1. Kansas Jayhawks
Location: Lawrence, KS
Automatic Bid: Big XII Champions
Key Players: Marcus Morris (17.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Markieff Morris (13.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Tyrel Reed (10 ppg), Tyshawn Taylor (9.1 ppg), Thomas Robinson (8 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Strength: Kansas may be the most talented team in the country. The Morris twins are a load in the paint, but when either goes to the bench there’s little drop-off. Kansas can come off the bench with Thomas Robinson, who would start on just about any other team in the nation. The fact that Josh Selby, a McDonald’s All-American, isn’t seeing much time lets you know how deep and talented this team is. Kansas is definitely one of the favorites to cut down the nets because when they play to their potential, they’re virtually unstoppable.
Weakness: Chemistry issues have plagued the Jayhawks this year. Coach Bill Self has tinkered with his lineup numerous times to try to find the right fit. He’s still trying to find the guard to run his team after having to suspend Tyshawn Talylor and not being pleased with Selby’s play after his suspension. Kansas is very talented, but Self has to find the right mix to maximize his talent and make sure the team plays together.
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Location: South Bend, IN
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Ben Hans rough (18.5 ppg), Tim Abromaitis (15.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Carleton Scott (11.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Scott Martin (9.9 ppg), Tyrone Nash (9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Strength: Notre Dame is deadly from behind the arc. Led by Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough, the Irish led the Big East in three-point shooting percentage at 39.2 percent. Hansbrough is great at dribble penetration, which allows him to kick out to his teammates for open threes. The top six guys in Notre Dame’s rotation are all reliable shooters from behind the arc making them hard to guard. Any team that was able to put up those kinds of numbers in the Big East will be a team to be reckoned with.
Weakness: Notre Dame isn’t the most athletic team in the world and has had trouble with teams that can extend defensively and fast break offensively. In a loss to Kentucky, Notre Dame had fits trying to score against the athleticism of the Wildcats. In Notre Dame’s loss to Louisville, the Cardinals were able to wear the Irish down with their full court press. Any good team with superior athleticism can match-up well with Notre Dame.
3. Purdue Boilermakers
Location: West Lafayette, IN
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: JaJuan Johnson (20.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg), E’Twaun Moore (18.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Strength: Purdue has a one-two punch that’s unmatched by most teams in America. JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore are two of the best players in America. They manage to complement each other very well even though they’re both outstanding scorers. The two seniors have picked up the slack the last year and half for the injured Robbie Hummel and they’ll be aiming for a long run in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Purdue is largely a jump-shooting team so when they’re not making jumpers they become a very ordinary team. As good of player as Johnson is, he likes to play out on the perimeter more than he does in the paint. That removes any post presence for the Boilermakers – making them play from the outside in. If they don’t make jumpers, they’ll be doomed.
4. Louisville Cardinals
Location: Louisville, KY
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Preston Knowles (14.8 ppg), Kyle Kuric (10.8 ppg), Peyton Siva (10.1 ppg, 5.3 apg), Terrence Jennings (9.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Chris Smith (9.1 ppg)
Strength: The Cardinals will pressure their opponent for 40 minutes on defense. Coach Rick Pitino is a mastermind and wearing teams down and taking advantage of fatigue. So many great players have played the Cardinals, but have not been able to make shots at the end of games because of the constant pressure. If the Cardinals are to be beaten, it’ll be by a supremely conditioned team or a club with great depth.
Weakness: Louisville is weak on the free-throw line. Shooting less that 67 percent, the Cardinals can’t be counted on to close in late-game situations. Preston Knowles and Kyle Kuric are outstanding shooters, but Peyton Siva, the teams primary ball handler shoots less than 70 percent and that’s unacceptable. If the point guard can’t be trusted to make free throws at the end of the game, who can you turn to?
