In the Big Ten, the newest team is the fastest team and last week Wisconsin found out just how good it was. The Maryland Terrapins are blazing a trail along the midwest guns blazing.
Leading the Terps is their backcourt, specifically their freshman phenom Melo Trimble. He’s been outstanding for Maryland averaging over 16 points and 3 assists per game. Joining Trimble is senior Dez Wells who has been having an outstanding season himself scoring over 15 points per game himself.
Coach Mark Turgeon was on the hot seat before the season started, but he’s squelched any thoughts about his lack of job security. He has his backcourt to thank for that. It’s one that could take Maryland to the Final Four
Conference Tournaments start this week so here are some previews.
ATLANTIC SUN: The Atlantic Sun has gone in a different direction and is holding the entire tournament at campus sites. North Florida won the regular season title and the only team to beat the Ospreys on their homecourt is the South Carolina-Upstate Spartans. The good news for the Ospreys is the Spartans are on the other side of the bracket. I expect North Florida to ride homecourt to the NCAA tournament.
HORIZON LEAGUE: Last year, Milwaukee shocked everyone and made a run to the Big Dance. This year it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Valparaiso, Green Bay and Detroit are all capable of winning this tournament. Given the fact that the tournament will be played on Valpo’s homecourt and the format protects the higher seeds and I think we’ll see Green Bay and Valpo in the final. In that scenario I expect the Green Bay Phoenix to go dancing.
PATRIOT LEAGUE: This has been a disappointing year overall for the Patriot League. In the past, this has been a league that provided upsets in the tournament. There’s little chance of that happen as the champion will most likely have to play in the First Four. Bucknell is the best program in the league and routinely navigates this tournament. That’ll happen again and the Bison will go dancing.
OHIO VALLEY: Murray St has been the class of the OVC for decades. This year the Racers have been special. They blew through the conference finishing 16-0 in league-play. The next closest teams, Belmont and Eastern Kentucky, have five losses. That means there was no one even close. I don’t expect there to be anyone close to Murray St this week in Nashville. The Racers are going dancing.
BIG SOUTH: This should be one of the better tournaments of the early part of championship week. Charleston Southern and High Point finished atop the league with 13-5 records while Coastal Carolina, Radford and Winthrop all had 12-6 records. In total, seven teams had winning conference records. The tournament will be played at the home of defending champion Coastal Carolina so expect the South Carolina teams to have a strong presence. It will be a Coastal vs. Charleston Southern final with CSU heading back to the tournament.
NORTHEAST: If there has been any truth here its that the homecourt in this tournament has never really mattered. Teams have gone on the road and won in this tournament on a consistent basis. St. Francis (NY) won the regular season title, but I’m willing to bet the Terriers don’t want to see Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers beat the Terriers at home and took them to overtime on the road. I expect the Mountaineers go dancing.
On to the bracket.
Last Four In: UCLA, Texas A&M, Michigan St, Purdue
In the American Athletic Conference, more ballyhooed basketball programs like UConn, Temple, Memphis and Cincinnati were supposed to keep the league afloat in its second year of existence. However, it’s a program that was left behind that is making the most noise.
Tulsa is 7-0 in league play and has continued it’s great run after ending last season with a blitz through the Conference-USA tournament to the Big Dance.
The Golden Hurricane has managed to sneak its way to an undefeated start by excelling at the free-throw line. No one is as adept at getting to the line as Tulsa as it gets almost a quarter of its points from the charity stripe.
When Frank Haith left Missouri to take this job at the end of last season, everyone wondered why. Now it appears he was just ahead of the curve.
Stock Up: Murray St. It’s been a couple years since the Racers have gone dancing, but they looked primed and ready to not only being the Ohio Valley representative in the NCAA tournament, but also a dangerous out once they get there.
Stock Down: Seton Hall. At the beginning of January, the Pirates looked like a force to be reckoned with. Now they just look like a wreck. They need Isaiah Whitehead back badly.
Stock Up: D’Angelo Russell. The Ohio State freshman is quietly having an All-American season. He’s averaging 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game for a team that needs him to be as good as he’s been in all three of those areas.
Stock Down: Saint Mary’s. The Gaels will inevitably be on the bubble. Their SOS and lack of strong wins will do them in. They’ll have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to get in despite the predictable pontificating on their behalf, which is sure to come.
