The defending national champs lost quite a bit from the championship team, but it appears that head coach Jay Wright has reloaded. Senior forward Eric Paschall is an all-American candidate and he’ll be the leader of the squad along with senior guard Phil Booth. To bolster the two seniors is a top-15 recruiting class featuring Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater and Saddiq Bey as well as Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo. There is plenty here to continue the Wildcats’ dominance of the Big East.
This will be one of the highest-scoring teams in America. Led by juniors Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Sacar Anim, the Golden Eagles should make their return to the NCAA tournament this season. They do have to repair their issues on the defensive end, but if they’re at least competent there I don’t see many teams that’ll be able to keep up with them.
3. St. John’s
This has to be the year for the Red Storm. This is by far the most talented team head coach Chris Mullin has had at St. John’s and its quite possibly the best roster in the league. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds is the favorite for Big East Player of the Year, but there will be plenty of talent around him in senior forward Marvin Clark II and junior guards Justin Simon and Mustapha Heron. Chemistry could derail this train, but St. John’s has too much talent to miss the tournament.
Head coach Ed Cooley continues to recruit at a high level and is doing more reloading than rebuilding these days. The Friars will have quality experience in their backcourt with junior Alpha Diallo and senior Isaiah Jackson. Senior forward Emmitt Holt appears to be healthy after missing last season. Freshmen A.J. Reeves, David Duke and Jimmy Nichols along with sophomores Nate Watson and Makai Ashton-Langford will be key piece of Providence’s future.
When speaking about the Bulldogs the “Butler Way” is the phrase that is often used, but it’s a real thing. LaVall Jordan stepped right in and got Butler back to the tournament last season and it would be foolish to think they won’t do it again. Sophomore Big East Player of the Year candidate Kamar Baldwin leads a team that’ll expect Duke transfer Jordan Tucker to be an instant contributor. Senior guard Paul Jorgensen returns as well, but sophomore guard Aaron Thompson’s jumper will be important to how far Butler goes this season.
The Musketeers lost quite a bit last season from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Karem Kanter as players to Chris Mack as head coach. Travis Steele takes over for Mack and has junior guard Quentin Goodin and sophomore forward Naji Marshall to move the program forward. Transfers Ryan Welage, Kyle Castlin and Zach Hankins will have to contribute as well.
Patrick Ewing appears to have the program headed in the right direction in his second year, but that progress was slowed a little bit when Marcus Derrickson decided to leave school early. The Hoyas still have senior all-conference candidate Jessie Govan along with sophomores Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair. The backcourt was upgraded with freshmen James Akinjo and Mac McClung. The future is bright, but not enough to compete for the tournament this season.
8. Seton Hall
Seton Hall’s famed class featuring Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo have all graduated and now junior guard Myles Powell is left to lead the program. Transfers Quincy McKnight and Taurean Thompson will have to be ready help Powell for the Pirates to see if they can continue this run.
Injuries have dealt the Blue Jays a tough blow the past few seasons, but this year the struggles will be because they’ve lost talents like Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas and Toby Hegner. Junior forward Martin Krampelj’s health is also a concern. There just isn’t the caliber of players here that coach Greg McDermott has been accustomed to since Creighton moved to the Big East.
The Blue Demons still are just trying to find their footing in the Big East. This year they’ll have a senior backcourt of Eli Cain and Max Strus to help try to usher them out of the cellar of the Big East. Transfers Jalen Coleman-Lands and Femi Olujobi enter the program to assist with that process. They’re playing in a new arena and have a promising recruiting class coming next season and it appears it’ll be then when we can expect a jump from this program.
This was the most anticipated regular season in UCF basketball history. After making it to the NIT final four, many predicted the Knights may challenge for the school’s first at-large bid ever. However, the injury bug hit the Knights and derailed their plans a bit.
First there was the injury to junior guard Aubrey Dawkins in the preseason and then in the first game of the season; the team’s best returning player, junior guard B.J. Taylor, went down with a foot injury. Taylor is expected to return soon, but the question now is how will the NCAA selection committee evaluate the Knights?
UCF is currently 9-4 after last night’s 56-51 loss at SMU. It was the fifth RPI top-50 opponent UCF has faced without Taylor. They’re 1-4 in those games with the lone win coming at Alabama. They are projected to have a top-65 non-conference strength of schedule nationally and they get another shot at SMU, plus round-robins with Temple, Cincinnati, and Wichita St with another game with Houston at home.
