The lowdown on top teams from ACC, Big East, Big Ten and SEC
Breaking down teams' strengths, weaknesses from best source: opposing coaches
Kentucky has the talent, but 'Cats are young and game slows down in tourney
The trouble with Georgetown, what makes Ohio State and Purdue so tough, more
Whenever I run in to my fellow hoopheads on the street, they tend to ask me the same few questions. The most common are:
1. Why are you so biased against my team?
2. How long has Clay Aiken been picking out your ties?
3. Why do you look so much shorter in person, Mr. Sampras?
Somewhere way down the list is this one: Where do you get such brilliant insights into the game of basketball? While I do watch a lot of games and read everything I can, I am ready to cop to the real answer.
I steal them.
Here's how it works. I get a head coach or assistant coach on the phone and I ask him to tell me what he really thinks about a team he has scouted and faced. I throw in the three magic words -- "off the record" -- so he will tell me the truth knowing his name will not be revealed. Then I pass along these insights as my own. It might not be pretty to see how the sausage is made, but it sure tastes good, don't it?
In Sports Illustrated, we often publish a feature called "enemy lines," in which we grant anonymity to coaches and publish their quotes. In an effort to take this exercise further, I've been burning up the phone lines to get the low-down on many teams from the major conferences. What follows is a report on 19 teams from four of those conferences. I'll publish the second part next week on the remaining two BCS conferences, plus a bunch of teams from outside the Big Six.
For these scouting reports, I've talked to two coaches from each league. Some were head coaches, some were assistants. I've combined what they said into one write-up. So enjoy this little peek behind enemy lines, and be sure to check back next week for the rest of the reports.
DUKE: The Blue Devils' main weakness is their overall team speed. If you can drive the ball against them, if you can beat your man, a lot of times they overplay on the sides so you have a chance to get to the basket. But you really have to rebound because they are relentless on the offensive glass. That's how they beat North Carolina. They want to take you out of what you do defensively and impose their will, but if they're unable to do that, then quite honestly their defense is just average. They were more difficult to guard when Kyle Singler was at the four because he's so skilled, but at the three, if you have someone who's physical you can get underneath him on the perimeter. Their guard depth is suspect, but they have great depth up front.
CLEMSON: The Tigers come at you with that full-court pressure for 40 minutes, so you have to keep your composure. Demontez Stitt is OK, but he's not great. He's not making shots so they really rely on Trevor Booker, and he's not a great outside shooter either. They have very good athletes at Clemson but not necessarily great basketball players. The teams that have hurt them have been able to handle their press.
GEORGIA TECH: The biggest problem with Georgia Tech is that the Jackets invent turnovers. They play faster than they need to play at times, and that's why they turn it over. They're playing [Gani] Lawal and [Derrick] Favors, who are two mountains masquerading as men, but there's not a lot of room when you play those two guys because they're both low post players. They're almost better when they play [Zachery] Peacock because now they have a four who opens them up a little bit. [Iman] Shumpert is very tough, but it looks to me like he's trying to be in the NBA right now. [Mfon] Udofia doesn't understand at this point how to play the point guard position. They're so aggressive that they put you on the line. Lawal is an unbelievable rebounder but he's a terrible passer out of double teams. Favors is a lottery pick but he's unskilled labor right now. He's a lot like that kid from Texas A&M, DeAndre Jordan -- explosive, long and quick, but still learning how to play. They don't have a guy that just knows how to get him the ball.
WAKE FOREST: Ish Smith makes this team go. He's not a great shooter, but he's a clutch shooter, and he is the quickest guard in our league foul line to foul line. The problem with him is that at times he'll dribble around all over the place and they forget about [Al-Faroq] Aminu. Smith can't dominate the ball to the point where the other four players become spectators. If you can keep them off the glass, Smith can't make enough hard twos to beat you. Aminu is talented, but he gets into trouble when he tries to create. He has a lot of turnovers. His biggest weakness is he's not always engaged. They seem not to be as consistent as you'd like teams to be. They look like the greatest team in the country on a couple of plays, and then they won't run good offense for the next five minutes to let their opponent back in the game. Also, their free throw shooting problems are real. You can't go very far in the tournament if you can't make free throws.
