Month: March 2014

Midwest Region Team Capsules

1. Wichita State Shockers

Location: Wichita, KS

Record: 34-0

Automatic Bid: Missouri Valley Conference Champions

Key Players: Cleanthony Early (15.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Ron Baker (13.1 ppg), Fred VanVleet (12.1 ppg, 5.3 apg), Tekele Cotton (10.8 ppg), Darius Carter (8.1 ppg), Chadrack Lufile (5.1 rpg)

Strength: Wichita St has outmuscled opponents all year.  The physical Shockers play with a chip the size of the city of Wichita and it’s led to them stifling opponents with great defense and rebounding.  They’ve held opponents to 39.2 percent shooting on the year while out-rebounding their opponents by nearly eight boards per game.  It’s allowed them to get out in transition and fueled their offense.  Toughness is one thing that always travels and it’ll serve Wichita St well in the Big Dance.

Weakness: The only thing bigger than the chip on Wichita St’s shoulder could be pressure of being an undefeated No. 1 seed.  The Shockers have managed to blow through MVC play unscathed.  However, the NCAA tournament is something altogether different.  It’ll be interesting to see if they can handle that and playing better competition every night.

2. Michigan Wolverines

Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Record: 25-8

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Nik Stauskas (17.5 ppg), Caris LeVert (13.3 ppg), Glenn Robinson III (13 ppg), Derrick Walton Jr. (8.1 ppg)

Strength: Michigan’s strength comes from the design of its offense and the players implementing it.  Michigan’s offense is based on motion, cutting and passing to spread the floor for driving lanes and find wide open shooters from behind the arc.  It’s similar to the Princeton in that it’s more read/react than anything set in stone.  It’s hard to defend, prepare for and with the talent Michigan has it can lead the Wolverines to a return trip to the Final Four.

Weakness: There are questions about Michigan’s toughness without Mitch McGary and last year’s national player of the year, Trey Burke.  The Wolverines are last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense, are near the bottom in forced turnovers and they’re an average rebounding team.  These are major questions the Wolverines are going to have to answer if they expect make another deep run.

3. Duke Blue Devils

Location: Durham, NC

Record: 26-8

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: Jabari Parker (19.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Rodney Hood (16.5 ppg), Quinn Cook (11.5 ppg, 4.3 apg), Rasheed Sulaimon (9.8 ppg), Andre Dawkins (8.2 ppg), Amile Jefferson (6.8 rpg)

Strength: As usual, this Duke team is a great offensive team.  Led by freshman sensation Jabari Parker, the Blue Devils lead the ACC in scoring and three-point shooting percentage.  That has helped the Blue Devils to be ranked as the second most efficient offense in the country and the tops in the ACC.  They can shoot it, have guys who can get to the hoop and pass it well.  This is another Duke team that has the chops to win the national championship.

Weakness: Once again, this is another Duke team with no post presence.  The Blue Devils don’t have a center playing legitimate minutes for them.  That could be a problem against some of the more rugged teams in the tournament. Duke has enough talent to win the whole thing, but the Devils’ deficiency guarding the paint area could lead to heir demise.

4. Louisville Cardinals

Location: Louisville, KY

Record: 29-5

Automatic Bid: American Athletic Conference

Key Players: Russ Smith (18.3 ppg, 4.7 apg), Montrezl Harrell (14.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Luke Hancock (11.7 ppg), Chris Jones (10.3 ppg), Wayne Blackshear (8.5 ppg)

Strength: There is no secret what Rick Pitino’s teams are going to do.  They’re going to press and shoot three pointers.  That’s no different with this year’s edition let by the quick and tenacious Russ Smith.  Together with his backcourt mate, Chris Jones, Smith has Louisville leading the American in steals per game and forced turnovers.  Their style is hard to prepare for and until you face it live, you have no clue how effective it is.

Weakness: Louisville is so close to being as close to dominant as a team can be, but it’s leaving points at the charity stripe.  Louisville is near the bottom of the American in free-throw percentage – shooting just 65.4 percent from the line.  That’s a number that keeps opponents in games and prevents victory.  Louisville has to sure that up if it has designs on repeating as national champion.

5. Saint Louis Billikens

Location: St. Louis, MO

Record: 26-6

At-Large Bid: Atlantic-10 Conference

Key Players: Dwayne Evans (14 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Jordair Jett (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg), Mike McCall Jr. (9.9 ppg), Rob Loe (9.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

Strength: There’s no secret to Saint Louis’ success.  The Billikens defend like no one else in the A-10 has.  They’re holding opponents to less than 61 points per game on 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 27.5 percent shooting from three-point land.  In addition to that, they’re also forcing over 14 turnovers per game.  That kind of defense travels well and will be what carries Saint Louis if it makes a run.

Weakness: As good as Saint Louis is on defense, they’re as bad on offense.  The Billikens only shoot 31.8 percent from behind the arc and 44.3 percent overall.  Jordair Jett, the most important Billiken on both ends of the floor, only shoots 20.6 percent from three-point range.  Fortunately, the Billikens are great defensively, but to make a deep run, they’ll need to score better.

6. Massachusetts Minutemen

Location: Amherst, MA

Record: 24-8

At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference

Key Players: Chaz Williams (15.8 ppg, 7.1 apg), Cady Lalanne (11.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Sampson Carter (10.7 ppg), Raphael Putney (9.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Derrick Gordon (9.4 ppg), Trey Davis (9.3 ppg), Maxie Esho (8.1 ppg)

Strength: Teams that face UMass better bring their track shoes to the court because the Minutemen love to get up and down the court.  They rank in the top-25 nationally in possessions and love to coerce teams into playing at their pace.  They average 76.4 points per game and have guys at every position that can fill it up.  Any coach that has to plan for the Minutemen will have his hands full.

Weakness: UMass is one of the rare teams in this tournament in that it turns the ball over more than its opponents.  The Minutemen turn the ball over 13.5 times per game and that keeps teams in games.  While, much of that is a function of being a high possession team, they don’t’ score the ball well enough to overcome that against really good teams.  It will be too difficult for them to win if they turn the ball over like this.

7. Texas Longhorns

Location: Austin, TX

Record: 23-10

At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference

Key Players: Isaiah Taylor (12.5 ppg), Cameron Ridley (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Jonathan Holmes (13 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Javan Felix (11.8 ppg), Connor Lammert (5.2 rpg)

Strength: The Longhorns are won of the most physical teams in the country and it shows in their defense and rebounding.  Texas is the best in the Big XII in field-goal percentage defense and rebound margin.  Cameron Ridley with his 6’9” 285 pound frame sets the tone and the rest of the Longhorns.  In grind-it-out games, they’ll be tough to handle.  Good luck trying to out-tough Texas.

Weakness: It’s a good thing that Texas grinds wins out, because it’s been a struggle all season offensively.  The Longhorns are near the bottom of the Big XII in efficiency, filed goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and free-throw percentage.  They cannot afford to be so easy to guard in the tournament, as teams will focus on taking away their ability to rebound.  If Texas doesn’t scorer easier then it won’t stay around for long.

8. Kentucky Wildcats

Location: Lexington, KY

Record: 24-10

At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference

Key Players: Julius Randle (15 ppg, 10.5 rpg), James Young (14.5 ppg), Aaron Harrison (13.8), Andrew Harrison (10.8 ppg), Willie Cauley-Stein (6.3 rpg)

Strength: Led by Julius Randle, this is one of the most talented teams in the country.  The Wildcats have guys who can shoot, defend, rebound and are pure shooters.  It’s the reason why many were comparing this recruiting class to classes coach John Calipari had earlier in his tenure in Lexington.  They can certainly get hot and go on a run.  That talent gives Wildcat opponent nightmares.

Weakness: One of the more puzzling things to watch this season has been the inconsistent play of this Kentucky team.  Chemistry and youth has led to a team that looks completely lost on the court sometimes.  The frustration is apparent with Calipari and the Kentucky fan base.  If the Wildcats can put it together, they can be very dangerous, but history isn’t saying they will.

9. Kansas State Wildcats

Location: Manhattan, KS

Record: 20-12

At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference

Key Players: Marcus Foster (15.6 ppg), Thomas Gipson (11.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Shane Southwell (9.8)

Strength: Bruce Weber coached in the Big Ten where defense was necessary for success and he’s brought that mentality to Kansas St.  The Wildcats are one of the best defensive teams in the Big XII.  Teams are barely shooting 40 percent overall and less than 29 percent from three-point range.  They’re even first in the conference in scoring defense as well.  Kansas St has played some heavyweights this season and used its defense to knock them out.