Will the committee punish them for not doing better in the non-conference without Taylor or will it judge them for what they are with Taylor? They’re certainly a different team as Taylor presents a significant scoring option for one of the best defensive teams in the country.
As long as the Knights do as well in the American as expected, some interesting decisions will be made by the committee leading up to Selection Sunday.
Despite losing its head coach, Tyler Lewis, Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson and Andrew Chrabascz off of last year’s Sweet 16 team, Butler finds itself squarely in the discussion for another at-large bid. That’s because it challenged itself with a top-40 schedule and has solid wins over Ohio St and Utah. The Bulldogs are projected to have a top-20 strength of schedule by the time the season’s over. A 9–9 or 10-8 record in the Big East will probably be enough for them to get in.
Some will overreact to San Diego State’s loss at Wyoming last night. I won’t. That’s an in-conference loss to a RPI top-100 team. It’s not a bad loss and, long term, it’s not a damaging loss to their at-large hopes. They’re not in great shape right now, but they shouldn’t be panicking over bracketology at this point either.
Tonight’s Providence-St. John’s game is huge for both teams, but probably moreso for the Red Storm as Chris Mullin tries to make his first NCAA tournament. Right now, they appear to be the better team than the Friars and with road games with Seton Hall and Creighton to follow, losing this one could very well lead to a 0-3 start for St. John’s.
You didn’t see it coming. I didn’t see it coming. They didn’t see it coming. One team is taking the college basketball world by storm this season and it’s the Miami Hurricanes.
After fighting through some early season injuries that left unfavorable results, the Hurricanes have run roughshod over the ACC. They’ve beaten both North Carolina and Duke by more than 20 at home and went to Raleigh to steal a road victory over NC State.
In an era of all-world freshmen, the key to Miami’s success is its age. Miami is one of the most experienced teams in the ACC and you can see it with the way its being physical with its foes.
Every once a while a team pops up out of nowhere to have a special season a la Saint Josephs in 2004 and Auburn in 1999. This could be one of those seasons for the ‘Canes.
Stock Up: The Atlantic 10. The additions of Butler and VCU to the conference are paying instant dividends as the quality of the A-10 rivals most power six conference. The league could legitimately send 5 or 6 teams to the Big Dance and some of those teams would be real threats to make it to the second weekend.
Stock Down: Colonial Athletic Association. Yikes. What a difference a year makes. This was a league you could rely on to possibly send two teams to the NCAA tournament. Not this year. The conference champion would do well to get a No. 14 seed in the tournament.
Stock Up: Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs haven’t lost a game since December 12 and is coasting through the WAC right now. At 21-3, they’ve already dispatched Denver, New Mexico St, and Utah St, their chief rivals once and have return meetings set up. Those three games are the only thing keeping me from declaring that race completely over.
Stock Down: The NCAA. Collegiate athletics is taking so many L’s these days it’s not even funny. From the way the organization handled the Myck Kabongo situation to the way it handled the Shabazz Muhammad situation, there’s no consistency and what seems to be selective enforcement. At a time where colleges are grabbing more power for themselves the NCAA needs to stop self inflicting wounds.
On to the bracket.
Last Four In: North Carolina, Arizona St, Baylor, Temple
Last Four Out: Stanford, Alabama, St. John’s, California
This bracket is good for games played through 2/10
1.Indiana16.Charleston Southern/Norfolk St Dayton, OH
There’s a lot people can say about the way John Calipari has built his program at Kentucky. You can say he’s running a factory for pros. But right now, you can say he has the No. 1 team in the nation and a large part is because of freshman Anthony Davis.
Davis, a likely first-team all-American and candidate for national player of the year is setting records for the Wildcats on the defensive end. Davis broke Shaquille O’Neal’s record for blocks by a SEC freshman and still has plenty of ball to come. Right now Davis has 127 blocks, which is a staggering number for anyone.
The Wildcats’ great defense doesn’t end with Davis though. Fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be the best overall defender on the team with other athletic guys like Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb who compete on that end of the floor as well.
