Month: March 2012

Midwest Region Breakdown

1. North Carolina Tarheels

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Record: 29-5

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: Harrison Barnes (17.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Tyler Zeller (16.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg), John Henson (13.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg), Reggie Bullock (8.7 ppg), Kendall Marshall (9.7 apg)

Strength: Scoring 82 points per game, the Tarheels are the best transition team in the country.  Kendall Marshall runs this team to near perfection getting everyone involved on the break.  They run on missed baskets, made baskets or turnovers.  It doesn’t matter.  They score off of initial breaks or on their secondary breaks.  It’s hard to defend and hard to keep up with.  This is most certainly an explosive team.

Weakness: Point guard depth will come into play for the Tarheels.  Injuries have hampered North Carolina a bit this season and it may play a huge factor in the tournament.  The Tarheels don’t have a legitimate back up to Kendall Marshall and if he gets into foul trouble they could have a real dilemma on their hands.  He is the player that makes them go and if he’s on the bench they will struggle.

Kansas' Thomas Robinson (0) grabs a rebound past Texas' J'Covan Brown (14) during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, March 3, 2012, in Lawrence, Kan

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Location: Lawrence, KS

Record: 27-6

At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference

Key Players: Thomas Robinson (17.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg), Tyshawn Taylor (17.3 ppg, 4.8 apg), Elijah Johnson (9.6 ppg), Jeff Withey (9.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Travis Releford (8.5 ppg)

Strength: Not many teams have a potent inside-out 1-2 punch like Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.  We’re talking possibly the best power forward and best point guard in the nation on the same team.  That’s why Kansas has been so successful.  The two of them waited patiently for their time to shine and they’ve made the most of it.  You need great players to get you on a roll in March and the Jayhawks definitely have that covered.

Weakness: When Kansas won in its national championship in 2008 it was aided by some poor free-throw shooting by Memphis.  Well the shoe has been on the other foot this year.  Kansas is shooting just 69.6 percent from the free-throw line this season.  The foul line bit the Jayhawks in their loss to Missouri and against good teams it will be a negative factor again.

3. Georgetown Hoyas

Location: Washington, DC

Record: 23-8

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Jason Clark (14 ppg), Hollis Thompson (12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg0, Henry Sims (11.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Otto Porter (9.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg)

Strength: When you think Georgetown you think about the Princeton offense that John Thompson III employs, but this season it’s been the Hoyas’ defense which has led the way.  Georgetown is holding teams to less than 39 percent shooting on the year while and only allowing 59.2 points per game.  It’s also rebounding better than it has in the past winning the rebounding margin battle by 5.7 boards per game.  The Hoyas use their length to their advantage and it could pay huge dividends for them in the Big Dance.

Weakness: This is not the greatest offensive team under Thompson.  The Hoyas are averaging less than 70 points per game and have had several ugly scoring performances.  Turnovers and free-throw shooting have contributed to a season in which gaudy offensive numbers just haven’t been there.  It could come back to haunt the Hoyas too.

4. Michigan Wolverines

Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Record: 24-9

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Trey Burke (15.1 ppg, 4.6 apg), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (14.6 ppg), Zack Novak (9.4 ppg), Jordan Morgan (5.6 rpg)

Strength: Michigan’s unique offensive and defensive schemes make them very difficult to prepare for.  The Wolverines play 1-3-1 zone defense which teams hardly ever see.  Offensively, Wolverines run an offense predicated on cuts and shooting threes, similar to the Princeton, but not quite.  Coaches who aren’t used to playing Michigan will pull their hair out trying to prepare for the Wolverines.

Weakness: Michigan has gotten timely plays all year to mask its inability to rebound.  That may not be the case in the Big Dance.  The Wolverines are 10th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin getting out-rebounded by one board per game.  That’s surprising for a solid Big Ten team.  That said, when possessions are at a premium in the tournament, securing one for your team needs to become a priority for Michigan.

5. Temple Owls

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Record: 24-7

At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference

Key Players: Ramone Moore (17.8 ppg), Khalif Wyatt (17.1 ppg), Juan Fernandez (11.4 ppg), Micheal Eric (9.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) Anthony Lee (5.4 rpg)

Strength: Temple will enter the tournament boasting one of the best backcourts in the nation.  Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez are three very experienced guards who can do it all.  They’ve carried Temple all year long and will be tough to match up with.  Teams that win in the NCAA tournament have to have good guard play and the Owls have that covered.

Weakness: Temple has some key guys playing a lot of minutes.  At this point of the season, having four guys who play over 32 minutes a game has to concern Coach Fran Dunphy.  You worry about them having tired legs, especially after being bounced from the conference tournament pretty early.  Time off may help them, but will it be enough?

6. San Diego State Aztecs

Location: San Diego, CA

Record: 26-7

At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference

Key Players: Jamaal Franklin (17.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Chase Tapley (15.7 ppg), Xavier Thames (10.3 ppg, 4.2 apg), James Rahon (8.8 ppg), Deshawn Stephens (5 rpg)

Strength: The best backcourt in the Mountain West resides in San Diego.  Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames together can dictate how a game is played.  All three can score and rebound.  What’s most impressive is how they all commit to the defensive end.  Coach Steve Fisher requires that of them, but they don’t mind it as its allowed the Aztecs to return to Big Dance for the third year in a row.

Weakness: The Aztecs can be exploited in the paint.  They do have some size, but it’s effectiveness is questionable.  Teams with good perimeter defense will have success against San Diego St because of its lack of a post presence.  This team needs to get more production in the paint or it’ll have a tough time in the tournament.

7. Saint Mary’s Gaels

Location: Moraga, CA

Record: 27-5

Automatic Bid: West Coast Conference Champions

Key Players: Matthew Dellavedova (15.6 ppg, 6.4 apg), Rob Jones (14.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Stephen Holt (10.4 ppg), Brad Waldow (8.2 ppg), Jorden Page (8.1 ppg)

Strength: When you think West Coast basketball you don’t think tough.  However, that’s exactly what this Gaels team is.  Outside of the Murray St game, this team has routinely performed well in hostile atmospheres.  It does that because it’s solid defensively and out-rebounds its opponents by 7.2 boards per game, which is No. 1 in the WCC.  While people may look for this team to want to shoot threes, don’t be fooled if they’re grinding wins out instead.

Weakness: While this team has a number of guys that can score, it’s reliance on Matthew Dellavedova may not be the best thing in the world long-term.  Dellavedova is clearly a great player, but if he gets in foul trouble or has an off night this team has virtually no chance to win.

Doug McDermott Dantiel Daniels Mamadou Seck – Photo: AP

8. Creighton Blue Jays

Location: Omaha, NE

Record: 28-5

Automatic Bid: Missouri Valley Conference Champions

Key Players: Doug McDermott (23.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Antoine Young (12.5 ppg, 4.5 apg), Gregory Echenique (9.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Grant Gibbs (5.1 apg)

Strength: Sometimes you need someone who can just go and get you a bucket and the Blue Jays have a guy who can do just that.  All-American Doug McDermott is one of the toughest covers in the country because he’s great in the post with his back to the basket and he can also shoot the three.  He is the son of Creighton coach Greg McDermott and it shows in his game.  He’s the kind of guy who can carry them on a long run in the tournament.

Weakness: Defense is optional for the Blue Jays.  This team likes to win by outscoring its opponents rather than guarding.  It’s amazing that Creighton was as successful in the defense-first Missouri Valley with that mantra, but this is an entirely different animal.  You can’t win in March if you don’t defend and if Creighton doesn’t guard better it’ll have a short stay in the tournament.

9. Alabama Crimson Tide

Location: Tuscaloosa, AL

Record: 21-11

At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference

Key Players: JaMychal Green (13.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Trevor Releford (11.9 ppg)

Strength: The Crimson Tide has a knack of getting teams to play the way it wants to play: ugly.  Alabama plays low-scoring games, which playing great defense is necessary.  This allows for a style of play that maximizes the great athletes Alabama employs.  It’s not always pretty to watch, but for the Tide it sure is effective.

Weakness: Alabama can’t score.  It’s a sad state of affairs, but the Tide is 0-9 the past two seasons when its opponent scores more than 70 points.  That’s a staggering stat.  To make matters worse, second leading scorer Tony Mitchell was kicked off the team midseason.  The Tide is a great defensive team, but it’s going to have to make shots if it wants to win.

