Month: March 2009

West Region Breakdown

1. Connecticut Huskies
Storrs, CT
Record: 27-4
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Jeff Adrien (13.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg), Hasheem Thabeet (13.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg), A.J. Price (13.3 ppg), Stanley Robinson (6.1 ppg, 5 rpg)
Strength: Hasheem Thabeet may be the biggest game changer in the country. Offensively, when the Huskies look for him, it opens up the rest of the offense for their perimeter players. Defensively, he just owns the paint. If he’s not blocking shots, he’s changing them. If he’s on the floor and playing to his ability, UConn is easily one of the dominant teams in America.
Weakness: The Huskies are going to have to try to find another perimeter scorer with the loss of Jerome Dyson. He took all the big shots for Connecticut and now the Huskies look lost at times on the floor. Price does a good job of running the show for them, but he is not the clutch player that Dyson was. Someone is going to have to step into that role for Connecticut to make a deep run in the tournament.

2. Memphis Tigers
Memphis, TN
Record: 31-3
Automatic Bid: Conference-USA Champions
Key Players: Tyreke Evans (16.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Robert Dozier (12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Shawn Taggart (10.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Antonio Anderson (10.2 ppg)
Strength: Memphis is quite possibly the best defensive team in the country. Forcing almost 16 turnovers per game and holding teams to 36% shooting on the season, the Tigers aren’t going to give up anything. Teams are only scoring 56.9 points per game against them and that’s the reason why a team that lost the talent that the Tigers did, has been able to win 31 games.
Weakness: The jury is still out on Memphis as an offensive team. There’s not another team in Conference USA with talent that’s even close to Memphis yet they still don’t lead the conference in points per game. They’re still not a great free-throw shooting team and are only making 32% of their three’s. They’re going to have to put some points on the board if they want to be successful against the step up in competition.

3. Missouri Tigers
Columbia, MO
Record: 28-6
Automatic Bid: Big 12 Conference Champions
Key Players: DeMarre Carroll (16.8 ppg, 7.3 ppg), Leo Lyons (14.2 ppg, 6 rpg)
Strength: A disciple of the Nolan Richardson school of basketball, Coach Mike Anderson employs the “Forty minutes of heck (hell)” style of play. They’re going to get up and down the court on makes and misses. They really pressure the basketball and turn their opponents’ turnovers into easy offense. It’s fun to watch, but difficult to prepare for and I don’t envy any team that has to play the Tigers.
Weakness: If Missouri doesn’t score, it throws a monkey wrench into its game plan. If the Tigers don’t make baskets, they can’t set up their press and if they can’t press they can’t get the game played at their pace. It’s imperative for them to play good offense or their defense will be rendered ineffective.

4. Washington Huskies
Location: Seattle, WA
Record: 25-8
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Isaiah Thomas (15.4 ppg), Justin Dentmon (15 ppg), Jon Brockman (14.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg), Quincy Pondexter (11.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: The most explosive team in the Pac-10, Washington, can score on you in many different ways. Thomas and Dentmon are undersized, but together, they are tough to defend on the perimeter. Then there is Brockman and Pondexter who can get it done in the paint. Their explosiveness is the reason why they won the regular season title in the Pac-10.
Weakness: While explosive, this is a team that’s also prone to turning the ball over. Averaging 15 turnovers per game, Washington is in last place in the Pac-10 in that category. With 432 assists on the season to 491 turnovers, the Huskies are flirting with a recipe for disaster.

Purdue F Robbie Hummel
Purdue F Robbie Hummel

5. Purdue Boilermakers
West Lafayette, IN
Record: 25-9
Automatic Bid: Big Ten Conference Champions
Key Players: E’Twaun Moore (13.9 ppg), JaJuan Johnson (13.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Robbie Hummel (12.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
Strength: Being first in field-goal percentage defense in the Big Ten is an accomplishment and that’s what the Boilermakers are. Purdue has held its opponents to 59 points per game with that aggressive defense. Led by top notch defender Chris Kramer, the Boilermakers are also forcing over 15 turnovers per game as well. If they defend like this in the tournament, they’ll be tough to beat.
Weakness: Purdue is going to live and die by the three-point shot. While the Boilermakers shoot themselves into a long tournament run, they can also shoot themselves into a first-round upset. The good-shooting Boilermakers showed up in the Big Ten tournament, but the bad-shooting Boilermakers showed up the week prior. Purdue better hope it’s still hot.

6. Marquette Golden Eagles
Milwaukee, WI
Record: 24-9
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Jerel McNeal (19.1 ppg), Wesley Matthews (17.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Lazar Hayward (15.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg)
Strength: Despite the loss of Dominic James, Marquette still has some of the best guards in America. They’re not normal guards either. They’re physical and tough with the mindset of big men. McNeal would’ve easily been in the discussion of Big East Player of the Year had the Golden Eagles not had the late season slide. He and Matthews will be a matchup problem for anyone.
Weakness: Marquette’s bench will be a problem in the NCAA Tournament. Marquette needs McNeal and Matthews on the court to be successful. If the Golden Eagles have to go to their bench they’ll be in major trouble. Now that Maurice Acker has been thrust into a starting position, the problem is even worse. McNeal and Matthews must play big-time minutes if Marquette is to stay in the tournament for a while.

7. California Golden Bears
Berkeley, CA
Record: 22-10
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Jerome Randle (18.4 ppg), Patrick Christopher (14.6 ppg), Theo Robertson (12.8 ppg)
Strength: This is one of the most dangerous three-point shooting teams in the country. Cal is tops in the Pac-10 in the three-point shooting percentage at over 43%. Randle, Christopher, and Robertson can all shoot it from behind the arc. They’re not high-volume three-point shooters, but when they get going, it’s hard to beat the Bears.
Weakness: California is a mediocre defensive team. The Bears force less than 13 turnovers per game and teams are shooting 44% against them. When you add that teams are getting more offensive rebounds than the Bears then it’s easy to see why teams are scoring over 68 points per game against them.

8. BYU Cougars
Provo, UT
Record: 25-7
At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference
Key Players: Lee Cummard (16.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Jimmer Fredette (16.2 ppg), Jonathan Tavernari (15.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
Strength: The Cougars can really score. BYU is number one in the Mountain West Conference in points per game with a 77.4 average. Cummard, Fredette, and Tavernari lead an attack that shoots over 38% from behind the arc and almost 49% from the floor. When those three guys are going, the Cougars are one of the most explosive teams in college basketball.
Weakness: Going only 7-men deep, BYU has a very short bench. Not only is the bench short, but it’s relatively ineffective as well. The top two subs are only averaging 6.7 points per game. The Cougars will need to keep themselves out of foul trouble if they want to hang around the tournament for a while.

9. Texas A&M Aggies
Location: College Station, TX
Record: 23-9
At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference
Key Players: Josh Carter (14.1 ppg), Donald Sloan (11.7 ppg), Bryan Davis (10.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Chinemelu Elonu (10.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Strength: Coach Mark Turgeon has a luxury that most other coaches don’t have; experience in the backcourt. Carter and Sloan have been at Texas A&M throughout its most successful era of basketball and they’ve seen it all. They’re the reason why Texas A&M was able to turn its season around. If the Aggies are to go far in this tournament, it’ll be because of the two guards who know what takes to be successful.
Weakness: Being in the bottom half of the Big 12 in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ration is a problem. The Aggies are turning the ball over more than their opponents and they have 21 more turnovers than assists on the season. That leads to inefficient offense and it’s the reason why they’ve struggled mightily at times season.

