#1 Virginia Cavaliers
Best Player: F DeAndre Hunter
(15.2 pts, 5.0 rebs, 2.0 asts, 0.6 stls, 0.6 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: C Jay Huff
(4.8 pts, 2.3 rebs, 0.3 asts, 0.3 stls, 0.8 blks)
3-Point Shooting: Virginia has a plethora of capable three point shooters on their roster, and it makes them one of the best three point shooting squads in the country. Kyle Guy (43.9% 3PT) is one of the best marksmen in the nation. DeAndre Hunter and Ty Jerome both also shoot the long ball at an extremely efficient rate, 44.6% and 40.0%, respectively. As a team, the Cavaliers can light it up from deep, evidenced by them shooting 40.2% from beyond the arc, a mark that ranks 5th in the entire country.
Defense: Every college basketball fan has heard about Virginia’s packline defense and how it really takes opposing teams out of their comfort zone. It’s true, as the Cavaliers only surrender an average 55 points per game, which is tops in the nation. They rank third in adjusted defensive efficiency with an 88.1 rate on KenPom. Opponents shoot 38.1% from the field against Virginia, and 27.8% from beyond the arc against them. They suffocate opponents and if they continue to do so, this is a Final Four squad in the making.
Rebounding: Virginia isn’t a great rebounding team, which is surprising. In fact, they rank 141st in Division I in terms of total rebounds per game, at an average of 34.7. They especially struggle on the offensive glass, ranking 225th in the nation in offensive rebounds with an average of 8.8 on a nightly basis. The Cavaliers will need to hold their own on the glass in order to avoid giving up second chance points, but I’m confident they’ll be able to do so.
Getting to the Free Throw Line: Virginia is not a bad offensive unit, but one thing they tend to struggle at is getting to the charity stripe. They shot 538 free throws this season, which ranks 291st amongst all Division I teams. They shoot it rather solidly when they get there however, as the Cavaliers hit their free throws at a 74% rate. At this point in the season, getting to the free throw line becomes especially important, and it’ll only prove to be beneficial to Virginia if they can do so down the stretch.
#2 Tennessee Volunteers
Best Player: F Grant Williams
(18.8 pts, 7.5 rebs, 3.1 asts, 1.2 stls, 1.5 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: F Kyle Alexander
(7.3 pts, 6.6 rebs, 0.5 asts, 0.4 stls, 1.7 blks)
Shot Blocking: The Volunteers excel in going up and swatting away shots from opponents. Kyle Alexander (1.7 BPG) and Grant Williams (1.5 BPG) are two major reasons why this is the case. Tennessee blocks about 5.3 shots per game, which ranks as the 3rd best mark in all of Division I. A big interior presence continuing to thrive would mean big things for the Vols, who look to continue one of their best seasons in program history.
Offense: Tennessee is one of the best offensive teams in all of college hoops, and that’s due to the experience and star power that they house. The Vols have 5 guys who can score 20+ points on any given night, something that a lot of teams can’t stake claim to. They rank 3rd in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency at 122.3. They score an average of around 81.7 points per game, which ranks 20th in the nation. What’s even more impressive? The fact that they shoot 49.6% from the field as a team, which is the sixth highest percentage in the country.
Fouling: Like a lot of other teams remaining, Tennessee often finds itself in precarious positions due to key players getting in foul trouble. They average 17.4 fouls on a nightly basis, a number that ranks 282nd amongst all Division I teams. In their Round of 32 win, they were up a lot before star F Admiral Schofield went to the bench with foul trouble, and then Iowa closed the big gap to force OT. This can’t happen in close games and coach Rick Barnes knows that.
Turnovers: Rick Barnes’ team has a tendency to turn the ball over too much. They turn the rock over an average of 11.2 times per game. It’s not horrible, but it’s not what you’d like to see from a team that was ranked in the top 5 nearly all season long. The most recent example of this is the Vols 20 point loss in the SEC Title Game to Auburn, in which they turned the ball over 17 times compared to Auburn’s 7.
#3 Purdue Boilermakers
Best Player: G Carsen Edwards
(23.6 pts, 3.6 rebs, 3.0 asts, 1.4 stls, 0.3 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: C Matt Haarms
(9.4 pts, 5.4 rebs, 1.1 asts, 0.2 stls, 2.0 blks)
3-Point Shooting: Matt Painter’s Purdue Boilermakers are one of the most efficient three point shooting teams in the nation. Obviously, they’re led by Player of the Year candidate in guard Carsen Edwards (3.5 3PM per game), but Ryan Cline (40.6% 3PT) and Grady Eifert (43.6% 3PT) are also quality marksmen. As a team, Purdue has made 336 threes, which is the 17th most in Division I. If Edwards and company can get hot from beyond the arc, Tennessee should be worried.
Offensive Rebounding: With a 7’3 center patrolling the middle of the paint in Matt Haarms, it’s no surprise that Purdue ranks near the top of the country in offensive rebounding. The Boilermakers grab an average of 11.9 offensive rebounds per game, ranking 35th in the nation. If they can get second chance opportunities, Purdue will have a huge advantage in their games, because points can come at a premium down the stretch in the NCAA Tournament.
Inexperience: Let’s face the facts, Purdue has overachieved a lot this season. They lost a lot of talent from last year’s squad and they started off slow before rattling off a terrific Big Ten run. Carsen Edwards will keep them in any game with his scoring abilities, but I’m interested to see who steps up down the stretch to be a consistent second option alongside Edwards. The Boilermakers have an average experience of 1.6 years, which isn’t bad, but it’s not great either.
Getting to the Free Throw Line: Similar to some other Sweet 16 teams, Purdue struggles to draw fouls and get to the charity stripe. They’ve shot 598 free throws this season, a mark that ranks 211th in the nation. On a positive note, they hit their free throws when they get to the line, as they shoot 73.2% from the stripe. Purdue will need to draw fouls and get to the free throw line and convert if they want to stay close down the stretch.
#12 Oregon Ducks
Best Player: G Payton Pritchard
(13.0 pts, 3.8 rebs, 4.6 asts, 1.8 stls, 0.1 blks)
Biggest X-Factor: F Kenny Wooten
(6.5 pts, 4.8 rebs, 0.6 asts, 0.4 stls, 2.2 blks)
3-Point Defense: In an era where 3-point shooting is the meta, Oregon does things differently in an attempt to counteract this. The Ducks are a great three-point defending team. Opposing teams shoot 29.1% from beyond the arc against Oregon. If Oregon continues to defend the deep ball at such excellence, the Ducks could pull off a few more upsets on their journey to Minneapolis.
Forcing Turnovers: Oregon’s stellar play on the defensive end also extends to their ability to force opponents into turning the basketball over. Opposing teams average 13.9 turnovers per game against the Ducks. Oregon averages 7.7 steals on a nightly basis as well. The physicality of the Ducks could prove to be crucial when they face a Virginia team that also excels on the defensive end of the floor.
Turnovers: While Oregon excels in forcing their opponents to turn the ball over, they struggle at times to hold onto the ball themselves. They turn the ball over an average of 11.6 times per game, which ranks 199th amongst all Division 1 programs. The Ducks will need to be protective of the basketball and avoid sloppy turnovers if they want to contend with the best of the best down the stretch in March.
Fouling: Another big weakness for Dana Altman’s team is their foul-prone tendencies. The Ducks commit bad fouls at times and when their best players have to sit on the bench, their entire team takes a huge toll. Oregon can’t go stretches with Payton Pritchard, Louis King, or Kenny Wooten on the bench, because other teams will take advantage of it. They average 17.5 fouls per game, a number that ranks 311th amongst all Division I programs.