10. Purdue Boilermakers

Location: West Lafayette, IN

Record: 21-12

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Robbie Hummel (16.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Lewis Jackson (10.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) Ryne Smith (9.5 ppg), D.J. Byrd (8.9 ppg), Terone Johnson (8.8 ppg)

Strength: Sometimes you watch a team and wonder how it wins games, but you see one special player on the court and you get it.  That’s the case with Purdue and Robbie Hummel.  The sixth-year senior is getting one last shot at the NCAA tournament after injuries ruined the two previous years.  Hummel has put this team on his back all year and is capable of putting it on his back in the tournament as well.

Weakness: The Boilermakers free throw shooting is a serious issue.  Purdue is dead last in the Big Ten in free throw shooting at just over 65 percent.  That’s a fatal flaw for a tournament team where every possession and every point is crucial.  Teams that can’t step to the line and knock down shots in the late stages of games simply do not win in the Big Dance.

11. North Carolina State Wolfpack

Location: Raleigh, NC

Record: 22-12

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: C.J. Leslie (14.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Scott Wood (12.8 ppg), Lorenzo Brown (12.6 ppg, 6.4 apg), C.J. Williams (10.9 ppg), Richard Howell (10.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg)

Strength: NC State has a collection of athletes that will rival anyone in the country.  There are several high-risers on this team that can ignite a crowd with a powerful dunk.  The leader of the pack, both figuratively and literally, is C.J. Leslie who uses his athleticism to score in the post and grab boards.  This team can really be fun to watch and, when playing well, can be hard to beat.

Weakness: NC State’s season has been marred with inconsistency.  That inconsistency caused the Wolfpack to find itself on the bubble.  It had a 17 point lead on Duke and lost it.  It had a seven point lead in the second half of the ACC tournament semifinal against North Carolina and lost it.  If NC State can put a string of complete games together it can be one of the most dangerous teams in the country.  It just hasn’t proven it can do that yet.

12a. California Golden Bears

Location: Berkeley, CA

Record: 24-9

At-Large Bid: Pac-12 Conference

Key Players: Allen Crabbe (15.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Jorge Gutierrez (13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.1 apg), Justin Cobbs (12.9 ppg, 5 apg), Harper Kamp (11.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg), David Kravish (5.7 rpg)

Strength: Cal is the most efficient team offensively in the Pac-12.  The Bears are first assists per game, field goal percentage per game and commit the second fewest turnovers per game.  In addition to that they knock down their free throws at a clip of 74.6 percent on the year.  Teams will outright just have to be better than the Bears because they will not beat themselves.

Weakness: Coach Mike Montgomery has five guys that he leans on heavily, but past that where does he turn to for help?  He’s getting virtually no production from his role players and that’s not a good thing in March.  He needs to find a way to get some quality minutes from his bench or he risks wearing his key guys out.  He’ll need those guys fresh in crunch time.

12b. South Florida Bulls

Location: Tampa, FL

Record: 20-14

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Augustus Gilchrist (9.6 ppg), Victor Rudd, Jr. (8.7 ppg), Anthony Collins (8.5 ppg, 5.3 apg), Jawanza Poland (8.5 ppg), Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (8 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Ron Anderson, Jr. (5.5 rpg)

Strength: In the rugged Big East, the Bulls just may be the best at turning a basketball game into a wrestling match.  For the viewer, that’s not a good thing, but for the Bulls it’s a great thing.  South Florida wants to play in the 50’s so scoring on them is not easy.  Teams are only averaging 56.9 points per game on 38.8 percent shooting.  The Bulls’ style is effective and could get them a win in the tournament.

Weakness: The Bulls only average 59.2 points per game.  That’s an amazing number.  It’s hard to pull away from teams when you struggle to score that much.  This is a solid team, but there isn’t one elite scorer on the team yet.  Anthony Collins may get there one day, but he’s just a freshman and he can’t work a miracle.

Ohio's D.J. Cooper (5) drives past Akron's Brian Walsh (2) and Nikola Cvetinovic (13) in the second half during an NCAA college basketball championship game in the Mid-American Conference men's tournament, March 10, 2012. (AP Photo)

13. Ohio Bobcats

Location: Athens, OH

Record: 26-7

Automatic Bid: Mid-American Conference Champions

Key Players: D.J. Cooper (14.3 ppg, 5.7 apg), Walter Offutt (12 ppg), Reggie Keely (9.3 ppg, 5 rpg), Ivo Baltic (9 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Nick Kellogg (8.9 ppg)

Strength: This Bobcat team has made a real commitment to defense.  They are at or near the top of the MAC in field goal percentage defense, three-point field goal percentage defense, scoring defense and steals.  This keeps them in games and has allowed them to roll to an impressive 26 wins.  If they lock teams up like this in the tournament they may be able to make some noise.

Weakness: Ohio has to be a great defensive team to mask its offensive deficiencies.  The Bobcats shoot free throws poorly and are pedestrian shooting from the field and from behind the three point line.  They also have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.  This team needs to be more efficient offensively or it will be sent packing.

14. Belmont Bruins

Location: Nashville, TN

Record: 27-7

Automatic Bid: Atlantic Sun Conference Champions

Key Players: Kerron Johnson (14.1 ppg, 5.2 apg), Ian Clark (12.7 ppg), Drew Hanlen (10.9 ppg), Scott Saunders (10.2 ppg, 5 rpg), Mick Hedgepeth (9.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), J.J. Mann (8.5 ppg)

Strength: A lot of mid majors will be overwhelmed by the moment when they step onto the floor in the Big Dance.  The Bruins aren’t one of them.  This team has a significant amount of NCAA tournament experience.  No scenario it faces will surprise them as the very talented Bruins attempt to win their first NCAA tournament game.  Teams are going to have to really choke the life out of them because this team will be well prepared in a close game.

Weakness: This isn’t the most athletic team in the world and can be defended by teams with size and speed.  Against Memphis earlier this year, Belmont tried to run with the Tigers but it was a futile effort.  The Tigers just overmatched the Bruins with their athleticism.  This could indeed be the scenario Belmont is faced with and one that may lead to its exit.

15. Detroit Titans

Location: Detroit, MI

Record: 22-13

Automatic Bid: Horizon League Champions

Key Players: Ray McCallum (15.6 ppg), Chase Simon (13.5 ppg), Eli Holman (10.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Jason Calliste (10.4 ppg), Doug Anderson (9.1 ppg)

Strength: This is a mid-major team with high-major athleticism.  There aren’t many teams in the country who can match Detroit’s athletes and Valparaiso certainly couldn’t in the conference championship game.  Detroit just overwhelmed Valpo on defense.  It’s the same thing the Titans can do in the tournament. It helps them play with a swagger and is a major reason why they’re dancing.

Weakness: Depth will be a serious issue for the Titans.  Seven guys are playing lot of minutes for them and that may be a killer in the tournament.  Foul trouble or a team that plays uptempo may weaken Detroit severely.  The Titans must find a well to spell their key players or their lack of a bench may doom them.

16a. Lamar Cardinals

Location: Beaumont, TX

Record: 22-11

Automatic Bid: Southland Conference Champions

Key Players: Mike James (16.9 ppg), Anthony Miles (14.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), Devon Lamb (11.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Brandon Davis (9.2 ppg), Charlie Harper (9 ppg, 6 rpg)

Strength: There may not be a mentally tougher team in this tournament.  Pat Knight challenged his team publicly about how it played on the court and how it conducted itself off the court.  He said the team might not win another game and instead it hasn’t lost.  This team used that tirade as motivation and now it sits in the NCAA tournament, a stage that won’t overwhelm it.

Weakness: The Cardinals have five talented guys who can score, but against the competition they’re going to face they’ll need more from their bench.  This team’s starting five will not be better than vast majority of teams in the tournament so it’s going to need contributions from other guys if it wants put a scare in someone.

16b. Vermont Catamounts

Location: Burlington, VT

Record: 23-11

Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions

Key Players: Four McGlynn (12 ppg), Matt Glass (11.9 ppg), Luke Apfeld (10.2 ppg), Brian Voelkel (8.6 rpg)

Strength: The Catamounts like to control tempo and make teams play at their pace.  They want to hold their opponents in high 50’s to low 60’s and so far it’s been working.  Teams are only scoring 61 points per game against Vermont and that’s second in the American East in points allowed.  It’s not aesthetically pleasing at times, but it’s gotten Vermont wins.

Weakness: Coach John Becker makes great use of his bench.  Too bad not many guys give him much scoring punch.  The Catamounts only have three real scoring threats with everyone else there to just steal minutes.  There will be none of that in the tournament where the Catamounts bench will be under real pressure to produce or risk the very real chance of getting blown out of the tournament.


