Tag: Louisville

Three’s Company

UC Davis senior Corey Hawkins

There’s a team in California that no one is talking about. This team not only plays after most of the country is asleep, it doesn’t even play on TV. The UC Davis Aggies are 21-4 and 11-1 in the Big West and it’s in large part because they’re the best in the nation in three-point shooting percentage.

Senior guard Corey Hawkins, son of Hersey, leads one of the most efficient offenses in the country. UC Davis is 25th nationally in points per possession. That’s a good stat to watch as people search for a team to pull off an upset in the Big Dance.

Hot shooting, low possessions and veteran leadership is the hallmark for this team.  The Aggies are certainly a team to watch approaching March.

Stock Up: Purdue. The Boilermakers are doing everything a bubble team is asked to do. Get top-50 wins, win on the road and do them both at the same time. Good turnaround for Matt Painter’s team.

Stock Down: Louisville. There are some weird things going on there right now. Rick Pitino kicked Chris Jones of the team and the Cardinals have been struggling.

Stock Up: North Carolina Central.  The Eagles are rolling through the MEAC at 13-0. No conference opponent has come within single digits this month.

Stock Down: Seton Hall. This is a team with player leaving the program near the end of the season and another takes a cheap shot at an opponent. The Pirates haven’t won a game since January 31.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Stanford, UCLA, Texas, St. John’s

Last Four Out: Pittsburgh, Colorado St, Tulsa, Boise St.

This bracket is good for games thru 2/22.

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.St. Francis(NY)/Bucknell Louisville

8.Iowa9.Cincinnati

5.Louisville12.Valparaiso Columbus

4.Wichita St13.Harvard

6.West Virginia11.Georgia Columbus

3.Notre Dame14.North Carolina Central

7.Georgetown10.Michigan St Omaha

2.Kansas15.Florida Gulf Coast

WEST

1.Virginia16.South Dakota St Charlotte

8.Indiana9.Dayton

5.SMU12.Texas/UCLA Jacksonville

4.Arkansas13.Kent State

6.San Diego St11.St. John’s/Stanford Seattle

3.Iowa St14.UC Davis

7.Xavier10.Illinois Portland

2.Arizona15.Albany

EAST

1.Duke16.New Mexico St Charlotte

8.Ohio St9.Temple

5.Northern Iowa12.Wofford Louisville

4.Oklahoma13.Iona

6.Providence11.Oregon Pittsburgh

3.Maryland14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Oklahoma St10.Texas A&M Pittsburgh

2.Villanova15.High Point

SOUTH

1.Wisconsin16.Georgia Southern/Texas Southern Omaha

8.Mississippi9.Purdue

5.Baylor12.Murray St Jacksonville

4.North Carolina13.Louisiana Tech

6.VCU11.LSU Portland

3.Utah14.Eastern Washington

7.Butler10.NC State Seattle

2.Gonzaga15.William & Mary

Advertisements

Southwest Region Breakdown

1. Kansas Jayhawks
Location:
Lawrence, KS
Record: 32-2
Automatic Bid: Big XII Champions
Key Players: Marcus Morris (17.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Markieff Morris (13.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Tyrel Reed (10 ppg), Tyshawn Taylor (9.1 ppg), Thomas Robinson (8 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Strength: Kansas may be the most talented team in the country. The Morris twins are a load in the paint, but when either goes to the bench there’s little drop-off. Kansas can come off the bench with Thomas Robinson, who would start on just about any other team in the nation. The fact that Josh Selby, a McDonald’s All-American, isn’t seeing much time lets you know how deep and talented this team is. Kansas is definitely one of the favorites to cut down the nets because when they play to their potential, they’re virtually unstoppable.
Weakness: Chemistry issues have plagued the Jayhawks this year. Coach Bill Self has tinkered with his lineup numerous times to try to find the right fit. He’s still trying to find the guard to run his team after having to suspend Tyshawn Talylor and not being pleased with Selby’s play after his suspension. Kansas is very talented, but Self has to find the right mix to maximize his talent and make sure the team plays together.

2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Location:
South Bend, IN
Record: 26-6
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Ben Hans rough (18.5 ppg), Tim Abromaitis (15.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Carleton Scott (11.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Scott Martin (9.9 ppg), Tyrone Nash (9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Strength: Notre Dame is deadly from behind the arc. Led by Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough, the Irish led the Big East in three-point shooting percentage at 39.2 percent. Hansbrough is great at dribble penetration, which allows him to kick out to his teammates for open threes. The top six guys in Notre Dame’s rotation are all reliable shooters from behind the arc making them hard to guard. Any team that was able to put up those kinds of numbers in the Big East will be a team to be reckoned with.
Weakness: Notre Dame isn’t the most athletic team in the world and has had trouble with teams that can extend defensively and fast break offensively. In a loss to Kentucky, Notre Dame had fits trying to score against the athleticism of the Wildcats. In Notre Dame’s loss to Louisville, the Cardinals were able to wear the Irish down with their full court press. Any good team with superior athleticism can match-up well with Notre Dame.