10. Maryland Terrapins
Location: College Park, MD
Record: 20-13
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference:
Key Players: Greivis Vasquez (17.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.1 apg), Landon Milbourne (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Eric Hayes (10.2 ppg)
Strength: Maryland is only going to go as far as Greivis Vasquez takes them. He does everything for Maryland; scores, creates for other players, rebounds and plays solid defense. The Terps get solid contributions from other players, but Vasquez is the clear leader on this team. If he performs to his ability, the Terps can make a run.
Weakness: This Maryland team suffers from the lack of an interior presence. They’re not very big and their post players seem content to shoot jump shots at times. The Terps need some semblance of a low-post threat to make a run to the second weekend. If they’re to make a run, someone is going to have to play big in the paint.

Utah St C Gary Wilkinson
Utah St C Gary Wilkinson

11. Utah State Aggies
Logan, UT
Record: 30-4
Automatic Bid: Western Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Gary Wilkinson (17.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Jared Quayle (12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Tai Wesley (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Strength: Utah St is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. The Aggies are shooting nearly 50% from the floor, 40% from downtown and are only averaging a little over 11 turnovers per game. They maximize their possessions and they don’t beat themselves. It is going to take a very discipline team to defend the Aggies successfully because they do everything well offensively.
Weakness: This is not an athletic Aggie team. They’re in the bottom of the WAC in both block shots and steals. While they’re a solid team on both ends on the floor, they’re not explosive. Teams may be able to play at a faster pace and above the rim against the Aggies and that could end their season.

12. Northern Iowa Panthers

Location: Cedar Falls, IA
Record: 23-10
Automatic Bid: Missouri Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Adam Koch (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Kwadzo Ahelegbe (11.8 ppg), Jordan Eglseder (10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Lucas O’Rear (5.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Strength: The Panthers play a style that’s made for the postseason. They’re a physical defensive-minded team that wants to keep the score in the 60s. They have good on-ball defenders and they have great size inside. They’ll take that toughness and defense to the tournament where they’ll be a tough out.
Weakness: Northern Iowa struggles to take care of the ball at times. The Panthers have turned the ball over more than their opponents and only have 20 more assists than turnovers on the season. With the way they play, if they don’t keep their turnovers down they’ll struggle to be successful.

13. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Starkville, MS
Record: 23-12
Automatic Bid: Southeastern Conference Champions
Key Players: Jarvis Varnado (13.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg), Barry Stewart (12.3 ppg), Ravern Johnson (12.2 ppg), Dee Bost (11.1 ppg), Phil Turner (8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Strength: Led by Varnardo on the interior, the Bulldogs are an outstanding defensive team. They have the luxury of being aggressive on the perimeter because they know if they get beat, Varnado is going to have their backs. He’s averaging over 4.7 blocks per game and he can dominate on the defensive end like only Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut can. Teams are only shooting 39% on Mississippi St and that all stems from Varnado’s presence.
Weakness: This is a thin team and they have been getting hammered on the boards. The Bulldogs are in 11th place in the SEC in reboundinWeakness:g margin despite the presence of Varnado. They’ll be hard-pressed to keep opposing teams of the glass and it may be the reason why they exit this year’s tournament early.

Cornell G/F Ryan Wittman
Cornell G/F Ryan Wittman

14. Cornell Big Red
Ithaca, NY
Record: 21-9
Automatic Bid: Ivy League Champions
Key Players: Ryan Wittman (18.5 ppg), Louis Dale (13.5 ppg), Jeff Foote (11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Strength: Cornell is your typical Ivy League school. Value the basketball, play smart, and shoot well from behind the arc. These are all things the Big Red does. They are tops in the Ivy in 3-point shooting, assists, assists-to-turnover ration, and are second in turnover margin. In other words, you’re going to have to beat them because they will not beat themselves.
Weakness: This is a team that struggles on defense at times. Cornell has a losing record when its opponents score over 70. Teams that can score really challenge the Big Red. That’s a problem given that they’ll be seeing a really good team during the tournament. If they are able to play at their pace, they’ll be in trouble.

15. Cal State Northridge Matadors
Northridge, CA
Record: 17-13
Automatic Bid: Big West Conference Champions
Key Players: Tremaine Townsend (11.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Willie Galick (9.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Strength: Led by Townsend and Galick, the Matadors are the best rebounding team in the Big West Conference. Pulling down over 37 boards per game, they out-rebound their opponents by over 3.6 boards per game. Even their guards crash the boards. If they’re to have success, they’re going to have to accentuate this positive.
Weakness: With 17.4 turnovers per game, the Matadors are in last place in the Big West in that category. It’s amazing that they were able to win the regular season and tournament championship doing that in a pretty good mid-major conference. They’re going to have to take care of the basketball if they want to leave their mark in this year’s tournament.

16. Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs
Chattanooga, TN
Record: 18-16
Automatic Bid: Southern Conference Champions
Key Players: Stephen McDowell (18.6 ppg), Nicchaeus Doaks (13.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Kevin Goffney (13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Khalil Hartwell (9.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Strength: Pulling down more than 39 rebounds per game, the Mocs are tops in the Southern Conference. Doaks, Goffney, and Hartwell are monsters on a team that also leads the SoCon in rebounding margin. If the Mocs are to have any success in the tournament, they need to draw on this strength.
Weakness: Allowing their opponents to score over 76 points per game, the Mocs are one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament this season. If schools in the the SoCon have been able to score on the Mocs that easily, it’s a scary thought to think what the number 1 or 2 seed it’ll see in the tournament will do to them.


South Region Breakdown

North Carolina G Ty Lawson
North Carolina G Ty Lawson

1. North Carolina Tar Heels
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Record: 28-4
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Tyler Hansbrough (21.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Ty Lawson (15.9 ppg, 6.1 apg), Wayne Ellington (15.2 ppg), Danny Green (13.3 ppg), Deon Thompson (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Ed Davis (6.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Strength: No one can stop the Tar Heels from scoring. They’re going to push the ball off turnovers, missed baskets, and made baskets. They have so many weapons including last year’s National Player of the Year in Hansbrough and this year’s ACC Player of the Year in Lawson. The only team that can stop Carolina from scoring is Carolina and seeing how everyone came back for this run, that’s going to be a tough proposition.
Weakness: The Heels are an awful perimeter defensive team. Any guard worth a grain of salt has lit them up this season. Greivis Vasquez, Jack McClinton, Kyle McAlarney and Toney Douglas have all put up big numbers against Carolina this season. Eventually, they’ll have to guard someone to win a national championship. If they don’t then it’ll be another disappointing season in Chapel Hill.

2. Oklahoma Sooners
Location: Norman, OK
Record: 27-5
At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference
Key Players: Blake Griffin (21.9 ppg, 14.3 rpg), Willie Warren (14.7 ppg), Taylor Griffin (9.6 ppg, 6 rpg)
Strength: It’s clear what the strength of this team is and his name is Blake Griffin. The probable National Player of the Year is a load in the low post. Scoring and hitting the boards, only a concussion has been able to slow down Griffin this season. As long as he’s doing work in the low-post and Warren is playing the co-pilot role, this team is capable of going very far in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Oklahoma, especially Griffin, gets to the free-throw line often. Yet they’re ninth in the Big 12 in free throw percentage. That’s a great equalizer for the teams Oklahoma will face in the Big Dance. If the Sooners aren’t going to make their free throws, they’re not going to advance far.