East Region Breakdown

1. Syracuse Orange

Location: Syracuse, NY

Record: 31-2

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Kris Joseph (13.8 ppg), Dion Waiters (12.6 ppg), Brandon Triche (9.3 ppg), C.J. Fair (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Scoop Jardine (8.3 ppg, 4.7 apg), Fab Melo (5.8 rpg)

Strength: The Orange can just come at you in waves.  Syracuse has the most depth of any team in the country.  Its second five would probably be an NCAA tournament team.  It’s amazing to see.  Just when you’re worried about Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph; here comes Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair off the bench.  This is a deep team that has the ability to make a deep run in the tournament.

Weakness: Rebounding is a serious concern for the Orange.  It plays a 2-3 zone and that’s a difficult defense to rebound out of, but the Orange has been especially bad this season.  Good teams have been able to attach that weak spot for Syracuse all year.  Fortunately for the Orange it has found a way to win, but in the tournament they may not find that things will go so easily.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

Location: Columbus, OH

Record: 27-7

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Jared Sullinger (17.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg), Deshaun Thomas (15.5 ppg, 5 rpg), William Buford (14.8 ppg), Aaron Craft (8.6 ppg, 4.6 apg)

Strength: The Buckeyes will go as far as Jared Sullinger will take them.  The future first-round draft pick can be dominant in the paint and if he is, this opens up the offense for everyone else.  People get wide open threes and Deshaun Thomas gets room to operate.  Sullinger can face up and it’s near unstoppable in the low-post.  The Buckeyes can jump on his back and make a solid run.

Weakness:  The Buckeyes aren’t making threes well enough to stretch defenses.  If Sullinger doesn’t have guys who are able to make jumpshots then defenses will pay even more attention to him.  They’re ninth in the Big Ten at just 32.5 percent.  That’s just not a number that gets it done in the Big Dance.

3. Florida State Seminoles

Location: Tallahassee, FL

Record: 24-9

Automatic Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Champions

Key Players: Michael Snaer (14.4 ppg), Ian Miller (11 ppg), Bernard James (10.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Terrance Shannon (8.3 ppg), Luke Loucks (4 apg)

Strength: While the Seminoles are much improved offensively, their success begins and ends with their defense.  Florida St is No. 1 in the ACC in field goal percentage defense and forced turnovers at 38.1 percent and 15.2 per game respectively.  That defense is the reason why they come into the tournament with an ACC championship.  This team went to the Sweet 16 last year and its defense can get it there again.

Weakness: Turnovers Turnover Turnovers.  That’s the issue with the Seminoles.  They turn the ball over at a rate 16.3 per game.  That’s amazing for all the wrong reasons.  The Seminoles simply can’t win in the tournament doing that.  If they don’t get handle on this problem, figuratively and literally, then they’ll be going home early.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Location: Madison, WI

Record: 24-9

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Jordan Taylor (14.5 ppg 4.1 apg), Ryan Evans (10.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Jared Berggren (10.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Mike Bruesewitz (5.3 rpg)

Strength: Teams stepping on the court with the Badgers better be ready for a battle.  It’s going to be physical and low scoring.  There’s no way out of that as Wisconsin manages to find a way to make teams play the way it wants them to play.  The Badgers don’t beat themselves and play typical Big Ten basketball.  It’s a rugged brand of hoops that prepares teams well for the NCAA tournament.

Weakness: Year after year Wisconsin remains one of the worse offensive teams in the Big Ten.  Once again the Badgers are at the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring and field goal percentage.  Bo Ryan recruits players to his system so he doesn’t have many dynamic scorers, but their inability to put points on the board could be their undoing.

5. Vanderbilt Commodores

Location: Nashville, TN

Record: 24-10

Automatic Bid: Southeastern Conference Champions

Key Players: John Jenkins (20 ppg), Jeffery Taylor (16.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Festus Ezeli (9.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Lance Goulbourne (8.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Brad Tinsley (8.8 ppg, 4.2 apg)

Strength: When you play Vanderbilt, you must defend the three-point line.  The Commodores are second best in the SEC at shooting the three at 38.9 percent on the season.  John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley all shoot above 40 percent from behind the arc.  They can get hot and bury a team from there.  Teams will have an issue with the Commodores deadly shooting.

Weakness: Vanderbilt has to show some consistency.  This was a preseason top-10 team expected to challenge Kentucky for the SEC title.  Instead it had some roster issues and was never able to gain that form.  That said this team still had the talent to win the SEC tournament.  It has to bring that effort night-in and night-out if it wants to make a run in the Big Dance.

6. Cincinnati Bearcats

Location: Cincinnati, OH

Record: 24-10

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Sean Kilpatrick (14.3), Dion Dixon (13.1 ppg), Yancy Gates (12.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Cashmere Wright (10.9 ppg, 4.6 apg), Jaquon Parker (9.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

Strength: This is one resilient team.  This was a preseason top-25 team but it was struggling with early losses, including one to Presbyterian.  Then came the fight and everyone left the Bearcats for dead.  How wrong we were.  Mick Cronin gave more responsibility to his guards and Cincinnati has taken off.  It’s had a surprise turnaround show just how tough it is.

Weakness: Cincinnati has questionable depth.  The Bearcats are getting solid contributions from only six guys and that can be an issue at times.  This is not the greatest offensive team to begin with so Bearcat games can get ugly when they’re key guys are off.  The Bearcats had better find some additional scorers if it wants to get pass the third round this year.

Brigham Young's Nate Austin (33) defends Gonzaga's Elias Harris, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Jed Conklin)

7. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Location: Spokane, WA

Record: 25-6

At-Large Bid: West Coast Conference

Key Players: Kevin Pangos (13.8 ppg), Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Robert Sacre (11.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Gary Bell, Jr. (10 ppg), Sam Dower (8.5 ppg)

Strength: With three players shooting above 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, Gonzaga is never out of a game.  The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the WCC as team shooting 37.6 percent from three.  And it’s not just that they shoot it well, they also have deep range and no conscience.  Kevin Pangos will pull up a couple steps beyond half court and pull the trigger.  It’s hard to defend a team with players who can do that.

Weakness: The Bulldogs are still a little too loose with the ball.  Gonzaga turns the ball over 13.4 times per game.  That’s just not going to get it done in the NCAA tournament.  There will be no Pepperdine’s or Portland’s in the Big Dance for Gonzaga.  They do that against the big boys and they’ll be in big trouble.

8. Kansas State Wildcats

Location: Manhattan, KS

Record: 21-10

At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference

Key Players: Rodney McGruder (15.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Jamar Samuels (10.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Will Spradling (9.7 ppg), Jordan Henriquez (5 rpg)

Strength: As you would expect from a Frank Martin-coached team this year’s version of the Wildcats are as tough as nails.  This is one of the best defensive and rebounding teams in the Big XII.  They’re physical, emotional and have taken on the identity of their coach.  That means that you’re really going to have to stomp on them to beat them.

Weakness: Martin likes to give his guards free reign and it can sometimes come as a detriment to the team.  Kansas St is averaging 14.5 turnovers per game which is second from last in the Big XII.  The fact that it also gives the Wildcats a negative assist-to-turnover ratio makes it even worse.  They’re going to have to be more organized if they want to make a run at the second weekend.

9. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

Location: Hattiesburg, MS

Record: 25-8

At-Large Bid: Conference-USA

Key Players: Neil Watson (12.2 ppg, 4.5 apg), Lashay Page (11.5 ppg), Darnell Dodson (11.1 ppg0, Maurice Bolden (9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Jonathan Mills (9.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Angelo Johnson (9.5 ppg)

Strength: There are six players averaging at least nine points for the Golden Eagles making them one of the most balanced teams in this tournament.  They have guys at different positions who can beat you on any given night.  The addition of Darnell Dodson just boosts their chances.  Any team with multiple options to score is a nightmare to defend.

Weakness: Defensively, Southern Miss really struggles.  The Eagles are in the bottom half of Conference-USA in just about every major defensive category and its not necessarily the greatest conference in America.  Not going to be any SMU’s or Tulane’s in the Big Dance so if the Eagles want to win in a tournament where defense is necessary, it better play some.

10. West Virginia Mountaineers

Location: Morgantown, WV

Record: 19-13

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Kevin Jones (20 ppg, 11.2 rpg), Darryl Bryant (17.1 ppg), Deniz Kilicli (10.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

Strength: If it’s one thing you know a Bob Huggins-coached team is going to do it’s rebound.  Led by Kevin Jones, the Mountaineers are once again one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East.  They get after it on the offensive and defensive boards.  It’s just part of the way they play.  They’re going to beat you on the glass.  You can only hope to minimize the damage.

