When Will the Remaining Unbeaten Teams Lose?
We’re around the midpoint of the college season, and though each of the three teams – Arizona, Syracuse, and Wichita State – has performed very well, it isn’t likely that any one of them will enter their conference tournament or the NCAA Tournament undefeated.
So other than a bad game from any of these teams, what will it take to beat them?
The nation’s #1 team has won with a balanced offense and strong interior and perimeter defense. Still, there have been a few moments this season where the Wildcats have found themselves in a big hole, but were able to lock down in time to rally for the win.
The Wildcats are a good, but not great three-point shooting team, with the only 40%+ player being Gabe York, the 7th man in the rotation. A team needs to be able to contain penetration from the guards while also having defenders with the ability to close quickly on the shooter.
UCLA had some success against Arizona by pushing the pace and forcing the Wildcats’ guards to give up the ball quickly on the offensive end. Guards who can penetrate to get into the defense are necessary, as is a willingness to attack the basket and look to get the bigs in foul trouble.
Right now, the team best suited to do these things and give the Wildcats their first loss is California, who will host them on February 1.
The key to beating Syracuse every year always comes down to one important factor – figuring out a way to get good shots against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense. Big East teams over the years had found ways as many programs had success at one time or another against the Orange.
Just shooting threes isn’t going to get the job done, especially since Boeheim has taken to using length at the top of the zone as needed. Plus, the Syracuse players are very adept at getting out and closing on shooters.
A patient point guard is the primary asset. He needs to be able to penetrate the zone, or at least be enough of a factor from the perimeter that the top of the zone has to stay close to him. Three-point shooters are necessary, especially once the zone collapses, and a solid baseline scoring option also helps.
On defense, the key to stopping the Orange right now is containing Tyler Ennis. Ennis isn’t a great offensive threat himself, but his ability to read the defense and know exactly what he needs to do is remarkable for a freshman. Also, a team can’t let the Orange get out in transition where their break has too many options for a team to account for.
February 1 seems to be the day for the Orange as well as Duke comes to the Carrier Dome and rest assure, Coach K will have his team ready. Though, don’t count out a Pittsburgh team this weekend that is very familiar with the Orange.
It may seem odd to be surprised by a Final Four team from last season who lost only 2 rotation players to be included in this group, but while Wichita State was expected to do well, no one expected an 18-game win streak to start the season, including wins over BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee, and Alabama. Only three of the 18 wins have been decided by less than 10 points (Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri State.)
Wichita State’s defense, similar to last year’s Final Four team, has been the strength of the team, holding opposing teams to 40% from the field, including just 32% from three-point range. The pressure by guards Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton has been smothering at times, while Cleanthony Early’s ability to guard multiple positions helps counter the fact that the Shockers don’t have a true post presence. At least two strong ballhandlers are needed for teams to have a really good shot at alleviating the defensive pressure, and a consistent shooter wouldn’t hurt. The Shockers also aren’t a very deep team, especially in the frontcourt. Teams should look to dominate the game from the inside out.
A home game tomorrow against a good Indiana State team could end the winning streak, but the date to watch out for is on January 25 when the Shockers go to Drake and play an underrated Bulldogs squad.