The inside scoop on the nation's top teams (Cont.)
Baylor: The Bears never win the big game. They're jump shooters, Perry Jones obviously being the number one guy. If you looked at his shot chart and didn't see a name and jersey number, you'd think he was a guard. But all those guys -- Brady Heslep, Gary Franklin, Anthony Jones -- they all fall in love with the three. They have all this size but they don't take advantage of it. They play zone, but it's not like playing against Syracuse, which is a physical zone. You look at Jones from when he was in high school, he was on a team with a lot of talent, and he wasn't a big scorer. He never won. I love Pierre Jackson. Without him, they would be middle of the pack. I can't see them making the Final Four. To get there they'd have to beat Duke or Syracuse or Carolina. You have to grind things out, and the only guy who can do that for them is Quincy Acy. Kansas played them on their home floor and went on a 32-4 run. A tough-minded team would not allow that. Acy brings them a physical presence every night, while Quincy Miller is a streaky shooter at best. He needs time.
Kansas: The Jayhawks' starting five is so good, I don't see many weaknesses except for depth. If you can get Thomas Robinson in foul trouble, they really don't have much coming off the bench. I think this is the best coaching job Bill Self has ever done. You have to push Robinson off the block. I don't know how good of a passer he is, but he's an animal on the box. We try to get our guys to watch him and we say, this is what we want you to be. Tyshawn Taylor can be erratic but his size bothers people because he's an attack dog. He's not a tremendous shooter, but he makes them when they count. You have to space him because once he gets into the lane you can forget about it. He's going to throw a lob dunk or make that floater. You have to force Taylor to play defense. He doesn't want to play on the ball. He'd rather deny and reach from the passing lane. I think they would have a hard time against a team that can drive and kick, like Butler used to be. Since they're so physical, you have to hope the referees are on your side. A small team that drives a lot can take Jeff Withey out of the mix. You also have to make them defend for long possessions. If you don't get anything early in transition, run some clock and make them guard, because quick shots feed their break.
Kansas State: This is a weird team. Frank Martin does a great job and the Wildcats are a great defensive team, but they just struggle to score. They hound you like dogs and do a great job of denying the wings. You have to make jump shots against them, even though they'll be contested. Rodney McGruder is not great off the bounce, but he can score in a variety of ways. He can do everything, but he doesn't do anything great. They get offense from their rebounding, so if you can minimize their second-chance points they struggle, although it's hard because they're so physical. Will Spradling and Jamar Samuels have had some big games, but they need somebody besides McGruder who's going to consistently give them 10, 12 points a night, and they don't have that.
Missouri: The Tigers play down to their competition, which can lead to an early-round upset. They also have very little inside presence and rely on outside shooting, and those teams tend to get beat in the tournament. Phil "Flip" Pressey is their main guy. He's a terror on defense and he controls the game. Marcus Denmon and Kim English are good, but they're catch and shoot guys. You have to force Ricardo Ratliffe to make shots. You can't let him just get a ton of offensive putbacks. They don't throw him the ball much, so he scores a lot off his board play. They'll have trouble guarding a physical post team because they're undersized. Remember, they only have seven guys. When you play two games in three days in the tournament, that can be a challenge.
Iowa State: The Cyclones are deceptively talented, but they can be lulled to sleep and get disinterested, particularly Royce White. He is an Anthony Mason-type player, a distributor and a facilitator. He's just so talented that he gets bored out there sometimes. Then all of a sudden he's like, now I'm going to play. Then he'll make five plays that nobody in the country at his size can make. I like Chris Allen, but Scott Christopherson is the guy on the perimeter for them. I think a team that can get out and make shots would give them trouble. White is good inside, but that's not what he wants to do. He wants style points. He wants to show he can handle the ball and throw a behind-the-back pass. It also hurts them because he handles the ball so much, yet he misses free throws. Then they bring in Melvin Ejim, who's 6-6, and Anthony Booker, who's 6-9 but wants to shoot threes. So they don't have much inside besides Royce.
Arizona: Lack of post presence is Arizona's biggest weakness, but it's very good at shooting the three. You have to get back on defense and not give them any lobs. Up front, Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry are athletic and talented but they're not physically huge. Hill is their best player because he can do a little of everything. Nick Johnson is talented for a freshman, but he's erratic and streaky, whereas Hill has been their most consistent player. Josiah Turner has grown up a lot. I noticed his demeanor and his body language were different from the first to the second time we played them. He doesn't shoot as well as those other guys, but he doesn't need to.
Cal: The Golden Bears' biggest weakness is handling pressure on the perimeter. That's what happened against Missouri. They completely fold against athletic perimeter players. If you can limit one of those two scorers, Allen Crabbe or Jorge Gutierrez, they don't have enough to win. They don't have a lot of big players on the bench, so if you can get Harper Kamp in foul trouble they have problems. You want to get physical with Crabbe. Chase him and bump him. He doesn't like that. If you make him dribble, he goes from being a really good scorer to just an average scorer. Kamp is all left, but he's very good at ducking in.