Weakness: Good thing that so many of the Big XII teams shot free throws so poorly so every team feels like it’s in every game.  The Wildcats struggle mightily from the charity stripe as they’ve only shot 65.8 percent – that’s good enough for last in the conference.  Kansas St doesn’t have a huge margin of error so not cashing in from the line will send the Wildcats home in a hurry.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils

Location: Tempe, AZ

Record: 21-11

At-Large Bid: Pac-12 Conference

Key Players: Jahii Carson (18.6 ppg, 4.5 apg), Jermaine Marshall (15 ppg), Jordan Bachynski (11.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Shaquielle McKissic (9 ppg)

Strength: Guard play is key for the Sun Devils as they have one of the best back courts in the Pac-12.  Buried in obscurity on the west coast, Arizona St’s talented backcourt is led by Jahii Carson – a player who could very well hear his name called in this year’s NBA draft.  They are hard to guard and are dangerous from behind the arc.  A set of guards like this could carry the Sun Devils a long way.

Weakness: This is one of the worst rebounding teams in the Pac-12.  The Sun Devils are getting outrebounded by two boards per game this season.  They’re the worst team in the conference in Offensive rebound percentage and ninth in defensive rebound percentage.  This will be a problem against physical teams in the tournament when possessions get bogged down.

11a. Tennessee Volunteers

Location: Knoxville, TN

Record: 21-12

At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference

Key Players: Jordan McRae (18.6 ppg), Jarnell Stokes (14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg), Jeronne Maymon (10.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Josh Richardson (9.2 ppg)

Strength: The Volunteers would fit along fine in the Big Ten because of their rough and tumble style of play.  Tennessee really likes to slow the game down and make the most out of its possessions.  Then it plays solid defense and rebounds at a rate better than any other team in the SEC.  It’s frustrating for opponents who want to play at a higher pace, but it’s worked out well for the Volunteers.

Weakness: Tennessee has been much better this season scoring the ball at over 72 points per game, but it can still struggle and the slow pace doesn’t help.  In only two of the Volunteers 11 losses have they scored 70 points.  In a loss to Florida, they only scored 41.  They cannot fall back into their previous offensive struggles if they expect to make any noise in the tournament.

11b. Iowa Hawkeyes

Location: Iowa City, IA

Record: 20-12

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Roy Devyn Marble (17.3 ppg), Aaron White (13 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Mike Gesell (8.1 ppg), Melsahn Basabe (5.7 rpg), Gabriel Olaseni (5.1 rpg)

Strength: In a conference known for defense and rebounding, the Hawkeyes showed the ability to score on anybody.  Iowa led the Big Ten in scoring at 82 points per game while they finished second in the league in efficiency.  They have a balanced scoring attack and they run, run again and then run some more.  It is exciting basketball to watch and there plenty of teams that simply can keep up.

Weakness: Iowa has struggled to defend in its late-season skid.  In fact, it doesn’t appear that the Hawkeyes are interested in defending anymore.  Both Indiana and Minnesota scored over 90 on the Hawkeyes, while Northwestern, a team that averaged 59.5 points per game, scored 67 on them.  Iowa almost let its defense keep them out of the tournament and it could let its defense knock it out of the tournament.

12a. Xavier Musketeers

Location: Cincinnati, OH

Record: 21-12

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Semaj Christon (17.1 ppg, 4.2 apg), Justin, Martin (11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Matt Stainbrook (10.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Isaiah Philmore (9.2 ppg, 5 rpg)

Strength: There aren’t many teams that are as balanced as Xavier.  While sophomore guard Semaj Christon may get all the headlines, the Musketeers get solid production from its frontcourt as well.  When they’re playing well, all of Xavier parts work like a well-oiled machine as seen by how well Xavier shoots the ball.   It is fun to watch, but it’s hard for teams to guard.

Weakness: One of the problems with Xavier’s balance is if you remove one piece, the others won’t work as well.  When Xavier lost Matt Stainbrook for a few games, they became as ordinary as ordinary could get.  They needed him to play and play well to win.  The same holds true for about four other guys.  The Musketeers need to learn how to adjust on the fly or they’ll be in trouble in the Big Dance.

12b. North Carolina State Wolfpack

Location: Raleigh, NC

Record: 21-13

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: T.J. Warren (24.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Ralston Turner (10.2 ppg), Anthony Barber (8.7 ppg), Desmond Lee (8.4 ppg), Lennard Freeman (5.6 rpg)

Strength: It’s clear that the Wolfpack’s success rest solely on the shoulders of T.J. Warren.  Warren is perhaps the best offensive player in the nation and has shown the ability to score 40 on top competition.  He leads a team that has learned to win by leaning on him and he’s delivered.  He’s the kind of player that can get hot and lead a team on a run.  Anyone playing the Wolfpack has to be prepared for that.

Weakness: The Wolfpack are one of the poorer rebounding teams in the ACC.  NC State is 13th in the conference in rebounding margin – getting out-rebounded by nearly one board per game.  Gone are the days of C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, who seemed to gobble up every rebound.  NC State needs its young post players to step to the challenge.

13. Manhattan Jaspers

Location: New York, NY

Record: 25-7

Automatic Bid: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: George Beamon (19.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Michael Alvarado (12 ppg), Rhamel Brown (10.1 ppg, 6 rpg), Shane Richards (8.5 ppg), Emmy Andujar (8.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg)

Strength: Manhattan coach Steve Masiello is a disciple of Rick Pitino and employs a similar style.  The Jaspers like to speed the game up and turn teams over.  It’s worked for a team that’s first in the MAAC in steals and second in possessions.  It’s tough to prepare for and even tougher to play against.  The fast-paced Jaspers are going to run, it’ll be up to their opponents to try to stop them.

Weakness: Manhattan can turn teams over, but they’ll give it up as well.  Many teams in the MAAC play fast so it hasn’t been hurt the Jaspers too much.  However, the level of competition the Jaspers will see isn’t going to be as courteous as to not make them pay for the 14.2 they average a game.  I know Manhattan wants to play fast and attack, but it better not give extra opportunities for counterattacks.

14. Mercer Bears

Location: Macon, GA

Record: 26-8

Automatic Bid: Atlantic Sun Conference Champions

Key Players: Langston Hall (14.7 ppg, 5.6 apg), Daniel Coursey (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Bud Thomas (9.1 ppg), Anthony White Jr. (8.3 ppg), Ike Nwamu (8.1 ppg)

Strength: Offensively, the Bears are a mid-major juggernaut.  Mercer is 12th in the nation in offensive efficiency, ninth in points per possession and 26th in points per game.  The Bears do it by sharing the ball as they average over 16 assists per game.  It’s evident in that Mercer averages over 79 points per game, but only one Bear averages double figures on the season.  It’s a balanced well-oiled machine.

Weakness: Anyone who watched the Atlantic Sun title game can see Mercer is going to have difficulty defending athletic teams.  That struggle to defend at times has been what’s hurt the Bears in their losses this season.  In every one of them, they have given up at least 75 points.  In fact they’re only 3-8 when they give up 75 points and one of those three wins came in double overtime.  It’ll be interesting to see if Mercer can defend at this level.

15. Wofford Terriers

Location: Spartanburg, SC

Record: 20-12

Automatic Bid: Southern Conference Champions

Key Players: Karl Cochran (15.7 ppg, 5 rpg), Spencer Collins (12.8 ppg), Lee Skinner (11.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg)

Strength: Wofford is a deliberate team whose style can frustrate an opponent.  The Terriers like to take their time to get the best shot possilble and it’s worked well for them.  They make the most out of their possessions by shooting well from behind the arc and not turning the ball over.  Playing their style is the only chance the Terriers have at staying close.

Weakness: Teams that play at a slow pace need to take full advantage of every opportunity they have to score.  However, that hasn’t been the case with Wofford and its free-throw shooting.  Wofford is shooting just a little over 66 percent from the free-throw line.  That’s nowhere near good enough to win in the Big Dance with the talent the Terriers have to work with.

16a. Texas Southern Tigers

Location: Houston, TX

Record: 19-14

Automatic Bid: Southwestern Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: Aaric Murray (21 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Jose Rodriguez (11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Madarious Gibbs (9.1 ppg, 5.2 apg), Ray Penn Jr. (8.6 ppg)

Strength: Texas Southern has the SWAC player of the year and a future pro in Aaric Murray.  Disclipinary issues has led Murray to Texas Southern after stops at La Salle and West Virginia, but it seems that he’s found his home with the Tigers.  Along with head coach Mike Davis, who is also on his third stop, Murray seems to be a sort of reclamation project.  It’s worked all the way to the Big Dance.

Weakness: Defensively, the Tigers leave much to be desired.  Texas Southern allows 73.7 points per game on nearly 45 percent shooting from the field and nearly 36 percent from the three-point line.  That kind of defense, against the competition the Tigers will face in the tournament will get them blown out.

