The fatal flaw for every team in the top ten
So much of college basketball’s preseason content centers around talking about what teams do well.
Well, what if we do the opposite?
Let’s talk about what the best teams in college basketball are bad at.
Today, we will be looking at every team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 and working through their fatal flaw, a ‘Why Your Team Sucks’ preview, if you will.
This is why your favorite team will be bad this season. You can find teams 11-25 here.
1. MICHIGAN STATE
TOM IZZO’S WILLINGNESS TO PLAY SMALL
Two seasons ago, when the Spartans had a pair of lottery picks on their roster in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State was in a position where they had the absolute best frontcourt possible to go full small ball. Jackson was everything that you could ask for out of a small-ball five, a 6-foot-11 shot-blocker with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and three-point range. Bridges was the uber-athletic forward that was big and strong enough to play the four while also being a nightmare for opposing bigs to deal with.
We spent, quite literally, wishing that Izzo would find a way to get those two on the floor together at the four and the five and it never really happened.
I bring that up because this Michigan State team has all the makings of a group that should be very good playing small. Other than Xavier Tillman, there isn’t really a big man on the roster that has proven himself. Getting another spacer on the floor at the four will create just that much more room for Winston to operate, and the more room you can create for Winston, the easier your life is going to be. Throw in the fact that Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Kyle Aherns all make sense as guys that can play bigger than what they are listed at, and we have another Michigan State team that looks like a perfect fit to play small. Will Izzo agree?
SCORING IN THE HALFCOURT
The Wildcats are going to be an interesting team to track over the course of the season. They’re young again, obviously, and they don’t really have a clear-cut star on their roster. Can you, unequivocally, tell me who is going to be the best player on their roster? (No. You cannot.)
And that puts the Cats in a weird position, similar to the one they were in last year. I’m just not sure how they are going to play this season. Cal has tended towards playing a slower brand of basketball, one that relied on overwhelming opponents in the paint, unless he has an absolute jet - John Wall or De’Aaron Fox, specifically - at the point. He has three guys that can play the point guard role this year, and none of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey or Immanuel Quickley are as good as Wall or Fox. But he also doesn’t have an overpowering presence in the paint. There have been some rumblings from people that the best big on Kentucky’s roster early on has been Nate Sestina, the Bucknell transfer. He’s not exactly Karl Anthony-Towns.
So I’d think that in an ideal world, Kentucky would play as more of a pressing team, allowing them to get out into transition and let their athletes do athletic things.
But when they are forced to play slower, where is their offense coming from?
Put another way, if you are an SEC coach game-planning to stop them in the halfcourt, who are you worried about? Hagans can’t shoot. Johnny Juzang has gotten some buzz, but can he really be better than Tyler Herro was last year? Is E.J. Montgomery going to actually take a step forward? Maxey is fine, but he’s also not the caliber of Kentucky’s past star guards.
It will be very interesting to see how Kentucky evolves this season.
The power forward spot has traditionally been the most important spot on the floor for the Jayhawks, and last year was no different. Before Udoka Azubuike’s injury, Kansas was playing like one of the best teams in the country because it was borderline impossible to stop Dedric Lawson and Azubuike in high-low action. And while Azubuike is back this season, Lawson is off to the professional ranks, and there is no clear answer for who will step into that four-man role for the Jayhawks.
One option is Silvio De Sousa, but he would make Kansas a liability defensively and is not a floor-spacer. The same can be said about David McCormick. Mitch Lightfoot doesn’t appear to be the answer, and we saw last season just how much of an issue Marcus Garrett’s lack of shooting can cause when he’s slotted into that role. Will one of the freshmen, Jalen Wilson or Tristan Enaruna, step up?
I honestly don’t know.
And, as I mentioned in the video below, I’m not actually all that worried, either.
Louisville has just about everything that you need in a college basketball program. They have the All-American in Jordan Nwora. They have all-league talent on their roster in Dwayne Sutton and Samuell Williamson. They have a talented freshmen class to pair with depth up and down their roster, which is why the Cardinals are a top five team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.
The concern, however, is at the point guard spot, just as it was last season. With all due respect to Christen Cunningham, he was more of a guy that kept Louisville from losing games as opposed to being the kind of talent that wins games, if that makes sense. Louisville replaced him with two guys. The first is Fresh Kimble, a grad transfer from St. Joseph’s that put up good scoring numbers last season. The problem, however, is that Kimble was always more of a scorer than a pure point guard that made people around him better. I think the latter is what this Louisville team needs more than the former, and while incoming freshman David Johnson was impressive in early practices, he’s also going to be out until around the start of ACC play with a shoulder injury.