UCLA: This team just isn't consistent. When you watch Josh Smith warm up, you can tell something is wrong there, chemistry-wise. That's a problem because they don't have any marquee perimeter players. The Wear twins are going to be very good. I thought they were soft, but they're getting better inside and they're pretty good rebounders. The whole Reeves Nelson thing kind of sent them into a tailspin. Smith is talented, but I don't get the impression he loves to work. Still, he's so naturally gifted that if he doesn't get in foul trouble, they have one of the best frontcourts on the West Coast. It just doesn't seem like any of their guys are having any fun playing.
Washington: The Huskies are extremely talented. They want to play fast, they want to be out of control. They don't have any inside presence. They're very poor defending off the ball, so you can have success by spreading them out and driving them. Their bigs always help. Defensively, if you get back and make them play half-court they're a completely different team. Tony Wroten is talented, but he doesn't want to grind a game out. He loses patience if he's not fast breaking and he's charge prone. Wroten is a good athlete, but he's not a finished product yet. Abdul Gaddy doesn't have the burst to get by you and finish at the rim, and he doesn't shoot it as well as you would think. Terrence Ross is the best pro prospect in the league. There's not one way to guard him because he can score a lot of ways. They don't lack toughness, but I do think they have a chemistry issue between the younger guys and the older guys.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide have had some internal issues lately, but they do defend the heck out of you, and that gives them some easy baskets. Outside shooting is a glaring weakness. JaMychal Green gets emotional when there's contact. He doesn't like to be trapped, so you have to beat on him a little bit. The question now is where they get their scoring without Tony Mitchell. He was their most athletic guy. Now they're going to have to really manufacture points. They will shot-clock you and ball-control you, but in the half-court they have not shown they can be effective. You have to deny Green easy touches, don't let him catch it in his spots and get easy offensive rebounds.
Florida: When the ball is going in, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker are a handful. Their three-point shooting gets a lot of attention, but their penetration is just as dangerous. Brad Beal is just so good. He's a first-round pick right now. He's versatile, he's strong, he rebounds. You need to guard Beal with a bigger player if you can. Will Yeguete's injury is huge because it kills the Gators' frontcourt depth, and he was their second-best rebounder. A big, physical team that can make shots, a team like Wisconsin, would be a problem. I know Patric Young has had an ankle injury, but it looks to me like he's milking it. I watched him in warmups before our game and he was running around like Carl Lewis. Walker has grown on me. His decision making has gotten better
Kentucky: Kentucky's Achilles' heel is its three-point shooting. Doron Lamb is a terrific shooter, Darius Miller is a very good shooter, but Marquis Teague doesn't shoot it great. If somebody could zone them or even play a triangle-and-two, they might be susceptible. Also they have no depth, so foul trouble could get them. But Anthony Davis is such an eraser at the goal that they can defend without fouling. Early on, he wasn't scoring away from the basket, but now he's driving it, he's stretching his range, and he has great composure at both ends for a young guy. It's almost cartoonish the way he is able to morph his body away from contact. When the light switches on with Terrence Jones, watch out, but he's either lighting it up or not getting anything done. I'm not a huge Teague fan. His perimeter shooting is suspect and I think sometimes he plays too fast. His natural inclination is to make a play instead of running the team, and that could come back to haunt them. He can beat you with his penetration, but he doesn't make everybody else better. That could be a liability in a tight game in the tournament.
Mississippi State: Physically, Mississippi State is as talented across the board as anybody. Dee Bost is an NBA-level point guard. Renardo Sidney has a first-round talent but not a first-round motor. Arnett Moultrie is a lottery pick. Rodney Hood is legit. At one point they had the top three guys in minutes played in the league, so I think they're tired. Also I don't know that they want to defend every play. If Sidney had any sense whatsoever he would be a first-round draft pick. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you're at the end of the shot clock, you are going to bring Sidney out into a ball screen. Why? Because he's not coming up to guard it. You can go right at him, and as a result they lose a little bit of their swagger. I'm a huge Bost fan, but the last few games his killer instinct hasn't quite been there.
Vanderbilt: I know Festus Ezeli's not the same player he was a year ago, but I think he's coming around. At times they don't handle pressure great, but that's not as big a liability in the NCAA tournament because teams don't press that much. John Jenkins is the best shooter I've ever coached against. Jeff Taylor shoots it well, too, but he needs time. I don't think they're soft, but depth is an issue. Taylor is as good an athlete as there is in the country, and I think he plays with a senior's sense of urgency. The big question mark is at point guard. If they had a jet, they would be better. It's funny, if you gave Brad Tinsley to Kentucky and put Marquis Teague on Vanderbilt, both teams would be better. If they catch somebody who applies pressure, like Arkansas did, then they're not as good. Matchups are huge in the NCAA tournament, which is why they have lost in the first round.