Weakness: This is not a great defensive teams.  In fact, out of all the Big East teams in the tournament, West Virginia gives up the most points at 66.2 per game.  This is pretty young team so it’s not fully indoctrinated in the way Huggins wants his teams to play.  However, nobody in the tournament will care, they’re just going to take advantage of the Mountaineers’ deficiency.

Texas guard J'Covan Brown (14) drives around Iowa State guard Chris Babb, rear, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 Conference tournament, Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo. Brown scored 23 points in the game as Texas won 71-65. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

11. Texas Longhorns

Location: Austin, TX

Record: 20-13

At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference

Key Players: J’Covan Brown (20.1 ppg), Sheldon McClellan (11.3 ppg), Myck Kabongo (9.8 ppg), Clint Chapman (5.5 rpg)

Strength: When you need a bucket, it’s nice to have a go-to guy on your team and that’s exactly what Texas has.  J’Covan Brown, the Big XII scoring champion, is an elite scorer.  He can score in a variety of ways and has proven to be a difficult cover for Longhorn opponents.  He can single-handedly carry this team to a win or two in the tournament.

Weakness: Texas is a great offensive rebounding team, but that’s because it has to be.  This is a team that is shooting a little over 43 percent on the year making it a very difficult task for it to score at times.  Texas has been hit hard by early defections to the NBA and this year you could see it clear as day.  That overall offensive talent has drastically dropped off.

12. Harvard Crimson

Location: Boston, MA

Record: 26-4

Automatic Bid: Ivy League Champion

Key Players: Kyle Casey (11.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Keith Wright (10.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Laurent Rivard (9.7 ppg), Brandyn Curry (5 apg)

Strength: Defense is the name of the game for the Crimson.  Harvard holds its opponents to 54.8 points per game – that’s tops in the Ivy and fourth nationally.  Teams are shooting less than 41 percent against the Crimson and they’re grabbing 73.4 percent of their opponents’ misses.  They play at a steady pace and stymie they’re opponents defensively.  This is a frustrating team to play.

Weakness: What helps the team is also what hurts this team.  When you only score 65.4 points per game, you’re never out of reach of your opponent.  That’s the dilemma that’s faced the Crimson on a number of occasions this season.  Harvard is what it is at this point of the season, but it better be able to keep teams in the low-50s if it expects to make a run.

13. Montana Grizzlies

Location: Missoula, MT

Record: 25-6

Automatic Bid: Big Sky Conference Champions

Key Players: Will Cherry (16 ppg), Kareem Jamar (13.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Mathias Ward (11.1 ppg), Art Stewart (9.2 ppg), Derek Selvig (9.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

Strength: Montana enters the tournament coming off a dominating season in the Big Sky on the defensive end.  The Grizzlies are first in points allowed, field goal percentage defense and three-point field goal percentage defense.  That allowed them to rip off a 15-1 regular season conference record and win the conference championship going away.

Weakness: Depth is a serious issue for Montana.  The Grizzlies are getting huge minutes and contributions from five players, but pass that not much else.  That may work against the Portland St’s and Northern Arizona’s of the world, but they’re not going to see any teams of that ilk in the tournament.  They need some contributions of the bench if they expect to make some noise in the big dance.

14. Saint Bonaventure Bonnies

Location: St. Bonaventure, NY

Record: 20-11

Automatic Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference Champions

Key Players: Andrew Nicholson (18.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Demitrius Conger (12.3, 6.1 rpg)

Strength: Andrew Nicholson is going to be one of the toughest players to guard in the tournament.  He’s a future NBA player and has a skillset that most college teams don’t have to face in a big man.  He’s 6’9, can rebound, but also shoots close to 39 percent from three.  He makes 76.6 percent of his free throws and blocks 1.8 shots a game.  He is the complete package and can dominate a game if he gets going.

Weakness: St. Bonaventure has a bit of a turnover problem.  They average 14.2 turnovers per game.  That’s causing them to be 13th in the 14 team A-10 in turnover margin.  It also gives the team a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.  It’s hard to win when you don’t value the ball and given the team the Bonnies will be facing, it’ll be close to impossible.

15. Loyola Greyhounds

Location: Baltimore, MD

Record: 24-8

Automatic Bid: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: Erick Etherly (13.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Dylon Cormier (13.4 ppg), Robert Olson (11.2 ppg), Justin Drummond (10.9 ppg), Shane Walker (9.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

Strength: With four guys averaging double figures; Loyola is one of the more balanced teams you’ll find in this tournament.  Nobody scores 14 points per game for the Greyhounds, but five players score at least nine.  This gives them several weapons to hit teams with on a given night and makes this team a danger.

Weakness: As a team, they shoot just 42.8 percent and have a negative assist to turnover ratio so effenciency is a problem.  This team does have weapons, but is capable of beating itself.  Loyola’s margin for error is infinitesimal and if it expects to do anything besides being dispatched swiftly, it better cut down on the turnovers and shoot the ball well.

UNC-Asheville's Matt Dickey

16. UNC-Asheville Bulldogs

Location: Asheville, NC

Record: 24-9

Automatic Bid: Big South Conference Champions

Key Players: Matt Dickey (16.5ppg), J.P. Primm (15.3 ppg, 4.1 apg) Chris Stephenson 13.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Jaron Lane (11.6 ppg), Jeremy Atkinson (11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg)

Strength: A lot of times you see teams in the 16-seed territory and they struggle to score.  Not the Bulldogs.  Five players average double figures for a team that scores over 80 points per game.  That gives Asheville options offensively and makes them very difficult to guard.  This team can put points on the board and if it does that in the tournament it may put a scare in someone.

Weakness: The Bulldogs don’t have much of a post presence.  Not one significant contributor for them is over 6’5”.  That’s going to cause serious issues for them if they play a team with decent size, which they most likely will.  They’ll get pounded on that backboards and will have issues defending the paint.  That’s something that could very well spell their doom.

West Region Breakdown

1. Michigan State Spartans

Location: East Lansing, MI

Record: 27-7

Automatic Bid: Big Ten Conference Champions

Key Players: Draymond Green (16.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg), Keith Appling (11.5 ppg), Brandon Wood (8.3 ppg)

Strength: Tom Izzo coaches this team so you know it will be as tough as nails.  The Spartans play in your face defense and are monsters on the glass as usual.  Teams are shooting just 37.8 percent from the field against them while they’re out-rebounding opponents by over eight boards per game.  These are staggering stats that let you know how they had the kind of season they had.

Weakness: The Spartans can be turnover prone at times.  They’re averaging 13 turnovers per game with 3.1 coming from All-American Draymond Green.  It’s tough to have your best player coughing the ball up because he’ll have the ball in his hands the majority of the time.  The Spartans are opening their offense up a bit these days, but if they’re opening up to more turnovers they need to re-think their approach.

Missouri Tigers guard Kim English (24) pumped his fists in celebration as the Tigers won the Big 12 Tournament title during the University of Missouri and University of Texas semi-final game of the Big 12 Men Missouri Tigers guard Kim English (24) pumped his fists in celebration as the Tigers won the Big 12 Tournament title during the University of Missouri and University of Texas semi-final game of the Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on Saturday, Mar 10, 2012, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by SHANE KEYSER | Kansas City Star).

2. Missouri Tigers

Location: Columbia, MO

Record: 30-4

Automatic Bid: Big XII Conference Champions

Key Players: Marcus Denmon (17.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Kim English (14.9 ppg), Ricard Ratliffe (13.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Michael Dixon (13.3 ppg), Phil Pressey (10 ppg, 6.3 apg)

Strength: Explosive.  That’s how I would describe the Missouri Tigers.  They can score in a multitude of ways, but mostly using their outstanding guards.  Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon, Phil Pressey and Kim English are outstanding three-point shooters and their offense is geared towards that.  Missouri, who is No. 1 in the Big XII in scoring, is a legit national championship contender and the way it can fill it up is why.

Weakness: It has been much documented that Missouri is weak in the paint and in its losses that has been crystal clear.  In the Tigers’ two losses to Kansas St they were out-rebounded by 10 boards per contest.  They were just beat up inside.  That is the book on Missouri, especially if it’s shooting poorly.  They have to score to win because they just aren’t strong enough to rebound.

3. Marquette Golden Eagles

Location: Milwaukee, WI

Record: 25-7

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Darius Johnson-Odom (18.3 ppg), Jae Crowder (17.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Davante Gardner (9.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Vander Blue (8.7 ppg)

Strength: This is a team that has taken on the personality of its coach.  Just like Buzz Williams, Marquette is intense and high energy.  The Golden Eagles will pressure you defensively and attack off the dribble for 40 minutes.  They keep coming at you in waves to the point where sometimes it seems as if it’s more than five players on the court.  They’re a nightmare to play.