This is Calipari’s best team since he’s been at Kentucky. He may give Big Blue Nation the championship it so desperately craves.
Stock Up: Wichita St. The entire country spent the first three months of the season praising Creighton and rightfully so. However, if you look at the Missouri Valley Conference standings now you’d see that it’s Wichita St that has a two-game lead on the rest of league. The Shockers went to Omaha on Saturday and dismantled the Blue Jays, sending a message to the country that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in March.
Stock Down: The leaders in the Horizon League. Valparaiso and Cleveland St are solid teams with some big non-conference wins. I have no faith that either one of these two will win the Horizon League tournament. Cleveland St lost two games last week and Valparaiso, who beat Cleveland St last week, lost it’s next game to Youngstown St. These two are showing me that they can’t handle success and with the fact that Butler is lurking doesn’t bode well for the Horizon leaders.
Stock Up: Michigan St. Tom Izzo is at it again. His team went into Columbus and beat Ohio St. Izzo, in my opinion, is the best coach in the country and he has a team with chemistry this year. An Izzo team that has talent and chemistry can do a lot of damage down the stretch.
Stock Down: Pitt. I praised the Panthers last week, but they promptly went out and lost two games – effectively ending any hopes of an at-large bid. They need to string a bunch of wins together and last week wasn’t just a speed bump, it was a mountain. The Panthers will have to win the Big East tournament to get a bid.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Minnesota, Northwestern, NC State, Texas
Last Four Out: Seton Hall, UCF, Wyoming, Washington
Good for games through of 2/12
1.Kentucky16.Stony Brook/Norfolk St Louisville
8.Murray St9.West Virginia
5.San Diego St12.Xavier Portland
4.Michigan13.Long Beach St
6.Wichita St11.Illinois Columbus
1.Ohio St16.Long Island Pittsburgh
8.Iowa St9.Southern Miss
5.St. Mary’s12.Miami(FL) Nashville
7.Mississippi St10.Saint Louis Greensboro
1.Missouri16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Omaha
Last Four In: Michigan, Memphis, Colorado, St. Mary’s
Last Four Out: Clemson, USC, Penn St, Virginia Tech
Good for games through 3/8
1.Ohio St16.Bethune-Cookman/McNeese St Cleveland
5.Texas A&M12.Butler(Horizon) Tampa
6.Temple11.Georgia Washington, D.C.
7.Cincinnati10.Boston College Tulsa
2.Texas15.St. Peter’s(MAAC) WEST
1.Duke16.Boston U Charlotte
5.St. John’s12.Colorado/Memphis Washington, D.C.
2.Notre Dame15.Northern Colorado SOUTHEAST
5.Kansas St12.Richmond Tucson
4.San Diego St13.Oakland(Summit)
6.Connecticut11.Michigan St Tampa
2.North Carolina15.Long Island SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.Texas Southern/Arkansas-Little Rock(SBelt) Tulsa
5.West Virginia12.St. Mary’s/Michigan Tucson
6.Arizona11.Florida St Denver
2.Purdue15.Long Beach St
1. Syracuse Orange Location: Syracuse, N.Y. Record: 28-4 At-Large Bid: Big East Conference Key Players: Wesley Johnson (16 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Andy Rautins (11.7 ppg, 5 apg), Kris Joseph (11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Arinze Onuaku (10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Rick Jackson (10 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Scoop Jardine (8.8 ppg), Brandon Triche (8.1 ppg) Strength: Syracuse has outstanding balance. Across the board, the Orange can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. Wes Johnson is a match-up problem for anybody, Andy Rautins is deadly from deep and Rick Johnson and Arinze Onuaku are space eaters in the paint. The Orange can attack in the half court or in transition. They are just a nightmare to match-up with and that’s why they’re one of the best teams in the country. Weakness: Late in the season, some chinks in Syracuse’s armor. Both Louisville and Georgetown has exposed holes in the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. Louisville shot 58.1 percent in the second half against Syracuse and Georgetown 57.9 percent for the whole game. If Syracuse doesn’t sure up the weaknesses in that zone, it may be the opening its foes is looking for to defeat it.
