AMERICA EAST: Albany was by far the most dominant team in the league this season. The Great Danes didn’t lose their first conference game until Feb. 17. With all games being at campus sites its going to take a lot to keep Albany from repeating.
MISSOURI VALLEY: This certainly was a top heavy league this year as Wichita St and Northern Iowa ran away and hid from the rest of the conference. That’s why it is expected that those will be the two teams playing for the championship on Sunday. In the rubber match, expect Wichita St, the team with the superior experience and talent, to cut down the nets.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: A loss on the last day of the regular season is the only thing that kept Iona from winning the league by three games. The Gaels’ misstep doesn’t scare me too much as they’ve been to the tournament recently and will be tough prep on short rest. The tournament will be competitive as always, but expect Iona to go dancing.
SOUTHERN: As good as Wofford has been over the course of the year, Chattanooga has been right there all along. The two squads were far and away the class of this conference and appear to be on a collision course for a Monday night showdown. The teams won on each other’s home floor so this creates a bit of intrigue. Wofford is the favorite here, but not by much.
COLONIAL: The regular season in the CAA finished in a four-way tie for first place. If there’s anyone out there who’ll tell you they have this league pegged than than call that person’s bluff. On a true neutral court in Baltimore anything can happen. Given the disappointment from last season and performing well against the other top teams in the league, I’m going with William & Mary.
WEST COAST: There may be many people wondering if there’s a major kink in the armor of Gonzaga after losing to BYU in it’s last regular season home game. I am not one of those people. BYU played fantastic and could very well be a tournament team itself, but Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country and it’ll have motivation. The Zags will win in Vegas.
SUMMIT: South Dakota St and North Dakota St went back and forth this season vying for the Summit League’s No. 1 spot. At the end of the day, both teams finished with 12-4 records with South Dakota St winning the tiebreaker. Playing the tournament in the state of South Dakota gives the Jackrabbits a bit of a chance. Despite that, there’s a team on their side of bracket who’s beaten them and is even closer to the site where the tournament will be played. That’s the South Dakota Coyotes and they’re my upset pick to win the Summit League.
PATRIOT LEAGUE: Defending champion Bucknell was rolling along in the Patriot League until mid-February when two losses tarnished its perfect league record. The fact that one of those loses came to second-place finisher Lehigh at home would make me extremely nervous if I were a Bison fan. For that reason, and the fact that the Mountain Hawks have been just as good, I’m taking Lehigh to go dancing.
WEST COAST: Saint Mary’s won the league outright in a minor upset. However the Gaels finished just one game ahead of Gonzaga and two ahead of BYU. This will be a competitive tournament with the four teams having a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets in Las Vegas. BYU in its first season in the WCC is used to playing in Vegas, is relatively close to Vegas and will take the matter out of the committee’s hands by winning the WCC championship.
MISSOURI VALLEY: Wichita St and Creighton has been the class of the Missouri Valley this season, but this is a tournament that has seen its fair share of upsets over the years. That being said I find it very hard to pick against the Shockers the way they’re playing right now. I expect them to beat a scrappy Missouri St team in the finals.
NORTHEAST: Wagner got everyone’s attention in December after it upset Pittsburgh. The Seahawks followed that with an impressive conference record of 15-3. The problem though is that two of those losses came at the hands of the regular season and defending tournament champion Long Island. The Blackbirds wouldn’t have to play Wagner or Robert Morris until the finals and will play every game of the tournament at home. I like them to repeat.
AMERICA EAST: This will be a good one. I would not be surprised if regular season champion Stony Brook, Vermont or 2011 NCAA tournament team Boston University won this tournament. I think Vermont is due for the win I thought they’d get last season. The Catamounts are going dancing.
While Kentucky gets pub for being a hotbed of college hoops; it’s neighbor to the east isn’t doing too shabby itself. The commonwealth of Virginia is having a great this season with mid-majors and Virginia Tech.