Weakness: Due to the lack of size in the paint, Marquette is one of the worse rebounding teams in the Big East.  The Golden Eagles are 12th in the league in rebounding margin – something you don’t generally see from a good Big East team.  This team must get after it on the boards if it wants to make the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

4. Louisville Cardinals

Location: Louisville, KY

Record: 26-9

Automatic Bid: Big East Conference Champions

Key Players: Kyle Kuric (13.1 ppg), Russ Smith (11.4 ppg), Chris Smith (10 ppg), Gorgui Dieng (9.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Peyton Siva (9.1 ppg, 5.5 apg), Chane Behanan (9 ppg, 7.4 rpg)

Strength: Defense is always the name of the game with a Rick Pitino-coached team.  The Cardinals press full-court and then settle into a very effective 2-3 zone.  The defense has led them to force nearly 16 turnovers per game.  They get their opponents playing faster than they want to play and when a mistake is made the Cardinals are there to capitalize.  Running and gunning may look fun, but it’s playing right into the Cardinals’ hands.

Weakness: Louisville has really struggled to score the ball this year.  The Cardinals are at the bottom of the Big East in several major offensive categories.  In year’s past, Louisville has had players that are elite scorers.  Louisville doesn’t have that this year.  There is no Terrance Williams or Diego Garcia on this squad and it is clear in the offensive production.

5. New Mexico Lobos

Location: Albuquerque, NM

Record: 27-6

Automatic Bid: Mountain West Conference Champions

Key Players: Drew Gordon (13.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg), Kendall Williams (12 ppg, 4.1 apg), Tony Snell (11 ppg)

Strength: With nine guys playing double-digit minutes, New Mexico is one of the deepest teams in college basketball.  Coach Steve Alford is not afraid of playing different lineups.  While only three players are averaging double-figures, seven guys are scoring at least six points per game.  That’s a lot of production from a lot of different guys making the Lobos almost as dangerous when they go to their bench as when they’re playing their starters.

Weakness: The Lobos turnover problems will be a key stat this March.  Drew Godrdon and Kendall Williams are responsible for nearly five per game themselves.  Your best players need to be able to take care of the ball.  This is a problem that must be corrected if they want to make a trip to the Sweet 16.

6. Murray State Racers

Location: Murray, KY

Record: 30-1

Automatic Bid: Ohio Valley Conference Champions

Key Players: Isaiah Canaan (19.2 ppg), Donte Poole (14.2 ppg), Ivan Aska (10.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Jewuan Long (8.5 ppg), Ed Daniel (5.3 rpg)

Strength: Murray St has an apt nickname because its racing style has paid dividends for it all season.  The Racers force over 16.5 turnovers per game leading the OVC in that category.  They have terrific guards that can handle the pace while they wear teams down.  It’s not a style that many teams employ and definitely not one that many teams can keep up with.

Weakness: Offensively, the racers aren’t the most efficient team you’ll find.  The Racers actually have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio on the year.  Part of that is because of their style of play, but they won’t be playing UT-Martin or Jacksonville St in the Big Dance.  They need to a better job of taking care of the basketball if they want to continue their dream season.

7. Florida Gators

Location: Gainesville, FL

Record: 23-10

At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference

Key Players: Kenny Boynton (16.3 ppg), Bradley Beal (14.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Erving Walker (12.1 ppg, 4.7 apg), Erik Murphy (10.7 ppg), Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

Strength: The Gators have an impressive set of guards.  They love to run up and down the court and shoot the three.  It’s entertaining to watch, but it’s also tough to play against.  The guards are a large part of the reason why this team leads the SEC in three-point shooting at 39 percent per game.  Erving Walker is the leader of the group as he is excellent at finding his teammates.  This is one tough backcourt to defend.

Weakness: As good as the Gators are at shooting the three, they’re equally as bad as defending it.  Florida allows its opponents to shoot close to 36 percent from behind the arc.  That’s not good enough in the tournament.  Three-point shooting is too important for them to not defend better.  They could be out of this tournament quickly if they don’t defend the three better.

Memphis Guard Will Barton

8. Memphis Tigers

Location: Memphis, TN

Record: 26-8

Automatic Bid: Conference-USA Champions

Key Players: Will Barton (18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Tarik Black 10.9 ppg, 5 rpg), Joe Jackson (11.1 ppg), Chris Crawford (9.3 ppg), Adonis Thomas (9 ppg)

Strength: Athletes everywhere.  That’s what describes the Tigers.  The tigers like to play uptempo because they have the athletes to do it.  It doesn’t matter who they’re playing it seems like they have a spectacular dunk or two.  That feeds this team and makes it hard to guard.  They’re outstanding in transition and tough to defend off the dribble.  This is certainly a team no one wants to play in the tournament.

Weakness: Despite their athletes, the Tigers aren’t a great rebounding team.  Memphis is barely out-rebounding its opponents on the season.  The Tigers are grabbing just 67.1 percent of their opponents’ misses.  That’s just not going to cut it in the tournament.  This is a product of the team wanting to get out in transition.  However, if they play a team that’s strong on the offensive boards it could be an early exit for them.

9. Saint Louis Billikens

Location: St. Louis, MO

Record: 25-7

At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference

Key Players: Brian Conklin (13.9 ppg), Kwamain Mitchell (12.1 ppg), Cody Ellis (10.5 ppg), Dwayne Evans (8 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

Strength: Rick Majerus is back and he has this Billiken team playing excellent defense.  Saint Louis only allows 57.5 points per game.  The Billikens are able to do that because they hold teams to 41.1 percent shooting from the field and 32 percent three-point shooting.  They’re also fourth in the A-10 in turnovers forced at 14.9 per game.  That’s been their recipe for success and will be the reason why they’ll have success.

Weakness: The Billikens like to control the tempo and that can sometimes lead to low scores.  That gets them in trouble.  In St. Louis’ losses, they’ve failed to score 70 points in regulation.  That’s a troubling statistic.  Teams know that if they can push the temp on the Billikens then they have a good chance at winning.

10. Virginia Cavaliers

Location: Charlottesville, VA

Record: 22-9

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: Mike Scott (17.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Joe Harris (11.2 ppg), Sammy Zeglinski (8.8 ppg)

Strength: Tony Bennett is his father’s son.  Just like Dick Bennett, Tony preaches defense to his teams and this Virginia team is no different.  The Cavaliers hold teams to 39.6 percent shooting and 53.7 points per game.  They make it difficult to run any kind of offense against them.  They’re physical and will challenge everything.  This is definitely a team that’s a pain to play.

Weakness: Virginia’s offense is as bad as its defense is good.  The Cavaliers are in 10th in the 12-team ACC in scoring offense with only 63.1 points per game.  This makes it very difficult for the Cavaliers to put teams away, which means just about anybody they play has a punchers chance to beat them.  It’s not easy to play every game that way and it’ll be even tougher in the tournament.

11. Colorado State Rams

Location: Fort Collins, CO

Record: 20-11

At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference

Key Players: Wes Eikmeier (15.6 ppg), Dorian Green (13.5 ppg), Greg Smith (9.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Pierce Hornung (8.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Will Bell (8.4 ppg)

Strength: The three-point shot is the great equalizer in college basketball and the Raams are equal to the task of making them.  They lead the Mountain West in three-point shooting percentage at 40.5 percent.  This means they’re always a threat because they make up points in a hurry.  They can shoot themselves back into any game and surprise a team if they get hot.

Weakness: Despite their three-point prowess, the Rams are still not the most efficient offensive team.  They average more turnovers than assists, which is important because they’re not a high-possession Team.  They do shoot a very high percentage from the field, but it won’t matter if you don’t get a shot up.

12. Long Beach State 49ers

Location: Long Beach, CA

Record: 25-8

Automatic Bid: Big West Conference Champions

Key Players: Casper Ware (16.9 ppg), Larry Anderson (14 ppg, 5 rpg), T.J. Robinson (12.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg), James Ennis (9.8 ppg), Eugene Phelps (9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

Strength: This is a high major team wearing a mid-major’s uniform.  Long Beach St is as talented as many teams in the power six conferences.  It has a bonified NBA player in Casper Ware and a great cast around him.  They’re athletic, they can score and they will strike the fear of God into who steps on the court with them.  This is the team that nobody wants to play.

Weakness: The 49ers have been able to get away with playing a seven-man rotation in conference play, but that’s not going to cut it in the NCAA tournament.  This team faltered down the stretch at Creighton and part of that was due to fatigue.  Not having guys you can depend on to produce when your starters need a rest is a problem and could be the reason their tournament run ends before they’d like.

