1. Louisville Cardinals
Location: Louisville, KY
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
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
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.
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
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
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
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
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
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.
10. USC Trojans
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
16b. Morehead State Eagles
Location: Morehead, KY
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.