On to the Bracket
Last Four In: Washington, NC State, Old Dominion, Tennessee
Last Four Out: Michigan St, Seton Hall, Mississippi, Texas A&M
The rumors of UCLA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Early in the season it looked bleak for UCLA after struggling to beat Georgia and losing to Cal Poly. The Bruins chemistry looked shoddy and they were working to incorporate Shabazz Muhammad into the lineup.
Now the Bruins are tied for first in the Pac-12 and Muhammad, along with other freshmen Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are key contributors to the team’s success.
Those freshmen are now meshing with North Carolina transfers, David and Travis Wear and Larry Drew II, to form a team that can score and will put fear in the hearts of any team in March.
That being said; regular season success isn’t the measuring stick in Westwood. It’s Final Fours and national championships and any season when neither happens is a disappointment. So while I commend the Bruins for figuring it out, they have a long way to go to please their fans.
It’s March. No stock report this week as we have conference tournament previews.
BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE: This is a league that’s grown in numbers and appears to be undergoing a changing of the guard. UNC-Asheville and Coastal Carolina had been at or near the top of the standings lately, but this year Charleston Southern and High Point have taken over that mantle. I like experience and until proven otherwise, I think UNC-Asheville will find itself in the NCAA tournament again.
HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler is gone, but the top of the conference looks similar to last season. Valparaiso finished in first, the same place it finished in 2012 while Detroit finished second – one spot above where it finished last year. In the conference tournament Detroit avenged regular season losses to Valpo to get to the dance. I think Detroit is the more talented and more explosive team and will go dancing again.
OHIO VALLEY: One of the more underrated moves in conference realignment was Belmont leaving the Atlantic Sun to go to the OVC. That move has proven to be a good one for the Bruins as they won the regular season title in the league while gaining a conference mate that rivals them in quality in Murray St. The Racers return one of the best players in the country in Isaiah Canaan, but did not finish the season well. Watch out for Eastern Kentucky, but I think you have to go with the Bruins in this league.
ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami earlier this season and looked to be in good shape. However, Mercer walked the Eagles down even with a loss to them last week. Mercer is hosting the conference tournament and I expect the Bears to be tough to beat on their home court.
On to the Bracket.
Last Four In: Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Villanova, Iowa St
Last Four Out: Kentucky, Alabama, Iowa, Arizona St
Marquette was expected to be among the favorites in the Big East, but I’m not sure many people thought the Golden Eagles would be this good. Their currently second in the conference with a 13-3 league record losing just one of their last 13 games.
Marquette doesn’t have a lot of size, but have two outstanding players in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. These are two players that can carry the Golden Eagles in March. Johnson-Odom, the Tobacco Road-native, is one of the best shooters in the Big East as he makes over 40 percent of his three-pointers. Crowder is a matchup nightmare who’s physical enough to score in the paint, but can also step outside and show range on his jumper.
This team may not rebound the ball well and may be unconventional, but it’s going to play hard and defend to the best of its ability. When you can do that with two all-Big East caliber players, you can make some noise.
No Stock Report this week as we preview some mid-major conference tournaments.
BIG SOUTH: This is pretty simple. UNC-Asheville is the most experienced and clearly the best team in this conference. The Bulldogs finished four games better than it’s next closest rival, Coastal Carolina. Throw in the fact that all games would be played in Asheville and it will be extremely difficult to unseat the Bulldogs as Big South champions.
HORIZON LEAGUE: This figures to be one of the more competitive tournaments in all of college basketball. Valparaiso won the conference outright with a 14-4 record, but showed some kinks in the armor down the stretch. The Crusaders along with Cleveland St will be protected seeds getting byes until the semifinals, but I’m not sure that’s going to protect them. I’m picking the Detroit Titans to find a way to dance.
OHIO VALLEY: In the games leading up to its loss to Tennessee St, Murray St did not look like an at-large candidate. Since that loss, they’ve been playing like a team possessed. The Racers have their mojo and motivation back and is out to prove a point. They’ll be going dancing.