13. Davidson Wildcats

Location: Davidson, NC

Record: 25-7

Automatic Bid: Southern Conference Champions

Key Players: De’Mon Brooks (16 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Jake Cohen (14 ppg, 6 rpg), JP Kuhlman (11.1 ppg), Nik Cochran (11 ppg), Chris Czerapowicz (10.2 ppg)

Strength: The Wildcats can throw out one of the best frontcourts in the nation.  Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks dominated play in the Southern Conference this season.  Throw in wing player Chris Czerapowicz and they are matchup nightmare.  All three rebound the ball well, but are shooting 36.2 percent from three as a trio.  That makes them hard to guard and a headache to prepare for.

Weakness: This is a five-man team.  The Wildcats don’t get much offensive production from anyone outside of the players listed above.  They account for 79.4 percent of Davidson’s offense, which means if one of them has an off night; the team is really in the bind.  For Davidson to make some noise it’ll need someone else to give an offensive boost.

14a. BYU Cougars

Location: Provo, UT

Record: 25-8

At-Large Bid: West Coast Conference

Key Players: Noah Hartsock (16.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Brandon Davies (15 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Matt Carlino (12.7 ppg, 4.7 apg), Charles Abouo (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Brock Zylstra (8.4 ppg)

Strength: This is one of the best offensive teams in the country.  The Cougars lead the WCC in scoring with over 78 points per game.  They have four guys averaging in double figures giving them multiple options to go to.  They have balance in the paint with Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock in the low-post and Charles Abouo and Matt Carlino on the perimeter.  That’s being able to use multiple weapons in multiple ways.

Weakness: Despite the firepower this team has it hasn’t been good from coming back from deficits against good teams.  Against Saint Mary’s at home and Gonzaga in WCC tournament, BYU got in a little trouble and then fell behind by double digits in a hurry.  This is not a good trait to display in the NCAA tournament because BYU will be playing a good team.

Iona's Scott Machado

14b. Iona Gaels

Location: New Rochelle, NY

Record: 25-7

At-Large Bid: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Key Players: Mike Glover (18.5 ppg, 9 rpg), Lamont Jones (16 ppg), Scott Machado (13.6 ppg, 5 rpg, 9.9 apg), Sean Armand (9.5 ppg)

Strength: This is one of the highest scoring teams in the nation.  This team is deadly in transition with the best passing guard in the country Scott Machado.  He has two pros with him in Mike Glover and Lamont Jones.  The Gaels can outscore most teams in this tournament and that’s going to be their goal.  It’s fun to watch them play but a pain to try to keep up with.

Weakness: The Gaels play offense and that’s it.  Defense is just the possible 35 seconds it takes for them to get the ball back.  They don’t like to defend and they don’t try to defend.  They want to outscore you, but it doesn’t always work in their favor.  This is a team that allowed teams like Purdue, Western Michigan and Canisius to score over 85 points.  That’s just not going to cut it in the Big Dance.

15. Norfolk State Spartans

Location: Norfolk, VA

Record: 25-9

Automatic Bid: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: Kyle O’Quinn (15.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg), Chris McEachin (12.8 ppg), Pendarvis Williams (11.8 ppg)

Strength: Norfolk St is one of the best defensive teams in the MEAC.  Teams are shooting just 40.5 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from behind the three-point line against the Spartans.  In addition to that, they’re forcing over 14 turnovers a game too.  That’s the kind of defense that has allowed this team to run off 25 wins, which is a lot for MEAC school.

Weakness: Teams in Norfolk St’s situation need to be able to shoot the three reasonably well to stay close to higher seeded teams.  Unfortunately for the Spartans, they don’t do that.  They’re only shooting 31.4 percent from behind the arc, a stat that has to be troubling for Spartan fans who hope their team can spring a monumental upset.  Teams will load up in the paint against the Spartans and if they can’t shoot from outside, they’ll be out early.

16. Long Island University Blackbirds

Location: Brookville NY

Record: 25-8

Automatic Bid: Northeast Conference Champions

Key Players: Julian Boyd (17.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg), Jamal Olasewere (16.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg), C.J. Garner (12.5 ppg), Jason Brickman (9.7 ppg, 7.3 apg), Michael Culpo (9.6 ppg)

Strength: Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere form on of the best 1-2 frontcourt punches on the mid-major level.  Together, the two of them are scoring over 34 points and grabbing 17 boards per game.  That’s a potent combination to have.  They’ve led the Blackbirds to a dominant regular season in the NEC and a gaudy 25 wins.  These two are players that can give teams a lot of trouble in the tournament.

Weakness: Long Island has guys that can score so it likes to run and gun, but defense is not a priority.  The Blackbirds’ opponents averaging over 77 points per game this season, which is good enough for last place in one of the bottom 10 conferences in Division I basketball.  Given the team they’ll be facing in the tournament, that number just won’t be good enough.

South Region Breakdown

1. Kentucky Wildcats

Location: Lexington, KY

Record: 32-2

At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference

Key Players: Anthony Davis (14.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.7 BPG), Doron Lamb (13.3 ppg), Terrence Jones (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (12 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Marquis Teague (9.7 ppg, 4.7 apg), Darius Miller (9.4 ppg)

Strength: This is the most talented team in the nation.  On offense, it has guys who can go of the dribble, guys who can play in the post and guys who can shoot the trey.  Defensively, it has great perimeter defenders and Anthony Davis patrolling the paint.  The Wildcats haven’t been challenged often, but when they have they responded every time because they have guys who can execute on both ends of the court.  It’s very hard to see them losing.

Weakness: Kentucky remains one of the youngest teams in America.  Three starters are freshmen and the other two are sophomores.  That’s got to keep Coach John Calipari up at night.  It didn’t prevent the Wildcats from making it to the Final Four last season, but it’s got to be a concern as this isn’t the same team.  If Kentucky’s youth shows at a key moment, it could be a disappointing finish.

2. Duke Blue Devils

Location: Durham, NC

Record: 27-6

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: Austin Rivers (15.3 ppg), Seth Curry (13.4 ppg), Ryan Kelly (11.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Mason Plumlee (11 ppg, 9.3 rpg), Andre Dawkins (8.8 ppg), Miles Plumlee (7 rpg)

Strength: The Blue Devils have arguably the best backcourt in college basketball.  Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and Austin Rivers form a backcourt that’s lit scoreboards up all year.  It’s not only that they score it’s also when they score.  All three have hit big shots including Rivers’ now iconic three-pointer to beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  Duke is always good and these three are the main reason why.

Weakness: This isn’t one of Coach K’s best defensive teams.  The Blue Devils are ranked among the ACC’s worse in several defensive categories including scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage.  That’s why teams have been able to put up huge numbers on Duke at times this year.  Unless Duke makes a commitment to defense it will go home disappointed again.

3. Baylor Bears

Location: Waco, TX

Record: 27-7

At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference

Key Players: Perry Jones III (14 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Pierre Jackson (13.3 ppg, 5.8 apg), Quincy Acy (11.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Quincy Miller (11.1 ppg, 5 rpg), Brady Heslip (9.6 ppg)

Strength: The Bears have one of the most imposing front lines in the country.  When they’re playing well, they’re not just good; they’re intimidating.  Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy can all rebound and score.  That’s why they’re among the Big XII’s leaders in scoring and rebounds.  It’s also effective in the zone Baylor employs as their length can cause shooters problems.  This could be the most talented frontcourt in the country.

Weakness: Inconsistency would be the name of the game for the Bears.  There have been moments where they’ve looked like a top five team and others where you’re left scratching your head.  The good Baylor team showed up for the Big XII tournament, but will it still be around for the NCAA tournament.

Cody Zeller won Big Ten Freshman of the Year, according to the coaches. By Sandra Dukes, US Presswire

4. Indiana Hoosiers

Location: Bloomington, IN

Record: 25-8

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Cody Zeller (15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Christian Watford (11.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Jordan Hulls (11.4 ppg), Victor Oladipo (11 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Will Sheehey (8.5 ppg)

Strength: In a conference as rugged as the Big Ten, being able to score over 77 points per game is amazing, but that’s exactly what the Hoosiers did.  They’re actually probably very excited to play teams out of conference so that they may be able to score a little freely.  Led by the all-everything freshman Cody Zeller, the Hoosiers led the Big Ten in scoring offense, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.  They are going to be hard to guard in the tournament.

Weakness: Indiana, a program that’s used to being in the NCAA tournament is making its first trip since 2008.  So there is a concern about how the inexperienced Hoosiers are going to play on the big stage especially without Verdell Jones III.  They’ve had a great year, but the pressure to perform in an Indiana uniform is great.  Will it be too much for a young Indiana team?

