The Highly Ranked March Madness Teams to Worry About

The week between Selection Sunday and the first NCAA Tournament games is a tornado of takes, ideas, and excitement. Who is in your Final Four? How many bracket contests are you doing? Where the hell is Morehead State? We’re here to help you with all of those dilemmas and the easiest way to do so is with rapid fire thoughts. Enough with the intro, let’s get to the goods!


These are the teams seeded 1-4 that I have concerns about:

Michigan

Not sure how we got here, but the last three weeks for the Wolverines have been dire. After they had been considered a top two or three team by everyone under the sun, myself included, the Wolverines have faded of late.

Losing to Illinois on your home floor would be no reason for concern. Getting boatraced by Illinois without Ayo Dosunmu playing did raise red flags. Michigan then lost to little brother (Michigan State) just five days later. In the Big Ten Tournament, starting swingman Isaiah Livers discovered a stress injury in his foot and after an MRI, he’s listed as “out indefinitely”. Without him, Michigan looked listless against rival Ohio State in a semifinal loss.

The top seeded Wolverines are in no danger in the round of 64, but the committee did them no favors with their potential second round foes. LSU and St. Bonaventure are both top 30 KenPom teams coming off hot runs in their respective conference tournaments. LSU came one putback bucket away from being crowned SEC champs and the Bonnies ran away with the A-10 title.

Both also have the size to challenge Michigan. Trendon Watford will make Michigan’s star freshman center Hunter Dickinson stretch his defense out to the perimeter. St. Bonaventure’s Osun Osunniyi would make life difficult for Dickinson offensively, where his contributions are especially important with Livers sidelined.

Michigan is going to need to claw its way through a brutal fight on Monday, no matter the opponent.

Iowa

Going into the Selection Show, Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey would probably have liked to been paired with almost any of the projected 14, 15, or 16 seeds. He has presumed National Player of the Year Luka Garza. How many low-major teams have the size to handle him?

Well, Grand Canyon does and they drew Iowa in the first round. Luka Garza, say hello to Asbjorn Midtgaard. The Danish 7-footer has the size and pedigree to really bother Garza. You may remember him as a freshman contributor at Wichita State in 2017-18 before he transferred to Grand Canyon. I said I loved him then, so I better stick with him now.

Garza has not fared well against big men that he can’t bully on the block. His best games came against Southern, Western Illinois, and Iowa State, all of whom don’t have the real size to make him win with footwork or touch.

His worst games share a common trait. Garza had 8 points on 11 shots against Michigan State and 6-foot-11 Marcus Bingham. Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson held him to 16 points on 17 shots. North Carolina’s cadre of beefy bigs held him to 16 points on 20 shots. It took Garza 39 shots to score 40 points in two games against Kofi Cockburn and Illinois (and a ton of those points came with Cockburn on the bench).

Garza is at his best when he has the option to bully his way to the basket or beat you with a jump shot or post move. If you remove half of that equation, he struggles (relative to his normal production, he’s still very good). He also struggles defensively. I documented that, in gory detail, earlier this season. Against Grand Canyon, he needs to body up Midtgaard for long stretches with his breaks leading to him chasing Italian stretch four Alessandro Lever on the perimeter.

For Luka Garza to have the kind of tournament performance that is expected of the National Player of the Year, he’ll have an uphill climb from the second he steps on the floor.

Oklahoma State

This one I don’t even fully believe in myself, but it is a question worth asking. The Cowboys have been excellent of late. Cade Cunningham has settled into college basketball and is one of the five best players in this tournament, without a shred of doubt. His teammates have improved so much this season. The Boone twins are awesome around the rim. Isaac Likekele is a great secondary creator and Avery Anderson has been a revelation as a second scorer. The Cowboys should have been a 3-seed.

And now, the but.

But during Oklahoma State’s transformation into what looks like a Final Four caliber team, the Cowboys have been winning games by the skin of their collective teeth. Since February 2, Oklahoma State is 9-2. Of those nine wins, three went to overtime, one of which included a second overtime. Eight of those wins came by single digits. Five of those wins came by five or fewer points, which doesn’t even count the double overtime win over Texas.

Some of the Cowboys success has been due to good fortune. Four of those nine wins came with Oklahoma State scoring less than 0.99 points per possession, which is atypical of power conference basketball and shouldn’t hold up in the NCAA Tournament.

I want to see Cade Cunningham in the Sweet Sixteen as much as you do, if not more, yet I worry that the magic could run out sooner than that.

*******

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, The Action Network, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, RotoBaller, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.

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