There is enough talent on this roster to be able to win big even if their point guard play isn’t great, but I do think that great point guard play is the most important thing for college basketball teams.
SO WHO’S MAKING SHOTS THIS YEAR?
The modus operandi for this Villanova program during this six-year dynasty has been simple: Target the most talented players that fit the program’s cultural values and style of play, develop them within the program over the course of two-or-three years, hang banners with a roster that’s older than the competition, ship those players off to a job in the NBA. Even without Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo last season, the Wildcats still were able to play through Eric Paschall and Phil Booth en route to their fifth Big East regular season title and fourth Big East tournament title in the last six seasons.
This year, however, is the year when that gets tested. Because there is a lot of unproven talent on this Villanova roster. Is this the year Jermaine Samuels makes the jump to stardom? Are Collin Gillispie and Dhamir Cosby-Rountree truly good enough to be cornerstones for a team that is competing for league titles and Final Fours? Just how good will Cole Swider and Saddiq Bey be with a year of seasoning on the Main Line? Can Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore and - when he gets healthy - Bryan Antoine be able to step in and play right away as freshmen?
The talent is there on paper. Will it show up in wins?
CAN THEY BE GOOD DEFENSIVELY AND OFFENSIVELY
I’ve talked about written about this extensively already, so I’ll keep it short and sweet here: The roster makeup for this team is weird. There are a lot of players that are good and that can do a job in a role, but I’m not sure just how many players they have that are going to be good on both ends of the floor. Put another way, can Duke put a team on the floor that will be able to score and be able to defend?
THE BURDEN OF EXPECTATION
Let me get this out of the way before I start: I’m in on Florida. I have them at the No. 7 team in the country. I invested my own hard-earned money on a ticket for Florida winning the national title. So I totally get the upside here.
But I’m also well aware of the fact that we are taking a leap of faith, one centered around the idea that a number of players on this roster are taking a significant step forward. Can Andrew Nembhard play his way into being on an all-SEC team? Will Noah Locke emerge as a secondary scorer with Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen gone? How will Kerry Blackshear Jr. mesh within this roster? Perhaps most importantly, will the freshmen that Mike White has coming to campus - Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, in particular - be a net positive over the inefficiency gunners that are graduating?
Remember, this team was a No. 10 seed last season that couldn’t shoot and lost 16 games. Asking them to go from that to a team that will be among the best in the country is a big ask.
DO THEY HAVE A POINT GUARD?
It shouldn’t really be up for debate at this point, but if you still weren’t buying into the idea that Gonzaga is one of the 8-10 best college basketball programs in America, all you have to do is look at the fact that they’ve continually lost talent to the professional ranks earlier than expected and have not skipped a beat. That was true when they lost Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the pros and remained among the top ten teams in the country the last two seasons. And that’s even more true this year, when Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell all bounced with eligibility remaining, and the Zags will still enter the year as a preseason top ten team.
The concern, however, is that they have been forced to try and figure things out on the fly at the point guard spot. Josh Perkins graduated, and since Joel Ayayi has not earned the starting job and Brock Ravet is apparently not ready to take things over, Mark Few had to go to the grad transfer route again. He brought in Admon Gilder from Texas Tech and Ryan Woolridge from North Texas to paper mache over the gaps.
With a roster that’s pretty loaded up front, will that be enough for the Zags to compete at the level we’ve come to expect?
That’s harsh, I know, but the truth is that during Mark Turgeon’s tenure, the Terps have had a tendency to flop when they enter a season with a certain level of expectation. Take, for example, the 2015-16 season. The Terps were loaded - Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Diamond Stone and Robert Carter - and entered the year as the preseason No. 1 team in the country, yet they stumbled to a 27-9 record, a third-place finish in the Big Ten and got bounced out of the tournament in the Sweet 16.
Some people will tell you that Turgeon isn’t a great coach, that that’s the problem. Others will point to the fact that players tend to stagnate in College Park. Melo Trimble was awesome as a freshman but never really took the leap to the next level. Anthony Cowan seems to be trending in that same direction.
Do you trust this program to be able to find a way to be among the nation’s elite?
CAN TONY BENNETT TRUST THEIR GUARD PLAY?
I love Virginia’s frontcourt. Mamadi Diakite is going to be arguably the best defensive big man in the country. Jay Huff is the protoype pick-and-roll big and should be in line for a monster junior season. Braxton Key should do well playing an expanded offensive role.
The question is going to be their backcourt. Kihei Clark was really good in a role last season, but with Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome off to the NBA, he’s going to be asked to be the guy this year. Is he up to the task? Can Casey Morsell be a contributor as a freshman? What about Tomas Woldetensae?
I went more in depth on Virginia below.