5. Wichita State Shockers

Location: Wichita, KS

Record: 27-5

At-Large Bid: Missouri Valley Conference

Key Players: Garrett Stutz (13.5 ppg, 8 rpg), Joe Ragland (13.4 ppg), Toure’ Murry (12.2 ppg), Ben Smith (9.9 ppg), David Kyles (8.5 ppg), Carl Hall (8.3 ppg)

Strength: The Shockers are a typical Missouri Valley team in that they make it very difficult for teams to score.  They push up on guards on the perimeter and use the seven-foot Garrett Stutz to deter anyone from coming into the paint.  Not only is this team good initially on defense but it’s grabbing over 73 percent of its opponents’ misses.  This is a team that will be difficult to score on.

Weakness: Who is the Shockers “go-to guy?”  Wichita St has a number of players that can score, but who gets the ball when the game is on the line.  This is an important question as there will be a moment in the tournament where the Shockers will have to decide.

6. UNLV Rebels

Location: Las Vegas, NV

Record: 26-8

At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference

Key Players: Mike Moser (14.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Chace Stanback (12.7 ppg), Anthony Marshall (12.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Oscar Bellfield (9.8 ppg)

Strength: The West Coast is known for run-and-gun basketball and the Rebels are certainly capable of doing that.  UNLV is the highest scoring team in the Mountain West averaging over 76 points per game.  In addition to that they’re assisting on nearly two-thirds of their made field goals.  They’re explosive, efficient and can get into a shootout with the best of them.  Just ask North Carolina.

Weakness: UNLV is seventh out of eight teams in the Mountain West in free-throw shooting.  Averaging just 67.9 percent on the year, the Rebels must make their freebies if they expect to win in the Big Dance.  There is just no way you can win consistently shooting so poorly from the free-throw line.  UNLV better knock down its free throws or it can be out of the tournament in a hurry.

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Location: South Bend, IN

Record: 22-11

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Jack Cooley (12.4 ppg, 9 rpg), Jerian Grant (12.3 ppg, 4.9 apg), Eric Atkins (12.2 ppg, 4.1 apg), Scott Martin (9.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

Strength: It’s called the “burn” offense and what it does is burn the clock.  Notre Dame’s offense is not entertaining to watch, but it’s worked very well for the Irish.  It’s designed to test the discipline of the opposition’s defense and more often than not, it works in Notre Dame’s favor.  The Irish allows its young guards, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, to make plays at the end of the possession for themselves or teammates.  Teams who are interested in playing defense will struggle trying to beat Notre Dame.

Weakness: Notre Dame’s short bench will be an issue.  They’ve been able to get away with for most of the season, but it’s guaranteed to rear its ugly head in the tournament.  There will be a team that presses the Irish or one of the Irish’s key players will get into foul trouble.  When this happens, how will the Irish react?

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Location: Ames, IA

Record: 22-10

At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference

Key Players: Royce White (13.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 5.1 apg), Scott Christopherson (12.5 ppg), Chris Allen (11.8 ppg), Melvin Ejim (9.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Chris Babb (8.2 ppg), Tyrus McGee (8.1 ppg)

Strength: Royce White is one of the best all-around players in the nation.  Not many talk about him, but he can score, pass, and rebound with the best of them.  Head Coach Fred Hoiberg has done an excellent job of surrounding him with talented players leading to a suprising season.  White is largely responsible and he is going to be a nightmare to matchup with in the Big Dance.

Weakness: Iowa St has a roster full of transfers and this mash up hasn’t necessarily been the easiest team to manage.  A lot of guys are in Ames because they couldn’t get on the same page with their previous coach and it’s no different for the Cyclones at times.  Cyclone players need to understand that’s it’s March and the team goals are greater than those of the individual.

UConn Guard Jeremy Lamb

9. Connecticut Huskies

Location: Storrs, CT

Record: 20-13

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Jeremy Lamb (17.9 ppg), Shabazz Napier (12.6 ppg, 5.9 apg), Ryan Boatright (10.7 ppg, 4.2 apg), Andre Drummond (10.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg)

Strength: Pound for pound, this is one of the most talented teams in the country.  The roster is littered with future pros and teams with pros generally do well in the tournament.  Led by Jeremy Lamb, this team has several options to go to offensively when it needs a bucket.  When you have players that are simply better than the men in front of them, it gives you a great edge.

Weakness: Team chemistry has been a serious issue for the Huskies all year long.  Connecticut was in a lot of experts’ preseason top-5, but here we are in March and it’s not even close.  From the Calhoun suspension to the Calhoun injury to Shabazz Napier openly questioning his teammates; this season has been frustrating for Huskies’ fans.  If that problem shows up in the NCAA tournament they could be out early.

10. Xavier Musketeers

Location: Cincinnati, OH

Record: 21-12

At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference

Key Players: Tu Holloway (17 ppg, 5.2 apg), Mark Lyons (15.5 ppg), Dezmine Wells (10.3 ppg, 5 rpg), Kenny Frease (9.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Andre Walker (5.7 rpg)

Strength: The awesome backcourt of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons is capable of taking the Musketeers on run.  They are great off the dribble and are capable of knocking down threes from behind the three-point line.  It’s hard to defend those two because of their quickness and how fearless they are.  If they play to their ability, these two can give Xavier fans a good feeling about this season.

Weakness: Confidence has been the issue with the Musketeers.  As the fight with Cincinnati was a turning point for the better for the Bearcats, it had the opposite effect on Xavier.  They just haven’t had the same swagger since that they actually played that game with.  They have to get that back if they want to have success in the tournament.

11. Colorado Buffaloes

Location: Boulder, Co

Record: 23-11

Automatic Bid: Pac-12 Champions

Key Players: Carlon Brown (12.6 ppg), Andre Roberson (11.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg), Austin Dufault (11 ppg), Spencer Dinwiddie (10.1 ppg), Askia Booker (8.9 ppg)

Strength: The Buffaloes may have best collection of wing players in the Pac-12.  Carlon Brown, Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie are interchangeable players that all have game.  They’re athletic, solid defenders and can be dangerous from behind the three-point line.  These are three guys who can really change a game and they put this team on their backs to get it to the Big Dance.

Weakness: At times this can be a really exciting team to watch, but to Buffalo fans it can also be a frustrating team to watch.  This team is not a good passing team and it turns the ball over more than its opponents.  That’s not efficient basketball for a team that is ninth in the Pac-12 in points per game.  This team must get more organized offensively if it wants to duplicate its Pac-12 championship run in the NCAA tournament.

12. Virginia Commonwealth Rams

Location: Richmond, VA

Record: 28-6

Automatic Bid: Colonial Athletic Association Champions

Key Players: Bradford Burgess (13.3 ppg), Juvonte Reddic (10.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Troy Daniels (10 ppg), Rob Brandenberg (8.9 ppg), Darius Theus (8.6 ppg, 4.8 apg)

Strength: Havoc.  That’s what VCU calls its defense and boy is it effective.  The Rams cause nearly 18 turnovers a game by speeding their opponents up.  That pace makes teams uncomfortable playing right into their hands.  It can be downright stifling at times.  They have quick hands, quick feet and go eight men deep.  VCU’s defense has it peaking at the right time and maybe another deep tournament run is in store.

Weakness: Nearly 40 percent of VCU’s field goal attempts are three-pointers.  That’s a lot.  The Rams live by the three and die by the three.  That’s a dangerous way to live.  It worked very well for them in the tournament last year, but that was last year.  This is a new group with an unrealistic set of expectations.  I’m not sure history will repeat itself.

13. New Mexico State Aggies

Location: Las Cruces, NM

Record: 26-9

Automatic Bid: Western Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: Wendell McKines (18.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg), Hernst Laroche (12 ppg), Hamidu Rahman (10 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Daniel Mullings, Bandja Sy (8.7 ppg)

Strength: A team that can score the way New Mexico St can is going to win a lot of games in the WAC and that’s just what the Aggies did.  They’re first in the WAC in scoring, second in field goal percentage and third in assists.  In addition to that, this team gets over 41 percent of its misses.  That makes them frustrating to play as they extend possessions that way.

Weakness: Free throw shooting and turnovers have been the Aggies’ Achilles heel all season.  They turn the ball over 14.6 times per game, good enough for second to last in the WAC.  Meanwhile they only shot free throws at 66.7 percent.  Possessions are key in the Big Dance and not being able to have quality possessions will doom the Aggies.