16b. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs

Location: San Luis Obispo, CA

Record: 13-19

Automatic Bid: Big West Conference Champions:

Key Players: Chris Eversley (13.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Dave Nwaba (11.7 ppg), Kyle Odister (9.5 ppg)

Strength: For a team that finished six games under .500, the Mustangs took exceptional care of the basketball.  Cal Poly average the fewest amount of turnovers per game in the Big West; turning the ball over 9 times per contest.  The Mustangs, who are bound for Dayton, will have to continue that trend if it expects to advance.

Weakness: There isn’t just one weakness with the Mustangs, there are many.  They don’t shoot the ball well which leads to not being able to score.  They get out-rebounded.  Their opponents shoot better from the field, three-point line and free-throw line.  They had a great run in the Big West tournament, but that probably won’t continue in the Big Dance.


West Region Team Capsules

1. Arizona Wildcats

Location:Tucson, AZ

Record: 30-4

At-Large Bid: Pac-12 Conference

Key Players: Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Kaleb Tarczewski, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell

Strength: There aren’t many teams more athletic than the Wildcats.  It seems like they live on SportsCenter top plays whenever they have a game.  They run the floor at a high level and have NBA size in the frontcourt.  That gives Arizona the ability to guard anybody.  Arizona’s opponents shoot less than 39 percent from the floor while turning the ball over nearly 13 times per game.  That makes this one of the best teams in the country.

Weakness: Usually teams at Arizona’s level have great depth, but that’s not the case here.  The Wildcats really can only go six deep and that’ll be a problem moving through the rounds.  There will be foul trouble and fatigue and if they can’t figure out of way to get quality minutes and production from their reserves they could have a shorter stay in the tournament than they’d like.

2. Wisconsin Badgers

Location: Madison, WI

Record: 26-7

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Frank Kaminsky (13.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Ben Brust (12.9 ppg), Sam Dekker (12.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Traevon Jackson (10.4 ppg), Josh Gasser (9.2 ppg), Nigel Hayes (8 ppg)

Strength: Here comes a team that simply will out-execute you.  The Badgers shoot the ball well from behind the arc, from the field and from the three point line.  They only turn it over eight times per game and are second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.  These all lead to a team that is 17th in the country in offensive efficiency.  With the Badgers pace and execution, they are one of those teams that no one wants to play.

Weakness: This isn’t the Badger team that many are used to on the defensive end.  Wisconsin is 11th in the conference field-goal percentage defense and 10th in three-point field-goal percentage defense.  Wisconsin’s place is normally near the top and that’s usually the catalyst for its success.  This year though, the Badgers can be scored on and they need to figure out a way to sure that area up.

3. Creighton Blue Jays

Location: Omaha, NE

Record: 26-7

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: Doug McDermott (26.9 ppg, 7 rpg), Ethan Wragge (10.5 ppg), Austin Chatman (4.5 apg)

Strength:  Led by the likely national player of the year, Doug McDermott, teams that play Creighton better be prepared to defend the three-point line.  The Blue Jays shoot over 42 percent from behind the arc and they shoot plenty of them.  They pass the ball extremely well and space the floor like few in the country can.  When the Blue Jays get hot it’s a sight to behold and they could sharp shoot their way directly to the Final Four.

Weakness: The book on Creighton is out.  Slow down McDermott and it throws a monkey wrench into the whole machine.  When McDermott isn’t on, other guys aren’t as open, the passes aren’t as crisp, there are more missed shots and that leads into their opponents getting in transition easier.  McDermott is great, but what happens if on one night he’s not.

4. San Diego State Aztecs

Location: San Diego, CA

Record: 29-4

At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference

Key Players: Xavier Thames (16.8 ppg), Winston Shepard (12.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg), JJ O’Brien (8 ppg), Josh Davis (9.7 rpg)

Strength: San Diego St head coach Steve Fisher has a set plan for his team every year and he’s yet to deviate from it.  The Aztecs use their length and athleticism to play defense and rebound.  In light of that, they hold their opponents to 38.5 percent shooting from the field, 28.8 percent shooting from behind the arc, forcr over 14 turnovers per game while out-rebounding opponents by over five boards per game.  The system works and it’s tested.

Weakness: San Diego St’s opponents shoot 66.7 percent from the foul line and it’s still better than what the Aztecs shoot.  That’s because they shoot a porous 65.1 percent.  For a team that’s already challenged in offensive firepower not being able to make free throws is severely damaging.  The Aztecs better knock down free throws if they expect survive and advance.

5. Oklahoma Sooners

Location: Norman, OK

Record: 23-9

At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference

Key Players: Buddy Hield (16.8 ppg), Cameron Clark (15.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Isaiah Cousins (10.8 ppg), Jordan Woodard (10.3 ppg), Ryan Spangler (9.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg)

Strength: Teams facing the Sooners better be fully aware of what they can do from behind the three-point line.  Oklahoma is second in the Big XII in three-point attempts and first in three-point makes.  In addition to that, the Sooners make 38 percent of their three-point attempts making them even more dangerous.  The three-point shot is the great equalizer in college basketball and if Oklahoma is playing its game it can compete with anyone.

Weakness: Oklahoma is one of the worse defensive teams in the Big 12.  The Sooners give up 75 points per game, which is good enough for last in the Conference.  Their opponents are shooting over 43 percent from the field and close to 34 percent from three.  Oklahoma can put points up and that’s a good thing, but that might not be the case every game in the tournament and it’ll have to find a way to defend its way to a win.

6. Baylor Bears

Location: Waco, TX

Record: 24-11

At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference

Key Players: Cory Jefferson (13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Kenny Chery (11.6 ppg, 5 apg), Brady Heslip (11.8 ppg), Isaiah Austin (11 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Rico Gathers (6.4 rpg)

Strength: When four guys average over 38 percent from behind the arc, then that team is never out of game.  That’s the case with Baylor, who leads the Big XII in the three-point percentage.  Brady Heslip is the primary sharpshooter for the Bears as he shoots a ridiculous 46 percent from three.  He’s not bashful either as he’s taken 211 on the season.  It’s going to be hard to bury Baylor.

Weakness: Great from the three-point line, but bad from the free-throw line.  That’s the story with Baylor.  The Bears are ninth in the Big XII in free-throw percentage at just under 67 percent.  It’s one of the worse weaknesses you can have in the tournament where every possession matters.  Baylor is in big trouble if it can’t make its free-throws.

7. Oregon Ducks

Location: Eugene, OR

Record: 23-9

At-Large Bid: Pac-12 Conference

Key Players: Joseph Young (18.6 ppg), Mike Moser (13.5 ppg, 8 rpg), Jason Calliste (12.4 ppg), Damyean Dotson (9.7 ppg), Johnathan Loyd (4.7 apg)

Strength: Oregon is one of the most talented teams in the nation.  The Ducks have guys at every position that can beat you on any given night.  Coach Dana Altman has taken full advantage of using transfers to build his program and it’s helped with the depth of talent he has.  They’re extremely difficult to guard and can overwhelm you at times.  They certainly have the talent to go on a deep run.

Weakness: Consistency has been the issue for the Ducks this season.  There’s just no telling what team you’ll see on a game-in and game-out basis.  This is a team that followed a 13-game win streak to start the season with losing 8 of the next 10.  Oregon can be a dangerous team if it plays to its potential, but that hasn’t always been the case this season.

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Location: Spokane, WA

Record: 28-6

Automatic Bid: West Coast Conference Champions

Key Players:  Sam Dower (15 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Kevin Pangos (14.1 ppg), Gary Bell Jr. (11.2 ppg), Przemek Karnowski (10.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg), David Stockton (4.2 apg)

Strength: Whenever the name Gonzaga is brought up the first thing that comes to mind a lot is offensive proficiency and this year is no different.  The Bulldogs remain one of the hardest teams to guard nationally – much of that due to their effiency, where they rank No. 1 in the West Coast Conference.  They shoot nearly 40 percent from three and close  to 50 percent overall.  Gonzaga’s offensive prowess is the reason they’re back in the Big Dance.

Weakness:  For everything Gonzaga does well.  The one thing that could come back to haunt it is the fact that it can’t get to the free-throw line.  Gonzaga is eighth in the WCC in free throws made and attempted and 10th in free throw point percentage.  This is a team that can score, but relies on jump shots.  If those aren’t falling, the Bulldogs will have to find a way to manufacture points.

9. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Location: Stillwater, OK

Record: 21-12

At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference

Key Players: Marcus Smart (17.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.7 apg), Markel Brown (17.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Le’Bryan Nash (14.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Phi Forte III (13.3 ppg), Kamari Murphy (6.2 rpg)

Strength: Oklahoma St’s strength lies in its backcourt, which is one of the best in the country.  Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash are three high-level scorers who have shown the ability to score against pretty much any defense.  They’re athletic and any one can beat you on any given night.  Throw in Phil Forte for good measure and now there’s depth as well.  Guard play is the reason this was a top-15 team to begin the season.