In the Colonial Athletic Association, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion and George Mason all harbor at-large hopes after performing well in the non-conference. All have sub-60 RPIs and sit atop of the conference.
George Mason has the highest RPI with 29 with a resume, which on the surface, seems to be a bit inflated. However, the OPatriots’ wins against Harvard and Duquesne may become key parts of their profile.
Old Dominion is the second of the three with a RPI of 32, but it has stumbled a bit out of the gate in league play. That still does not fully diminish an extremely impressive non-conference resume which includes wins over Xavier, Dayton, Clemson and Richmond.
Virginia Commonwealth has a rather low RPI for a mid-major trying to get into the tournament as an at-large at 58, but don’t be fooled. This team beat UCLA on a neutral floor and won at Old Dominion. The Rams uptempo style is tough to prepare for and will put them in consideration Selection Weekend.
Virginia Tech checks in with a RPI at 63, but it’s set up so well for the home stretch. This extremely talented squad has a great opportunity to stack up a lot of wins in a power conference. The ACC is indeed down this year, but not to the point where five league losses won’t get you the tournament. That’s realistic for the Hokies in a year they may get them off the snide.
Now we come to Richmond. The Spiders have an RPI of 66, but has one of the best non-conference wins of anybody when the shocked Purdue in Chicago. They also lay claim to a win over Virginia Commonwealth and are sitting pretty in second in 3rd place in the Atlantic 10. This team hasn’t fully lived up to expectations so far, but it is capable of taking home the A-10 regular season championship.
Stock Up: Ohio St. I didn’t believe in the Buckeyes before the season started, but Jared Sullinger has made a believer out of everybody. He may be the toughest cover in college basketball and gives them so many options offensively. Last year was the Evan Turner show in Columbus, but Sullinger and company maybe in for an even better year.
Stock Down: Wake Forest. My apologies to the Auburn Tigers who I incorrectly called the worst BCS conference basketball team in the country last week. It’s clearly Wake Forest. I hope there’s a plan in place, but I didn’t think Jeff Bzdelik was a good hire and so far I’m being proven right. I know he has to get his players to fit his system but the Demon Deacons lost by 35 to Georgia Tech. That’s downright pathetic.
Stock Up: The Showdown in Provo. It might be the biggest game in the history of the Mountain West Conference on Jan. 26 when San Diego St travels to face BYU. Two top-ten teams and one of the best players in the country in Jimmer Fredette will take the national stage in the clear game of the night. So sad that it won’t happen next year with BYU moving on the West Coast Conference.
Stock Down: UCF. It was all good just two weeks ago. It’s not now. UCF has lost four of its five conference games and, in the process, ruined any at-large hopes it was harboring. The Knights have a chance to salvage their season, but they probably need an automatic bid to go dancing.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: UCLA, Colorado, Richmond, Gonzaga
Last Four Out: Colorado St, Kansas St, Butler, Dayton
Good for games through 1/24/2011
1.Ohio St16.Tennessee St/Texas Southern Cleveland
8.Utah St9.Boston College
7.Tennessee10.UNLV Washington, DC
2.Villanova15.Coastal Carolina WEST
1.Kansas16.Florida Atlantic Tulsa
5.Florida12.Virginia Commonwealth Tampa
6.Florida St11.Wichita St Charlotte
7.Michigan St10.St. John’s Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Northern Colorado SOUTHWEST
1.Duke16.Long Island Charlotte
5.Minnesota12.Old Dominion Chicago
6.Vanderbilt11.Virginia Tech Chicago
7.Xavier10.Oklahoma St Washington, DC
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Beach St/Lamar Cleveland
6.West Virginia11.Memphis Denver
7.Louisville10.St. Mary’s Tulsa
He’s leading the nation in scoring, his team has the No. 2 rated RPI, but can’t get a sniff of a ESPN broadcast. Jimmer Fredette has his BYU cougar squad rolling so far this season and much of that is due to the fact that he’s proving to be unguardable on the college level.
