Strengths and Weaknesses Of Final Four Squads
by Trevor Whenham - 04/05/2008
Frankly, I'm not that sad that we have never had a Final Four full of nothing but No. 1 seeds before now - this is way too much work. In most years you can easily argue that there is a team or two that has done well to get where they are but which is not very likely to keep going (Yes, I am talking about you, George Mason). This year, though, we have four teams that were mostly dominant through the season, and have shown signs of being all but unbeatable at times during the tournament. It's not that hard to close your eyes and imagine a way in which each of these teams could be cutting down the nets next Monday night. It's pretty tough to make money when you are betting on every team, so we have to find a way to narrow it down a bit. That's easier said than done (though I would take Memphis and North Carolina if I were forced to by gunpoint). To try and find some separation between these teams, let's start by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each team. One point I am not going to discuss is coaching, because it would be virtually impossible to assemble a better group of coaching talent unless we bring back Wooden in his prime:
Tyler Hansbrough - It took up until the last couple of weeks to really warm up to Psycho T, but there is no denying the impact he has had on his team, or the consistent effort he puts forth. The guy has just seemed to be everywhere on the court for his team this tournament, and he has done more to get his team where it is than any player not named Curry.
Pro factory - The same can be said of all of these teams to some extent, but at North Carolina we have the best collection of future pros. Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson all have bright pro futures to look forward to. One recurring theme this year has been that teams need pro-caliber talent to compete.
Played the best team last round and made them look silly - Louisville was looking as good as any team in the country until they ran into the Tar Heels. UNC made them look absolutely ridiculous. That's not to say that other teams didn't play good opponents. It's just that UNC made the best look the worst.
Untested - The Tar Heels have won tournament games by 10, 21, 31, and 39 points. They were only as tested as they wanted to be in the ACC tournament. They haven't lost since the beginning of February, and they haven't been in many tight games in the last 10 minutes since then. We can't know how they will react to adversity because they haven't had to, but there is a good chance that they will at some point during this tournament.
Relatively weak defense - Stress the word relatively, but of the four teams the Tar Heels are definitely the least ferocious on defense. If defense wins championships then this could be a concern.
Embracing a system - Kansas is full of superstars, and any of them could be putting up huge numbers as the centerpiece of another program. Instead, they have chosen to buy into a team-first, disciplined system that succeeds on both ends of the court. That unity of purpose is tough to overcome.
Defense - This team does not let opponents score field goals. They were more successful than anyone at stopping Stephen Curry. They smother opponents, force mistakes, and take advantage of them.
Best senior in the tournament - This is neither the year nor the tournament of outstanding seniors, but that experience has to be valued at any time. It is a reasonable argument that Darnell Jackson is the best senior left playing.
Lack of momentum coming in - The other three teams are coming into the Final Four off of dominating wins over impressive opponents. Kansas is one botched Davidson play at the buzzer away from having Bill Self look seriously at the Oklahoma State job because no one wants him in Kansas anymore. The Jayhawks have had a very solid tournament run, but they have left our jaws dropped like each of the other teams has at times.
No go to guy - When Davidson kept hanging around last game there wasn't a player to grab the ball, put the team on his back, and get the game won. The system and the personnel just don't allow for that kind of thing, whereas each other team has a clear and obvious leader.
Athleticism - It goes without saying that every team here is full of incredible athletes, but no team is so packed with freakish athleticism or does a better job of maximizing the impact of that talent than the Tigers.
Point guard - This is an absolutely incredible field of point guards that we will see this weekend. All four are impressive, but the edge in pure talent and the ability to change the game has to go to Derrick Rose. This guy is a very legitimate NBA all-star for a long time to come.
Explosiveness - Memphis can make you pay when they get into a rhythm. Just asked Michigan State and Texas how it felt to be totally out of a game by halftime.
Free throws - I throw this one in even though I think it's garbage. The team isn't as good at free throws as any team in the Final Four, and during the season they were better than very few teams in Division I. John Calipari isn't concerned, and the team has managed to beat a good team or two despite their woes, but the experts say it is an issue so it must be so.
Conference USA - The Tigers played as tough a non-conference schedule as anyone, but the fact remains that teams outside the power conferences don't win championships. Only UNLV has pulled it off in recent times, so the CUSA is definitely an impediment for Memphis.
Experience - There is absolutely no question that it is a huge advantage that a good portion of the significant contributors for this team will be playing in their third straight Final Four game. You could see the difference this makes against Xavier - the Musketeers looked like they were just trying to soak in the magnitude of where they were, while the Bruins just went about their business like it was a game in November.
Kevin Love - Talk about a difference maker. Outside of Hansbrough perhaps, Love is the biggest single difference maker in the tournament. It has been incredibly impressive to see the guy lift his game to a new level throughout the tournament as a freshman.
Leaving it to the last second - The game against Xavier was impressive for several reasons, but most notably because it was the first time all tournament (and well before, for that matter) that the team has put forward a full 40-minute effort. This team has a terrible habit of coasting for a long time and then turning it on when they need to. That works fine normally because they have such a talent advantage, but that isn't the case here.
Health - The team is mostly healthy now, but there are still questions about at least three starters. If they can't hold themselves together then they could be in trouble.