Weakness: Oklahoma St has to be consistent if it wants to make a run.  As talented as the Cowboys are, they were under .500 in conference play.  Some of that was due to Smart’s mid-season suspension, but that Cowboys had already lost three in a row heading into that game.  The Cowboys are boom or bust.  They can play themselves into a regional or be out in the second round.

10. Brigham Young Cougars

Location: Provo, UT

Record: 23-11

At-Large Bid: West Coast Conference

Key Players: Tyler Haws (23.4 ppg), Matt Carlino (13.7 ppg, 4.3 apg), Eric Mika (11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Nate Austin (8 rpg)

Strength: Led by Tyler Haws, BYU is one of the highest scoring teams in the nation – ranking in the top 5 in points per game at 85.  Haws leads the team with over 23 points per game, but three other Cougars average at least 12 making them tough to guard across the board.  They’re solid from deep, shoot a high percentage from the field and have an outstanding assist-to-turnover ratio.

Weakness: The Cougars like to play fast and it has come back to haunt them on several occasions this season. Four teams have scored 100 on BYU and that is extremely unusual.  Defending has been an issue for BYU and the wrong match-up could prove to be too much to overcome for a team that can struggle to get stops.

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Location: Lincoln, NE

Record: 19-12

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Terran Petteway (18.1 ppg), Shavon Shields (12.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Walter Pitchford, (9.5 ppg)

Strength: The Cornhuskers go as all-everything swingman Terran Petteway goes.  Petteway is one of the lesser-known stars in the Big Ten, but he’s been outstanding this season for Nebraska.  He’s a good defender, solid rebounder and is good in late game situations because he shoots 82 percent from the free-throw line.  He’s the type of player who can get hot and put his team on his back.

Weakness: The Big Ten is a rugged league where defense and rebounding rules the day so its surprising that the Cornhuskers were so successful while being 11th in the league in rebound margin and rebound percentage.  It’s telling stat and a glaring weakness that opponents will try to exploit in the tournament.

12. North Dakota State Bison

Location: Fargo, ND

Record: 25-6

Automatic Bid: Summit League Champions

Key Players: Taylor Braun (18.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Marshall Bjorklund (13.4 ppg), TrayVonn Wright (11.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Lawrence Alexander (10.8 ppg)

Strength: Offensively, the Bison are a machine.  North Dakota St is third in the country in offensive efficiency at 118.9.  The Bison shoot nearly 51 percent from the field, over 36 percent from behind arc, and turn the ball over less 10 times per game.  The precision in which it runs it offense is the reason why it’s won 25 games.  It’s also the reason why he Bison have a legitimate shot at an upset.

Weakness: The Bison isn’t one of the better three-point defending teams in this tournament.  North Dakota St’s opponents are shooting nearly as well from behind the arc as the Bison are.  At 36.6 percent, teams will always be in striking distance because they can get open shots whenever they want.  The Bison facing a strong three-point shooting team would be the worst matchup possible.

13. New Mexico State Aggies

Location: Las Cruces, NM

Record: 26-9

Automatic Bid: Western Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: Daniel Mullings (16.7 ppg), D.K. Eldridge (11.6 ppg), Tshilidzi Nephawe (11.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Sim Bhullar (10.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Renaldo Dixon (8.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg)

Strength: There aren’t many teams in the country with the kind of size that the Aggies can put out on the floor.  The Aggies have key contributors that are 6’9, 6’10 and 7’5.  That’s why they out-rebound their opponents by five per game and lead the conference in blocks per game at 6.3.  New Mexico St’s strength lies in its post presence and it could be tough to deal with for any team.

Weakness: New Mexico St’s propensity to turn the ball over could really hinder its chances.  The Aggies are eighth in the WAC in turnover margin.  This is the worst the WAC has been in a long time too and that makes that number even more concerning.  It’s going to be an issue if the Aggies turn the ball over because they simply don’t have the personnel to defend in transition.

14. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns

Location: Lafayette, LA

Record: 23-11

Automatic Bid: Sun Belt Conference Champions

Key Players: Elfrid Payton (19.1 ppg, 6 rpg, 6 apg), Shawn Long (18.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg), Bryant Mbamalu (12.5 ppg), Xavian Rimmer (8.4 ppg)

Strength: Ragin Cajuns is an apt nickname for Louisiana-Lafayette because they are one fastest playing teams in the country.  The Ragin Cajuns are 14th nationally in possessions per 40 minutes and lead the Sun Belt in points per game at 81.4.  They force turnovers, get out in transition and let sophomore guard Elfrid Payton run the show.  This is an entertaining bunch and they have the talent to scare someone.

Weakness: Louisiana-Lafayette is a lot more concerned with getting out and running than they are about playing defense.  The Ragin Cajuns are eighth in the Sun Belt in field-goal percentage defense – allowing opponents to shoot over 44 percent.  In light of that, their opponents score 75 points per game.  That works in the Sun Belt, but the teams in the NCAA tournament will make them pay for not defending.

15. American Eagles

Location: Washington, DC

Record: 20-12

Automatic Bid: Patriot League Champions

Key Players: Jesse Reed (13.9 ppg), Tony Wroblicky (12.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Darius Gardner (11.5 ppg, 4.2 apg), John Schoof (11.4 ppg)

Strength: American head coach Mike Brennan played at Princeton and coached under John Thompson III at Georgetown and has brought the Princeton-style offense to American.  The Eagles play at slow place, run their offense and frustrate opponents in the process.  It’s hard to prepare for and it’s harder to stay disciplined against.  American can keep a game close if it can play its style.

Weakness: In a low possession game, the margin for error is razor thin and that’s been the case for the Eagles.  They can play a game the style they want, but if they’re not making shots, there is no back-up plan.  They have to hit shots or they could get blown out of this tournament in really ugly fashion.

16. Weber State Wildcats

Location: Ogden, UT

Record: 19-11

Automatic Bid: Big Sky Conference Champions

Key Players: Davlon Berry (19.1 ppg), Kyle Tresniak (11.8 ppg), Jeremy Senglin (11.2 ppg), Joel Bolomboy (8.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg)

Strength: The Wildcats are deadly from behind the three-point line.  Weber St shoots the 39.2 percent from deep and that’s good enough for 20th nationally.  Five Wildcats shoot over 40 percent and a fifth, Davlon Berry, who shoots 38.3 percent.  The Wildcats can really extend defenses with their range and if they’re knocking their shots down, they could scare someone.

Weakness: Weber St’s seven-man rotation may not be enough to get the job done in the tournament.  The Wildcats like to control tempo so their depth isn’t an issue, but it will be hard for them to dictate pace when they’ll most likely be overmatched talent wise.  Teams will push the pace on the Wildcats and if they can’t keep up then they won’t be able to stay close.

East Region Team Capsules

1. Virginia Cavaliers

Location: Charlottesville, VA

Record: 28-6

Automatic Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Champions

Key Players: Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Joe Harris (11.7 ppg), Justin Anderson (8.1 ppg), Anthony Gill (8.4 ppg), Akil Mitchell (7.1 rpg)

Strength: Defense is the name of the game for the Cavaliers.  Virginia holds opponents to 55.3 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting from the field on the season.  The Wahoos have good athletes at every position and they are great in their halfcourt man-to-man defense.  Couple that with their deliberate pace on offense and it’s next to impossible to comeback against them.

Weakness: The Cavaliers aren’t dynamic at all on offense.  Virginia plays at slow pace, in fact they are 14th in the ACC in possessions per 40 minutes.  So while it’s hard to come back against the Cavaliers, it’s equally hard for them to comeback against other teams.  There have been moments this season where they’ve struggled offensively and it could be ugly if they struggle in the Big Dance.

2. Villanova Wildcats

Location: Villanova, PA

Record: 28-4

At-Large Bid: Big East Conference

Key Players: James Bell (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Darrun Hilliard (14.3 ppg), JayVaughn Pinkston (14.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Ryan Arcidiacono (9.9 ppg), Daniel Ochefu (6 rpg)

Strength: The Wildcats are one of the most aggressive teams in the country.  On defense, they’ll extend full court and pester ball-handlers.  On offense they’ll constantly attack off the dribble.  They have a lot of guys who are close to the same size so they create mismatches all over the court on both ends.  Villanova moves at 100 mph for 40 minutes and it’s up to its opponents to keep up.

Weakness:  If Villanova comes across a great post player, it could be hurt in the paint.  Outside of Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats don’t really have someone who can guard the interior.  It’s the way head coach Jay Wright designs his teams so that he can play a certain way, but it is a weakness that can be exploited by the right player and the right team.