2. Kansas State Wildcats Location: Manhattan, Kan. Record: 26-7 At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: Jacob Pullen (18.9 ppg), Denis Clemente (16.2 ppg), Jamar Samuels (11.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Curtis Kelly (11.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Dominique Sutton (5.8 rpg) Strength: This is an explosive team when their big men play well The Wildcats play hard and they like to get out in transition. Led by the backcourt of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, they can just absolutely pound teams into submission. Coach Frank Martin has molded this team in his personality and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the tournament. Weakness: This team can play out-of-control sometimes. They play so hard that it’s excused by Martin, but it can be frustrating to watch. Pullen and Clemente are known to take bad shots. Their big men have been known to commit questionable fouls. They need to play smart in this tournament to have success. They can get to the Final Four or they can lose in the first weekend.
3. Pittsburgh Panthers Location: Pittsburgh, Pa. Record: 24-8 At-Large Bid: Big East Conference Key Player: Ashton Gibbs (15.8 ppg), Brad Wanamaker (12.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Jermaine Dixon (10.7 ppg), Gilbert Brown (10.3 ppg), Gary McGhee (6.9 rpg), Nasir Robinson (5.6 rpg) Strength: The Panthers reflect the identity of their city and their coach. They’re tough. It’s like Groundhog’s Day with Pitt because every year they seem to have the same kind of team. They’re going to play great defense and crash the boards. They’re not going to be intimidated by anyone and there’s not many who can match the effort they’re going to give. Jamie Dixon has a formula and he doesn’t need to change it as long as it keeps working. Weakness: There’s a feeling that Dixon has gotten everything he can out of this team. The Panthers have greatly overachieved this season. That’s partly due to the brilliant coaching job Dixon has done and partly due to no one had a read on his players. Now teams have a book on his players and they know what the Panthers like to do. It’ll be interesting to see if that translate to an early exit for Pitt.
4. Vanderbilt Commodores Location: Nashville, Tenn. Record: 24-8 At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference Key Players: Jermaine Beal (14.7 ppg), A.J. Ogilvy (13.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Jeffery Taylor (13.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), John Jenkins (10.9 ppg), Andre Walker (5.5 rpg) Strength: Vanderbilt is a tough team to prepare for. They run a Princeton-style offense with great shooters and a solid post presence. A.J Ogilvy, the 6’11” Aussie, along with Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins were tailor-made for this offense. Beal and Jenkins really spread the defense with excellent outside shooting while Ogilvy does his work in the paint. They’re difficult to defend and will be an issue this March. Weakness: There’s not much depth for the Commodores. After the top six players in their rotation, the production drops sharply. This is a team that needs every starter to play well every night. If they get in foul trouble, or one of the starters has an off night, they could be cooked. Vanderbilt may need to get some else to step up un-expectantly if they expect to make a run at the tournament.
5. Butler Bulldogs Location: Indianapolis, Ind. Record: 28-4 Automatic Bid: Horizon League Champions Key Players: Gordon Hayward (15.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Shelvin Mack (13.9 ppg), Matt Howard (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, Willie Veasley (10.3 ppg) Strength: Most would equate Butler with three-point shooting and offense. However, Butler’s defense is the biggest reason why they’ve been so successful. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to just 60 points per game. In fact, in its BracketBuster game, Butler held Siena to just 53 points. This isn’t just because of tempo, this is because the Bulldogs allow their opponents to shoot just 41.4 percent from the floor. Weakness: Butler has no frontcourt depth. Matt Howard, the Bulldogs best post player, often finds himself in foul trouble and it puts them in a bind. Howard has got to stay out of foul trouble and play effective minutes for them to be successful. He’s good scorer and can rebound with the best of them, but it does the Bulldogs no good if he’s sitting beside Butler coach Brad Stevens on the bench.
6. Xavier Musketeers Location: Cincinnati, Ohio Record: 24-8 At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference Key Players: Jordan Crawford (19.7 ppg), Jason Love (11.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Terrell Holloway (11.8 ppg), Jamel McLean (8.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Mark Lyons (8.4 ppg) Strength: The Musketeers are one of the most explosive teams in the country. Led by sophomore swingman Jordan Crawford, the Musketeers are putting up 80 points per game. They have offensive diversity with good wing players, good guard play and solid post players. That means that they are balanced and can beat you in a variety of ways. Xavier seems to always have great scorers and this year is no different. Weakness: Xavier’s youth could come back to bite them. The Musketeers depend on three underclassmen for major production. Crawford, Terrell Holloway and Mark Lyons are all talented players, but they’re green when it comes to these situations. Shot selection has been an issue all year for them and chances are it’s not going to improve now. Xavier is going to need is young guys to grow up in a hurry if expects to make another deep run in the tournament.
