MINNEAPOLIS — Hello, America.
I’m here in sunny Minneapolis (28 degrees and snowing in mid-October), home of the 2019 Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The latter is the beautiful facility that hosted last season’s Super Bowl. The area around the stadium is stocked with buzzing nightlife and fabulous restaurants. The light-rail line can take you anywhere in town. Plenty to see in Minneapolis.
But don’t wait too long to make your reservations. You’re pumped. Your team looks good. You know they’re going to the Final Four.
Call the hotels. Book the flights. Request the vacation time.
Don’t do any of that. Put the credit cards away, stop trying to figure out if you have enough frequent-flier miles to meet your old roommates in Minneapolis and just calm down.
Your team ain’t going to the Final Four. Here’s why.
(The teams’ order matches the AP preseason rankings.)
1. Kansas: Because Bill Self will employ a lineup with an abundance of ball-hungry athletes who won’t know how to share the rock in the critical moments of March. At 6-foot-10, Dedric Lawson is an intriguing potential point forward for the Jayhawks, but he and his brother K.J. Lawson never led Memphis to a postseason appearance or anchored a top-100 offense.
2. Kentucky: Because this talented crew needs someone to duplicate the efforts of the premier point guards who have steered John Calipari’s past Final Four teams, and Immanuel Quickley, Quade Green and Ashton Hagans might not have the juice to play that role for this team. That matters because the only Kentucky squad under Calipari since his debut season in 2009-10 that finished with a higher turnover percentage than last year’s team — which struggled to find a solution at point guard and lost to Kansas State in the Sweet 16 — was the 2013 squad that lost in the NIT.
3. Gonzaga: Because Mark Few’s most successful squads were led by fluid big men who helped the Bulldogs overwhelm smaller teams. This year’s squad, however, has a multitude of talented wings and a dearth of size, a potential problem when it faces programs that resemble the lengthy Florida State squad that knocked the Zags out of the NCAA tournament last season.
4. Duke: Because a program that made at least 37 percent of its 3-pointers over the past nine seasons and connected on nearly 39 percent of its attempts during Mike Krzyzewski’s most recent national title runs (2010, 2015) lacks the marksman to extend that streak. Duke’s paltry 31 percent clip from the 3-point line during its preseason tour of Canada was proof of that.
5. Virginia: Because you know why the Cavaliers aren’t going to the Final Four. And UMBC does, too.
6. Tennessee: Because the Vols are still not built to handle teams driven by quick wings who can score off the dribble and create problems in space. The shifty Loyola-Chicago squad that ejected the Vols in the first round of the NCAA tournament had the DNA of the teams that had given Tennessee problems throughout the season.
7. Nevada: Because you can’t just run through the NCAA tournament using an NBA Jam-like offense and expect to reach the Final Four. Nevada squandered a double-digit lead to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16 when its subpar defense (ranked 108th in the country) kicked in.
8. North Carolina: Because the Tar Heels were an ordinary team last season without extraordinary guard Joel Berry II, the 2017 Final Four most outstanding player who led the program to a national title. The Tar Heels collected just 1.04 points per possession (1.16 with Berry), committed turnovers on nearly one-quarter of their possessions (14.6 percent with Berry) and made just 32.6 percent of their 3-pointers (37 percent with Berry) when he wasn’t available. Most freshmen, not even those with Nassir Little’s pedigree, fail to make a similar impact.
9. Villanova: Because Jay Wright is a genius but just lost three first-round picks and the Wooden Award winner. Yes, he’s the MacGyver of college basketball, but he has lost too much to make another run to Minneapolis.
10. Michigan State: Because Nick Ward won’t have the same opportunities without Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. on the floor. The most significant player on Michigan State’s roster this season might not be ready for a starring role without a pair of top NBA draft picks next to him.
11. Auburn: Because Bruce Pearl just lost a pair of free throw shooters who made more than 80 percent of their attempts last season (Mustapha Heron and DeSean Murray) and turned the Tigers into the No. 16 team in the country at the charity stripe. That duo’s gone, but the Tigers will add Austin Wiley, a promising NBA prospect and one of the worst free throw shooters in America (49.1 percent), to a squad that lost four games by three points or fewer in Wiley’s last full season.