3. Syracuse Orange
Location: Syracuse, NY
Record: 26-9
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Jonny Flynn (17.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Eric Devendorf (15.9 ppg), Paul Harris (12.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Andy Rautins (10.5 ppg), Arinze Onuaku (10.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Rick Jackson (8.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: This is one tough team. No one expected Syracuse to have anything left for West Virginia after its six overtime game with Connecticut. Syracuse beat the Mountaineers in overtime anyway. Led by Flynn, the Orange are a team that has a lot of fight. There’s no quit in them and they’ll have plenty left for the NCAA Tournament.
Weakness: While they go eight-men deep, Syracuse isn’t getting much production from its bench. Outside of Jackson, no is capable of providing an offensive spark of the bench. This is troubling given the minutes the Orange regulars played in the Big East tournament. Someone is going to have to step up and give the Orange a boost or they may be heading home early.

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Spokane, WA
Record: 26-5
Automatic Bid: West Coast Conference Champions
Key Players: Josh Heytvelt (14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) Matt Bouldin (13.7 ppg), Austin Daye (12.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Jeremy Pargo (9.8 ppg, 5 apg)
Strength: As usual, the Bulldogs are an explosive team offensively. There are about six guys in their lineup that can score 20 on any given night. Inside with Heytvelt and Daye and outside with Bouldin and Pargo, they can hurt you from anywhere. Averaging a shade less than 79 points per game, they are a matchup problem for anyone.
Weakness: Depth is an issue for Gonzaga. There are six players averaging 25 or more minutes per game and then a big drop off to Demetri Goodson at 13 minutes. If they get into a game against a team that likes to play full-court pressure defense, their legs may be vulnerable.

5. Illinois Fighting Illini
Champagne, IL
Record: 24-9
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Demetri McCamey (11.9 ppg), Mike Davis (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Mike Tisdale (10.5 ppg), Chester Frazier (5.7 ppg, 5 apg)
Strength: The Fighting Illini bring that Big Ten defense to the tournament. For the season, they’re holding their opponents to 39% shooting from the floor. That suffocating defense has the Illini ranked number one in scoring defense at 56.6 points per game. It’s not the most entertaining thing to watch, but it’s the reason why they’ve enjoy a surprising resurgence this season.
Weakness: For a Big Ten squad, Illinois isn’t strong on the boards. The Illini are barely out-rebounding their opponents at just 0.1 per game. They don’t want to undermine their outstanding effort on the defensive end by allowing teams to get second and third opportunities. That would be an awful way to end their tournament run.

6. Arizona State Sun Devils
Location: Tempe, AZ
Record: 24-9
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: James Harden (20.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Jeff Pendergraph (14.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Rihards Kuksiks (10 ppg)
Strength: The Sun Devils have a one-two punch that many teams wish to have. The Pac-10 Player of the Year, James Harden, and his co-pilot, Jeff Pendergraph, are two of the best players in the country and they’ve carried the Sun Devils all year. As they go, so go Arizona St. Two players of that caliber can carry a team a long way.
Weakness: Arizona St is really weak on the boards. The Sun Devils are near the bottom of the conference in rebounding margin, rebounds per game, and offensive rebounds per game. That’s a lot of hidden points that Arizona St is either leaving on the board or other teams are scoring on them. It’s going to be difficult for the Sun Devils to advance if they don’t fix the chink in their armor.

7. Clemson Tigers
Clemson, SC
Record: 23-8
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Trevor Booker (15.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg), K.C. Rivers (14.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Terrance Oglesby (13.5 ppg), Raymond Sykes (7.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Strength: Clemson’s in-your-face full court defense is a sight to behold. The Tigers turn you over and let their athletes get out on the break to finish at the rim or their shooters spot up from downtown. Either way, this team is deadly in transition and if they catch their opponent playing at their pace, the band is going to play Tiger Rag all night long.
Weakness: This is not a great rebounding team. The Tigers are ninth in the ACC in rebounding margin as they are only out-rebounding their opponents by 1.6 boards per game. Clemson has the athletes to rebound and that’s what makes this stat troubling. If teams are able to counteract Clemson’s press by attacking the boards, the Tigers may be making an early exit from the tournament.

LSU G Marcus Thornton
LSU G Marcus Thornton

8. LSU Tigers
Baton Rouge, LA
Record: 26-7
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Marcus Thornton (20.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Tasmin Mitchell (16.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Bo Spencer (11.6 ppg), Chris Johnson (7.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
Strength: The Tigers use their outstanding length to play great defense. LSU’s long-armed defenders have held opponents to 40% shooting on the year and they’re only allowing teams to score 65.5 points per game. They have good size at every position and it’s the reason why they’ve been so effective defensively.
Weakness: LSU doesn’t have the depth to really make a deep run. The Tigers are only getting consistent contributions from five players. They’ll need to get point production of their bench to be effective in the tournament. If guys like Quinton Thornton and Terry Martin aren’t able to help offensively, the Tigers may be making an early exit from the tournament.

9. Butler Bulldogs
Indianapolis, IN
Record: 26-5
At-Large Bid: Horizon League
Key Players: Matt Howard (14.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Gordon Hayward (13.2 ppg), Shelvin Mack (11.7 ppg)
Strength: This isn’t your average run-of-the-mill Butler team. While they’ll still take a lot of three-point shots, the strength of the Bulldogs is on the defensive end of the court. Their opponents are only shooting 38% and averaging a little over 57 points per game. Their also forcing over 13 turnovers a game with six of those coming from steals. In addition to that, Butler is out-rebounding its opponents 34-31 on the year. This is a squad that’s doing all the dirty work.
Weakness: With just one upperclassman in the starting lineup, its amazing that Butler has even done as well as it has. This team’s youth has reared its ugly head in the team’s inconsistent play down the stretch. This is a talented team, so losing to Loyola-Il and Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a head scratcher. We’ll see if youth will be the Bulldogs un-doing.

10. Michigan Wolverines
Ann Arbor, MI
Record: 20-13
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Manny Harris (16.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), DeShawn Sims (15.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
Strength: Head Coach John Beilein employs one of the most unusual defenses to prepare for. The Wolverines’ 1-3-1 zone gives other teams fits. Their zone entices teams to shoot a lot of threes, which plays right into the Wolverines’ hands. On the season, teams are only shooting 31% from behind the arc. That’s why teams are only scoring 63.1 points per game against them.
Weakness: Which Michigan team is going to show up in the tournament? Will it be the team that beat UCLA and Duke or will it be the team that lost to Iowa? The Wolverines have been wildly inconsistent this season and much of that depends on whether or not they can hit their three-pointers. If they’re shots are falling, this team is capable of going on an extended tournament run.

11.Temple Owls
Philadelphia, PA
Record: 22-11
Automatic Bid: Atlantic-10 Conference Champions
Key Players: Dionte Christmas (19.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Lavoy Allen (10.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg), Ryan Brooks (10.7 ppg)
Strength: The country may not know, but Temple’s foes in the A-10 do. Dionte Christmas is one of the best players in the country and he’s the reason Temple is in this position. He has the ability to take over a game like maybe only 5-10 other players in the country can. If he gets going, he can take the Owls to the second weekend.
Weakness: If the Owls expect to survive and advance in the tournament they’re going to have to make free throws. Shooting less than 70% as a team is not going to get you wins in the postseason. With the talent they have, it’ll be a shame that they bow out because they don’t take advantage of the charity stripe.

12. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Bowling Green, KY
Record: 24-8
Automatic Bid: Sun Belt Conference Champions
Key Players: A.J. Slaughter (15.8 ppg), Orlando Mendez-Valdez (14 ppg), Steffphon Pettigrew (12.7 ppg), Sergio Kerusch (11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Strength: Western Kentucky has tremendous balance. The Hilltoppers have four players averaging in double figures with a fifth averaging over eight points a game. That balance is difficult to prepare for and has helped them to become one of the higher-scoring teams in the Sun Belt.
Weakness: The Hilltoppers are very weak inside. While they have five players who stand 6’8” or above, only Jeremy Evans records decent minutes. They like to play a small quick lineup, but that could be a detriment if they play a team with size. It caught up with them in the tournament last year and it could bite them again.

13. Akron Zips
Akron, OH
Record: 23-12
Automatic Bid: Mid-American Conference Champions
Key Players: Brett McKnight (11.4 ppg), Nate Linhart (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Strength: This is one of the best defensive teams in the tournament. Akron is outstanding on the defensive end. The Zips are forcing teams to shoot less than 39%, turn the ball over almost 18 times per game, and they’re holding teams under 60 points per game. This is a team to watch in the tournament.
Weakness: Watching the Zips on offense is painful. Averaging less than 67 points per game and shooting less than 42%. Those types of numbers make it imperative that they play such good defense. If the Zips have to play an athletic team in the tournament, they may be in trouble, because if they’re not effective defensively, the game could get out of hand.

14. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Nacogdoches, TX
Record: 24-7
Automatic Bid: Southland Conference Champions
Key Players: Matt Kingsley (16.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Josh Alexander (14.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Nick Shaw (6.1 ppg, 6 rpg)
Strength: The Lumberjacks grinded their way to the Southland Conference regular season and tournament titles on the strength of their defense. Holding their opponents to 37% shooting from the floor and 27% from downtown, they play some of the best defense of all mid-majors. If they can hold their NCAA opponents to 56 points, the average they give up on the season, they’ll be in line for an upset.
Weakness: Only averaging a shade over 66 points per game, the Lumberjacks struggle to score. They’re only shooting 32% from three and have only made 65% of their free throws. They have got to find a way to put the ball in the hoop to have any chance for an upset.

Morgan St G Reggie Holmes
Morgan St G Reggie Holmes

15. Morgan State Bears
Location: Baltimore, MD
Record: 23-11
Automatic Bid: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Reggie Holmes (16.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Kevin Thompson (9.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Marquise Kately (5.4 rpg)
Strength: Last year, Morgan St got to the MEAC championship and lost in the final. This season, the Bears accomplished their goal and it’s all due to experience. This team has a starting lineup which includes four upperclassmen including the talented Holmes. This team went through the building of a program and has seen it all. There’s nothing that this team hasn’t seen.
Weakness: This is a team that struggles to score. Just about all of the Bears offensive numbers are offensive: 65% from the free-throw line, 42% from the field, two more turnovers than assists per game. The Bears just aren’t going to have any success in the tournament if they don’t become more efficient on offense.

16. Radford Highlanders
Radford, VA
Record: 21-11
Automatic Bid: Big South Conference Champions
Key Players: Artisiom Parakhouski (16.3 ppg, 11.2 rpg), Kenny Thomas (14.8 ppg), Joey Lynch-Flohr (13.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Amir Johnson (9.6 ppg, 5.3 apg)
Strength: The mid-major version of Blake Griffin, Parakhouski leads a Radford low-post unrivaled by any in the Big South. Along with Lynch-Flohr, the Highlanders will go as far as their big men take them. They were beasts in Big South play and if they’re to have any success in the tournament, they’ll have to be tough in the Big Dance as well.
Weakness: This is a team that doesn’t value the ball at all. The Highlanders are average almost three more turnovers per game than their opponents-good enough for ninth place in the Big South. In addition to that, they average two less assists per game than turnovers. That’s a recipe for getting blown out in the first round.

East Region Breakdown

1. Pittsburgh Panthers
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Record: 28-4
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Sam Young (18.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), DeJuan Blair (15.6 ppg, 12.2 rpg), Levance Fields (10.7 ppg, 7.6 apg)
Strength: This is one of the most physical college basketball teams I’ve ever seen. Pitt is the bully on the block ready to take your lunch money and Blair is the leader of the gang. The Panthers are tough on the boards and Blair along with Young and Tyrell Biggs very effective scoring in the paint. You have to be mentally prepared to go toe-to-toe with their physicality or they will make you tap out.
Weakness: This team goes as Blair goes. When he’s in foul trouble, the Panthers lose their toughness and attitude and without that, they become very mortal. Young and Fields are very good players, but they won’t have much success with Blair sitting on the bench.

2. Duke Blue Devils
Location: Durham, NC
Record: 28-6
Automatic Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Champions
Key Players: Kyle Singler (16.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Gerald Henderson (16.6 ppg), Jon Scheyer 15.3 ppg)
Strength: Duke really plays great pressure defense. Their opponents are averaging 16.8 turnovers per game. This is the reason why nationally, the opinion of this Duke team is higher than has been in recent years. The Blue Devils force teams into turning the ball over and taking bad shots and then they let Henderson and Scheyer get in transition where they are dangerous. It is hard to stay with the Devils when they’re playing fast.
Weakness: There still is a question mark about Duke’s post presence. Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek have to give Singler some help defending in the paint and rebounding. If they aren’t, teams are going to punish the Devils with their big men. This has been a problem since Sheldon Williams left Durham and it still hasn’t been addressed.

Villanova F Dante Cunningham
Villanova F Dante Cunningham

3. Villanova Wildcats
Location: Villanova, PA
Record: 26-7
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Dante Cunningham (16 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Scottie Reynolds (15.5 ppg), Corey Fisher (10.8 ppg), Dwayne Anderson (8.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: Defensively, the Wildcats can really get after teams. Villanova uses its wealth of guards to pressure the basketball. That pressure has led to the Wildcats forcing over 15 turnovers per game. They’re not only turning people over, but they’re also holding squads to a hair over 40% shooting on the season. They’re a nightmare for opposing teams trying to get into their offense.
Weakness: The Wildcats’ low-post game is still a question mark. While Cunningham has stepped to become a good player this season, there’s still a question about whether Villanova has the post presence to make a deep run. Anderson and Shane Clark are going to have to step up if Villanova is going to make a return trip to the Sweet 16.

4. Xavier Musketeers
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Record: 25-7
At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference
Key Players: B.J. Raymond (14.1 ppg), Derrick Brown (13.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), C.J. Anderson (10 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Jason Love (7.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Strength: Xavier has very impressive depth. The Musketeers will attack you in waves with their nine-man rotation. Raymond, Brown, and Anderson are their primary scorers but they can get effective minutes in other places. In addition to those three, Xavier has five other players averaging over five points per game. Getting that kind of production from role players is a luxury most teams wish they had.
Weakness: Xavier has really missed Drew Lavender this year. The Musketeers have turned the ball over more than every team in the A-10 except for one. They’re 11th in assist to turnover ratio and 12th in turnover margin. Turning the ball over 70 more times than their opponents, they need to start valuing the basketball if they want to repeat their tournament run of last year.