3. Purdue Boilermakers
Location:
West Lafayette, IN
Record: 25-7
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: JaJuan Johnson (20.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg), E’Twaun Moore (18.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Strength: Purdue has a one-two punch that’s unmatched by most teams in America. JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore are two of the best players in America. They manage to complement each other very well even though they’re both outstanding scorers. The two seniors have picked up the slack the last year and half for the injured Robbie Hummel and they’ll be aiming for a long run in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Purdue is largely a jump-shooting team so when they’re not making jumpers they become a very ordinary team. As good of player as Johnson is, he likes to play out on the perimeter more than he does in the paint. That removes any post presence for the Boilermakers – making them play from the outside in. If they don’t make jumpers, they’ll be doomed.

4. Louisville Cardinals
Location:
Louisville, KY
Record: 25-9
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Preston Knowles (14.8 ppg), Kyle Kuric (10.8 ppg), Peyton Siva (10.1 ppg, 5.3 apg), Terrence Jennings (9.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Chris Smith (9.1 ppg)
Strength: The Cardinals will pressure their opponent for 40 minutes on defense. Coach Rick Pitino is a mastermind and wearing teams down and taking advantage of fatigue. So many great players have played the Cardinals, but have not been able to make shots at the end of games because of the constant pressure. If the Cardinals are to be beaten, it’ll be by a supremely conditioned team or a club with great depth.
Weakness: Louisville is weak on the free-throw line. Shooting less that 67 percent, the Cardinals can’t be counted on to close in late-game situations. Preston Knowles and Kyle Kuric are outstanding shooters, but Peyton Siva, the teams primary ball handler shoots less than 70 percent and that’s unacceptable. If the point guard can’t be trusted to make free throws at the end of the game, who can you turn to?

5. Vanderbilt Commodores
Location:
Nashville, TN
Record: 23-10
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: John Jenkins (19.5 ppg), Jeffery Taylor (15.1 ppg, 5.4 ppg), Festus Ezeli (12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Brad Tinsley (10.6 ppg), Lance Woodbourne (7.3 rpg)
Strength: This is a dangerous team from behind the arc. As a team, Vanderbilt shoots 37 percent from the three-point line. The Commodores are led by John Jenkins, whose made half of his overall field goals from behind the three-point line. The Commodores rely on long-range shooting to win and judging by the success they’ve had this season, it’s treated them very well.
Weakness: This is a team that can get careless with the basketball on occasion. On the year, the Commodores turn the ball over more than their opponents and barely have more assists than turnovers. Turnovers limit the possessions for a team that, at times, wants to to control tempo. Having the ball is key, but if the Commodores don’t value it more they’ll be locked out.

6. Georgetown Hoyas
Location:
Washington, DC
Record: 21-10
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Austin Freeman (17.9 ppg), Chris Wright (13.1 ppg, 5.4 apg), Jason Clark (12.1 ppg), Julian Vaughn (8 ppg, 6 rpg), Hollis Thompson (8 ppg)
Strength: Most years, the conversation about Georgetown begins and ends with its frontcourt, but not this year. Georgetown’s backcourt is possibly the best in the country and when all three are on, they can collectively score 60 points all by themselves. Chris Wright runs the show, but Austin Freeman and Jason Clark can be deadly from behind the arc. This team is only going to go as far as its trio of guards will take it and that could be a long way.
Weakness: This team is struggling entering the tournament with lingering questions over the health of Chris Wright. With Wright playing well, Georgetown is possibly a top-10 team. Without him, the Hoyas struggle to be competitive with anybody. It’s not just the points, assists and defense that’s missed. It’s his leadership and presence on the court. He’s the emotional leader for Georgetown and without him out there it’s a body walking around without its head.

7. Texas A&M Aggies
Location:
College Station, TX
Record: 24-8
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: Khris Middleton (14.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), David Loubeau (11.9 ppg), B.J. Holmes (9.8 ppg), Nathan Walkup (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Strength: This is a tough defensive team. The Aggies only allow opponents to shoot 41.1 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from behind the arc. In addition to that, they do a great job of limiting their opponents’ possessions by rebounding over 70 percent of their foes’ misses. Teams are barely scoring 61 points against the Aggies – a stat that lets you know the key to their success.
Weakness: Defense will keep Texas A&M in games, but it hasn’t been able to score in key games. The Aggies only score 68.9 points per game and that’s good enough for ninth place in the Big XII. It’s a struggle to win when you struggle to score and that’s why they haven’t been able to get over the hump against teams like Texas and Kansas in league play. Texas A&M needs to be able to put points up to have staying power in the Big Dance.

8. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Location:
Las Vegas, NV
Record: 24-8
At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference
Key Players: Tre’Von Willis (13.5 ppg), Chace Stanback (13 ppg, 6 rpg), Oscar Belfield (11.1 ppg), Anthony Marshall (9.6 ppg)
Strength: Coach Lon Kruger has taken Big Ten style basketball west and it’s working well at UNLV. The Rebels play defense as well as any team in the nation. UNLV is second in the Mountain West in points allowed, field-goal percentage defense, and three-point field-goal percentage defense. UNLV has proven what it could do against some tough competition this year and should be able to defend well in the Big Dance.
Weakness: The Rebels really don’t have effective size in the post. Carlos Lopez and Brice Massamba provide some depth, but they’re not really threats in the paint. San Diego St and BYU went 5-0 against the Rebels and much of that was because the Rebels had no answer for either team in the paint. It’s clearly the place where teams will attack and if the Rebels aren’t careful, it’ll be the reason they leave the tournament early.

9. Illinois Fighting Illini
Location:
Champagne, IL
Record: 19-13
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Demetri McCamey (14.8 ppg, 6.1 apg), Mike Davis (12 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Mike Tisdale (10.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Brandon Paul (9.2 ppg), D.J. Richardson (8.1 ppg), Jereme Richmond (5 rpg)
Strength: To survive in the Big Ten, teams have to be able to defend. That’s one thing the Illini does as well as any team in the conference. Illinois is first in the Big Ten in three-point field-goal percentage defense and second in overall field-goal percentage defense allowing just 30.5 percent and 40.1 percent respectively. That defense allows the Illini to stay in games and in those close games, a player the caliber of Demetri McCamey can definitely finish a team off.
Weakness: For the second season in a row, the Illini has suffered from inconsistent play. It’s hard to believe that the same team that beat North Carolina, Gonzaga and Wisconsin could also lose to Illinois-Chicago. When Illinois plays their A-game, it can be one of the best teams in America. When it doesn’t, it can fall flat on its face. An outcome that is seems very likely.

10. Florida State Seminoles
Location:
Tallahassee, FL
Record: 21-10
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Chris Singleton (13.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Derwin Kitchen (9.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Michael Snaer (8.6 ppg), Bernard James (8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: It’s really simple, teams that play Florida St do not score. This is the best defensive team in the ACC and it’s really not close. The Seminoles have held Florida, Ohio St and Duke to 61 points or less this year. They lead the ACC in field-goal percentage defense by forcing their opponents to shoot just 36.4 percent from the field. Defense has been a staple of Leonard Hamilton since he’s been at Florida St and he’s hoping that defense can finally win him a game in the NCAA.
Weakness: If the Seminoles weren’t such a good defensive team they’d be in real trouble because teams don’t normally enjoy the success they have struggling to score like the Seminoles do. Florida St. is ninth in the ACC in field-goal percentage at 43.6 percent and that’s what keeps them from taking that next step. First-round flame-outs have ended good seasons the past two years for the Seminoles and if they don’t score, history will repeat itself.

11a. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Location:
Richmond, VA
Record: 23-11
At-Large Bid: Colonial Athletic Association
Key Players: Jamie Skeen (15.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Bradford Burgess (14 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Brandon Rozzell (11.3 ppg), Joey Rodriguez (10.6 ppg)
Strength: VCU wants to play a fast paced game. It likes to speed its opponents up to the point where they’re playing at an uncomfortable pace. It looks like they play on roller skates, but it’s very effective. The Rams use that style of play to force nearly 15 turnovers per game – half of those coming on steals. Those turnovers fuel their offense making them one of the most dangerous teams in the country in the open court.
Weakness: The Rams are a very poor rebounding team. They get out-rebounded by nearly four boards per game, which puts them in 10th place in the CAA in that category. Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess do their best to pick up the slack in that department, but the rest of the ball club is really more interested in getting out and running instead of hitting the boards. Any team with good size could really punish the Rams.

11b. USC Trojans
Location:
Los Angeles, CA
Record: 19-14
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Nikola Vocalic (17.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg), Jio Fontan (10.4 ppg), Alex Stephenson (10 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Donte Smith (9.9 ppg), Maurice Jones (9.9 ppg)
Strength: Coach Kevin O’Neil decided to take a page of the notebook of cross-town rival, UCLA, and get his team to commit to defense. The Trojans are No. 1 in the Pac-10 in points allowed and No. 2 in field-goal percentage defense. It’s that defense that held Texas to 56 points, Arizona to 57 and Tennessee to 64. If USC can play defense like this in the NCAA Tournament it can pull of a win or two.
Weakness: The Trojans depth is nonexistent. USC has some real talent in its starting five, but after that there’s really not much there. If any proof is needed, USC played only seven players in its Pac-10 tournament loss to Arizona and that was the second game in two days. Teams with depth will run a lot of guys at the Trojans and if they tire them out, it will be a short NCAA stay for them.

