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The college coaches across the country are, in reality, the most qualified to advise you on your NCAA tournament bracket. They are fluent in KenPom, watch film until sunrise and understand the weaknesses, matchups and nuances that differentiate the underdogs from the dogs. Yahoo Sports spoke with a dozen coaches this weekend about teams they felt were vulnerable in this NCAA tournament.
Here’s a breakdown of their observations with compiled quotes detailing who the sport’s most dialed-in experts will be immediately tossing from their bracket.
No. 5 Tennessee
First-round matchup: No. 12 Oregon State (17-12)
The status of 6-foot-9 Vols forward John Fulkerson remains in flux after he fractured his face taking two dirty elbows from Florida’s Omar Payne. (He also sustained a concussion on the play.) He’s the Vols’ second-leading rebounder (5.5 per game) and fourth-leading scorer (9.5) who averages more than 26 minutes per game. For a team that has struggled to find an offensive identity and flow all season, it’s a potentially crushing blow. (Tennessee hasn’t officially ruled him out of the tournament, but it’s hard to imagine him playing a vital role imminently.) The Vols have two potential one-and-done first-round NBA draft picks in guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, but still haven’t quite been able to blend them into a veteran lineup and make the offense operate like a symphony.
Why they are vulnerable: “They haven’t been able to find consistent outside shooting. They have too many guys who come off the bench and don’t always fit with the other guys, Victor Bailey being one of them. Some of their issues are that they only really have one point guard, Santiago Vescovi. He’s the only one of them who can truly get other guys shots. They can play drive and kick, but Vescovi is the only one who can set other guys up. If they don’t have Fulkerson, they are going to miss him and that’s a huge difference.
No. 5 Villanova
First-round matchup: No. 12 Winthrop (23-1)
The Wildcats suffered one of the season’s most significant injuries when senior guard Collin Gillespie tore his MCL on March 3. Villanova lost to Providence to close the regular season and to No. 8 Georgetown in the Big East tournament after the injury. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, Villanova’s NCAA chances spiraled without Gillespie. Winthrop plays as fast as any team in the tournament, which means Villanova will struggle to slow the game and grind out a win.
Why they are vulnerable: “They’re really average without Gillespie. He’s a poor-man's version of Payton Pritchard, who does everything for them. Gillespie is the primary ball-handler, which means guys are out of position. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is going to have to be Superman for them. The problem is that there’s no one to facilitate the offense. I could have seen them winning a few games with the right matchups. They’d have to put a checking line in and dump the puck in the corners and grind it out. They can only play a certain way at this point. With Chris Arcidiacono playing 30-plus minutes at the point, a team with quickness at the guard spot can get after the ball and make them uncomfortable. They have a chance if they’re able to get into the half-court and space out and under Robinson-Earl in screen-and-roll, which would give Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels a chance in space.”
No. 6 USC
First-round matchup: Winner of No. 11 Drake (25-4)/Wichita State (16-5)
How they got here: USC has been inconsistent all season, despite having potential a top-three NBA draft pick in 7-footer Evan Mobley. The presence of the towering Mobley brothers – Isaiah and Evan – powers the country’s No. 2 defense against two-point shots. But the Trojans are susceptible to 3-point shooting, as they rank No. 195 in KenPom’s rankings in 3-point defense.
Why they are vulnerable: “They’re like the team that looks the part in the layup line, but if you punch them in the mouth, they’ll fold. They don’t have a point guard, and that prevents them from playing the style they’d like. Andy [Enfield] is a heavy ball-screen coach, and he’s had to change. They’re going to be under constant pressure, because the game plan is to pressure the guards. That leaves them with a short clock and no one to facilitate and get the ball to Evan Mobley. Mobley is a typical West Coast kid – he’s more finesse than he is tough or gritty. That’s why Colorado has beat them three times — they’re gritty and they play hard. Mobley is a physical specimen, but he’s not a physical player.”
No. 12 Georgetown
First-round matchup: No. 5 Colorado
How they got here: Georgetown barnstormed through the Big East Tournament, winning four games in four nights, giving Patrick Ewing a signature moment in his fourth season. This could make the Hoyas a popular upset pick, with Ewing’s story the biggest moment in recent program history. Georgetown hasn’t reached the NCAA’s since 2015 and hasn’t had an NBA draft pick since Otto Porter in 2013. Georgetown was 9-12 before the Big East Tournament, and the question is whether that was an anomaly or this streak is the program’s new reality.
Why they are vulnerable: “I’m always wary of teams that put everything into something. There is a danger of a letdown once they accomplish something. What they did was so rare. I was shocked by what they did. If you’d told me to pick 11 teams to win the Big East, they’d have been 10th. I give Pat Ewing a tremendous amount of credit for being able to pull off what they did. What they showed is they learned that they need to defend their [tails] off. They’ve never been much of a challenge defensively. They’ve been playing with a competitiveness and toughness we haven’t seen. That’s a lot more important than what they run. It’s like they figured out we’ve got to out-tough and out-guard people to win. I give them credit. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing them in my bracket. They’re not accustomed to winning. How do they handle that? I’d rather see Winthrop than Georgetown.”
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