5. Florida State Seminoles
Location: Tallahassee, FL
Record: 24-8
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Toney Douglas (20.9 ppg), Uche Echefu (8.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Soloman Alabi (8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: It’s clear what Florida St is all about. Toney Douglas is one of the best players in college basketball and he’s carried the Seminoles all year. Averaging just under 21 points per game, no one has been able to stop him all year long. If he’s getting his numbers, Florida St may make a nice run in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Weakness: After Douglas, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a consistent scorer for the Seminoles. There’s a 12-point per game gap between he and next Seminole. They’ve been getting solid contributions from the role players, but if Douglas has an off game there may not be anyone on this roster capable of picking up the slack. If that happens, they’re in big trouble.

6. UCLA Bruins
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Record: 25-7
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Darren Collison (14.8 ppg, 5 apg), Josh Shipp (14.2 ppg), Alfred Aboya (10 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Strength: Finally, a Ben Howland team that can score. The Bruins are averaging close to 77 points per game from shooting 50% from the floor and 40% from behind the arc-numbers good enough for first or second in the Pac-10. A weakness in the past of them has now become something they can lean on. This makes UCLA a different kind of animal in 2009.
Weakness: UCLA has lost its way defensively. There was once a time when teams considered themselves fortunate if they shot over 40%. This year it’s a disappointment if you’re just shooting over 40% against the Bruins. UCLA is in the bottom half of the Pac-10 in field goal percentage defense and three-point field goal percentage defense. If they don’t guard better in the tournament, they can kiss their consecutive Final Four streak goodbye.

7. Texas Longhorns
Location: Austin, TX
Record: 22-11
At-Large Bid:
Big 12 Conference
Key Players: A.J. Abrams (16.3 ppg), Damion James (15.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Gary Johnson (10.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Dexter Pittman (10 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Strength: While Abrams may get all the attention, it’s Texas’ frontcourt that has carried it all season. James, Johnson, Pittman, and Connor Atchley comprise of one of the best frontcourts in the country. They can all defend and they crash the boards like their lives depend on it. If the Longhorns are to go far this March, it’ll be their post players and not Abrams who’ll determine that.
Weakness: Shooting just 67% from the free-throw line, the Longhorns are leaving too many points on the floor. In the postseason, taking it’s necessary to shoot well from the free-throw line to survive. Memphis didn’t last year and it lost a national championship. If Texas doesn’t improve, it’ll have a tough time advancing.

Oklahoma St G James Anderson
Oklahoma St G James Anderson

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Location: Stillwater, OK
Record: 22-10
At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference
Key Players: James Anderson (18.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Byron Eaton (14.4 ppg, 5.6 apg), Terrel Harris (14.1 ppg), Obi Muonelo (12.6 ppg, 7.1 apg), Marshall Moses (6.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: Offensively, Oklahoma St has so many ways it can beat you. The Cowboys great from behind the arc, solid from the free-throw line and has so many guys that can score. They come at you with four guys who score double figures and another who’s scores nine points per game. Although Anderson and Eaton are the focal points, this is a team that can score from anywhere.
Weakness: This is one of the worst defensive teams in the Big 12. Teams are averaging over 74 points per game against Oklahoma St on the year. Teams are shooting 35% from three-point range and nearly 45% from the floor. They’re tenth in the conference in both categories. Oklahoma St is going to have to defend in the halfcourt if it wants to make some noise in the tournament.

9. Tennessee Volunteers
Location: Knoxville, TN
Record: 21-12
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Tyler Smith (17.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Wayne Chism (13.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg), J.P. Prince (10.1 ppg), Brian Williams (5.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: The Volunteers want to induce teams into playing at a nascar-style pace. They’ll use their full-court press to speed the game up and turn their opponents over. They want to get into transition and let Smith, Chism, Prince, Cameron Tatum and Bobby Maze use their athleticism to make plays. They attack for 40 minutes and it wears their opponents down.
Weakness: With the loss of Chris Lofton, the Volunteers have struggled from behind the arc. Shooting only 31%, they’re dead last in the SEC in three-point shooting. Teams that can’t knockdown outside shots in March aren’t very successful. If the percentage proves to be true for Tennessee, they’ll be one and done this March.

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Record: 22-10
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Lawrence Westbrook (12.4 ppg)
Strength: Head Coach Tubby Smith brought his trademark defense with him to Minneapolis. In a conference that prides itself on defense, it’s impressive that the Gophers are third in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense. That defense has helped them hold their opponents to 61 points per game. If they can play this kind of defense in the tournament they may make a little noise in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Who’s going to help Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson? That’s the question the Gophers have to answer. Minnesota is very easy to guard right now because it doesn’t have any other options offensively. If the Gophers can’t find additional scoring, they’ll be out of this tournament early.

11. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Location: Richmond, VA
Record: 24-9
Automatic Bid: Colonial Athletic Association Champions
Key Players: Eric Maynor (22.4 ppg, 6.2 apg) Larry Sanders (11.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg)
Strength: VCU’s fast-paced style of play is tough to prepare for. Maynor and Joey Rodriguez, both among the top-10 in the CAA in steals, are the two leaders on one of the most dangerous full-court pressure defenses in the country. Couple that with the CAA’s leading shot-blocker, Sanders, now you have a defense tailor-made to create headache’s for opponents.
Weakness: The way to beat the Rams is to pound them on the boards. They’re one of the worst rebounding teams in the CAA as they’ve been out-rebounded by their opponents on the season. It hasn’t kept them from getting into the tournament, but if they don’t find a way to rebound, they won’t see the second weekend of the tournament.

12. Wisconsin Badgers
Location: Madison, WI
Record: 19-12
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Marcus Landry (12.6 ppg), Trevon Hughes (12 ppg), Jason Bohannon (10.3 ppg,), Joe Krabbenhoft (8.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Strength: While they’re not a high-scoring team, the Badgers are a very efficient team offensively. They’re patient, shoot a good 37% from downtown, over 72% from the free-throw line, and they only turn the ball over 10.1 times per game. It’s going to take a discipline team to guard their offense for 30-35 seconds each possession and they’re aren’t a lot of teams willing to do that.
Weakness: With Wisconsin’s style of play, there’s little margin for error. The Badgers play so close to the vest that it’s hard for them to overcome an off night in any area. This team has to be solid in every area for it to be successful and that’s going to be difficult to do in a tournament where the teams will try to take away what you do best. The Badgers have to be at their absolute best to advance.

Portland St G Jeremiah Dominguez
Portland St G Jeremiah Dominguez

13. Portland State Vikings
Location: Portland, OR
Record: 23-9
Automatic Bid: Big Sky Conference Champions
Key Players: Jeremiah Dominguez (12.9 ppg), Dominic Waters (11.5 ppg), Phil Nelson (11.2 ppg), Andre Murray (11 ppg), Jamie Jones (8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Julius Thomas (7.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Strength: Portland St has balance that many teams dream of. With four players averaging double figures in scoring and three others scoring over per game, the Vikings have a lot options offensively. Having that luxury makes them hard to defend and keeps Dominguez from having to shoulder the load that he had to last year.
Weakness: Portland St isn’t a very good defensive team. Teams are shooting over 45% from the field and over 34% from three against the Vikings. There lack of size is contributing factor, but they need to figure out a way to guard people if they want to have success in the Big Dance.