12. Richmond Spiders
Location:
Richmond, VA
Record: 27-7
Automatic Bid: Atlantic-10 Champions
Key Players: Justin Harper (17.9 ppg, 7 rpg), Kevin Anderson (16.5 ppg), Dan Geriot (9.9 ppg)
Strength: Richmond’s style of play is very difficult to prepare for. The Spiders run a very effective modification of the Princeton offense. They use that to get back cuts and open three-pointers, which they make 39.7 percent of. The fact that the Spiders have two players tailor made for the offense in Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson just makes them more dangerous and capable of a run to the second weekend.
Weakness: This is one of the worst teams in the tournament on the boards. Richmond is 12th in the 14-team A-10 in rebounding margin. It’s actually last in offensive rebounding make it doubly important for the team to make shots. The Spiders only rebound 28 percent of its misses and that is downright pathetic. If they don’t find a way to rebound, they will make a quick exit for the second year in-a-row.

13. Morehead State Eagles
Location:
Morehead, KY
Record: 24-9
Automatic Bid: Ohio Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Kenneth Faried (17.6 ppg, 14.5 rpg), Demonte Harper (16 ppg), Terrance Hill (10.4 ppg), Sam Goodman (8.4 ppg)
Strength: Led by the nation’s leading rebounder in Kenneth Faried, Morehead St pounds its opponents on the boards. The Eagles led the OVC in rebounding margin; out-rebounding their opponents with a 9.2 per game average on the season. Where they really can hurt teams is on the offensive glass where they pull down close to 14 per game. This is a team that crashes the boards and there’s not a team in the nation that’s going to stop them.
Weakness: Due to the fact that Morehead likes to get up and down the court, its prone to turnovers. The Eagles finished eighth in the 10-team OVC with 15.1 turnovers per game. They turn the ball over only slightly less than there opponents and it’s been their Achilles heel all season. They don’t shoot the ball particularly well enough to overcome this so if they want to pull off an upset they’ll have to value the basketball.

14. Saint Peter’s Peacocks
Location:
Jersey City, NJ
Record: 20-13
Automatic Bid: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Wesley Jenkins (12. 8 ppg), Jeron Belin (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Nick Leon (10.6 ppg), Ryan Bacon (10 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Darius Conley (5.1 rpg)
Strength: The Peacocks are one of the best defensive teams in the MAAC. They lead the conference in field-goal percentage defense – holding their opponents to a tad over 37 percent shooting. They’re also second in blocked shots and third in steals. That has allowed them to keep their opponents under 60 points per game on the year. Nothing travels better than good defense and the Peacocks defend as well as anyone in America.
Weakness: As good as St. Peter’s is defensively, it is equally horrendous offensively. The Peacocks barely score 61 points per game on the year on 40 percent shooting. They also have a negative turnover margin and a horrible assist-to-turnover ratio. St. Peter’s defense allowed it to stay competitive in the MAAC, but in the NCAA Tournament, if it doesn’t figure out a way to be competent offensively it will be a very short and painful stay.

15. Akron Zips
Location:
Akron, OH
Record: 23-12
Automatic Bid: Mid-American Conference Champions
Key Players: Nikola Cvetinovic (11.9 ppg, 7 rpg), Brett McKnight (10.3 ppg), Brett McClanahan (10.1 ppg), Zeke Marshall (8.6 ppg), Steve McNees (8.6 ppg), Darryl Roberts (8.6 ppg)
Strength: Akron has one of the deepest teams on the mid-major level. The Zips have nine players who average double-figures in minutes and six players who score eight points or more. That allows them to survive foul trouble and gives them numerous options offensively. If they can get significant contributions from all of their guys, the Zips can spring an upset.
Weakness: The Zips are a poor rebounding team. On the season, teams are out-rebounding Akron by nearly three boards per game. That’s bad at any level but is magnified when it happens in a down year in the MAC. Akron finished with a mediocre 9-7 record in conference play and much of that was due to getting punished on the boards. If they can’t rebound in the tournament, the Zips will get dispatched quickly.

16. Boston Terriers
Location:
Boston, MA
Record: 21-13
Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions
Key Players: John Holland (19.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Darryl Partin (14.5 ppg), Patrick Hazel (5.9 rpg)
Strength: Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the America East. Boston holds its opponents to just 39. 6 percent shooting from the field and 32.1 percent from behind the arc. The Terriers also lead the league in blocked shots as they challenge everything going towards the basket. This hard-nosed defense helped the Terriers to a 12-4 conference record and they hope that it will help them cause a first-round scare.
Weakness: This team will struggle in the tournament because it doesn’t have great depth. The Terriers’ seven-man rotation is good enough for the America East, but the Terriers won’t be playing the likes of New Hampshire in the tournament. Boston just doesn’t have the talent to overcome its lack of depth and against the team it’ll be facing, that will prove to be deadly.

South Region Team Capsules

1. Duke Blue Devils
Location: Durham, N.C.
Record: 29-5
Automatic Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Champions
Key Players: Jon Scheyer (18.6 ppg, 5 apg), Kyle Singler (17.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Nolan Smith (17.3 ppg)
Strength: As the big three go, so goes Duke. Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler are outstanding players and all-ACC selections. They all can shoot the three and create their own shots. When they’re play well in concert together, there aren’t many teams in the country that can beat Duke. Those three are definitely the key to another Final Four run for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Weakness: Duke still doesn’t have a low-post scoring threat. They have bodies to fill-in, but none are consistent. This has been an issue for Duke since Sheldon Williams left and it hasn’t been addressed. Maryland, Georgia Tech and Georgetown all hurt the Blue Devils because they had legitimate big men. If and when they run into a team with talented post players, they are going to struggle.