ATLANTIC SUN: At one point this season, the race for the regular season title was heated. That was before Mercer lost three of its last four games to hand Belmont the league title. There’s good news for Mercer though, it’s hosting the conference tournament and had Belmont on the ropes in the regular season finale. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. I don’t think Belmont can do it. Mercer is going dancing for the first time in 27 years.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Dayton, Northwestern, Miami(FL), Texas
Last Four Out: St. Joseph’s, Colorado St, Arizona, UCF
Good for Games through 2/26
1.Kentucky16.Stony Brook/Savannah St Louisville
5.Indiana12.West Virginia Louisville
6.Murray St11.Connecticut Albuquerque
7.Florida St10.Cincinnati Pittsburgh
1.Michigan St16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Columbus
I can’t remember when BracketBuster games were more important. Saint Mary’s vs. Murray St is probably the marquee matchup as both teams badly need to win. I can say the same about Creighton, but Long Beach St may solidify an at-large berth with a win. CAA can make a big move as a conference with a good weekend.
Watch Loyola Marymount as a potential at-large candidate
Last Four In: Northwestern, Miami(FL), Illinois, NC State
Last Four Out: Minnesota, Washington, UCF, St. Josephs
1.Kentucky16.Vermont/Savannah St Louisville
5.Wichita St12.Kansas St Nashville
4.Temple13.Middle Tennessee St
6.San Diego St11.Seton Hall Portland
7.St. Mary’s10.Iowa St Greensboro
1.Ohio St16.Long Island Pittsburgh
4.Notre Dame13.Long Beach St
1.Missouri16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Omaha
Last month, it looked like Ohio St was going to win the Big Ten championship in a landslide. Now the Purdue Boilermakers are making their claim for a piece of that title.
Some wrote the Boilermakers off after Robbie Hummel suffered another torn ACL. However, there was still plenty of talent left in the cupboard in West Lafayette, Ind.
JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have been outstanding for the Boilermakers averaging 20.4 and 18.5 points per game respectively. They have more than picked up the slack for Hummel and look like they’re positioning themselves for a deep run this March.
The Boilers are ending the season with two very winnable games at home against Illinois and on the road at Iowa. If Wisconsin can manage to upset Ohio St on Sunday, they can possibly claim a share of the Big Ten title and an outstanding chance for a No. 1 seed.
No Stock Report this week as we preview some mid-major conference tournaments.
BIG SOUTH: This one is hard to call. Coastal Carolina was cruising before an injury to Kierre Greenwood and a suspension to Desmond Holloway derailed its dreams. Now head coach Cliff Ellis is hiring lawyers in response to media reports about the state of his program. It doesn’t smell like a team ready to claim a NCAA bid. It’s sad to see, but I don’t see Coastal getting past the semi-finals. In the Chanticleers place will be the Liberty Flames.
OHIO VALLEY: Anybody who doesn’t want to see Murray St and Morehead St duke it out one more time doesn’t like college basketball. Murray St is a squad that I thought would be in position for an at-large bid this season, but the Racers struggled against their ramped up schedule. Meanwhile, Morehead St has one of the best players in the nation in Kenneth Faried, the NCAA all-time rebounding leader. I expect the two to meet again in the finals with Murray St coming out on top.
ATLANTIC SUN: Belmont has been in complete control of the Atlantic Sun the entire year. The Bruins have lost four games all year and only one of those came in league play. This team has been one of the dominant programs in the Atlantic Sun since it joined the league and this year reinforced that. There’s nothing indicating any team other than Belmont has a chance. The Bruins are going dancing.
HORIZON LEAGUE: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in all of college basketball. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Butler and Cleveland St tied for the league title at 13-5 with Valparaiso finishing in fourth at 12-6. In fact, only 3 games separate first and sixth place. This is pretty much a toss up, but you have to go with the experience of the underachieving Butler Bulldogs to return to the NCAA tournament.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Washington St, Baylor, Richmond, Alabama
Last Four Out: Memphis, Butler, Penn St, California
Good for Games through 2/27
1.Kansas16.McNeese St/Texas Southern Tulsa
5.Xavier12.Missouri St Tucson
6.Villanova11.Washington Washington, D.C.
7.Missouri10.Virginia Tech Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Murray St SOUTHEAST
1.Purdue16.Long Island Chicago
6.Texas A&M11.Alabama/Washington St Washington, D.C.
7.UNLV10.Michigan St Charlotte
1.BYU16.Coastal Carolina Denver
6.Kansas St11.St. Mary’s Charlotte
2.Pittsburgh15.Long Beach St EAST
1.Ohio St16.Northern Colorado/Bethune-Cookman Cleveland
8.West Virginia9.Florida St
4.San Diego St13.Charleston
7.George Mason10.Cincinnati Tulsa
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.