5. Vanderbilt Commodores
Location: Nashville, TN
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: John Jenkins (19.5 ppg), Jeffery Taylor (15.1 ppg, 5.4 ppg), Festus Ezeli (12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Brad Tinsley (10.6 ppg), Lance Woodbourne (7.3 rpg)
Strength: This is a dangerous team from behind the arc. As a team, Vanderbilt shoots 37 percent from the three-point line. The Commodores are led by John Jenkins, whose made half of his overall field goals from behind the three-point line. The Commodores rely on long-range shooting to win and judging by the success they’ve had this season, it’s treated them very well.
Weakness: This is a team that can get careless with the basketball on occasion. On the year, the Commodores turn the ball over more than their opponents and barely have more assists than turnovers. Turnovers limit the possessions for a team that, at times, wants to to control tempo. Having the ball is key, but if the Commodores don’t value it more they’ll be locked out.
6. Georgetown Hoyas
Location: Washington, DC
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Austin Freeman (17.9 ppg), Chris Wright (13.1 ppg, 5.4 apg), Jason Clark (12.1 ppg), Julian Vaughn (8 ppg, 6 rpg), Hollis Thompson (8 ppg)
Strength: Most years, the conversation about Georgetown begins and ends with its frontcourt, but not this year. Georgetown’s backcourt is possibly the best in the country and when all three are on, they can collectively score 60 points all by themselves. Chris Wright runs the show, but Austin Freeman and Jason Clark can be deadly from behind the arc. This team is only going to go as far as its trio of guards will take it and that could be a long way.
Weakness: This team is struggling entering the tournament with lingering questions over the health of Chris Wright. With Wright playing well, Georgetown is possibly a top-10 team. Without him, the Hoyas struggle to be competitive with anybody. It’s not just the points, assists and defense that’s missed. It’s his leadership and presence on the court. He’s the emotional leader for Georgetown and without him out there it’s a body walking around without its head.
7. Texas A&M Aggies
Location: College Station, TX
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: Khris Middleton (14.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), David Loubeau (11.9 ppg), B.J. Holmes (9.8 ppg), Nathan Walkup (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Strength: This is a tough defensive team. The Aggies only allow opponents to shoot 41.1 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from behind the arc. In addition to that, they do a great job of limiting their opponents’ possessions by rebounding over 70 percent of their foes’ misses. Teams are barely scoring 61 points against the Aggies – a stat that lets you know the key to their success.
Weakness: Defense will keep Texas A&M in games, but it hasn’t been able to score in key games. The Aggies only score 68.9 points per game and that’s good enough for ninth place in the Big XII. It’s a struggle to win when you struggle to score and that’s why they haven’t been able to get over the hump against teams like Texas and Kansas in league play. Texas A&M needs to be able to put points up to have staying power in the Big Dance.
8. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Location: Las Vegas, NV
At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference
Key Players: Tre’Von Willis (13.5 ppg), Chace Stanback (13 ppg, 6 rpg), Oscar Belfield (11.1 ppg), Anthony Marshall (9.6 ppg)
Strength: Coach Lon Kruger has taken Big Ten style basketball west and it’s working well at UNLV. The Rebels play defense as well as any team in the nation. UNLV is second in the Mountain West in points allowed, field-goal percentage defense, and three-point field-goal percentage defense. UNLV has proven what it could do against some tough competition this year and should be able to defend well in the Big Dance.
Weakness: The Rebels really don’t have effective size in the post. Carlos Lopez and Brice Massamba provide some depth, but they’re not really threats in the paint. San Diego St and BYU went 5-0 against the Rebels and much of that was because the Rebels had no answer for either team in the paint. It’s clearly the place where teams will attack and if the Rebels aren’t careful, it’ll be the reason they leave the tournament early.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini
Location: Champagne, IL
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Demetri McCamey (14.8 ppg, 6.1 apg), Mike Davis (12 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Mike Tisdale (10.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Brandon Paul (9.2 ppg), D.J. Richardson (8.1 ppg), Jereme Richmond (5 rpg)
Strength: To survive in the Big Ten, teams have to be able to defend. That’s one thing the Illini does as well as any team in the conference. Illinois is first in the Big Ten in three-point field-goal percentage defense and second in overall field-goal percentage defense allowing just 30.5 percent and 40.1 percent respectively. That defense allows the Illini to stay in games and in those close games, a player the caliber of Demetri McCamey can definitely finish a team off.