Fredette is leading the nation in scoring at 26.1 per game right now on 48 percent shooting. It doesn’t get much better than that and doesn’t get much better than the Cougars. At 15-1, the Cougars are looking at a possible top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Mountain West Conference title.
Fredette may be the best player in the country and BYU may be the best team out West. BYU has disposed of much of the 14th rated schedule with ease and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect it to continue to play great through conference play.
Stock Up: The Big East. Rebuild…how about Reload. If you look below at the bracket, you’ll see 11 teams from the Big East in the field. Now, I don’t believe the Big East will get 11 teams in come March, but I expect to see nine and 10 won’t surprise me. Once again it’s the best conference in America – appearing to be just as stacked at the top as it’s always been.
Stock Down: Mississippi St. I’m not really sure what Rick Stansbury is doing, but he needs to figure out what kind of program he wants to run. Right now he looks like he has no control as he has a player, who was suspended for all of last season and most of this season, get into a fight with a teammate in practice – gets suspended – gets reinstated – and then gets into a fight with another teammate while watching two other teams play a game. I don’t really know how he’s going to bounce back, but it looks like it’s going to be a long season in Starkville.
Stock Up: Central Florida. The team led by Marcus Jordan, son of Michael, is off to a 13-1 start with wins over in-state rivals Florida and Miami. The Knights will have some serious challenges if they want to win Conference-USA, but it looks like they’re primed for one of the best seasons in program history.
Stock Down: ACC. A few years ago the possibility of a team being good enough to go undefeated through the ACC was laughable. Now…it’s pretty realistic. That’s not because Duke is that great, it’s because the ACC is that bad. With Wake Forest and Georgia Tech at horribly bad levels and NC State and Florida St under-achieving, get ready for a lot of whining on Selection Sunday from our friends on Tobacco Road.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Washington St, Virginia Tech, Richmond, Dayton
Last Four Out: New Mexico, USC, Southern Miss, Colorado St
Good for games through 1/10/2011
1.Duke16.McNeese St/Jackson St Charlotte
5.UCF12.Dayton/Washington St Tampa
6.UNLV11.Utah St Denver
7.Georgia10.St. John’s Chicago
2.Purdue15.Austin Peay WEST
1.Syracuse16.Florida Atlantic Washington, DC
6.Louisville11.Wichita St Chicago
7.Kansas St10.Cincinnati Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Long Beach St SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.Northern Colorado Tulsa
5.Wisconsin12.Richmond/Virginia Tech Tulsa
7.North Carolina10.Missouri St Cleveland
1.Ohio St16.Morgan St/Hartford Cleveland
8.West Virginia9.Boston College
7.Oklahoma St10.St. Mary’s Washington, DC
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.
Villanova at Syracuse: Clearly this is the game of the day. The two best teams in the Big East all year finally go toe-to-toe. Villanova really needs to score in transition because Syracuse’s zone is too good for ‘Nova’s smaller guards to penetrate and finish. The Orange can get out and run but I’m not sure it wants to test the quicker Wildcats. I like Syracuse in a REALLY close game.
Kentucky at Tennessee: After its performance in Gainesville, Tennessee needs this game. Kentucky has been vulnerable on the road the past couple of weeks and Tennessee has already beaten a top-5 team at home this season. Something isn’t right with the Volunteers and playing the Wildcats isn’t going to fix it. Kentucky by 10…at least.
New Mexico at BYU: This one has the opportunity to be the best game of the weekend. Not a lot separates the two teams and their meeting a month ago was decided by four points. This game will have a similar outcome. I just pray that most of you have Versus, because I don’t. BYU wins in overtime.
Maryland at Virginia Tech: The Hokies need this game. There’s no two ways around it. If they don’t win, it might bury their at-large chances. They had the worst lost of any bubble team this week when Boston College beat them by 20. They have to win this game, but I like the way Maryland is playing. I like the Terps.