3. Iowa State Cyclones

Location: Ames, IA

Record: 26-7

Automatic Bid: Big 12 Conference

Key Players: Melvin Ejim (18.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg), DeAndre Kane (17 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.8 apg), Georges Niang (16.5 ppg), Dustin Hogue (10.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg)

Strength: This is one of the more unselfish teams in the country considering the offensive talent it has.  The Cyclones lead the nation in assists and assists per game with 612 and 18.5 respectively.  That’s important because with the weapons they have it’s hard for opponents to know where the focus should be.  Iowa St is certainly a Final Four contender and its versatility on offense is the reason why.

Weakness: Here we have another Big XII team that struggles from the free-throw line.  Iowa St is too good offensively to be so bad from the line, but it is.  The Cyclones shoot a little over 69 percent from the line – good enough for 7th in the conference.  As the tournament progresses, the games will get tougher and that heightens the need to make free throws.  The Cyclones better be up for the challenge.

4. Michigan State Spartans

Location: East Lansing, MI

Record: 26-8

Automatic Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: Gary Harris (17.1 ppg), Adreian Payne (15.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Keith Appling (12.3 ppg, 4.6 apg), Branden Dawson (10.4, 8.3 rpg), Denzel Valentine (8.3 ppg, 6 rpg)

Strength: Many times in the past when you’d watch a Michigan St game it would seem like you’re watching a rock fight when the Spartans were on offense.  That certainly is not the case this year as the Spartans are the second highest scoring team in the Big Ten at over 76 points per game.  Michigan St has NBA talent on offense in Gary Harris and athletes in the post who are athletic and can step out and hit jumpers.  The Spartans are a matchup nightmare on offense and if they play to their potential they can get to the Final Four.

Weakness: Injuries have derailed what looked like a possible classic season in East Lansing.  So many of Michigan St’s key guys have missed time this year that it’s been hard for the Spartans to build chemistry.  They need time to actually practice together to re-build that chemistry.  It may be too late in the season for it to happen now.

5. Cincinnati Bearcats

Location: Cincinnati, OH

Record: 27-6

At-Large Bid: American Athletic Conference

Key Players: Sean Kilpatrick (20.7 ppg), Justin Jackson (11.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Titus Rubles (6.7 rpg)

Strength: The Bearcats go as their all-American candidate Sean Kilpatrick will take them.  Indeed Cincinnati is a great defensive team, but they don’t win without Kilpatrick playing well.  He’s been doing that for the entire season and could easily take them to the second weekend.  The rest of the team feeds off him on offense and defense and when he’s going, the Bearcats can beat anybody.

Weakness: You won’t find a team at Cincinnati’s level that struggles to score the way it does.  The Bearcats play low possession games, but they don’t shoot the ball well enough for it not to always be in dog fights.  There are only so many times Kilpatrick is going to bail them out when the team is shooting 43 percent on the year.  That kind of offense could get the Bearcats upset.

6. North Carolina Tar Heels

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Record: 23-9

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: Marcus Paige (17.4 ppg, 4.3 apg), James M. McAdoo (14.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Brice Johnson (10.4 ppg), Leslie McDonald (10.3 ppg), J.P. Tokoto (9.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Kennedy Meeks (5.9 rpg)

Strength: While guard Marcus Paige has been getting the headlines for the Tarheels this season, it’s their frontcourt w’hich has been the key for North Carolina all season. They’ve been scoring at a high level and, led by James M. McAdoo, they’ve out-rebounded opponents by over five boards a game.  They have great size, are athletic and can be a nightmare to block out and defend in the Big Dance.

Weakness: At 62.5 percent, the Tar Heels are the worst free-throw shooting team in the ACC.  That’s a stat that will make coaches foul late in the game just to get extra possessions. Outside of Marcus Paige, there are no key contributors who shoot over 63 percent for North Carolina.  The Tar Heels are going to have to make sure Paige handles the ball in late game situations to make sure they get the right player on the line.

7. Connecticut Huskies

Location: Storrs, CT

Record: 26-8

At-Large Bid: American Athletic Conference

Key Players: Shabazz Napier (17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.9 apg), DeAndre Daniels (12.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Ryan Boatright (11.8 ppg), Niels Giffey (8.4 ppg)

Strength: UConn enters the Big Dance with one of the best backcourts in the country.  Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are two diminutive guards, but boy do they put pressure on defenses.  They can shoot it, they’re athletic and have shown the ability to score on anybody in the country.  If they get hot, the rest of the Huskies can get going and if that happens; UConn get go a long way.

Weakness: UConn can really be punished on the interior.  The Huskies don’t have much of a post presence, especially defensively and on the boards.  A team with a solid back-to-basket center or one that’s physical in the paint could really punish the Huskies.  UConn is barely out-rebounding its opponents.  The Huskies weakness is in the paint and it remains to be seen if they have the bodies to change that.

8. Memphis Tigers

Location: Memphis, TN

Record: 23-9

At-Large Bid: American Athletic Conference

Key Players: Joe Jackson (14.3 ppg, 4.5 apg), Michael Dixon Jr. (11.8 ppg), Shaq Goodwin (11.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Austin Nichols (9.1 ppg), Geron Johnson (8.9 ppg), Chris Crawford (8.9 ppg)

Strength: Memphis may just be one of the more talented teams in the country.  If you line the Tigers up, man-to-man, with any team in the country; they would be able to compete with anyone.  That’s why it shouldn’t be a shock if Memphis makes a nice run.  The Tigers have experience, good shooters, good frontcourt players and a point guard in Joe Jackson who ranks among the best in the country.  This Tiger team could be primed for a run.

Weakness: Depth could be an issue for the Tigers.  Memphis has a solid top six, but past that, there isn’t much in the way of production.  The Tigers only have 7 players that have played in every game this season.  That could be an issue if they get in foul trouble and have to rely on someone who hasn’t had a large role.  If that happens, Memphis will need that player to step up.

9. George Washington Colonials

Location: Washington, DC

Record: 24-8

At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference

Key Players: Maurice Creek (14.3 ppg), Kethan Savage (12.7 ppg), Patricio Garino (12.2 ppg), Isaiah Armwood (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Kevin Larsen (11.3 ppg, 7 rpg), Joe McDonald (8.3 ppg, 4.1 apg)

Strength: The Colonials resurgence has been impressive this season and that’s because the Colonials really share the ball on offense.  George Washington is fifth in the A-10 in assists, but it seems like it should be more because the Colonials have five guys averaging double figures and another who averages at least eight points per game.  They’re unselfish and it’s led to everyone providing valuable contributions for the Colonials this season.

Weakness: There are 13 teams in the A-10, but the Colonials are 12th in free throw shooting.  It doesn’t matter how well a team is playing, missing free throws can slowly eat away at a chance to win a game.  At 65.7 percent, that is a real possibility for George Washington if it doesn’t knock down shots in the Big Dance.

10. Saint Joseph’s Hawks

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Record: 24-9

Automatic Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference Champions

Key Players: Langston Galloway (17.5 ppg), Ronald Roberts (14.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg), DeAndre Bembry (12 ppg), Halil Kanacevic (10.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.4 apg), Chris Wilson (9 ppg)

Strength: Saint Joseph’s will enter the NCAA tournament as one of the best shooting teams in the A-10.  The Hawks are first in field-goal percentage and three-point field-goal percentage.  Much of this is due to the fact that both Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic shoot over 53 percent from the field and Langston Galloway and Papa Ndao both shoot over 43 percent from behind the arc.  If they can light up in the tournament they may be able to repeat would fellow Big 5 member LaSalle did last season and go to the Sweet 16.

Weakness: The Hawks struggle to turn people over.  Like conference-mate UMass, the Hawks turn ball over more than their opponents by over two per game.  In order to survive like that, the Hawks need to hold opponents to shooting percentages in the 30’s and they just don’t do that.  They have to be better defensively if they want to make some noise.

11. Providence Friars

Location: Providence, RI

Record: 23-11

Automatic Bid: Big East Conference Champions

Key Players: Bryce Cotton (21.4 ppg, 5.8 apg), LaDontae Henton (13.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Kadeem Batts (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Tyler Harris (11.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Josh Fortune (8.6 ppg)

Strength: Led by high-scoring guard Bryce Cotton, the Friars are one of the best teams in the country at getting to the free-throw line.  The Friars are first in the conference in free-throw makes and percentage.  It’s a part of their offense and they’ve used it effectively all year long.  They put pressure on defenses and it leads to points.  It could be a very good tool in the big dance.

Weakness: Providence has no bench whatsoever.  This is a team that plays all five of its starters over 30 minutes.  Cotton is averaging close to the full 40 minutes per game.  That’s amazing that neither he nor any of his teammates hit a wall this season.  Providence is going to be a real issue in the Big Dance where teams are going to try to make the Friars use their bench.