Weakness: For the second season in a row, the Illini has suffered from inconsistent play. It’s hard to believe that the same team that beat North Carolina, Gonzaga and Wisconsin could also lose to Illinois-Chicago. When Illinois plays their A-game, it can be one of the best teams in America. When it doesn’t, it can fall flat on its face. An outcome that is seems very likely.
10. Florida State Seminoles
Location: Tallahassee, FL
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Chris Singleton (13.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Derwin Kitchen (9.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Michael Snaer (8.6 ppg), Bernard James (8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: It’s really simple, teams that play Florida St do not score. This is the best defensive team in the ACC and it’s really not close. The Seminoles have held Florida, Ohio St and Duke to 61 points or less this year. They lead the ACC in field-goal percentage defense by forcing their opponents to shoot just 36.4 percent from the field. Defense has been a staple of Leonard Hamilton since he’s been at Florida St and he’s hoping that defense can finally win him a game in the NCAA.
Weakness: If the Seminoles weren’t such a good defensive team they’d be in real trouble because teams don’t normally enjoy the success they have struggling to score like the Seminoles do. Florida St. is ninth in the ACC in field-goal percentage at 43.6 percent and that’s what keeps them from taking that next step. First-round flame-outs have ended good seasons the past two years for the Seminoles and if they don’t score, history will repeat itself.
11a. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Location: Richmond, VA
At-Large Bid: Colonial Athletic Association
Key Players: Jamie Skeen (15.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Bradford Burgess (14 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Brandon Rozzell (11.3 ppg), Joey Rodriguez (10.6 ppg)
Strength: VCU wants to play a fast paced game. It likes to speed its opponents up to the point where they’re playing at an uncomfortable pace. It looks like they play on roller skates, but it’s very effective. The Rams use that style of play to force nearly 15 turnovers per game – half of those coming on steals. Those turnovers fuel their offense making them one of the most dangerous teams in the country in the open court.
Weakness: The Rams are a very poor rebounding team. They get out-rebounded by nearly four boards per game, which puts them in 10th place in the CAA in that category. Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess do their best to pick up the slack in that department, but the rest of the ball club is really more interested in getting out and running instead of hitting the boards. Any team with good size could really punish the Rams.
11b. USC Trojans
Location: Los Angeles, CA
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Nikola Vocalic (17.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg), Jio Fontan (10.4 ppg), Alex Stephenson (10 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Donte Smith (9.9 ppg), Maurice Jones (9.9 ppg)
Strength: Coach Kevin O’Neil decided to take a page of the notebook of cross-town rival, UCLA, and get his team to commit to defense. The Trojans are No. 1 in the Pac-10 in points allowed and No. 2 in field-goal percentage defense. It’s that defense that held Texas to 56 points, Arizona to 57 and Tennessee to 64. If USC can play defense like this in the NCAA Tournament it can pull of a win or two.
Weakness: The Trojans depth is nonexistent. USC has some real talent in its starting five, but after that there’s really not much there. If any proof is needed, USC played only seven players in its Pac-10 tournament loss to Arizona and that was the second game in two days. Teams with depth will run a lot of guys at the Trojans and if they tire them out, it will be a short NCAA stay for them.
12. Richmond Spiders
Location: Richmond, VA
Automatic Bid: Atlantic-10 Champions
Key Players: Justin Harper (17.9 ppg, 7 rpg), Kevin Anderson (16.5 ppg), Dan Geriot (9.9 ppg)
Strength: Richmond’s style of play is very difficult to prepare for. The Spiders run a very effective modification of the Princeton offense. They use that to get back cuts and open three-pointers, which they make 39.7 percent of. The fact that the Spiders have two players tailor made for the offense in Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson just makes them more dangerous and capable of a run to the second weekend.