Michigan St at Purdue: Nothing breaks my heart like the late-season injury. I really feel badly for Purdue. It’ll still be a good team without Robbie Hummel. I don’t know how good yet, but I do expect an inspired Boilermaker team to show up and beat Michigan St.
Richmond at Xavier: I have watched both these teams play recently and let me tell you something, they’re good enough to hang with anyone. This will be one heck of a game. I think Richmond is the better team, but they won’t be in the Cintas Center on Sunday. Xavier wins.
Louisville at Connecticut: I don’t know who needs it more but I expect both squads to leave it all on the court. UConn has been strong for a couple weeks now and outside of been attacked by Austin Freeman, Louisville has been playing well too. However, the Huskies are the one team I’d hate to have to play right now. I like UConn in this one.
I have a bracket for you too!
Last Four In: Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Old Dominion, Saint Mary’s
Last Four Out: Charlotte, Mississippi St, Notre Dame, Minnesota
In the 2005-2006 season, the season after North Carolina won its previous national championship, not much was expected. All that happened was North Carolina having a surprisingly good year and Roy Williams doing perhaps his best job ever as coach. Unfortunately for Tar Heel fans, this season isn’t shaping up to be quite as successful.
The Tarheels are struggling in every since of the word right now. They are losers of three of its last four including a blowout loss at Clemson and a road loss at the College of Charleston. They are 12-6 right now and their RPI is in the 50’s. The Michigan St and Ohio St wins will go a long way for them, but if they don’t turn it around soon, this season can spiral out of control.
The main reason North Carolina is in this position is because Ty Lawson plays for the Denver Nuggets. North Carolina is solid in the frontcourt, but guard play is holding it back. If they’re able to get solid play out of Larry Drew, this team can be dangerous in March. Right now though, its just not looking good for Roy Williams.
Stock Up: Ohio State. This is a completely different team with Evan Turner. As you saw by the show he put on in West Lafayette, Ind. last week, he’s clearly an All-American. In a foul-plagued game against Wisconsin, Turner still managed to score 15. This team might be too far behind Michigan St to catch the Spartans for the Big Ten regular season title. However, at full strength, this very well may be the best team in the conference.
Stock Down: UConn. The Huskies are very much in the same boat as the Tarheels, except they aren’t the defending national champions and preseason favorites to win their conference. That being said, they are reeling. They haven’t been the same since Georgetown rallied to beat them and with Texas on its way, it could get worse before it gets better.
Stock Up: BYU. The Cougars continue to be the top program in the Mountain West. They were expected to win the conference again, but they way they’re playing it looks like no one else is going to have a shot. At 17-1, the Cougars are in complete control at it appears that they’re going to sail to another NCAA tournament berth.
Stock Down: Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are having the best year they’ve had in years, but they had an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the Big South last week and failed. The Radford Highlanders went into the Chanticleers building at took their lunch. Although the Coastal is still a game ahead, no one is going to put their money on it over Radford to win the Big South.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: St. John’s, UConn, Northwestern, Old Dominion
Last Four Out: Virginia, Notre Dame, California, Oklahoma St
1.Texas16.Lafayette/Jackson St Oklahoma City
5.Temple12.Old Dominion Jacksonville
6.Northern Iowa11.UNLV San Jose
1.Villanova16.Morgan St Providence
4.Gonzaga13.College of Charleston
6.Vanderbilt11.Cincinnati New Orleans
2.Duke15.Coastal Carolina WEST
1.Kansas16.Campbell Oklahoma City
5.BYU12.UConn San Jose
6.Ohio St11.Washington New Orleans
7.Wake Forest10.Texas A&M Buffalo
2.Syracuse15.Sam Houston St MIDWEST
4.West Virginia13.Western Kentucky
6.Xavier11.North Carolina Providence
7.New Mexico10.Mississippi Milwaukee