12. Harvard Crimson

Location: Cambridge, MA

Record: 26-4

Automatic Bid: Ivy League Champion

Key Players: Wesley Saunders (14 ppg), Siyani Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.7 apg), Steve Moundou-Missi (10.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Kyle Casey (10 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Laurent Rivard (10 ppg), Brandyn Curry (9.3 ppg)

Strength: There’s something to be said about experience.  This is Harvard’s third consecutive trip to the Big Dance and is a buzzer beater from it being four straight.  The Crimson won a game last year and come in with the talent and experience to get to the second weekend.  With five of its top six players being upperclassmen, that achievement should surprise no one.

Weakness: Harvard is a team that’s spectacularly short on quality depth.  The Crimson has eight guys averaging double-digit minutes, but the production and log between sixth man and the seventh is way off.  Opponents will throw a lot of bodies at the Crimson to try to tire it.  Harvard better be prepared for it.

13. Delaware Blue Hens

Location: Newark, DE

Record: 25-9

Automatic Bid: Colonial Athletic Association Champions

Key Players: Devon Saddler (19.7 ppg), Davon Usher (19.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Jarvis Threatt (18.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.6 apg), Carl Baptiste (11.3 ppg, 8 rpg), Kyle Anderson (11 ppg)

Strength: Delaware enters to the Big Dance with the best backcourt you’ve never heard of.  Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, Jarvis Threatt and Kyle Anderson can all score effectively.  Threatt runs the show, but he’s adept at finding his teammates they’re adept at getting him assists.  This team has upset potential in it and it’s because it has what teams need to be successful in March: great guard play.

Weakness: While having great guards helps the Blue Hens on the offensive end, it has had a negative effect when it comes to rebounding.  Delaware is being out-rebounded by 2.4 boards per game.  The Blue Hens were able to overcome that by overwhelming CAA foes with firepower, but there will be no Hofstra’s in the Big Dance.  They need to figure out a way to compete in the boards.

14. North Carolina Central Eagles

Location: Durham, NC

Record: 28-5

Automatic Bid: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champions

Key Players: Jeremy Ingram (20.6 ppg), Jordan Parks (10.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Alfonzo Houston (9.6 ppg), Jay Copeland (8.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Emanuel Chapman (6.5 apg)

Strength: The Eagles take it personally when teams score against them.  North Carolina Central is by far the best defensive team in the MEAC.  The Eagles hold their opponents to just 58.5 points per game on 37.6 percent shooting.  In addition, their opponents are only shooting 29.7 percent from behind the arc and are turning the ball over 14.7 times per game.  The Eagles have the chops to pull an upset and their defense is the reason why.

Weakness: The great equalizer is the three-point shot when there is a talent discrepany, but the Eagles won’t have that equalizer at their disposal.  North Carolina Central only shoots 32.5 percent from behind the three-point line and that’s not going to get it done if the Eagles expect to win.  They’re going to need to make that shot if they want to stay close.

15. Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers

Location: Milwaukee, WI

Record: 21-13

Automatic Bid: Horizon League Champions

Key Players: Jordan Aaron (15 ppg), Kyle Kelm (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Matt Tiby (12.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Austin Arians (10.9 ppg), Steve McWhorter (8 ppg)

Strength: There aren’t many teams that have the knack of getting to the free-throw line like Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  The Panthers are No. 1 in the Horizon League in free-throw attempts and makes.  The bulk of that comes from frontcourt players Kyle Kelm and Matt Tiby as together they’ve shot 409 free throws over the course of the season.  Getting to the line is a significant part of the Panthers’ offense and it makes them hard to deal with.

Weakness: The Panthers will be in trouble in the tournament because of their lack of depth.  Four members of the squad are averaging over 30 minutes per game.  That’s not giving head coach Rob Jeter many options to go to.  Any team that goes deep into its bench will find success employing that strategy against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

16. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Location: Conway, SC

Record: 21-12

Automatic Bid: Big South Conference Champions

Key Players: Elijah Wilson, Warren Gillis, Josh Cameron, Badou Diagne, Michel Enanga, El Hadji Ndiequene

Strength: The Chanticleers earned their way into the tournament by being the best defensive team in the Big South.  Coastal Carolina leads the Big South in field-goal percentage defense, three-point field-goal percentage defense and scoring defense.  To add to their foes trouble is the fact that Coastal also grabbed 70 percent of its opponent’s misses.  If the Chanticleers want to put a scare into someone, this is the way they’ll try to play.

Weakness: Coastal has to be a great defensive team because it struggles to score at times.  While the Chanticleers do score over 72 points per game, they’re only shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three.  Add in that 203rd nationally and 10th in the Big South in offensive efficiency and it’s easy to see why their prospects of winning a game are slim-to-none.



South Region Team Capsules

1. Florida Gators

Location: Gainesville, FL

Record: 32-2

Automatic Bid: Southeastern Conference

Key Players: Casey Prather (14.2 ppg, 5 rpg), Michael Frazier (12.9 ppg), Scottie Wilbekin (13 ppg), Patric Young (11.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Dorian Finney-Smith (8.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg)

Strength: There aren’t many teams that get after it defensively the way the Gators do.  Be it in fullcourt or halfcourt, Florida has the chops to guard.  The Gators force 14 turnovers, hold teams to just 40 percent shooting while allowing just 58.5 points per game.  To make matters worse for opponents, they’re grabbing over 70 percent of rebounds on the defensive end.  This is a national title contender and defense is the primary reason why.

Weakness: To win a national championship all I’s have to be dotted and all T’s have to be crossed.  That’s why Florida will have to solve its free-throw shooting woes.  The Gators are shooting just 67 percent from the charity stripe.  That’s an unheard of number for a team as talented as the Gators.  That has to be cleaned up if they have any desire to cut down the nets.

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Location: Lawrence, KS

Record: 24-9

At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference

Key Players: Andrew Wiggins (17.4 ppg, 6 rpg), Perry Ellis (13.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Wayne Selden Jr. (10.2 ppg), Naadir Tharpe (8.7 ppg, 5.2 apg)

Strength: Kansas has one of the best frontcourts in the nation.  Ballyhooed freshman Andrew Wiggins leads the bunch, but he’s not the only Jayhawk forward that can beat you.  Perry Ellis is there as a secondary scorer and rebounder.  On top of that, they have Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor who can give them quality minutes consistently.  This is a team that’ll rely on its frontcourt to be successful and if they can’t be guarded, they can go a long way.

Weakness: As strong as Kansas’ frontcourt is, its missing the one player that turns it into a truly dominant entity.  Joel Embiid is out with a stress fracture in his back for at least the first weekend of the tournament and that’s a big deal.  He’s so much of a game changer that the Jayhawks could easily be going home after the third round.  They’re very mortal without him.

3. Syracuse Orange

Location: Syracuse, NY

Record: 27-5

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: C.J. Fair (16.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Tyler Ennis (12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg), Trevor Cooney (12.2 ppg), Jerami Grant (12.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Rakeem Christmas (5 rpg)

Strength: Everyone talks about it and they do with good reason.  Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is the best in the country because of the type of players Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim recruits.  They’re long at every position with great athleticism.  The zone not only prevents scores in the paint, but also is adept at causing turnovers.  It’s scary good and unless a team goes crazy from behind the arc, it’s effective against everyone.

Weakness: For a team that was undefeated for a large portion of the year, it’s surprising on the surface that the Orange doesn’t score over 69 points per game.  However, the truth of the matter is that Syracuse isn’t good when it’s not playing in transition and it hasn’t been for a number of years now.  The Orange has become easy to defend and if Syracuse can’t make shots it will have a short stay in the Big Dance.

4. UCLA Bruins

Location: Westwood, CA

Record: 26-8

Automatic Bid: Pac-12 Conference Champions

Key Players: Jordan Adams (17.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Kyle Anderson (14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.6 apg), Norman Powell (11.3 ppg), Zach LaVine (10 ppg), Bryce Alford (8.1 ppg)

Strength: Talented offensive players have led to the Bruins having a talented offense.  UCLA is first in the Pac-12 in offensive efficiency and second in scoring.  They have a do-everything forward in Kyle Anderson.  He’s averaging nearly 7 assists per game.  Throw in dynamic scorer Jordan Adams and you have a great 1-2 punch.  However, it doesn’t just stop with those two because eight Bruins are averaging at least 6 points per game making them dangerous. 

Weakness: Under Ben Howland, UCLA was one of the best defensive teams in the country.  Now teams are scoring over 71 points per game and the Bruins are allowing teams to shoot near 43 percent from the field and almost 35 percent from three.  If the Bruins are an average defensive team, playing a good offensive team will be nothing but trouble for them.