12. Kansas State: Because it’s difficult to get to the Final Four without supreme shooters (last year’s Final Four participants all finished within the top 20 in 3-point shooting) in this small-ball era. Kansas State’s defensive chops fueled its run to the Elite Eight, but its 6-for-26 mark from beyond the arc sealed its exit against Loyola-Chicago.
13. West Virginia: Because there are two eras in West Virginia history: B.C. and A.D. (Before Carter and After Draft). West Virginia finished first or second in defensive turnover rate in Jevon Carter’s four seasons, but now that he’s in the NBA, the Mountaineers might struggle to duplicate the constricting defense that has defined Bob Huggins’ best teams in Morgantown.
14. Oregon: Because 7-footer Bol Bol has to be great, not just a lengthy project, to carry Dana Altman’s squad to the Final Four. And most big men billed as do-everything players often miss that projection as freshmen.
15. Virginia Tech: Because the Hokies haven’t fixed their defensive problems. This outstanding offensive team, which returns four starters, surrendered 170 points combined against Wisconsin and Alabama in first-round exits in the past two NCAA tournaments.
16. Syracuse: Because it’s Syracuse. Sure, the Orange could get hot late and make a run to Minneapolis, but the more Syracuse-like act would be a first-weekend loss to a struggling mid-major after it fails to surpass 40 points in regulation and convinces Jim Boeheim to retire at halftime.
17. Florida State: Because last year’s run to the Elite Eight was not representative of the inconsistent performance Florida State had manufactured to that point. In ACC play, FSU’s opponents made 40.4 percent of their 3-point attempts, the worst mark in the league
18. Mississippi State: Because the Bulldogs can’t buy a 3-pointer (31.5 percent) in a college basketball climate that’s passionate about small ball and spacing. Yes, the Bulldogs return Quinndary Weatherspoon and multiple key players from last year’s NIT semifinalists, but their shooting woes were obvious in the six games they lost by 13 points or more in 2017-18.
19. Michigan: Because Mo Wagner’s size and skill set presented for opponents matchup problems that won’t exist this year. The Wolverines should compete for the Big Ten title, but the loss of last year’s 6-11 star who made 39 percent of his 3-point attempts will hurt.
20. TCU: Because Jaylen Fisher is the most important player on the roster and he’s coming off the second surgery on his right knee in nine months. And if Fisher isn’t the same player as he recovers from a series of injuries, the Horned Frogs’ shot at the NCAA tournament will significantly decrease.
21. UCLA: Because this is Steve Alford’s fourth top-10 recruiting class and third consecutive top-five incoming group at UCLA, but he still hasn’t led the Bruins past the Sweet 16. No reason to believe anything would change with this year’s group, one that will be without Shareef O’Neal (heart condition) and Tyger Campbell (ACL).
22. Clemson: Because Brad Brownell’s options after Elijah Thomas, Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell are limited. After losing Donte Grantham to a season-ending knee injury midway through 2017-18, a shorthanded Clemson scored fewer than 60 points in each of five subsequent losses.
23. LSU: Because Tremont Waters will have the ball in his hands in those make-or-break situations in the postseason, and everyone knows it. Yes, LSU has upgraded with a strong recruiting class, but opponents will continue to neutralize the Tigers by pressuring Waters, who finished with five or more turnovers in eight games last season.
24. Purdue: Because Carsen Edwards is a great player and a potential All-American, but he alone can’t make up for the loss of an amazing senior class. Overall, the Boilermakers lost nearly 50.0 PPG of production from a year ago.
25. Washington: Because you can’t trust a team that finished in a tie for sixth place in one of the weakest Pac-12 races in recent history. Mike Hopkins returns every key piece from last year’s promising squad, but this is also the same team that lost five of its final eight games in a conference that sent only three squads to the NCAA tournament.
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