Ten teams who can win it all, five who can’t


The field for the 2012 NCAA Tournament is so balanced that any of a number of teams could cut down the nets in New Orleans. The committee did a great job making each bracket difficult for the top seeds, and provided a plethora of entertaining match-ups.  But it wouldn’t be wise to stray too far away from what we already know: The higher seeds are there for a reason.

So who will reign supreme when it’s all said and done?

(NOTES: We had a bit of fun with this. We decided that one No.1-seed would not be able to win it all, we also decided that a No.5-seed or higher could win it all. Does it make perfect sense? No. But neither does March Madness.)

(UPDATE: We’ve had to make an adjustment to our list due to the breaking news that Syracuse center Fab Melo won’t be elligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament.)

Ten teams who can win it all:

Kentucky (No. 1 South):
Simply put, they are the best team in the country. There are not more than two or three teams that can match up with Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. They have solid guards in Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, and Darius Miller is a terrific shooter to bring off the bench. Their loss in the SEC Tournament Championship game served as a reality check, and the ‘Cats aren’t likely to let it happen again. Their portion of the bracket has a lot of interesting teams, but not very many that can beat Kentucky without playing a perfect game.

North Carolina (No. 1 Midwest):
The Tar Heels are the top rebounding team in the country and rank second in points per game. They force a bunch of turnovers and want to get out and run. Next to Kentucky, North Carolina has the most talented front line in the country in Tyler Zeller and John Henson with Harrison Barnes able to step out and knock down shots. The south bracket could shake out in a variety of different ways, which could help smooth out the Tar Heels path to New Orleans.

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Kansas (No. 2 Midwest):
The Jayhawks will not face a team with as much tournament experience as them until the Elite-Eight. Thomas Robinson is the most dominant big man in the country, and Jeff Withy is one of the best shot blockers in the country. This team as a whole is one of the most efficient teams in the country on both offense and defense, and their starting line-up has the experience and talent to make up for their lack of depth.

Missouri (No. 2 West):
Size does not matter with this team. Their four guard set is difficult for teams with a lot of size but not a lot of speed. Phil Pressey is one of the best point guards in the country. Marcus Denmon is one of the best scoring threats in the country. Michael Dixon is one of the play-makers in the country. Ricardo Ratliffe has the highest field goal percentage in the country, and Kim English does absolutely everything. Missouri is in a difficult bracket, but they are experienced and mentally tough.

Ohio State (No. 2 East):
The trio of Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Arron Craft will be the key components to a National Championship run. Buford is a difficult assignment for any defender, and Craft’s relentless defense will be difficult for any opposing point guard. Sullinger will go up against a bevy of other quality big men in the East bracket, but his physicality and ability to step out and make shots will be a difference-maker.

Baylor (No. 3 South):
The amount of talent on this team is overwhelming. Their loss to Missouri in the Big-XII Tournament finals was not as bad as it seemed. The Bears showed toughness and resiliency, which had been questioned for much of the year. Pierre Jackson is as dynamic of a point guard as there is in the country, and Perry Jones III is starting to play like the lottery pick he is projected to be.

Georgetown (No.3 Midwest):
The Hoyas have been promoted thanks to the decline of their arch-rivals. Georgetown has had recent issues in the first round, but this year’s squad is wired differently. Their defense is as suffocating as it was in 20o7 when they advanced to the Final Four. The Hoyas lead the nation in defensive 3-point efficiency. Their length at the guard and forward positions make it nearly impossible for opponents to get good looks from behind the arc. With Henry Sims as a threat to score as well as distribute, this is a team that might not win style points, but could win a handful of tournament games.

Louisville (No. 4 West):
The Big East Tournament Champions struggled through injuries this season after cracking the top-5 in December. But they are fully healthy and playing at a very high level. Their ability to play both up-tempo and grind-it-out styles will benefit the Cardinals when they have to prepare on short notice. Peyton Siva’s leadership cannot be questioned and the depth of this team is starting to show again.

Vanderbilt (No. 5 East):
Despite recent early exits in the NCAA Tournament, the Commodores are clicking at the right time, and their victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship showed that they are capable of beating elite teams. John Jenkins has the ability to be a game-changer, Jeff Taylor can hit almost any open shot and Festus Ezeli will be a difficult assignment down low. The East bracket could end up producing a handful of upsets, which would provide Vanderbilt with an easier path back to New Orleans, where they won the SEC Tournament.

Memphis (No. 8 West):
Having won seven in a row, the Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the country right now. They looked nearly unstoppable in the Conference-USA Tournament and Will Barton is putting together an All-American caliber season. People forget that this team is loaded with talent, and having flown under the radar for the past two months could provide the Tigers with the self-confidence needed to make a run at the title.

Five who can’t win it all:

Syracuse (No. 1 East):
With the recent news that Fab Melo won’t play in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse has been pulled from our list up top. Why you ask? Because Fab Melo is a game-changer. Even if he’s not producing statistics, he forces teams to alter their offensive decisions. In Syracuse’s only regular season loss, a road blowout to Notre Dame, Melo did not play because of eligibillity issues. Sure the Orange have depth, even at the center position, but Fab Melo was one of a kind. This is deflating news that is sure to affect how the team fuctions.

Michigan State (No. 1 West):
The season-ending injury to Branden Dawson is more costly than you may think. He was the Spartan’s best swing player, and without him there is a big gap between the backcourt and forward Draymond Green. Plus, their bracket is just difficult. Any of the top six or seven seeds could advance from the West regional. Even if Tom Izzo is their coach, a National Championship in 2012 just seems a bit out of reach.

Duke (No. 2 South):
Duke lives by the three and dies by the three. As of late, it’s been more of the later than the former. Plus, their defense is just not that good. The talent is there but the execution is not.

Florida State (No. 3 East):
Despite defeating both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season, including in the ACC Tournament, the Seminoles don’t have the makings of a National Championship team> Bernard James is a good frontcourt player, but he has very little help. The East bracket is filled with teams with dominant big men, and Florida State just doesn’t have the talent up front.

Marquette (No. 3 West):
The Golden Eagles have a propensity for digging holes they cannot get out of. They are notoriously slow starters, and in every one of their losses, they have either squandered a big lead or were unable to claw back from a huge deficit. Injuries to big men Chris Otule and DaVante Gardner took away a lot of Marquette’s depth, something that they could use during March.

Indiana (No. 4 South):
When the Hoosiers beat Kentucky earlier in the season, it was the perfect storm, everything was going right and everything was in place. But in order to win a National Championship, they would have to beat Kentucky in the Sweet-16, after beating a scary-good New Mexico State team and either Wichita State or VCU, two of the best mid-major teams in the country. The brackets just don’t line up in the Hoosiers favor.

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.