5. Virginia Commonwealth Rams

Location: Richmond, VA

Record: 26-8

At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference

Key Players: Treveon Graham (15.5 ppg, 7 rpg), Juvonte Reddic (12.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Melvin Johnson (10.6 ppg), Rob Brandenberg (9.5 ppg), Briante Weber (9.4 ppg, 3.5 spg)

Strength: They’re a lot of teams that will employ a full-court press defense, but there’s only one havoc.  That’s the term VCU uses to describe that way in presses, traps and attacks on defense.  That leads to layups and dunks on the other end.  The Rams average four more steals than the next closest team in the A-10 and turn their opponents over at a staggering average of 18.7 times per game.  That amazing stat tells the tale of the havoc the Rams can wreak.

Weakness: VCU only shoots 42 percent so teams that can get the Rams to play in the halfcourt are ahead of the game.  The Rams press is only effective when they’re scoring.  So teams that can defend and make VCU have to guard in the halfcourt and execute on offense are the ones that have success.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

Location: Columbus, OH

Record: 25-9

At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference

Key Players: LaQuinton Ross (15.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Lenzelle Smith Jr. (11.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Aaron Craft (9.6 ppg, 7.6 apg), Amir Williams (8 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

Strength: Follow the leader is the name of the game with the Buckeyes and that leader is senior guard Aaron Craft.  When Craft is being disruptive on defense and setting up teammates on offense, the Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the nation.  They’re dunking shooting threes and look like a real contender.  This is Craft’s last go round and he’s going to leave nothing in the tank.

Weakness: This is not one of Ohio St’s better offensive teams.  The Buckeyes are in the bottom half of the league in points per game, three-point field goal percentage, free-throw percentage and offensive rebound percentage.  There’s talent on the team so it’s puzzling, but Ohio St can be defended and if they can be defended than they can be beat.

7. New Mexico Lobos

Location: Albuquerque, NM

Record: 27-6

Automatic Bid: Mountain West Conference Champions

Key Players: Cameron Bairstow (20.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Kendall Williams (16.4 ppg, 4.9 apg), Alex Kirk (13.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Hugh Greenwood (5.1 rpg)

Strength: The Lobos enter the Big Dance as one of the best offensive teams in the Mountain West.  New Mexico is the most efficient team in the Mountain West because it shoots nearly 46 percent, makes over 72 percent of its free throws, doesn’t turn the ball over and passes well.  That equals to a team that scores the second most points per game in the conference despite being sixth in possessions.   

Weakness: New Mexico would do well to not put itself in a possession where making three pointers will be a necessity.  The Lobos are in the bottom half of the Mountain West in three-point attempts, makes and percentage.  That’s a stat that puts pressure on them to play with a lead.  New Mexico doesn’t even shoot 34 percent as a team. That’s going to be a problem if it can’t improve.

8. Colorado Buffaloes

Location: Boulder, CO

Record: 23-11

At-Large Bid: Pac-12 Conference

Key Players: Josh Scott (14.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Askia Booker (14 ppg), Xavier Johnson (12 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Wesley Gordon (6.1 rpg)

Strength: Colorado attacks.  The Buffaloes have a number of guys who can handle and get to the paint and it results in a team that lives at the free-throw line.  They have shot and made the most free throws in the Pac-12.  Making them doubly tough is the fact that they shoot over 71 percent as a team from the charity stripe with Josh Scott and Askia Booker shooting over 80 percent themselves.  Colorado will put pressure on teams offensively.

Weakness: Spencer Dinwiddie was one of the best players in the nation, but he tore his ACL in January.  Since then, the Buffaloes have not been the same team.  He set everything up for them and was the best three-point shooter on the team.  They miss his production and his experience.  Time will tell if Colorado can make a run without him.

9. Pittsburgh Panthers

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Record: 25-9

At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference

Key Players: Lamar Patterson (17.6 ppg, 4.3 apg), Talib Zanna (12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Cameron Wright (10.6 ppg), James Robinson (8 ppg)

Strength: The Panthers brought their rugged Big East style to the ACC and it led to another NCAA tournament appearance.  Pitt still plays great defense and rebounds with the best of them.  The Panthers are tied for first in the ACC in rebound margin because they out-rebound their opponents by 6.5 boards per game.  This is the style that coach Jamie Dixon employs and Pitt plays it to perfection.

Weakness: Pitt has struggled in the NCAA tournament since its program came to prominence early this century.  The Panthers have not shown the ability to get out of the first weekend.  Even when they have, they haven’t matched expectations.  Part of the problem is the way the game is officiated and the other part is they haven’t had dynamic players. Whatever the issue is, the Panthers need to figure out how to win in the Big Dance.

10. Stanford Cardinal

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Record: 21-12

At-Large Bid: Pac-12 Conference

Key Players: Chasson Randle (18.7 ppg), Dwight Powell (14.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Anthony Brown (12.7 ppg, 5 rpg), Josh Huestis (11.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg)

Strength: Stanford can really lull you to sleep with its style of play.  The Cardinal like low possession games where it makes you guard for long periods of time.  Stanford is fairly efficient offensively, but then it holds its opponents to just over 41 percent from the floor.  A win versus the Cardinal certainly has to be earned.

Weakness: While Stanford’s style of play helps it depth, it will still be a concern for it in March.  The Cardinal has four players averaging in double figures, but it’s not getting much from its bench.  If it plays someone who speeds it up, the Cardinal could be in big trouble finding enough guys to put the ball in the hoop.

11. Dayton Flyers

Location: Dayton, OH

Record: 23-10

At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference

Key Players: Jordan Sibert (12.5 ppg), Devin Oliver (12.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Dyshawn Pierre (11.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Vee Sanford (9.9 ppg)

Strength: The Flyers will enter the Big Dance as a squad that’s adept at crashing the boards.  Dayton is first in the Atlantic-10 in rebound margin and rebound percentage.  That adds much-needed value to the 44.3 percent the Flyers are allowing opponents to shoot.  Being second in the conference in offensive rebound percentage allows the Flyers to get extra possessions on offense to help an offense that already runs pretty well.  Dayton is going to rebound to win.  Teams better box the Flyers out.

Weakness: The Flyers 68 percent from the free-throw line just won’t get it done.  Dayton’s struggles to shoot free throws have reared themselves one too many times. For instance, in their three-point loss in the A-10 tournament to Saint Joseph’s, the Flyers shot just 42.9 percent.   A respectable 70 percent would’ve won them the game.  Shooting that poorly in the NCAA tournament won’t win them anything.

12. Stephen F. Austin State Lumberjacks

Location: Nacogdoches, TX

Record: 31-2

Automatic Bid: Southland Conference Champions

Key Players: Desmond Haymon (14.3 ppg), Jacob Parker (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Thomas Walkup (12.9 ppg, 5 rpg), Deshaunt Walker (12 ppg), Nikola Gajic (9.6 ppg)

Strength: Here comes one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country.  The Lumberjacks rank in the top-15 nationally in efficiency and points per possession.  That’s due to the fact that they share the ball so well, shoot over 46 percent and shoot over 70 from the free-throw line.  Those numbers leads to a team that’s 242nd nationally in possessions per 40 minutes to still score 76.5 points per game.  They will be a tough out.

Weakness: Nine Lumberjacks average double-figure minutes, but on-court production is really limited to just five guys.  There’s a serious drop-off between the fifth leading scorer for Stephen F. Austin and the sixth.  That’s a problem if foul trouble occurs and the Lumberjacks need to go to another option for points.  Taking one piece of those five top scorers away could spell doom.

13. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Location: Tulsa, OK

Record: 21-12

Automatic Bid: Conference USA Champions

Key Players: James Woodard (15.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Rashad Smith (12.1 ppg), Shaquille Harrison (9.8 ppg)

Strength: Head coach Danny Manning’s Tulsa squad is one of the best defensive teams in Conference USA.  The Golden Hurricane only allows teams to shoot 40.3 percent from the field while forcing 14.2 turnovers per game.  Tha defense was on display in the Conference USA tournament as the Golden Hurricane held two out of its three opponents under 60 points.  Defense travels and Tulsa may use it to stay in games.

Weakness: Tulsa’s three-point shooting leaves something to be desired.  The Golden Hurricane only shoots 32.5 percent from behind the arc leaving them 12 in the 16-team Conference USA.  That means no matter how the Golden Hurricane plays defensively, it better not fall too far behind.

14. Western Michigan Broncos

Location: Kalamazoo, MI

Record: 23-9

Automatic Bid: Mid-American Conference Champions

Key Players: David Brown (19.4 ppg), Shayne Whittington (16.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Connar Tava (12 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Austin Richie (8 ppg)

Strength: The Broncos are here because they have one of the best inside-out combinations in the MAC.  David Brown on the perimeter and Shayne Whittington in the post average over 35 points per game and over 12 rebounds per game.  They’re solid defenders and will be effective against just about anyone.  These two can play and if they’re on, they can help the Broncos go on a run.