2. Villanova Wildcats
Location: Villanova, Pa.
Record: 24-7
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Scottie Reynolds (18.5 ppg), Corey Fisher (13.7 ppg), Antonio Pena (10.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Corey Stokes (9.5 ppg), Taylor King (5.6 rpg)
Strength: Villanova is very quick on defense and they’re tough to guard off of dribble penetration, but be clear: This is Scottie Reynolds’ team. If he doesn’t play well, the Wildcats can’t win. It just so happens that he plays well almost every game. Reynolds may be considered the greatest player in Villanova history when it’s all said and done. He can get hot and take a game over. He takes big shots and is fearless. He has to be himself for Villanova to have a chance to make a run.
Weakness: Villanova is allowing teams to score too easily. Teams that are able to break Villanova’s pressure defense are having a lot success putting the ball in the basket. The Wildcats are allowing over 72 points per game. They send their opponents to the free-throw line a lot and, due to their lack of size, allow a lot of points in the paint. Villanova allowing teams to score that much in the tournament is going to send it home early.

3. Baylor Bears
Location: Waco, Texas
Record: 25-7
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: LaceDarius Dunn (19.4 ppg) , Tweety Carter (15.7 ppg, 5.3 apg), Ekpe Udoh (13.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Quincy Acy (9.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Strength: The Bears are quite possibly the most athletic team in the nation. In the open floor, they have multiple guys who can finish. They seem to live on Sports Center’s top plays with highlight reel dunks. It also helps them on defense where they hold their opponents to 38.4 percent shooting and block over seven shots per game. They’ve been able to overwhelm many of their opponents with that athleticism and it’ll be a huge key to how they perform in the tournament.
Weakness: This team turns the ball over too much. Baylor is dead last in the Big XII in turnover margin committing almost two more turnovers a game than its opponents. the biggest issue is LaceDarius Dunn, the Bears’ best player, leads the team in turnovers. He’s the player with the ball in his hand more than anyone else and if he’s coughing it up, that’s going to make the Bears a little easier to defend. In order for the Bears to make a run, they have to value the basketball.

4. Purdue Boilermakers
Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Record: 27-5
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: E’Twaun Moore (16.6 ppg), JaJuan Johnson (15.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Strength: One thing the Boilermakers have done all season is defend. They’re at the top of the Big Ten in most defensive categories. They’re opponents only score 60.6 points per game on 40.1 percent shooting. Their defense has carried them all year, especially after the lost or Robbie Hummel. As long as they continue to defend the way they are, they’ll be able o contend in the tournament.
Weakness: This team is still struggling to find its identity without Hummel. The Boilermakers are clearly not the same team without Hummel. They miss his scoring, his rebounding and most importantly, his leadership. They have had some really terrible offensive performances since his injury. They really need to take the time before the start of their tournament game get comfortable with each other.

Texas A&M senior guard Donald Sloan

5. Texas A&M Aggies
Location: College Station, Texas
Record: 23-9
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: Donald Sloan (18.2 ppg), Bryan Davis (9.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), B.J. Holmes (9.3 ppg), David Loubeau (9 ppg)
Strength: Not many teams in the tournament will have the kind of quality experience the Aggies have. Seniors Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis have already played seven NCAA tournament games each in their previous three trips to the Big Dance. Junior B.J. Holmes has played in two NCAA tournaments himself. Throw-in the playing in the rugged Big XII and there’s nothing that’s going to rattle these guys.
Weakness: Texas A&M is one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the Big XII. At 66 percent, the Aggies have struggled all year from the line. The Aggies have five guys seeing significant minutes that shoot 57 percent or worst. Fortunately Sloan shoots 77 percent as he is their best option offensively, but in late game situations, they will need to knock down shots from the free-throw line if they expect to make a run.

6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Location: South Bend, Ind.
Record: 23-11
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Luke Harangody (22.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Tim Abromaitis (16.3 ppg), Ben Hansbrough (11.8 ppg), Tory Jackson (9.8 ppg, 5.3 apg), Tyrone Nash (8 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Strength: Notre Dame comes in boasting one of the most experienced rosters you’ll see in the tournament this year. Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson are seniors. Tim Abromaitis, Ben Hansbrough, and Tyrone Nash are juniors. This team will be prepared for anything it sees. It was mature enough to handle a mid-season injury to Harangody and a change of philosophy by head coach Mike Brey. It’ll be ready for anything.
Weakness: Depth is going to be an issue for the Fighting Irish. They really can only go seven-deep in terms of quality guys. Brey’s decision to switch to a slower pace helps, but it can only go so far. There’s going to come a time in the tournament where Notre Dame is going to face an opponent that’ll throw a lot of bodies at it. How the Irish handle that will be paramount to how far it goes.

