It was apparent last season that Larry Krystkowiak was on to something. However, no one knew he was on to this. The Utah Utes have staked their claim as one of the premier teams out west and it’s because of the talent they can roll out there.
The Utes are led by do everything guard Delon Wright, who is tracking to be a first-team all-American. The senior guard is averaging nearly 15 points, over four rebounds and a little under six assists per game. He leads an attack that also features Jakob Poeltl, the Austrian import that has NBA scouts watching, and three-point marksman Brandon Taylor.
They are efficient. They can defend. They’re big. They’re good. This is a team that appears to be a legitimate contender to get to the Final Four.
Stock Up: Albany. The Great Danes are undefeated in the America East and seem very interested in making a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
Stock Down: Texas. The Longhorns have lost 5 out of their last 7. I understand that the Big XII is competitive, but they should probably put a few wins together.
Stock Up: UCLA. The Bruins aren’t in the bracket below, but a 2-0 week would be huge after beating Colorado and Utah last week.
Stock Down: VCU. Unfortunately for the Rams; Briante Weber went down with a season-ending knee injury in their loss to Richmond. He was the heart and soul and the key to VCU’s havoc defense. It’ll be interesting to see if VCU can bounce back.
On to the bracket.
Last Four In: Michigan St, Miami(FL), NC State, Iowa
Last Four Out: Texas A&M, Colorado St, Temple, St. John’s
Today we’re going to examine the resumes of several teams on the bubble. Central Florida, Colorado St, Connecticut, Loyola Marymount, Miami(FL), NC State, Northwestern, Seton Hall, St. Joseph’s, Texas, Washington, Xavier
Record: 19-7 (8-4 Conference-USA)
Key Wins: Connecticut, Memphis
Key Losses: Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa
Outlook: UCF is just 2-4 against Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulsa and Marshall – the other top teams in Conference USA. Still has a road game at Memphis but will probably need to get to at-least the Conference USA title game to feel good about their chances.
Record: 16-9 (5-5 Mountain West)
Key Wins: Colorado, Denver, Wyoming, San Diego St
Key Losses: TCU, Boise St
Outlook: The Rams still have a road game at San Diego St sandwiched between home games against New Mexico and UNLV so the opportunity to make a jump is there. It’ll be difficult, but if the Rams can go 3-1 in their last four and get to the semi-finals of the Mountain West tournament then that will probably be enough for a bid.
Record: 16-10 (6-8 Big East)
Key Wins: Florida St, Harvard, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Seton Hall
Key Losses: Rutgers, Tennessee
Outlook: The Huskies will have one of the top two or three strength of schedules in the country. Despite the issue that have plagued them, they have a favorable schedule down the stretch. A split in their last four and a visit to the quarters will get them to the Big Dance.
Record: 18-10 (10-4 West Coast)
Key Wins: Saint Louis, BYU, Saint Mary’s
Key Losses: Columbia, North Texas, Morgan St
Outlook: The Lions’ wins over Saint Louis, BYU and Saint Mary’s are better than any wins many of the teams on this list will have. Those losses to Columbia, North Texas and Morgan St give severe pause though. May have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to get in, if they get to final they’ll be seriously considered.
Record: 16-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Massachusetts, Duke
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Miami has just one quality win, but a win in Cameron carries a lot of weight. The Hurricanes have a pretty solid strength of schedule, but are just 1-6 against the top 50. They go to Maryland followed by a home game against Florida St and a road game at NC State. Their margin of error is extremely slim.
Record: 18-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Texas, Miami (FL)
Key Losses: Stanford, Georgia Tech
Outlook: NC State had the worst week ever last week. The Wolfpack lost a game it had won at Duke and then lost at home to Florida St where two of it’s legends were kicked out of the arena. Win those two games and they’re not even on this list. NC State has North Carolina and Miami at home coming up. The opportunity to solidify a tournament berth is still available.
Outlook: The Wildcats have never gone to the NCAA tournament before, but that all can change this season. They have Michigan and Ohio St at home along with trips to Penn St and Iowa. 4-0 definitely, 3-1 probably, 2-2 and they better get to the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Record: 18-9 (7-8)
Key Wins: Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton, West Virginia, Connecticut, Pittsburgh
Key Losses: Villanova
Outlook: Solid Strength of schedule, but still has a lot of work to do. The Pirates have Georgetown at home this week and that will go a long way. Remaining games versus Rutgers and Depaul are more can’t lose than must wins. If Seton Hall goes 2-1, one of those two needs to be against Georgetown.