14. American Eagles
Location: Washington, DC
Record: 24-7
Automatic Bid: Patriot League Champions
Key Players: Garrison Carr (17.8 ppg), Brian Gilmore (12.4 ppg), Derrick Mercer (11.5 ppg)
Strength: American loves the three-point shot. The Eagles are not a big team so they’ve found another way to be effective. Close to 40% of their field-goal attempts come from behind the arc and the Eagles are making them at a very respectable 38%. The three-point shot kept them in the game against Tennessee in last year’s tournament and it could get them to the second round in this year’s.
Weakness: The Eagles virtually have no depth this year. After Carr, Gilmore, and Mercer there’s a big drop off in point production to the other two starters and it’s even worse when they get to the bench. Carr and Mercer are clocking more than 36 minutes per game so fatigue could come into play for the Eagles.

15. Binghamton Bearcats
Location: Binghamton, NY
Record: 23-8
Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions
Key Players: D.J. Rivera (20 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Malik Alvin (11.7 ppg), Emanuel Mayben (11.5 ppg), Reggie Fuller (10.2 ppg)
Strength: The Bearcats employ a full-court pressure defense that wreaked havoc on America East opponents this season. They use that defense to get the game played at a breakneck speed, the pace they like. They make you take quick shots and turn the ball over and turned those mistakes into the first pass on their fast break. If teams go up and down with the Bearcats, then the Bearcats have them right where they want them.
Weakness: This team is in the bottom half of the America East in rebounding. That’s not good because if you can’t out-rebound Stony Brook and New Hampshire, it’s going to be very difficult to rebound against a team the caliber of the one it’ll be facing in the tournament. Binghamton has been out-rebounded by 50 by its opponents on the season. That’s not a recipe for March success.

16. East Tennessee State Buccaneers
Location: Johnson City, TN
Record: 23-10
Automatic Bid: Atlantic Sun Conference Champions
Key Players: Kevin Tiggs (21.5 ppg), Courtney Pigram (17.6 ppg), Mike Smith (15.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg)
Strength: The Buccaneers are an outstanding offensive team. Averaging just under 79 points per game, they are tops in the Atlantic Sun in scoring and scoring margin. Tiggs, Pigram, and Smith lead an offensive attack that can rival any mid-major in America. It’s unusual for teams at their level to have the scoring options that the Buccaneers have. That’s why they’ve won games consistently all year long.
Weakness: East Tennessee St is averaging over 14 turnovers a game and that’s a high number if you expect to be successful in March. The Buccaneers need to value the basketball if they want to be competitive. Teams in the NCAA are tough enough to beat as it is and giving them extra opportunities is only going to make it more difficult.

Midwest Region Breakdown

1. Louisville Cardinals
Location: Louisville, KY
Record: 28-5
Automatic Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Earl Clark (14 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Terrance Williams (12.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 5.1 apg), Samardo Samuels (11.9 ppg)
Strength: The Cardinals come at you in waves. Rick Pitino will throw so many players on the floor defensively that they really can tire opponents out. It takes strong teams mentally and physically to withstand 40 minutes of pressure from Louisville. By the end of the game it’ll seem like the Cardinals have an endless bench. That depth and pressure on defense is the reason the Cardinals won their first ever Big East regular season and tournament titles.
Weakness: Does Louisville have the guards to make a deep tournament run? That’s question that needs to be answered for Louisville. Terrance Williams is the playmaker for this team, but sooner or later someone in Louisville’s backcourt is going to have to make a key play for the this team. If that doesn’t happen, I’m not sure this team is National Championship-caliber.

2. Michigan State Spartans
Location: East Lansing, MI
Record: 26-6
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Kalin Lucas (14.8 ppg), Raymar Morgan (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Goran Suton (9.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Delvon Roe (6 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Strength: If there’s one thing the Michigan St is always going to do well, it’s rebound the basketball. Out-rebounding their opponents by almost 10 per game, the Spartans are the best rebounding team in the Big Ten. Morgan, Suton and Roe are the players with the stats, but everyone on this team down to the guards attack the glass. Rebounding is definitely a prerequisite to play at Michigan St.
Weakness: The Spartans are still a little challenged offensively. If it weren’t for their ability to get offensive rebounds, they wouldn’t average the 72 points per game they average now. They’re near the bottom of the conference in three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. They are going to have to step it up offensively if they want to make a serious run at the Final Four.

3. Kansas Jayhawks
Location: Lawrence, KS
Record: 25.7
At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference
Key Players: Sherron Collins (18.3 ppg, 5 apg), Cole Aldrich (14.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Tyshawn Taylor (10 ppg)
Strength: Holding their opponents to under 39%, Kansas is number 1 in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense. They have a lot of long, athletic players that they use to defend. That’s why in addition to being at the top in field goal percentage defense, Kansas is near the top in scoring defense and three-point field goal percentage defense. The Jayhawks really guard you.
Weakness: Kansas lost a lot of its production from last year’s team which is why it’s so surprising that it has done so well. Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, and Brandon Rush have been replaced with a lot of freshmen and sophomores and that experience will be something to watch in the tournament. Collins can provide leadership but twelve underclassmen may prove to be too young for a deep tournament run.

Wake Forest G Jeff Teague
Wake Forest G Jeff Teague

4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Record: 24-6
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Jeff Teague (19.1 ppg), James Johnson (14.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Al-Farouq Aminu (12.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
Strength: This is one of the most athletic teams in the country. This is displayed in the many highlight plays the Demon Deacons have made all year. That makes Wake Forest hard to guard offensively, but it also makes it hard to score on. Teams are shooting less than 40% against them and they’ve forced over 16 turnovers per game. The Deacons run off of missed shots and turnovers and once they get in transition there may not be another team in American that can match up.
Weakness: While talented, Teague, Johnson, and Aminu are all young and susceptible to youthful mistakes. Wake Forest does have experienced players around them, but none are the contributors that these three are. The problem has already cost them games this season and may be the cause of a Wake Forest exit from the tournament.

5. Utah Utes
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Automatic Bid: Mountain West Conference Champions
Key Players: Luke Nevill (16.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Lawrence Borha (11.7 ppg), Shaun Green (10.4 ppg), Tyler Kepkay (10.1 ppg), Carlon Brown (9.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Strength: Led by the 7’2” Nevill, Utah has one of the nation’s premier frontcourts. Nevill along with Green are really hard to guard. Green is a matchup problem with his ability to step out behind the three-point line and knock down jumpers and Nevill is just a load to try to defend in the paint. This frontcourt is very reminiscent of the Andrew Bogut-led frontcourt that took the Utes to the Sweet 16 in 2005.
Weakness: The Utes aren’t playing efficient offense. They have more turnovers than assists on the year and have over 100 more turnovers than their opponents on the season. If they’re not able to keep that number down, they’ll be clipped early in the tournament.

6. West Virginia Mountaineers
Location: Morgantown, WV
Record: 23-11
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Da’Sean Butler (17.3 ppg, 6 rpg), Alex Ruoff (15.9 ppg), Devin Ebanks (10.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Kevin Jones (6.5 ppg, 5 rpg)
Strength: No one chases its own missed shots like the Mountaineers. With 158 more offensive rebounds than their opponents on the season, they’re among the best in the country in second-chance points. Coach Bob Huggins has always taught his teams to rebound and be tough. This West Virginia ball-club is no different.
Weakness: The Mountaineers are depending on a lot of freshmen to be successful. Ebanks, Jones, and Darryl Bryant are key to West Virginia’s tournament survival, but can they be trusted. None of them have played a NCAA Tournament game so it’s unclear how they’ll react to it. If they play like freshmen, their inexperience will cause an early exit for the Mountaineers.

