What is every college basketball contender's "fatal flaw" heading into March?
Jamion Christian is a former Division I head coach at Mount Saint Mary's, Siena and George Washington - who has joined Aaron Torres Media for the remainder of the season as a hoops analyst.
In addition to appearing on the "Aaron Torres Podcast" and "College Hoops Daily," Jamion is also tackling some writing from a coach's perspective.
Today - he looks at all the big title contenders, and answers one simple question: What is every marquee team's fatal flaw come tournament time?
Purdue: Needs role players to produce
For Purdue to win, their role players have to play really well. Can they consistently do this under pressure? Zach Edey and Braden Smith have been a dominant duo all season, combining to average just under 34 points per game. Smith, meanwhile, leads the team in assists (4.2) while shooting 42 percent from three. They are a perfect combo, and similar to how you would start an 80’s basketball franchise: a great guard who can set the table and a big who demands constant attention. The issue is, this isn't the 80’s and that style of play requires the role players to step up. We know the best teams are going to make Ethan Morton, Brandon Newman, Fletcher Loyer, and Braden Gillis have to beat them.
Houston: Limited challenges in three months
Have these guys been truly challenged in the last few months? Look, I love Kelvin Sampson and how he builds teams. Houston is physical, athletic and well coached. And no one wants to play them for a reason. But the run in March is going to be much tougher than the games they have played in-conference (not their fault). Right now, with Memphis on the bubble, it means that the Cougars haven't played a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team since Virginia, before Christmas. What will happen when this team finally faces an opponent with the same size, strength and coaching ability?
Distractions have held a lot of teams back from greatness, and there are a lot of distractions coming out of Alabama right now. I cannot imagine coaching a team where someone in the locker room was accused of being involved in a murder. They are plenty talented and might have the best individual player in the game. But this distraction is about as bad as it gets - especially if Brandon Miller is involved. It will not go away, and the adults are going to have to answer tough questions about the accusations and his role - over and over.
Virginia: Defending jump shooting teams
If you can get to 60 first, you can win. Now, getting to 60 is a daunting task, but Virginia is a team that can make it happen. However, they’ve played a lot of close games, and constantly find themselves one or two possessions away from a loss. Tournament time can be dangerous at this tempo. Now, with the strength of their defense protecting the lane, they are prone to allow a strong jump shooting team to have a good night. They have not seen this much in the ACC, as major conferences tend to have more scorers than shooters. Virginia's defense is excellent against teams who score (relying on penetration) but versus teams that have 3 and 4 shooters to space, they could struggle. Ironically, a perfect example came in their most recent game Wednesday night, when Boston College got hot, shooting 52 percent from the field, and beat the Cavaliers by 15.
Kansas: Lack of depth
Jalen Wilson, Gradey Dick and company have consistently gotten better as the season has continued. The fear I have for Kansas in a one game win-or-go-home setting is: what happens if someone is in foul trouble or injured at a crucial time, especially on that front line? This season, Kansas has played much smaller than in years past. The front line does not go as deep as a typical Bill Self coached team. The rotation is already tight and relies on each element of the rotation to play its part. As an example, in Monday's win over TCU, four different starters played at least 33 minutes, with just one player (big man Ernest Udeh) logging more than more than 10 minutes off the bench. If something were to happen with the rotation, can this Kansas team achieve at the same level?
Can they score enough? As we start to get deeper into the tournament, offenses are only going to continue getting better. I am unsure if they can win in a game where the opponent has really high-level scorers. I have not seen an offensive explosion from this team to believe that it is in their DNA. Win a rock fight? Absolutely, this team does lead the country in field goal percentage defense and No. 2 in fewest points allowed. But can they win in a high scoring fashion? I just haven't seen it. And, I am unsure if they have guys who can score enough to get the win.
Marquette: Lacking a great one on one scorer
Some of the best moments in college basketball history are dominated by one individual scorer who can score no matter the situation (think Carmelo Anthony Syracuse). Marquette moves the ball better than anyone. They play great team basketball, moving it from side to side, with multiple guys who can score it off of action, and as a team are fifth in the country in assists. But, end of the shot clock, one on one situation: who do they go to for a deciding basket? Isolation scoring can be consistent and dominant when you have the right individual player. I do think this is missing with this team. Question is, will this situation come up enough for someone to beat them?
Texas: You can score on Texas
In conference play, their defense is allowing four points more per game at a whopping 72, then they were in the out of conference. That's a lot of points to surrender to good teams. As you play deeper into March, opposing defenses get better. Requiring your offense to continue to score 76 points per game (in conference play) is a large task. Yes, teams will need to score with them in order to have a chance to compete, but when you think about teams who win their conference championships, they can always score. Defense is an area where you can gain separation.
Arizona: Too emotional
The most emotional team in college basketball. My question about them is not talent. Just how will they handle the stress of playing under constant pressure? As the year has gone on, the body language from this group has continued to get worse. Love the talent. Love their pace of play. They could be a great story in March, as this school continues to pursue its first Final Four berth since 2001. But if they can’t find a way to manage their emotions, there may not be a tournament run in Arizona.
Follow Jamion on Twitter - @JamionChristian