7. Richmond Spiders
Location: Richmond, Va.
Record: 26-8
At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference
Key Players: Kevin Anderson (17.8 ppg), David Gonzalvez (14.5 ppg), Justin Harper (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Ryan Butler (8.2 ppg)
Strength: Richmond runs one of the most complex offenses of any team in the NCAA Tournament. It’s an offense based on Princeton principles, but gives the players freedom for isolations. That’s what’s allowed Kevin Anderson to become the A-10 player of the year this season. He really flourishes with his ability to get to the hoop and knock down jumpers. With the talent he has around him, it makes Richmond really difficult to guard.
Weakness: Richmond is really a week rebounding team. The Spiders are second from the bottom in the A-10 in rebounding margin; getting out-rebounded by 4.9 boards per game. Their offense has masked that huge deficiency on the boards. However, in this tournament coaches know how to exploit weaknesses and some coach is going to figure how to make them pay on the boards.

8. California Golden Bears
Location: Berkeley, Calif
Record: 23-10
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Jerome Randle (18.7 ppg), Patrick Christopher (16 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Theo Robertson (14.1 ppg), Jamal Boykin (12 ppg, 6.7 ppg)
Strength: The Golden Bears are a nightmare to defend. With four guys who can really score, they present a dynamic challenge most teams around the country can’t. This is a team that likes to shoot threes, but also has a post presence in Jamal Boykin to provide balance. If Cal is on, they can hang with just about anyone. Cal is an explosive team and can do some damage if not taken seriously.
Weakness: When Cal isn’t making three-point shots, they’re very mortal. It’s what makes them go and provides opportunities for their big men to get points in the paint. They take a good amount and make a good amount, but if they’re missing, they’ll shoot themselves right out of a game. It’s what happened to them in last year’s tournament and it’s very possible that it can happen again.

9. Louisville Cardinals
Location: Louisville, Ky.
Record: 20-12
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Samardo Samuels (15.3 ppg, 7 rpg), Edgar Sosa (13.3 ppg), Jerry Smith (8.4 ppg), Jared Swopshire (6 rpg)
Strength: If there was one word to describe the Cardinals it would be pesky. This is a Rick Pitino-coached team so it’s going to press full court for 40 minutes. When they’re able to do that effectively, they have the game at their tempo and they are difficult to beat. It allows them to get into their transition offense; creating opportunities for them to spot up for three-pointers on the break. If they’re able to impose their will, they can definitely make some noise.
Weakness: Once again, the Cardinals lack a consistent playmaker. Edgar Sosa has shown the ability to take people off the dribble, but they are definitely missing someone who can get the job done in a half-court situation. It was clearly an issue in their loss to Michigan St in the Elite Eight last season and it doesn’t appear the problem has been rectified. It probably isn’t something that’s going to change in the tournament so Louisville fans better hope they can play games at a faster pace.

Underrated Saint Mary's center Omar Samhan

10. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Location: Moraga, Calif.
Record: 26-5
Automatic Bid: West Coast Conference Champions
Key Players: Omar Samhan (20.9 ppg, 11 rpg), Mickey McConnell (13.7 ppg, 5.3 apg), Matthew Dellavedova (12.5 ppg), Ben Allen (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
Strength: The Gaels has the kind balance that scares opponents. Not only do they have guards that can really shoot the three, but they also have a legitimate post presence in Omar Samhan. Samhan is joined in the frontcourt by Ben Allen who is a 6’11” big man who can shoot it from three. This is a team that is dangerous from anywhere on the floor offensively and that makes them a tough out this March.
Weakness: This team has virtually no depth. The disparity in the minutes played by the starters and the bench for Saint Mary’s is staggering and so is the production. The Gaels really employ only a seven-man rotation and the two guys off of the bench are averaging less than nine points between the two of them. Teams are going to run a lot of defenders at the Gaels to try to stay fresh. If they don’t handle that well, they’ll have trouble advancing.

11. Old Dominion Monarchs
Location: Norfolk, Va.
Record: 26-8
Automatic Bid: Colonial Athletic Association Champions
Key Players: Gerald Lee (14.6 ppg), Frank Hassell (8.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Ben Finney (8.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Kent Bazemore (8.4 ppg)
Strength: There aren’t many teams in the country that defend the way the Monarchs do. ODU is only allowing 57.1 points per game holding their opponents to 40 percent shooting. They’re not allowing teams to grab their misses either as they are No. 1 in the CAA in rebounding margin grabbing 8.8 more boards per game. In addition to that, they’re also getting 7.8 steals per game. Anytime you can defend like this, you have a chance to be successful.
Weakness: The Monarchs’ free-throw shooting is abysmal.. At 64.5 percent, they’re in 11th place in the 12 team CAA in percentage. Three of their top four scorers shoot 67 percent or less with only Gerald Lee being competent from the line. In the NCAA tournament, when every moment is magnified, their deficiency from the line could be what ends their season.