7. Boston College Eagles
Location: Chesnut Hill, MA
Record: 22-11
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Tyrese Rice (17.1 ppg, 5.2 apg), Joe Trapani (13.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Rakim Sanders (13 ppg), Corey Raji (9.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Josh Southern (6.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Strength: As usual, Head Coach Al Skinner has another team created in his likeness. That likeness is tough. Tyrese Rice leads an Eagles team that won’t give you anything for 40 minutes. They’re going to do whatever it takes to get a win and you see the results by them overachieving this season. If a team is going to beat them, it’s going to really earn that victory because this club doesn’t back down from any challenge.
Weakness: With just two upperclassmen, this is one of the youngest teams coach Skinner has ever taken to the tournament. That youth is the reason they followed a win at North Carolina with a loss to Harvard. For the Eagles sake, they better have matured from that point or they’ll be bounced out of the Big Dance quickly.

8. Ohio State Buckeyes
Location: Columbus, OH
Record: 22-10
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Evan Turner (17.1 ppg, 7 rpg), Jon Diebler (11.4 ppg), William Buford (11.3 ppg)
Strength: The Buckeyes may have the best backcourt in the Big Ten. Turner, Diebler, and Buford are do-everything guards. They can all score, defend, and rebound. Turner may get the attention, but its not a one-man show. The Buckeyes have had really effective big men recently and has a good one this year in B.J. Mullens, but this year’s edition is all about the guards.
Weakness: This is not a good team on the glass. The Buckeyes’ opponents have been killing them on the boards at the tune of one board per game. They’re in the bottom half of the Big Ten in all rebounding categories and it’s amazing they were so successful despite this. The Buckeyes better sure this area up if they expect to surprise in the Big Dance.

9. Siena Saints
Location: Loudonville, NY
Record: 26-7
Automatic Bid: Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Kenny Hasbrouck (14.8 ppg), Edwin Ubiles (14.6 ppg), Alex Franklin (13.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Ryan Rossiter (10 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
Strength: The Saints’ pressure defense is a thing of beauty. They average 8.8 steals per game and force close to 17 turnovers per game. It’s their hallmark and they have the athletes to play it. Ubiles, Hasbrouck, Franklin, Rossiter and Ronald Moore are all outstanding athletes who create havoc on the defensive end.
Weakness: With that press, it’s feast or famine. Teams can still score are still able to score easily on Siena. The Saints are giving up 70 points per game and are ninth, in the ten-team MAAC, in field-goal percentage defense. If they face a team with solid point guard play, they may be in trouble.

USC F Taj Gibson
USC F Taj Gibson

10. USC Trojans
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Record: 21-12
Automatic Bid: Pac-10 Conference Champions
Key Players: Taj Gibson (14.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg), Dwight Lewis (14.1 ppg), DeMar DeRozan (13.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Daniel Hackett (12.5)
Strength: USC has some outstanding athletes. Coach Tim Floyd uses those athletes to play lock-down defense. USC is second in the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage defense and third in the 3-point field-goal percentage defense. With Gibson as the conference’s defensive player of the year, USC will have to bring its trademark with if it wants to stay hot in the NCAA Tournament.
Weakness: USC really struggles to score. The Trojans are not only shooting poorly from behind the arc and the free-throw line, but they’re also turning the ball over more than their opponents. That’s why they needed a remarkable run in the Pac-10 tournament to save their season. If they don’t play better on offense, it’ll be tough sledding for the Trojans.

11. Dayton Flyers
Location: Dayton, OH
Record: 26-7
At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference
Key Players: Chris Wright (12.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Marcus Johnson (12.2 ppg), Chris Johnson (6.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Strength: The Flyers really lock teams down on the defensive end. They’re second in the A-10 in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, and three-point field goal percentage defense-the only team in the conference to do that. Dayton likes to force teams to play an ugly game and it plays the defense to get that done.
Weakness: It’s good that Dayton plays such great defense because its offensive numbers are among the worst out of all the teams in this year’s tournament. They shoot less than 65% from the free throw line, less than 43% from the field, and are only scoring 67.5 points per game. Their defense will travel, but if they can’t score consistently, the Flyers will be out of the tournament quickly.

12. Arizona Wildcats
Location: Tucson, AZ
Record: 19-13
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Jordan Hill (18.5 ppg, 11 rpg), Chase Budinger (17.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Nic Wise (15.1 ppg), Jamelle Horne (6.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Strength: In Hill, Budinger, and Wise, Arizona has three guys who may have NBA futures. All three can really score and makes Arizona very dangerous. Hill is possibly a lottery pick and is hard to guard in the low-post, Budinger is a matchup problem with his ability to shoot the three, and Wise is one of the best scoring point guards in the country. This is a team that will strike fear into anyone.
Weakness: Depth is an issue for the Wildcats. They have a very talented big 3, but after that there’s not much there. They’re only getting solid contributions from six players and that won’t be enough. If any of those three guys get into foul trouble, Arizona may fall by the waste side.

13. Cleveland State Vikings
Location: Cleveland, OH
Record: 25-10
Automatic Bid: Horizon League Champions
Key Players: J’Nathan Bullock (15.3 ppg, 7 rpg), Norris Cole (12.9 ppg), Cedric Jackson (10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.4 apg)
Strength: Cleveland St is a team that represents its city well. The Vikings are a tough, hard-nosed club that plays lock down defense. They’re in the top three in every major defensive category in the Horizon League. They’re holding teams to less than 41% shooting and they’re forcing 16 turnovers per contest. If Cleveland St plays this kind of defense in the tournament, they’ll be tough to beat.
Weakness: It is a struggle for the Vikings to score. Shooting only 43% and scoring only 66 points per game, they’re going to allow teams to always stay within striking distance. If the Vikings don’t figure out a way to score easier, they’re going to have a short stay in the tournament.

14. North Dakota State Bison
Location: Fargo, ND
Record: 26-6
Automatic Bid: Summit League Champions
Key Players: Ben Woodside (22.8 ppg), Brett Winkleman (18.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Mike Nelson (11.9 ppg)
Strength: Ben Woodside and Brett Winkleman are one of the best 1-2 punches in all of mid-major basketball. They can really put points on the board. They combined for 77 points earlier this season against Stephen F. Austin. They’re outstanding shooters from deep and are great on the free throw line. If those two are putting up numbers, the Bison will be dangerous.
Weakness: Teams are shooting close to 45% against the Bison. That’s not going to get it done in the tournament. North Dakota St is used to outscoring its opponents, but they aren’t going to be facing Centenary or IUPUI. They’ll be playing one of the best teams in the country and they’re going to need to defend to advance in the tournament.

15. Robert Morris Colonials
Location: Moon Township, PA
Record: 24-10
Automatic Bid: Northeast Conference Champions
Key Players: Jeremy Chappell (16.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Rob Robinson (11.4 ppg), Jimmy Langhurst (10 ppg)
Strength: Shooting at just under 40%, Robert Morris is an outstanding three-point shooting team. The Colonials have four players who are all shooting at 35% or better from downtown with Chappell and Langhurst both shooting over 40%. That kind of shooting will keep the Colonials in any game this March.
Weakness: The Colonials propensity to turn the ball over is worrisome. At over 15 turnovers per game, they rank in the bottom half of the Northeast conference in that category. They must take care of the ball if they expect to be successful in the tournament. If they don’t it could be a short and painful stay for the Colonials.