Weakness: People always say that the difference between a good major conference team and a good mid-major is the lack of depth at the mid-major level and that’s no different with the Broncos.  Western Michigan relies heavily on five guys with only one other player averaging double-figure minutes.  The Broncos will struggle in this tournament if they can’t get production from their bench.

15. Eastern Kentucky Colonels

Location: Richmond, KY

Record: 24-9

Automatic Bid: Ohio Valley Conference

Key Players: Glenn Cosey (18.8 ppg), Corey Walden (14.1 ppg), Marcus Lewis (9.9 ppg), Orlando Williams (9.6 ppg), Tarius Johnson (9.5 ppg), Eric Stutz (8.4 ppg)

Strength: The Colonels take a lot of three-point shots and they make a lot of them.  Eastern Kentucky shoots 39 percent from behind the arc.  That’s second in the Ohio Valley and 23rd nationally.  There are three key contributors who shoot over 42 percent and three other role players who shoot at least 37.5 percent.  The Colonels certainly are dangerous from deep and if they get hot they can pull an upset.

Weakness: The Colonels play an uptempo style to get people to turn it over, but if teams aren’t turning it over, they’re in trouble.  That’s because Eastern Kentucky’s opponents are shooting a staggering 48 percent against them for the year.  That’s not going to get it done against the caliber of competition it’ll face in the NCAA tournament.  The Colonels were good at playing their system against OVC foes, but they need to have a plan b if they aren’t forcing turnovers.

16a. Albany Great Danes

Location: Albany, NY

Record: 18-14

Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions

Key Players: Peter Hooley (15.7 ppg), Sam Rowley (11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), DJ Evans (11.2 ppg), Gary Johnson (10.9 ppg)

Strength: Teams shouldn’t find themselves in a close game with Albany because the Great Danes are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country.  Albany is ranked 23rd nationally and first in the America East in free-throw percentage at 74.8 percent.  In fact, leading scorer Peter Hooley knocks down 86 percent of his free throws.  Put the Great Danes on the free-throw line at your own peril.

Weakness: Albany is a team that struggles offensively.  The Great Danes are ranked 218th nationally in offensive efficiency.  That’s because they’re one of the worst passing teams in the America East, they only shoot 43.9 percent and turn the ball over more than their opponents.  There’s a reason the Great Danes were only a game over .500 before the conference tournament began and bad offense is why.

16b. Mount Saint Mary’s Mountaineers

Location: Emmitsburg, MD

Record: 16-16

Automatic Bid: Northeast Conference Champions

Key Players: Rashad Whack (17.1 ppg), Julian Norfleet (17.5 ppg, 5.4 apg), Sam Prescott (11 ppg, 5 rpg), Gregory Graves (5.5 rpg), Taylor Danaher (5.1 rpg)

Strength: The Mountaineers are led by their three senior guards, Sam Prescott, Julian Norfleet and Gregory Graves.  Between the three of them, they’re averaging over 45 points of the 76.2 points Mount St. Mary’s averages on the season.  They’ll shoot a lot of threes and won’t have a conscious about it.  They’ll need to be on if they want to give someone a scare.

Weakness: As the case with many teams at their level, the Mountaineers are a poor rebounding team.  Mount St. Mary’s gets out-rebounded by over four rebounds per game.  That’s giving opponents extra possessions.  If NEC opponents have been having a field day against the Mountaineers, what’s going to happen against the competition they’ll face in the tournament?

BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday March 16, 2014 Final (Welcome Saint Joseph’s, Virginia, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida, Michigan St)

Last Four In: Florida St, BYU, Kansas St, Xavier

Last Four Out: Iowa, NC State, Cal, Minnesota


1.Florida(SEC)16.Texas Southern(SWAC)/Mount Saint Mary’s(NEC) Orlando

8.George Washington9.Stanford

5.North Carolina12.North Dakota St(Summit) Spokane

4.San Diego St13.Manhattan(MAAC)

6.Oklahoma11.Providence(BEast) San Antonio

3.Louisville(American)14.Eastern Kentucky(OVC)

7.VCU10.Arizona St Milwaukee

2.Iowa St(B12)15.Weber St(BSky)


1.Virginia(ACC)16.Wofford(SoCon) Raleigh

8.Oklahoma St9.Saint Joseph’s(A10)

5.Ohio St12.Xavier/Florida St San Diego


6.UConn11.Nebraska Buffalo


7.Texas10.Colorado Milwaukee



1.Arizona16.Coastal Carolina(BSouth) San Diego


5.New Mexico(MW)12.Kansas St/BYU Buffalo

4.Syracuse13.Western Michigan(MAC)

6.Kentucky11.Harvard(Ivy) Orlando

3.Wisconsin14.North Carolina Central(MEAC)

7.Saint Louis10.SMU St. Louis



1.Wichita St(MVC)16.Albany(AEast)/Cal Poly(BWest) St. Louis


5.Cincinnati12.Stephen F. Austin(Southland) Spokane


6.Baylor11.Dayton San Antonio

3.Michigan St(B10)14.New Mexico St(WAC)

7.Gonzaga(WCC)10.Tennessee Raleigh


BRACKETOLOGY: Sunday March 16, 2014 AM (Welcome Albany, Tulsa, Texas Southern, North Carolina Central, UCLA, New Mexico, Western Michigan, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa St, Providence, Weber St, Cal Poly, New Mexico St, Louisville)

Last Four In: Florida St, BYU, Kansas St, Xavier

Last Four Out: Iowa, NC State, Cal, Minnesota


1.Florida16. Texas Southern(SWAC)/Mount Saint Mary’s(NEC) Orlando

8.George Washington9.Stanford

5.North Carolina12.North Dakota St(Summit) Spokane

4.San Diego St13.Manhattan(MAAC)

6.Oklahoma11.Providence(BEast) San Antonio

3.Louisville(American)14.Georgia St

7.VCU10.Arizona St Milwaukee

2.Iowa St(B12)15.American(Patriot)


1.Duke16.Wofford(SoCon) Raleigh

8.Oklahoma St9.Colorado

5.Ohio St12.Xavier/Florida St San Diego


6.UConn11.Nebraska Buffalo


7.Texas10.Saint Joseph’s Milwaukee

2.Michigan15.Weber St(BSky)


1.Arizona16.Coastal Carolina(BSouth) San Diego


5.New Mexico(MW)12.Kansas St/BYU Buffalo

4.Syracuse13.Western Michigan(MAC)

6.Kentucky11.Harvard(Ivy) Orlando

3.Wisconsin14.North Carolina Central(MEAC)

7.Saint Louis10.SMU St. Louis



1.Wichita St(MVC)16.Albany(AEast)/Cal Poly(BWest) St. Louis


5.Cincinnati12.Stephen F. Austin(Southland) Spokane


6.Baylor11.Dayton San Antonio

3.Michigan St14.New Mexico St(WAC)

7.Gonzaga(WCC)10.Tennessee Raleigh

2.Virginia15.Eastern Kentucky(OVC)


BRACKETOLOGY: Saturday March 15 2014

Last Four In: NC State, Florida St, BYU, Kansas St

Last Four Out: Providence, Iowa, Minnesota, Cal

1.Florida16.Coastal Carolina(BSouth)/Cal St Northridge Orlando
8.Oklahoma St9.Nebraska
5.North Carolina12.Harvard(Ivy) San Diego
4.Ohio St13.Stephen F. Austin
6.New Mexico11.BYU/Florida St Orlando
7.Saint Louis10.Arizona St St. Louis
1.Duke16.Wofford(SoCon) Raleigh
5.Oklahoma12.Western Michigan Spokane
4.Michigan St13.Mercer(ASun)
6.UConn11.Tennessee Milwaukee
3.Iowa St14.NC-Central
7.VCU10.Colorado Buffalo
1.Arizona16.Weber St San Diego
5.Cincinnati12.Louisiana Tech Buffalo
6.Kentucky11.Saint Joseph’s Spokane
3.San Diego St14.New Mexico St
7.Texas10.SMU Milwaukee
2.Wisconsin15.Stony Brook
1.Wichita St(MVC)16.Texas Southern/Mount Saint Mary’s(NEC) St. Louis
8.George Washington9.Pittsburgh
5.UCLA12.Kansas St/NC State San Antonio
4.Creighton13.North Dakota St(Summit)
6.Baylor11.Xavier San Antonio
3.Michigan14.Georgia St
7.Gonzaga(WCC)10.Dayton Raleigh
2.Virginia15.Eastern Kentucky(OVC)