12. Utah State Aggies
Location: Logan, Utah
Record: 27-7
At-Large Bid: Western Athletic Conference
Key Players: Tai Wesley (13.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Jared Quayle (12.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Nate Bendall (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Pooh Williams (8.8 ppg), Tyler Newbold (8 ppg)
Strength: You won’t find many teams as efficient offensively as the Aggies. They’re always composed and it shows in their numbers. As a team, they’re shooting a remarkable 49.1 percent from the floor and 41.9 percent from behind the arc. They’re only turning the ball over at a clip of 10.3 per game so they don’t give opponents extra opportunities. They’re even in the top half of the WAC in offensive rebound percentage. This team will just not beat itself.
Weakness: This team has some depth issues. The Aggies get a lot of production out of its seven-man rotation, but that’s against WAC competition. The WAC is a solid mid-major conference but they’ll be playing teams in the tournament better than any team they faced in conference all year. The Aggies are going to need everyone to step up for them if they expect to do some damage this year.

13. Siena Saints
Location: Loudonville, N.Y.
Record: 27-6
Automatic Bid: Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Alex Franklin (16.3 ppg, 8 rpg), Edwin Ubiles(15.2 ppg), Ryan Rossiter (13.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg), Clarence Jackson (13.6 ppg), Ronald Moore (7.8 apg)
Strength: This team has so much firepower it’s scary. For a mid-major to have four guys averaging in double figures is quite the achievement, but this is no ordinary mid-major. The Saints have won games in the past two NCAA tournaments and has the talent to do it again. They have great guards, great post players and guys who can play from the wing. There’s no doubt that this edition of the Saints is not only talented enough to win one game, but they’re capable of making it to the second weekend.
Weakness: Unlike most mid-majors, this isn’t a team that is a great shooting team. They shoot less than 46 percent from the floor, shoot 32.3 percent from three and only shoot 67 percent from the free-throw line. This is a team that likes to go up-and-down but in half-court situations in the NCAA tournament, their inability to shoot effectively could be the reason they make an earlier exit than they’d like.

14. Sam Houston State Bearkats
Location: Huntsville, Texas
Record: 25-7
Automatic Bid: Southland Conference Champions
Key Players: Gilberto Clavell (16.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Corey Allmond (15.9 ppg), Ashton Mitchell (12.7 ppg, 5.1 apg), Preston Brown (9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Josten Crow (8.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Strength: Sam Houston St made the most three-pointers in the Southland Conference this season and that’s not just because they’re taking the most shots. It’s because they’re one of the best three-point shooting teams in the tournament.. The Bearkats are second in their conference in three-point field goal percentage and it’s a huge part of their success. They have three guys who shoot over 40 percent from three and that’s not including all-conference guard, Corey Allmond, who shots 37.6 percent.
Weakness: The Bearkats strength can also be there weakness. Almost every player on the roster has a green light to shoot from behind the arc. That means the Bearkats are high-risk, high-reward. If they’re knocking down shots, they’re going to pull off an upset. If they’re not knocking down shots, they may lose by 30. that kind of free-willing style could be the death of them.

Robert Morris guard Karon Abraham

15. Robert Morris Colonials
Location: Moon Township, Pa.
Record: 23-11
Automatic Bid: Northeast Conference Champions
Key Players: Karon Abraham (13.4 ppg), Rob Robinson (9.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Mezie Nwigwe (8.2 ppg), Velton Jones (8.2 ppg)
Strength: The Colonials are a really good defensive team. They finished tied for first in the NEC in field-goal percentage defense by holding teams to 40.9 percent shooting on the year. They also force 15.7 turnovers per game 7.58 steals, both of which are good enough for second in the NEC. Their defense is the reason they had such a successful season in the NEC and have made a return trip the NCAA tournament.
Weakness: There’s a reason the Colonials have to be so good defensively: They’re so bad offensively. They only shoot 43.7 percent from the field, 66.1 percent from the free throw line and commit close to 15 turnovers per game. Given the seed they’ve been given, if they put those kinds of numbers up in this tournament, their stay will be as short as it was last season.

16a. Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions
Location: Pine Bluff, Ark.
Record: 17-15
Automatic Bid: Southwestern Athletic Conference
Key Players: Terrance Calvin (10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Savalance Townsend (10.2 ppg), Lebaron Weathers (9.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Tavaris Washington (9.6 ppg), Tyree Glass (8.1 ppg)
Strength: This Golden Lions team really defends. They’re second in the SWAC in field goal percentage defense holding their opponents to 40.7 percent shooting from the floor and forcing over 14 turnovers per game. That defense helped the Golden Lions to a second place regular season finish in the SWAC. They’ll have to play that kind of defense to be competitive in this tournament.
Weakness: The Golden Lions offensive numbers are downright disgusting. They’re only scoring 64.4 points per game on 66.3 percent free-throw shooting, 41.1 percent field-goal shooting and 30.4 percent three-point field-goal percentage. It also commits over 17 turnovers per game as well. These are not the numbers of competitive teams and there isn’t much hope for the Golden Lions in this tournament.