16a. Alabama State Hornets
Location: Montgomery, AL
Record: 22-9
Automatic Bid: Southwestern Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Brandon Brooks (14 ppg, 6.8 apg), Andrew Hayles (13.5 ppg)
Strength: Alabama St is coming to the tournament and its bringing the SWAC’s best defense with it. The Hornets are the bet in the conference in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, and 3-point field goal percentage defense. The Hornets used that in your face defense to dominate opponents in the SWAC and they hope it’ll translate into a first-round upset in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Despite the presence of 7’1 Chief Kickinstallionsims, the Hornets aren’t a very good rebounding team. With the size advantage they enjoy and the level of competition they play against, they should be dominant on the boards. However they outrebound their opponents by less than two a game and that’s a troubling number for a team that is going to face a outstanding post players in the tournament.

Morehead St F Kenneth Faried
Morehead St F Kenneth Faried

16b. Morehead State Eagles
Location: Morehead, KY
Record: 19-15
Automatic Bid: Ohio Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Leon Buchanan (15.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Kenneth Faried (13.9 ppg, 12.8 rpg), Maze Stallworth (12.1 ppg), Demonte Harper (10.8 ppg)
Strength: Led by Faried and Buchanan, the Eagles are the best rebounding team in the conference. Ranked number 1 in rebounding offense, defense, and margin, their work on the boards is the reason why they finished only two games out of first in the regular season and won the conference tournament. If the Eagles are able to rebound well in the tournament, they’ll be able to stay within striking distance with more talented teams.
Weakness: Being at the bottom of the conference in every major turnover category is not good. Doing it in the Ohio Valley Conference is even worse. Morehead is on the negative side of the turnover margin and has 77 more turnovers than assists. That’s why they have 15 losses and why they probably won’t stay in the tournament very long.

BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday March 15, 2009 5:35 pm (Welcome Stephen F. Austin, Duke, Mississippi St, Purdue)

Last Four In: Penn St, Creighton Wisconsin, Maryland
Last Four Out: St. Mary’s, Minnesota, Arizona, San Diego St

1.North Carolina16.Alabama St(SWAC) Greensboro, NC
5.Utah(MWest)12.Cleveland St(Horizon) Portland, OR
6.LSU11.Siena(MAAC) Philadelphia, PA
7.Ohio St10.Maryland Kansas City, MO
1.Connecticut16.East Tennessee St(A-Sun) Philadelphia, PA
8.Illinois9.Boston College
5.UCLA12.Creighton Boise, ID
4.Kansas13.Western Kentucky(SBelt)
6.West Virginia11.Wisconsin Miami, FL
3.Wake Forest14.American(Patriot)
7.Oklahoma St10.Dayton Kansas City, MO
2.Memphis(CUSA)15.Cal St Northridge(BWest)
1.Pittsburgh16.Radford(BSouth) Dayton, OH
5.Xavier12.Northern Iowa(MVC) Boise, ID
4.Purdue(B10)13.Portland St(BSky)
6.Arizona St11.Mississippi St(SEC) Minneapolis, MN
3.Missouri(B12)14.North Dakota St
7.BYU10.Michigan Greensboro, NC
2.Duke(ACC)15.Morgan St(MEAC)
1.Louisville(BE)16.Morehead(OVC)/Chattanooga(SC) Dayton, OH
8.USC(P10)9.Texas A&M
5.Gonzaga(WCC)12.Penn St Portland, OR
4.Florida St13.Virginia Commonwealth(CAA)
6.Clemson11.Temple(A10) Miami, FL
3.Villanova14.Stephen F. Austin(Southland)
7.Tennessee10.Utah St(WAC) Minneapolis, MN
2.Michigan St15.Robert Morris(NEC)

BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday Morning March 15, 2009 (Welcome Binghamton, Memphis, USC, Missouri, Temple, Morgan St, Akron, Alabama St, Utah, Louisville, Utah St, Cal St Northridge)

Last Four In: Penn St, St. Mary’s, Creighton, Wisconsin
Last Four Out: Minnesota, Arizona, San Diego St, Auburn

1.North Carolina16.Alabama St(SWAC) Greensboro, NC
5.Utah(MWest)12.Cleveland St(Horizon) Portland, OR
6.LSU11.Temple(A10) Philadelphia, PA
7.Ohio St10.Maryland Kansas City, MO
1.Connecticut16.East Tennessee St(A-Sun) Philadelphia, PA
8.Illinois9.Boston College
5.UCLA12.Creighton Boise, ID
4.Kansas13.Western Kentucky(SBelt)
6.West Virginia11.Wisconsin Miami, FL
3.Wake Forest14.American(Patriot)
7.Oklahoma St10.Utah St(WAC) Kansas City, MO
2.Memphis(CUSA)15.Cal St Northridge(BWest)
1.Pittsburgh16.Radford(BSouth) Dayton, OH
5.Purdue12.St. Mary’s Boise, ID
4.Xavier13.Portland St(BSky)
6.Arizona St11.Siena(MAAC) Minneapolis, MN
3.Missouri(B12)14.North Dakota St
7.BYU10.Michigan Greensboro, NC
2.Duke15.Morgan St(MEAC)
1.Louisville(BE)16.Morehead(OVC)/Chattanooga(SC) Dayton, OH
8.USC(P10)9.Texas A&M
5.Gonzaga(WCC)12.Penn St Portland, OR
4.Florida St13.Virginia Commonwealth(CAA)
6.Clemson11.Northern Iowa(MVC) Miami, FL
3.Villanova14.Stephen F. Austin
7.Tennessee10.Dayton Minneapolis, MN
2.Michigan St15.Robert Morris(NEC)

BRACKETOLOGY: Saturday March 14, 2009 (Welcome American)

Last Four In: Auburn, Creighton, Wisconsin, Penn St
Last Four Out: USC, St. Mary’s, Minnesota, South Carolina

1.Michigan St16.Morehead St(OVC)/UT-Chatt(SC) Dayton, OH
5.Florida St12.Creighton Portland, OR
4.Washington13.Cleveland St(Horizon)
6.Clemson11.Penn St Minneapolis, MN
3.Missouri14.North Dakota St(Summit)
7.Tennessee10.San Diego St Philadelphia, PA
2.Connecticut15.Cal St. Northridge
1.Louisville16.East Tennessee St(A-Sun) Kansas City, MO
8.Boston College9.Butler
5.UCLA12.Temple Boise, ID
4.Kansas13.Portland St(BSky)
6.Utah11.Siena(MAAC) Boise, ID
3.Syracuse14.Stephen F. Austin
7.Oklahoma St10.Michigan Greensboro, NC
2.Duke15.Morgan St
1.Pittsburgh16.Radford(BSouth) Dayton, OH
8.California9.Texas A&M
5.Purdue12.Auburn Miami, FL
4.Xavier13.Western Kentucky(SBelt)
6.West Virginia11.Wisconsin Philadelphia, PA
3.Wake Forest14.Binghampton
7.BYU10.Utah St Kansas City, MO
1.North Carolina16.Alabama St Greensboro, NC
8.Ohio St9.Dayton
5.LSU12.Virginia Commonwealth(CAA) Portland,OR
6.Arizona St11.Northern Iowa(MVC) Miami, FL
7.Illinois10.Maryland Minneapolis, MN
2.Oklahoma15.Robert Morris(NEC)