7. BYU Cougars Location: Provo, Utah Record: 29-5 At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference Key Players: Jimmer Fredette (21.7 ppg), Jackson Emery (12.6 ppg), Tyler Haws (11.3 ppg) Jonathan Tavernari (10.3 ppg), Noah Hartsock (5.1 rpg) Strength: Any team with Jimmer Fredette is going to have a chance to win. Fredette is one of the most underrated scorers in the country. He’s a 44.8 three-point shooter and 89.6 percent from the free-throw line. He doesn’t waste opportunities and has been consistent all year. His explosive scoring has saved the Cougars numerous times and he’ll be tough for any team to guard in the NCAA tournament. Weakness: History is not on the Cougars side. They have to be reliving ghosts of NCAA tournaments past. BYU has lost nine consecutive NCAA tournament games. That staggering statistic is why this team gets so little respect. BYU is under more pressure than most people realize. Will that pressure bust pipes for the Cougars or will it create a diamond in the rough?
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs Location: Spokane, Wash. Record: 26-6 At-Large Bid: West Coast Conference Key Players: Matt Bouldin (15.8 ppg), Elias Harris (14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Steven Gray (13.7 ppg), Robert Sacre (10 ppg, 5.2 rpg) Strength: Unlike previous editions of Gonzaga basketball, this team actually defends very well. The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the WCC in field goal percentage defense allowing their opponents to shoot just over 40 percent. They’re also getting close to seven steals per game which fuels their outstanding transition game. That defense is reason why Gonzaga is once again a threat to reach the second weekend. Weakness: The Bulldogs really lack backcourt depth. Outside of the Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson, there’s nothing there. The starters have to play the bulk of the minutes and that will be an issue in the tournament. All three of the aforementioned players are very talented, but they need relief. If they play someone who can run a lot of defenders at them, they may wear down and kill Gonzaga’s chances.
9. Florida State Seminoles Location: Tallahassee, Fla. Record: 22-9 At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Key Players: Solomon Alabi (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Chris Singleton (10.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Michael Snaer (8.9 ppg), Deividas Dulkys (8.6 ppg), Derwin Kitchen (8.3 ppg) Strength: There’s no doubt that Florida St is going as far as its low-post duo of Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton will take it. The two big men aren’t big-time scorers, but they do so many things that help the Seminoles win. They run the floor well, block shots and really crash the boards. Their size has given foes fits all year long and will may continue to be an advantage for the Seminole sin the tournament. Weakness: Not many teams in the ACC have the porous offensive numbers of the Seminoles. They’re in the bottom half of the conference in scoring offense, three-point field goal percentage, free-throw percentage and turnover margin. It’s what led their inconsistent play. Not being able to score consistently will put them at a major disadvantage. They have to show the ability for some offensive explosion to have a chance.
10. Florida Gators Location: Gainesville, Fla. Record: 21-12 At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference Key Players: Kenny Boynton (13.6 ppg), Erving Walker (12.6 ppg), Chandler Parsons (12.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Alex Tyus (12 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Vernon Macklin (10.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg) Strength: The Gators have one of the best post games in all of college basketball. Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin each bring a different skill set, but are all very effective. Macklin has solid post moves. Tyus is a good rebounder and can scrap with the best of them. Parsons can step behind arc and shoot the three-pointer effectively. When they’re playing well, the Gators are awfully difficult to beat. Weakness: To play the type of style the Gators like to play, they don’t score the like they should. They are averaging over 70 points per game, but with the way they like to get up-and-down the floor, they should be able to light the scoreboard up. The biggest issue is the shot selection of Kenny Boynton. He only shoots 28.5 percent from downtown, but he’s taken 55 more three-pointers than the next closest teammate. It’s killing their shooting percentage and opportunities for good shots. He has to make better decisions for the Gators to be successful.