16b. Winthrop Eagles
Location: Winthrop, S.C.
Record: 19-13
Automatic Bid: Big South Conference Champions
Key Players: Reggie Middleton (10.3 ppg), Matt Morgan (9.6 ppg), Mantoris Robinson (8.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Andy Buechert (6.5 rpg)
Strength: Winthrop was one of the best defensive teams in the Big South this season. The Eagles their opponents’ shooting percentage to less that 40 percent, while their opponents only shot 29.4 percent from behind the arc. They also force over 15 turnovers per game as well. Coach Randy Peele’s team will be able to compete if they can continue to guard this way in the NCAA tournament.
Weakness: Winthrop may be the worst offensive team in the Big South. On the year, the Eagles actually has worse overall and three-point shooting percentages than their opponents. That’s pretty amazing given it finished in third place. Any team that only scores 62.4 points per game has a razor thin margin of error. At this level, it’s a lot to ask of the Eagles to make much noise with those offensive numbers.

2/27-2/28 What We’re Watching

Villanova's Scottie Reynolds has his eyes set on another deep run thisyear

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

Click the link below
NCAA Projected Bracket

Post Holiday Reaction

I hope everyone has been watching basketball over the past week.  We’ve had plenty of great action from the Caribbean to the Hawaiian Islands.  We’ve had some impressive performances and then we’ve had some duds.

Stock Up: Gonzaga.  Never before have I thought a Gonzaga team had a better chance to get to the Final Four than this one.  I am pleasantly surprised by the offensive firepower the Zags have and they’re finally getting it on the defensive end.  If they don’t crack the Final Four this year, they may never do it.

Stock Down: Siena.  This is a team that had aspirations of an At-large berth into the NCAA tournament.  Those aspirations were dead by Friday.  Going 0-3 in Orlando was not what the doctor ordered for the Saints.  With Niagra impressing thus far, an automatic bid doesn’t seem like a sure bet either.

Stock Up: Wake Forest.  The Deamon Deacons won the 76 tournament out West this weekend and that’s quite an accomplishment for this young team.  While, they didn’t necessarily have to play against a loaded field, the win against Baylor was very impressive.  They’ll definitely be in the top 3rd of the ACC this year.

Stock Down: Louisville.  Oh goodness.  Any time the head coach issues a public apology on his website, than you know it’s bad.  I have a bad feeling about Louisville; the kind that says this team will do just enough to make it to the tournament, but won’t reach it’s potential.

Stock Up: Kyle McAlarney.  It doesn’t matter where he’s at on the floor, you HAVE to guard him.  His range is ridiculous.  While Luke Harangody was getting his lunch handed to him by Tyler Hansborough, McAlarney was lighting North Carolina up.  He’s definitely gotten my attention.

Stock Down: Gary Williams.  The natives are restless.  Getting crushed Gonzaga is one thing, we saw what the Zags did to Tennessee, but to get destroyed by your cross-town rival in Georgetown might signal the beginning of the end for Gary.  Now people may want to downplay it, but look at Georgetown’s roster.  They’re killing Maryland in Baltimore and DC.  Gary has to stop that bleeding or he’s going to get run out College Park like Herb Sendek was run out of Raleigh.

First bracket of the year below.  Few thoughts.  I don’t have much to go on.  3-7 games for most teams is way to small of sample to feel comfortable with the bracket, but this is what I do and why not.

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.Hampton Greensboro, NC

8.Dayton9.Illinois

5.Baylor12.Illinois St Boise, ID

4.Syracuse13.Niagra

6.Wisconsin11.BYU Minneapolis, MN

3.Louisville14.VMI

7.Arizona St10.Nebraska Philadelphia, PA

2.Tennessee15.American

MIDWEST

1.Pittsburgh16.Lamar/Grambling Dayton, OH

8.Florida St9.Washington St

5.Villanova12.George Mason Portland, OR

4.Michigan St13.Long Beach St

6.Davidson11.Minnesota Boise, ID

3.UCLA14.Utah St

7.Marquette10.Rhode Island Kansas City, MO

2.Oklahoma15.Mount St. Mary’s

WEST

1.Duke16.Oakland Greensboro, NC

8.Michigan9.St. Mary’s

5.Georgetown12.Mercer Miami, FL

4.Florida13.Western Kentucky

6.Kansas11.Kentucky Minneapolis, MN

3.Xavier14.Akron

7.Miami(FL)10.Utah Dayton, OH

2.Notre Dame15.Albany

EAST

1.Connecticut16.Cornell Philadelphia, PA

8.Clemson9.California

5.Memphis12.Ohio St Miami, FL

4.Texas13.Butler

6.Wake Forest11.Mississippi Kansas City, MO

3.Purdue14.Jacksonville St

7.Seton Hall10.USC Portland, OR

2.Gonzaga15.Portland St