Weakness: This is one of the worst teams in the tournament on the boards. Richmond is 12th in the 14-team A-10 in rebounding margin. It’s actually last in offensive rebounding make it doubly important for the team to make shots. The Spiders only rebound 28 percent of its misses and that is downright pathetic. If they don’t find a way to rebound, they will make a quick exit for the second year in-a-row.
13. Morehead State Eagles
Location: Morehead, KY
Automatic Bid: Ohio Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Kenneth Faried (17.6 ppg, 14.5 rpg), Demonte Harper (16 ppg), Terrance Hill (10.4 ppg), Sam Goodman (8.4 ppg)
Strength: Led by the nation’s leading rebounder in Kenneth Faried, Morehead St pounds its opponents on the boards. The Eagles led the OVC in rebounding margin; out-rebounding their opponents with a 9.2 per game average on the season. Where they really can hurt teams is on the offensive glass where they pull down close to 14 per game. This is a team that crashes the boards and there’s not a team in the nation that’s going to stop them.
Weakness: Due to the fact that Morehead likes to get up and down the court, its prone to turnovers. The Eagles finished eighth in the 10-team OVC with 15.1 turnovers per game. They turn the ball over only slightly less than there opponents and it’s been their Achilles heel all season. They don’t shoot the ball particularly well enough to overcome this so if they want to pull off an upset they’ll have to value the basketball.
14. Saint Peter’s Peacocks
Location: Jersey City, NJ
Automatic Bid: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Wesley Jenkins (12. 8 ppg), Jeron Belin (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Nick Leon (10.6 ppg), Ryan Bacon (10 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Darius Conley (5.1 rpg)
Strength: The Peacocks are one of the best defensive teams in the MAAC. They lead the conference in field-goal percentage defense – holding their opponents to a tad over 37 percent shooting. They’re also second in blocked shots and third in steals. That has allowed them to keep their opponents under 60 points per game on the year. Nothing travels better than good defense and the Peacocks defend as well as anyone in America.
Weakness: As good as St. Peter’s is defensively, it is equally horrendous offensively. The Peacocks barely score 61 points per game on the year on 40 percent shooting. They also have a negative turnover margin and a horrible assist-to-turnover ratio. St. Peter’s defense allowed it to stay competitive in the MAAC, but in the NCAA Tournament, if it doesn’t figure out a way to be competent offensively it will be a very short and painful stay.
15. Akron Zips
Location: Akron, OH
Automatic Bid: Mid-American Conference Champions
Key Players: Nikola Cvetinovic (11.9 ppg, 7 rpg), Brett McKnight (10.3 ppg), Brett McClanahan (10.1 ppg), Zeke Marshall (8.6 ppg), Steve McNees (8.6 ppg), Darryl Roberts (8.6 ppg)
Strength: Akron has one of the deepest teams on the mid-major level. The Zips have nine players who average double-figures in minutes and six players who score eight points or more. That allows them to survive foul trouble and gives them numerous options offensively. If they can get significant contributions from all of their guys, the Zips can spring an upset.
Weakness: The Zips are a poor rebounding team. On the season, teams are out-rebounding Akron by nearly three boards per game. That’s bad at any level but is magnified when it happens in a down year in the MAC. Akron finished with a mediocre 9-7 record in conference play and much of that was due to getting punished on the boards. If they can’t rebound in the tournament, the Zips will get dispatched quickly.
16. Boston Terriers
Location: Boston, MA
Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions
Key Players: John Holland (19.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Darryl Partin (14.5 ppg), Patrick Hazel (5.9 rpg)
Strength: Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the America East. Boston holds its opponents to just 39. 6 percent shooting from the field and 32.1 percent from behind the arc. The Terriers also lead the league in blocked shots as they challenge everything going towards the basket. This hard-nosed defense helped the Terriers to a 12-4 conference record and they hope that it will help them cause a first-round scare.
Weakness: This team will struggle in the tournament because it doesn’t have great depth. The Terriers’ seven-man rotation is good enough for the America East, but the Terriers won’t be playing the likes of New Hampshire in the tournament. Boston just doesn’t have the talent to overcome its lack of depth and against the team it’ll be facing, that will prove to be deadly.