14. South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Location: Brookings, SD

Record: 27-7

Automatic Bid: Summit League Champions

Key Players: Nate Wolters (21.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6 apg), Jordan Dykstra (11.5 ppg, 5 rpg), Griffan Callahan (10.5 ppg), Chad White (9.1 ppg)

Strength: Basketball is a simple sport.  If you have a great player than you ride that player until the wheels fall off.  That’s exactly what I expect South Dakota St to do with Nate Wolters.  Wolters can do just about anything on a basketball court and his all-around game has led the Jackrabbits to their first ever tournament.  He’s the type of player who can make a name for himself a la Harold Arceneaux.  He’s gonna make SDSU dangerous to play.

Weakness: The reliance on starters will be a serious issue for the Jackrabbits in the tournament.  Only seven players are getting double-digit minutes for them and that’s going to be something to watch.  Teams are going to make SDSU’s starters, especially Wolters, work for everything they get.  That means you’re going to see some tired legs and may a one-and-done trip for the Jackrabbits.

Lehigh's C.J. McCollum (3) center, shoots in front of Bucknell's Bryan Cohen (4), right, during the first half of their Patriot League Championship game Wednesday night. (KEVIN MINGORA, THE MORNING CALL)

15. Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Location: Bethlehem, PA

Record: 26-7

Automatic Bid: Patriot League Champions

Key Players: C.J. McCollum (21.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Gabe Knutson (12.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Holden Greiner (10 ppg), Mackey McKnight (8.3 ppg)

Strength: C.J. McCollum is one of the best kept secrets nationally, but he’s about to get his time to shine on the big stage.  He does everything for the Mountain Hawks.  He can create for himself or his teammates and doesn’t mind rebounding either.  This is a guy who’s carried them all year and if they’re to have any success in the tournament he’s going to have to do the same.

Weakness: Lehigh plays a lot of guys double-digit minutes, but not many can give them consistent scoring.  That’s going to be an issue in the tournament when teams will place a lot of focus on McCollum.  You can’t have minutes where there’s lull in scoring because he’s not on the court.  The Mountain Hawks need to get some production from their bench.

16a. Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils

Location: Itta Bena, MS

Record: 21-12

Automatic Bid: Southwestern Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: Paul Crosby (13.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Terrance Joyner (13.5 ppg), Cor-J Cox (11.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Kevin Burwell (9 ppg, 4.5 apg), Amos Studivant (5.8 rpg)

Strength: Mississippi Valley St is one of the best teams in the tournament in turning opponents over.  The Delta Devils force over 16 turnovers per game, good enough for second in the SWAC.  They’re able to use their quickness to get into passing lanes.  That’s why they average 8.8 steals per game.  If they’re able to turn their opponent over they have a chance at putting a scare into someone.

Weakness: A team with the Delta Devils’ talent should be able to make up for it by throwing waves of players at its opponent.  Well, all Mississippi Valley St can give you is about seven players.  Depth is a real issue for this squad and if it’s fortunate enough to play a No. 1 seed, it’ll be the nail in the coffin.

16b. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Location: Bowling Green, KY

Record: 15-18

Automatic Bid: Sun Belt Conference Champions

Key Players: Derrick Gordon (11.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg), George Fant (10.3 ppg, 6 rpg), Jamal Crook (8.6 ppg), T.J. Price (8.5 ppg), Kahlil McDonald (8.5 ppg)

Strength: Western Kentucky hasn’t done a lot well this year, but one thing it has done is turn its opponents over.  The Hilltoppers force close to 15 turnovers per game and do it with their quickness.  The team doesn’t have a lot of size so has compensated by competing defensively to get as many possessions as possible.

Weakness: This is one of the worst offensive teams in the tournament.  The Hilltoppers are scoring only 65 points per game and that’s due to the fact that they shoot 69.3 percent from the free-throw line, 39.7 percent from the field, and 30.8 percent from behind the three-point line.  In addition to that they have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.  It’s no wonder that this team struggled to win games and looks to have a very short stay in the tournament.

BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday Final (Welcome St. Bonaventure, Florida St, Vanderbilt, Michigan St)

Last Four In: Drexel, California, NC State, South Florida

Last Four Out: Seton Hall, Mississippi St, Iona Washington


1.Kentucky16.Mississippi Valley St(SWAC)/Vermont(AEast) Louisville


5.Murray St(OVC)12.NC State/California Nashville

4.Louisville(BEast)13.St. Bonaventure(A10)

6.San Diego St11.Virginia Commonwealth(CAA) Portland


7.Cincinnati10.Texas Greensboro

2.Duke15.Long Island(NEC)


1.Michigan St(B10)16.UNC-Asheville(BSouth) Columbus

8.Iowa St9.Xavier

5.Creighton(MVC)12.South Florida/Drexel Louisville

4.Florida St(ACC)13.South Dakota St(Summit)

6.St. Mary’s(WCC)11.Long Beach St(BWest) Albuquerque


7.UNLV10.Alabama Omaha



1.North Carolina16. Lamar(SLC)/Western Kentucky(SBelt) Greensboro


5.Vanderbilt(SEC)12.Southern Mississippi Nashville


6.Wichita St11.Colorado St Albuquerque


7.Temple10.West Virginia Pittsburgh

2.Ohio Sti15.Loyola(MD)(MAAC)


1.Syracuse16.Norfolk St(MEAC) Pittsburgh

8.Saint Louis9.Kansas St

5.New Mexico(MWest)12.BYU Portland


6.Florida11.Harvard(Ivy) Columbus

3.Michigan14.New Mexico St(WAC)

7Notre Dame10.Virginia Omaha


In Graphical Form

BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday (Early) March 11, 2012 (Welcome Vermont, Memphis, Lamar, Norfolk St, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Louisville, Mississippi Valley St, Long Beach St, New Mexico, New Mexico St)

Last Four In: Seton Hall, Drexel, California, NC State

Last Four Out: Mississippi St, Iona, Washington, Nevada


1.Kentucky16.Mississippi Valley St(SWAC)/Vermont(AEast) Louisville


5.Murray St(OVC)12.NC State/Seton Hall Nashville


6.Wichita St11.Virginia Commonwealth(CAA) Louisville


7.Cincinnati10.Texas Greensboro

2.Duke15.Long Island(NEC)


1.Michigan St16.UNC-Asheville(BSouth) Columbus

8.Iowa St9.Xavier

5.Creighton(MVC)12.South Florida Nashville

4.Florida St13.South Dakota St(Summit)

6.St. Mary’s(WCC)11.Long Beach St(BWest) Albuquerque


7.UNLV10.Alabama Omaha



1.North Carolina16. Lamar(SLC)/Western Kentucky(SBelt) Greensboro


5.San Diego St12.Southern Mississippi Portland


6.Vanderbilt11.Colorado St Albuquerque


7.Temple10.West Virginia Pittsburgh

2.Ohio Sti15.Loyola(MD)(MAAC)


1.Syracuse16.Norfolk St(MEAC) Pittsburgh

8.Saint Louis9.Kansas St

5.New Mexico(MWest)12.BYU Portland


6.Florida11.Harvard(Ivy) Columbus

3.Michigan14.New Mexico St(WAC)

7Notre Dame10.Virginia Omaha


In Graphical Form

BRACKETOLOGY: Saturday March 10, 2012

Last Four In: California, Seton Hall, NC State, Southern Mississippi

Last Four Out: Drexel, Iona, Washington, Nevada


1.Kentucky16.Norfolk St/Western Kentucky(SBelt) Louisville

8.Saint Louis9.Virginia

5.St. Mary’s(WCC)12.South Florida Portland

4.San Diego St13.Arizona

6.Wichita St11.Long Beach St Albuquerque


7.Florida St10.Alabama Columbus



1.Kansas16.UNC-Asheville(BSouth) Omaha


5.Creighton(MVC)12.BYU Portland


6.Vanderbilt11.Colorado St Nashville

3.Wisconsin14.South Dakota St(Summit)

7.Notre Dame10.Texas Greensboro

2.Duke15.Stony Brook


1.North Carolina16.Lamar/Mississippi Valley St Greensboro

8.Iowa St9.Connecticut

5.Murray St(OVC)12.Southern Mississippi/California Nashville


6.Florida11.Xavier Columbus

3.Michigan St14.New Mexico St

7.UNLV10.West Virginia Omaha

2.Missouri15.Long Island(NEC)


1.Syracuse16.Lehigh(Patriot) Pittsburgh

8.Gonzaga9.Kansas St

5.New Mexico12.Mississippi St Louisville

4.Indiana13.NC State/Seton Hall

6.Cincinnati11.Virginia Commonwealth(CAA) Albuquerque


7.Temple10.Harvard(IVY) Pittsburgh

2.Ohio St15.Detroit(Horizon)

In Graphical Form