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers Location: Minneapolis, Minn. Record: 21-13 At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference Key Players: Lawrence Westbrook (12.6 ppg), Blake Hoffarber (10.1 ppg), Damian Johnson (10 ppg), Devoe Joseph (9.6 ppg), Ralph Sampson III (8.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg) Strength: This is a Tubby Smith-coached team so there’s no doubt that it’s going to defend. Tubby Smith is one of the best defensive coaches in the country and he once again has a team that has taken on his identity. The Golden Gophers are second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense holding teams to just 40.2 percent shooting. In addition to that, they lead the conference in blocked shots at 5.5 per game and steals at 8 per game. This is one team that believes in defense. Weakness: Minnesota is just too inconsistent offensively. This team has decent offensive numbers on the year, but when it goes bad, it really goes bad. In six of the Gophers 13 losses, they’ve scored 60 points or fewer. That’s not getting it done. They have a lot of talent, but they have to bring it on a night-in night-out basis. If not, they may see a repeat of the Big Ten championship game.
12. UTEP Miners Location: El Paso, Texas Record: 26-6 At-Large Bid: Conference USA Key Players: Randy Culpepper (18 ppg), Derrick Caracter (13.8 ppg, 8 rpg), Jeremy Williams (10.1 ppg), Arnett Moultrie (10.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Christian Polk (9.6 ppg), Julyan Stone (5.1 rpg, 5.4 apg) Strength: Not many teams have the one-two punch of Randy Culpepper and Derrick Caracter. Culpepper has shown the ability to explode offensively and Caracter, the Louisville transfer, has just been a monster down low. The two combine for almost 32 points per game. The Miners don’t even have to run plays for Caracter. He can just go get offensive rebounds. Having two guys you can rely on for consistent scoring gives UTEP a dimension that most teams would kill for. Weakness: Free-throw shooting has been an issue for UTEP the entire year. The Miners are 11th in the 12-team Conference USA at 67.2 percent. Their best shooter is Isaac Gordon and he rarely plays. Culpepper is the only guy they can really count on for production from the line as no other Miner, who sees significant minutes, shoots 70 percent from the line.
13. Murray State Racers Location: Murray, Ky. Record: 30-4 Automatic Bid: Ohio Valley Conference Champions Key Players: Ivan Aska (10.6 ppg), B.J. Jenkins (10.5 ppg), Danero Thomas (10.4 ppg), Tony Easley (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg)), Isaiah Canaan (10.3 ppg), Isaac Miles (9.5 ppg) Strength: Murray St has a luxury that most teams around the country don’t have; offensive balance. The Racers have six players capable of beating you on any given night. It’s very difficult to prepare for a team that has so many options offensively. That’s why Murray was able to rack up 30 wins this season. This team is talented and is a real threat to make noise this March. Weakness: The Racers are really have a size deficiency. While Tony Easley and Ivan Aska have decent size in the frontcourt, there’s really no quality depth there. Compounding that issue is it’s three main perimeter players 6’0, 6’0, and 6’2 respectively. Teams with a lot of length will give the Racers fits in the tournament. They’ll have passing lanes disrupted and will face more contested shots than they have all year. Unfortunately for the Racers, there’s nothing they can do about it.
14. Oakland Golden Grizzlies Location: Rochester, Mich. Record: 26-8 Automatic Bid: Summit League Champions Key Players: Keith Benson (17 ppg, 10.5 rpg), Johnathon Jones (12.4 ppg, 6.4 apg) Derick Nelson (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Larry Wright (11.1 ppg), Will Hudson(5.1 rpg) Strength: The Grizzlies are the highest scoring team in the Summit League. That’s because they have so many guys who can put the ball in the hoop. They have four guys who score in double-figures led by the conference player of the year Keith Benson. They’re difficult to guard because of their offensive versatility and that makes them a very dangerous team. Weakness: As good as the Grizzlies are offensively, they’re the opposite on defense. They’re allowing opponents to score over 71 points per game on 45 percent shooting. That kind of defense doesn’t transfer well to the tournament. They’ve been able to get by but outscoring the competition in the Summit League. However, there will be no South Dakota St’s in the Big Dance. They’re going to have to guard better to win.
