's game plan and than others have been known to follow the ill-advised shots. It sure seems that chemistry is no issue at all with this Michigan squad but what happens if someone takes a bad shot in a close/late tourney game? Hmmm.
#5 MIAMI (23-4) - On one hand, it's easy to see how this veteran-laden Hurricanes crew has come together so neatly this year as there are five players than average between 9 and 13.3 points per game and so that sort of share-the-wealth mentality often works on the hard wood but what happens in the moments leading up to these tourney games (both the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament) off the court? Do the 'Canes feel like "marked men" because they've been front-and-center in the elite rankings all year - no doubt a truly foreign concept for a program that really hasn't tasted much hoops success over the years? And will the pressures to getting as far as the experts say they can get - we just heard two folks on an ESPN telecast say they believed that Miami will "win it all" - cause Miami hoopsters to unravel way before its tourney time? Hey, better teams than this current Miami edition have been sent packing the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play, you know! Gotta believe that head coach Jim Larranaga - yes, a true superstar game coach in his days at Bowling Green and George Mason - will give his U of M gang constant reminders to stay mentally grounded but would you blame a bunch of 21-year-olds for looking ahead in tourney rounds and thus maybe getting picked off?
Finally, quickie question:
What college basketball team holds the current longest NCAA Tournament streak?
It's the Kansas Jayhawks who this year will make it 23 consecutive years in the "Big Dance" but take note that of the teams mentioned above here in this column space, Duke will be making its 18th consecutive appearance in the NCAAs and Gonzaga will be appearing in its 14th consecutive NCAA Tourney.
NOTE: Get our College Basketball Weekend Game Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.