WEST VIRGINIA: They have tremendous balance offensively, and when [Da'Sean] Butler gets it going they're very hard to defend. But if you can defend Butler and limit their three-point opportunities, they're not a great team off the dribble. They don't have a great guard who can break you down with penetration. Darryl Bryant is tough, but he has fallen in love with the jump shot. He's either shooting threes or he's driving hard to the lane, but he's not necessarily getting guys shots. Overall they're too much of a jump shooting team. The new kid, [Deniz] Kilicli, is a beast, but he can't defend the way they want to defend. He can't switch out on great guards. [Devin] Ebanks is also tough, but teams are making him shoot and he has struggled again with his three-point shooting. He's a pro, but he's the one guy you can play off of. [Bob Huggins] was playing Ebanks at the point early in the year, but they went to Purdue and got whacked and they haven't played him there since.
GEORGETOWN: The Hoyas have the makings of a Final Four team, but there's something missing. I don't know what it is, but when they're on, there's no better team in our league, and then they lose to South Florida and Rutgers. They're the hardest team to make up a lead on. [Greg] Monroe is the best big in the conference, and [Austin] Freeman is shooting it great from three. I'm not a huge Chris Wright fan. He can put up numbers and he's a phenomenal athlete, but he hasn't been known to be a huge winner. He can go for 30 on you so he's scary, but if he's taking all those shots it means the other guys aren't involved. When they're playing their best basketball, they're forcing you to guard all five guys. The best thing they can do is put the ball in Monroe's hands and let him make plays. He still seems disinterested sometimes, but when he's motivated they're really hard to beat. When they're clicking, Wright's numbers may be down, but that means they're winning. They probably have the best starting five in our league, but they have no depth.
SYRACUSE: If you can make Syracuse outscore you, you have a chance, but if you can't figure out that zone and you have to play from behind, you're in trouble. With the exception of [Andy] Rautins, they haven't shot it consistently from the perimeter. Wesley Johnson is a good shooter to 17 or 18 feet, but his numbers have been down lately. People may be figuring him out a little bit. He's not the strongest guy so I'm not sure if he's wearing down, but sometimes if you can get real physical with him he doesn't respond as well. Also because of the zone, their rebound numbers don't match their athleticism and size. You have to attack the middle of the zone, make them pinch on you and get shots for your three-point shooters. Rick Jackson is very slow closing out on his side of the zone. You always worry about depth with them, too. Jim Boeheim has never been known to play a lot of guys. A team that can control the tempo against them and is physical on the glass would be their toughest matchup.
UCONN: Their biggest weakness is they have no depth, plain and simple. They got into a bit of a funk when Jim Calhoun wasn't there, but now they're playing like UConn teams of the past. When they're playing with confidence, they can beat anyone in our league. If you zone them and you can keep them off the offensive glass, that forces them to make jumpers, and that's not their strength. They're going to lose a three-point shooting game. [Kemba] Walker is the key because he's been inconsistent with his shooting. If you can play off of him, they're easier to defend. [Stanley] Robinson is a streaky scorer, so [Jerome] Dyson has had a lot of pressure on him to carry them offensively. Their posts are young and don't really score, so if you can tough them out of there, it puts a lot of pressure on the guards. But if they're controlling tempo and getting up and down the floor and getting offensive rebounds, they can win. I've got a feeling they're going to go on a run right now. They're the team you don't want to play in the Big East tournament.
LOUISVILLE: It's almost like they're still trying to figure out how to play with the personnel they have. Sometimes they play a guard-oriented game, sometimes they go to Samardo Samuels. They were way up on Villanova but then they started making really bad decisions offensively that let them get back into the game. I don't know if it's because Samuels isn't assertive enough or because they don't have the mentality from the guards to go to him more, but it's almost like there's a disconnect there. I'm not a huge [Edgar] Sosa fan. I think he's talented, but I don't know if he knows how to win from the guard spot. He was great on that team last year because he was a scorer who didn't have to run a team. The kid who needs to get it going for them is Mike Marra. They need someone to knock down outside shots, because so much of their game is drive and post up. Defensively, they're not as good as [Rick] Pitino's teams have been. They don't press nearly as much, and they play three true guards now so they're not keeping dribblers in front of them defensively.
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