#1 Duke Blue Devils
Best Player: F Zion Williamson
(22.8 pts, 7.7 rebs, 4.1 asts, 0.9 stls, 0.4 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: G Tre Jones
(9.2 pts, 3.7 rebs, 5.3 asts, 2.0 stls, 0.1 blks)
Rebounding: Duke has some of the strongest and most physical rebounders in the nation when they aren’t in foul trouble. The Blue Devils average 41.8 total rebounds per game, ranking second in the nation behind North Carolina. They average the 4th most offensive rebounds per game in the country as well. Cleaning and dominating the glass is a huge advantage to have in the tournament.
Defense: Duke has a stellar offense when they can attack the basket, but did I mention how their defense can make teams absolutely panic down the stretch? They are a physical squad who are very capable of locking down key players in big games. They average 9.5 steals per game, a mark that ranks 3rd in the nation, and they block 6.8 shots per game, a mark that ranks first in the country by a wide margin. They force 15 turnovers per game and only allow 67.6 points per game, which will certainly help them down the stretch.
3-Point Shooting: If Duke is forced to make their three pointers in order to win a ball game, then Coach K may have a huge problem on his hands. As I said earlier, Duke’s offense is centered around getting the ball inside, and that is partially due to how bad this team is at shooting the three pointer. As a team, they hit the long ball at a 30% clip, which is abysmal and ranks 331st out of 353 Division I teams. This could be their fatal weakness if they come across a hot shooting team on their road to Minneapolis.
Free Throw Shooting: Duke also has problems at the charity stripe, which could prove to be extremely problematic in close games. They made 68.7% of their free throw attempts this season, which ranks 245th in the nation. They’ll need to connect at the stripe in order to help put away games from here on out, or else they could be toast.
#2 Michigan State Spartans
Best Player: G Cassius Winston
(18.9 pts, 3.2 rebs, 7.6 asts, 1.0 stls, 0.1 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: G Matt McQuaid
(10.0 pts, 3.1 rebs, 2.1 asts, 0.6 stls, 0.1 blks)
Shot Blocking: Michigan State’s size and length will cause matchup problems for most teams remaining in the tournament, and a lot of this can be attributed to the efficient shot blocking abilities of the tall Spartans. Xavier Tillman, Nick Ward, and Kenny Goins are three of the best shot blockers in all of college basketball. They’re ultimately responsible for Tom Izzo’s squad ranking 3rd in blocks per game with a mark of around 5.4.
Passing: This will go hand in hand with one of the Spartans big weaknesses later, but we have to touch on the unselfishness of this team. While it can hurt them by making mistakes and turning the ball over, Michigan State is one of the best passing clubs in the entire nation. In fact, the Spartans average 18.6 assists on a nightly basis, which is a mark good enough to rank first in the entire country.
Fouling: Michigan State has a nose for sloppy fouls and involving itself in foul trouble every time out on the court. They average nearly 17 fouls per game as a unit and they are the 251st ranked team in terms of avoiding fouls. If one of their key cogs gets in foul trouble and has to sit on the bench for a significant amount of game time, Tom Izzo’s Spartans will struggle. They’ll need to play smart and avoid committing costly fouls down the stretch.
Turnovers: The Spartans have sporadically struggled with turning the ball over too much throughout their run in the Big Ten gauntlet. Cassius Winston and Nick Ward both average over 2 turnovers per game and a few other players nearly do average two a game as well. The Spartans as team have averaged 13 turnovers per game, which is a very high mark that ranks 304th in the nation. They’ll have to avoid sloppy turnovers if they want to extend their stay in the big dance.
#3 LSU Tigers
Best Player: F Naz Reid
(13.7 pts, 7.1 rebs, 0.9 asts, 0.8 stls, 0.7 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: F Darius Days
(5.3 pts, 4.0 rebs, 0.4 asts, 0.8 stls, 0.3 blks)
Scoring Offense: LSU is one of the best scoring offenses in the entire country, ranking 24th in the nation with an average of 80.9 points per game. They rank 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency according to the KenPom, and a lot of their points are produced at the rim. The Tigers are a very balanced offense however, as they have multiple guys who can score 20+ on any given night.
Forcing Turnovers: LSU is one of the best remaining squads in terms of their ability to force opponents to turn the ball over. Their backcourt duo of Tremont Waters and Javonte Smart are a problem for opposing teams to handle offensively. The Tigers force about 15.2 turnovers per game, which ranked 43rd in the nation. They also rank 10th in the nation in steals per game, as they average about 8.9 per game.
3-Point Shooting: Similar to Duke, LSU will be faced with a problem if they have to make their three point shots to win a game. They just simply are not good at three point shooting, and while we’ve seen bad shooting teams get hot, it’s never a good bet to expect for things to go your way 100% of the time. The Tigers rank 295th in the country in three point percentage, as they hit at a 32% clip. They need to hope that their offensive strategy continues to succeed, or else they may be doomed.
Keeping Opponents Off The Offensive Glass: LSU has been prone to struggling with size and limiting opposing team’s second chance opportunities. They rank 107th in defensive rebounds per game, which means that those other possible defensive rebounds go to the opponent. Overall, this isn’t a huge weakness, but with the lengthy Spartans on tap in their Sweet 16 matchup, the Tigers will need to hold their own on the glass.
#4 Virginia Tech Hokies
Best Player: G Nickeil Alexander-Walker
(16.4 pts, 4.2 rebs, 3.9 asts, 1.9 stls, 0.5 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: G Justin Robinson
(13.4 pts, 3.2 rebs, 5.0 asts, 1.6 stls, 0.1 blks)
3-Point Shooting: Virginia Tech will look to beat Duke with their sharpshooting abilities, like many teams have attempted to do this season. The Hokies are just one of the best three-point shooting teams in college hoops, as they hit the long ball at a 39.5% clip, ranking 8th in the entire country. Ty Outlaw and Justin Robinson are two of their key marksmen, as they shoot 45.6% and 41.1% from deep, respectively.
Limiting Opponents Scoring: We all remember that infamous Virginia Tech-NC State game on the first Saturday of February. The Hokies held the Wolfpack to an awful 24-point game, which broke many records in its own while becoming a worldwide joke of the day. While we can’t expect Buzz Williams team to hold Duke or any other possible opponent to 24 points, we should understand that the Hokies are one of the better defending teams left in the dance. They only allow 61.7 points per game, which is a mark good for 9th in the nation.
Rebounding: Virginia Tech lacks the strength in rebounding that so many of these remaining squads excel in. They are not a top 200 rebounding team in Division I. In fact, the Hokies average about 32.5 total rebounds per game, which comes out to rank 244th in the nation. They’ll face a Duke team who rebounds at one of the best rates in the country, and if the Hokies don’t make a great effort to control the glass, they’ll be bounced early by the Blue Devils.
Shot Blocking: The Hokies defense isn’t due to excellent shot blocking abilities in any shape or form, because to be blunt, they do not block many shots. They’ve only blocked 75 shots all year, which is extremely low compared to the other remaining teams. This means they average about 2.2 blocks per game, which isn’t an overwhelming number, and ranks 297th in the country.