Word on the street is that it’s almost March, which just so happens to contain the NCAA Tournament. Everyone is going to have their different opinions (which will be issued in high-volume, rambling format) on who will win it all and for what reasons and in the end, most people will be wrong. I decided not to find out who will win it all, but rather, what will win it all. So here is my Ideal NCAA Tournament Team, as comprised of current players this season. I picked five starters, a bench guard and a bench big man that I think would make the best team to win six straight in March.
Now obviously I could just take the seven best players and guarantee dominance (also known as The Steinbrenner Method) so I decided to give myself some ground rules.
• I can only take one player from the top 20 CHN Top 100 Players, one from 21-40, one from 41-60, one from 61-80, one from 81-100 and two that aren’t in the top 100. This may sound like I’m stacking my squad, but I’m using past champions as competition. Florida, for instance, has four players in the top 35 and the 2005 UNC team probably had five players in the top 60 or so, with May, McCants and Felton all in the top 20.
• I have to take at least one player from a mid-major team. Championship teams don’t always consist of seven McDonald’s All Americans.
• I can’t take more than one player from a team. Florida’s top seven would make a pretty good team for this exercise, but that’s no fun.
• I need at least one freshman. This is 2007, there aren’t teams with all upperclassmen starting anymore.
So those are the rules, here’s the squad I’d love to take into March Madness.
Surely there are other possible squads out there, so if you think you have a team that could beat mine, let me know.
Guard- Acie Law, Texas A&M, No. 8 CHN Top 100: It was tempting to pick Oden or Durant but then I’d be building the Ideal Durant team or the Ideal Oden team, not the Ideal Tournament Team. The players I’d want to surround Durant and Oden with are far different than the players I’d want playing for me in the NCAAs. Every successful tournament team needs a go-to-guy that can get buckets to end a drought or stifle an opponent’s run. Law isn’t the most proficient scorer, but he’s clutch (see: at Kansas) and he’s exactly the player I’d want to have the ball down 1 with 10 seconds left because he’s also good at finding teammates when the defense collapses. He is also a good on-ball defender and perimeter defense is extremely important in the tournament. All of his efficiency numbers are good (assist/turnover- 2.04, FG%- 51, FT%- 77.2, 3-PT%- 44.4), with the foul shooting especially important because of his ability to ice games down the stretch. I was also considering Alando Tucker, but his shooting and turnover numbers are all lower than Law’s (Tucker could be a big liability at the line in March). They say the Tournament is all about guard play and I think Law is the best all-around guard in the country.
Others in Top 100 range considered: Alando Tucker (No. 3), Wisconsin; Kevin Durant (No. 1), Texas: Arron Afflalo (No. 12), UCLA.
Guard- Adam Haluska, Iowa, No. 66 CHN Top 100: He’s on the team for one reason: to hit open threes. I know Haluska’s game is more than just that, but every good tournament team needs a secondary player that can get the ball from the primary scorers and hit open jumpers. Florida had Humphrey, UCONN had Rashad Anderson and Syracuse had G-Mac. One advantage Haluska has over other shooters is his size. At 6-5, with decent athleticism, he can shoot over smaller guards and can even get a few rebounds. He’s a defensive liability, but with the strong defenders on this team, a good coach (like my hypothetical self will be) can hide him. He’s also a good offense-defense sub at the end of games because he’s an outstanding foul shooter.
Others in Top 100 range considered: Richard Hendrix (No. 62), Alabama; Daequan Cook (No. 68), Ohio State; Kyle Hines (No. 78), UNC-Greensboro.
Forward- Jeff Green, Georgetown, No. 21 CHN Top 100: Again, they say these tournaments are won on the perimeter and Green is another good perimeter defender. If I put him on my opponent’s best forward, I feel pretty good about the match-up no matter who it is (well, besides Durant). Offensively he plays more on the wing and yet, doesn’t get a lot of his points from beyond the arc, which means he can get into the paint and score or hit the 15-footer against a zone. Rebounding is a huge factor in the NCAA tournament (the last four champs were all great rebounding teams) and getting boards from the small forward (think Carmelo Anthony) is a big advantage. As evident by his eight blocks against Villanova last weekend, he is also a great help and weak side defender if I decide to go zone or double-team. Plus, Green’s versatility makes him an asset if unforeseen events like foul trouble or injuries come into play. He can play anywhere from the 2 to the 4.
Others in Top 100 range considered: Jermareo Davidson (No. 31), Alabama; Corey Brewer (No. 22), Florida; Zabian Dowdell (No. 36), Virginia Tech.
Forward- Jeff Adrien, Connecticut, No. 93 CHN Top 100: Every team needs a bruiser to do the little things that lead to wins. Adrien is very talented but he’s going to do the little things on this team. He’s only 6-7 but he’s ruthless on the glass and more athletic than your typical bruiser which means he can run the court with the guards and use his quickness to stay with most forwards. I remember the 2003 Syracuse team and how valuable Craig Forth was simply because he was so good at setting picks. Adrien is going to have that type of role. Plus, he can defend two or three positions, just like Green, adding to the team’s versatility.
Others in Top 100 range considered: Marcellus Kemp (No. 85), Nevada; Derrick Byars (No. 94), Vanderbilt; Blake Ahearn (No. 100), Missouri State.
Center- Randolph Morris, Kentucky, No. 42 CHN Top 100: Alright, it’s going to be tough to defend this one, but hear me out. I know Morris has been really inconsistent as far as effort and intensity go, but his talent is still there. While Dickie V and the experts spout on and on about guard play, they fail to realize the last four champions have all had good low post scorers (Florida- Horford, UNC- May, UCONN- Okafor, Syracuse- Anthony, Warrick). Morris’ size gives him an advantage on most opposing centers, especially in the early rounds, and his decent athleticism means if his team has to adjust to the tempo of their opponent, he won’t hold them back. Throw in some decent shot blocking and if given a coach that will kick his butt (in this case, me, and since this is a fantasy team, I will have no problem kicking Morris’ hypothetical butt), he could be a key piece to my squad’s championship run.
Others in Top 100 range considered: Jared Jordan (No. 43), Marist; AJ Graves (No. 55), Butler; Spencer Hawes (No. 47), Washington.
Bench Guard- Bashir Mason, Drexel: With Haluska’s vulnerability on the defensive end, I need a good on-ball defender to come off the bench in certain spots. Mason is a great defender, 3-time CAA All-Defensive selection and Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman. He can also come in and run the point to spell Law or move Law over to the 2. He’s not going to score too much but with offense at the other positions, it’s not necessary. Let’s say, hypothetically of course, I want to go full-court press? Mason would be a huge asset. I’d probably need a bigger wing on the bench too but Mason is only 6-0, but we’ll stick to seven for now.
Bench Big: Robin Lopez, Sanford: I’d probably rather have his brother for consistently, but the potential of him posting a triple-double at any moment is certainly promising. He’s athletic enough to play either the 4 or 5 so he can spell either Green, Adrien or Morris and there wouldn’t be much of a change in style. Plus he’s an incredible shot blocker (2.5 in under 25 minutes per game) and would make up for Morris’ defensive deficiencies if needed.