Finding the flaws for the top 10 national championship contenders

CBS Sports

No college basketball team is perfect. Most of them have at least one flaw — many of them more than one. But it takes just six consecutive wins to reach the pinnacle of college basketball in March Madness. It's all about minimizing blemishes, maximizing strengths, banding together for a run and, yes, stumbling into some luck along the way.

Easier said than done for some. 

Warts cannot simply be ignored, and they mustn't be, either. If you're looking to wager some hard-earned cheddar, you want to wager it properly. You need all the information you can get. So, using updated futures odds at William Hill Sportsbook, I've sorted through the top 10 favorites to win the 2021 NCAA championship and identified each of the 10 teams' flaws, some minor and some major. In doing so, you, the bettor, can make informed decisions on which team to fade and which to hop on board with as tourney time fast approaches.

1. Gonzaga

Title odds: 3-1 | Shortcoming: Worst 3-point shooting team of Few era

OK, so you know how I mentioned most teams have at least one flaw? About that: Gonzaga might be the exception. This team (15-0) has the No. 2 offense and No. 13 defense in adjusted efficiency. It has a perfect blend of young NBA talent (Jalen Suggs) and veteran NBA talent (Corey Kispert). It also has experienced upperclassmen (Andrew Nembhard and Joel Ayayi) to boot. Any weakness identified would be nitpicking the nitpick. But true to my word, I promised flaws, so I offer this minor quibble: this team's 3-point shooting percentage on the season of 35.3% is statistically tied for the worst of the Mark Few era. They make up for it in other ways — for example, they lead college basketball in 2-point shooting percentage (and 35.3% from 3 is a totally respectable clip), but it's at least something to keep an eye on. No one outside of Kispert and Suggs is hitting above 35% from deep. 

2. Baylor

Title odds: 7-1 | Shortcoming: Rebounding

Is being too good a flaw? (Asking for Gonzaga and Baylor!) The Bears (14-0) continue to wreak havoc on every team they face, with only two of its wins — at Texas Tech and against Kansas — coming by a single-digit margin (and both were by eight points). It is the only team in college hoops with a top-three offense and top-three defense. If there's one thing that sticks out here as a flaw it is its rebounding; it has been outrebounded in three of its last four games, and has a defensive rebounding rate that ranks among the worst in the Big 12. That's in no small part because of its guard-heavy lineup that most frequently features 6-foot-5 Mark Vital at the 4 and 6-foot-8 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua at the 5.

3. Villanova

Title odds: 10-1 | Shortcoming: Frontcourt size

With a wildly-talented backcourt that is committing the fewest turnovers per game in college basketball, Villanova's frontcourt combination is plenty talented — but plenty small, too. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise — size matters. Regular starter at power forward, Cole Swider, is listed at 6-foot-9 — the same height as regular starter at center, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. No one playing significant minutes is taller. It hasn't necessarily been a problem — Nova is 10-1 and the class of the Big East — but its block rate of just 5.3% rates worst among all major seven conferences in the sport. The fact that teams don't face any threat of getting shots blocked is a minor one for Villanova, considering everything else it does so exceedingly well. But when it faces big frontcourts or teams that have capable centers who can maneuver around the paint, it could present some real problems. 

4. Michigan

Title odds: 12-1 | Shortcoming: Defensive pressure

Juwan Howard has crafted an upperclassmen-heavy roster that has everything: A top-10 defense, a top-10 offense, a killer freshman in Hunter Dickinson and a legit NBA wing in Isaiah Livers. So, like others on this list, I'm grasping at straws to find a true flaw. There's a good chance it wins the Big Ten by multiple games. But a chink in UM's armor, notably, is that for as good as it is on defense, it's not a havoc-wreaking unit; it ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in steal rate and in turnover rate. To make up for it, the Wolverines boast the No. 1 defense in shooting percentage off 2-point attempts and are constantly able to affect shots at the rim with Franz Wagner and Hunter Dickinson. (Read between the lines here and you can see why, at these odds, I'm jumping on all the Michigan futures I can get my hands on.)

#basketball, #collegebasketball

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