15. North Texas Mean Green Location: Denton, Texas Record: 24-8 Automatic Bid: Sun Belt Conference Champions Key Players: Josh White (14.9 ppg), Tristan Thompson (14.1 ppg), Eric Tramiel (13 ppg, 5.9 rpg), George Odufuwa (11.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg) Strength: With four players averaging in double figures, the Mean Green has excellent offensive balance. Josh White leads the quartet, but by no means does he ever have to carry the load by himself. They can score from the outside with White and Tristan Thompson or they can let Eric Tramiel and George Odufuwa score from the frontcourt. This is one of the most talented mid-major teams offensively. Weakness: North Texas is a turnover waiting to happen. The Mean Green have coughed the ball up 60 more times this season than its foes. Those turnovers have given its opponents extra possessions and its resulted in the Mean Green giving up over 69 points per game. This is something the Mean Green will definitely want to sure up if they expect to pull off an upset in the Big Dance.
16. Vermont Catamounts Location: Burlington, Vt. Record: 25-9 Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions Key Players: Marquis Blakely (17.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg), Maurice Joseph (14.1 ppg), Evan Fjeld (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) Strength: The Catamounts are only going as far as their two senior leaders, Marquis Blakely and Maurice Joseph, are going to take them. The two stars are capable of putting up huge numbers and are the reason why the Catamounts are in the NCAA tournament. The two combined for 37 points in the conference championship game and will have to duplicate those numbers to be competitive in the tournament. Weakness: Vermont doesn’t have the depth that many teams in the NCAA tournament have. The Catamounts really only use a six-man rotation and not even the first man off of the bench can give them much offensive pop. It’s part of the reason why they’re only scoring a little over 70 points a game in a conference where, given the talent they have, should be able to score much more. If the Catamounts expect to make a run, they’re going to have to find a way to put more points on the board.
The Maryland Terrapins, who welcome Duke on Wednesday, are one of the hottest teams in the nation. They’ve won five in-a-row and 11 of 13.
Everyone knows about the guard ACC fans love to hate, Greivis Vasquez, but the revelation for the Terps has been freshman post player, Jordan Williams. Williams is averaging nine points-per-game, but what’s more impressive is the 8.4 rebounds a game. He gives the Terrapins a legitimate presence in the paint that they can rely on in a half-court game.
Gary Williams has been criticized a lot in the Washington, D.C. media and by Terrapin fans, but now is the time for folks to be quiet and give Gary Williams a round of applause for the job he continues to do in College Park. This team is playing hard and playing well and people should thank Gary for that.
We’re forgo the Stock Report this week for conference tournament previews.
BIG SOUTH: For some reason, this might be my favorite low-major conference. Whenever I watch a Big South game, it’s always entertaining. I expect more of the same from the tournament. I killed Coastal Carolina earlier this season for not beating Radford at home. Well, Coastal went traveled to Radford on Valentine’s eve and shut me. At 26-5, it’s Coastal Carolina’s year. Expect the Chanticleers to go dancing for the first time in 17 years.
OHIO VALLEY: On Bracketbuster Saturday, I finally got a glimpse of Murray St and boy was I impressed. They were running through the OVC and took a pretty good Morgan St team apart down the stretch. Then the Racers paid a trip to Morehead St to play the Eagles and had their quest of a perfect league record eliminated. After a disapointing loss in the the OVC semi-finals and the recent loss to Morehead St, expect to see a very motivated Murray St team this week. Motivated for a trip to the Big Dance.
ATLANTIC SUN: It’s hard to find words to describe this season in the Atlantic Sun. The first place team changed weekly it seemed so it was only fitting that there was a four-way tie for first. Lipscomb, Belmont, Jacksonville and Campbell finished with identical 14-6 conference records while East Tennessee St was just a game back at 13-7. No program in the Atlantic Sun knows how to navigate this tournament like Belmont. It had a down year last year but it’s back this season and will make a return to the NCAA Tournament.
HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler completely dominated the Horizon this season. It was the only team to finish with an undefeated league record in conference. The Bulldogs are six games ahead of their closest competitors. There is no reason to believe that someone is going to be able to beat them at home this weekend. Butler will win the Horizon League tournament and make a bubble team somewhere very happy.
This week’s bracket projections:
Last Four In: San Diego St, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Connecticut
Last Four Out: Mississippi St, Virginia Tech, Mississippi, Rhode Island