Outlook: The Hawks are benefitting from a weak bubble. They’re currently 0-3 against Temple, Saint Louis and Xavier, which makes their game against Temple on Saturday uber-important. They lose that game and they’re probably looking at winning the Atlantic-10 tournament to get in.
Record: 17-10 (7-7 Big 12)
Key Wins: Temple, Oklahoma St, Iowa St, Kansas St
Key Losses: Oregon St
Outlook: The Longhorns host Baylor tonight and close the season at Kansas. They have four games remaining and I thing going 3-1 in those games will get them in. Under no circumstances can they lose to Texas Tech or Oklahoma.
Record: 19-8 (12-3 Pac-12)
Key Wins: Oregon, Arizona (2)
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Washington is going to have to finish at least tied for the Pac-12 regular season title and make it to the championship game to get an at-large berth. Whether the committee wants to admit it or not; winning the regular season title of a power six conference carries weight.
Record: 17-9 (8-4 Atlantic-10)
Key Wins: Vanderbilt, Purdue, Cincinnati, Duquesne, St. Josephs, Dayton
Key Losses: Hawaii
Outlook: While the Musketeers haven’t been playing as well as they had been before the brawl, they still have the same roster. That means this team is still capable of winning big games. One of the best resumes on this list and may have a larger margin for error than other team seen here. Still, I’d go 3-1 down the stretch if I were Xavier.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: St. Josephs, Connecticut, Miami (FL), Seton Hall
Last Four Out: UCF, NC State, Colorado St, Illinois
Good for games through of 2/19
1.Kentucky16.Vermont/Savannah St Louisville
6.UNLV11.Mississippi St Columbus
1.Duke16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Greensboro
1. Duke Blue Devils
Location: Durham, NC Record: 30-4 Automatic Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Champions Key Players: Nolan Smith (21.3 ppg, 5.2 apg), Kyle Singler (17.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Seth Curry (9.5 ppg), Mason Plumlee (8.5 rpg) Strength: Duke is one of the most experienced teams in the country as it returns much of the team that won the national championship last season. Led by seniors, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, the Devils picked up where they left off last season. This team has been focused and primed for a repeat and are very capable of doing that. The Blue Devils may have been the most surprising No. 1 seed to ever win a national championship last season, but they won’t shock anyone if they repeat. Weakness: This is a solid three-point shooting team, but if it’s off it really throws them into a tizzy. Almost 35 percent of Duke’s field goal attempts are from behind the arc so if its not making a good percentage of them it makes it very difficult for it to score. Duke has size inside, but it must learn to lean on it a bit more or it could come back to haunt it.
2. San Diego State Aztecs
Location: San Diego, CA Record: 32-2 Automatic Bid: Mountain West Conference Champions Key Players: Kawhi Leonard (15.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Malcolm Thomas (11.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg), D.J. Gay (11.2 ppg), Billy White (9.9 ppg), Chase Tapley (8.4 ppg) Strength: This is a very tough team. The Aztecs are grown men on the boards as they are first in the Mountain West in rebounding margin. They also defend as they only allow their opponents to shoot 39.6 three from the field and 30.9 percent from three. They do a great job taking teams out of what they like to do and just pound teams into submission. Any team that wants to beat them will have to match their toughness and judging by their record, that’s been easier said than done. Weakness: The Aztecs have been able to get through the Mountain West schedule with a seven-man rotation, but that’s not going to cut it in the NCAA Tournament. D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Kawhi Leonard all play a lot of minutes and that could come back to haunt the Aztecs. This is a supremely talented team, but it’s going to take more than just the talent in the starting five to make it to the Final Four.
3. Connecticut Huskies
Location: Storrs, CT Record: 26-9 Automatic Bid: Big East Champions Key Players: Kemba Walker (23.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Jeremy Lamb (10.3 ppg), Alex Oriakhi (10 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Shabazz Napier (8.3 ppg), Roscoe Smith (5.1 rpg) Strength: The world knows by now that to beat Connecticut you have to find a way to contain Kemba Walker. Walker, a national player of the year candidate, has been hard for everybody to stop. Teams have tried zone and man against him and somehow, he’s managed to still score and carry his team. The show he put on in the Big East Tournament was amazing and he’s fully capable of duplicating that in the Big Dance. Weakness: Outside of Walker, the Huskies just haven’t gotten consistent production from the rest of the roster all year. There have been nights when Jeremy Lamb or Alex Oriakhi have really scored, but not on a night-in night-out basis. Due to that, many teams have played zone against Connecticut and it has worked. The Huskies shoot only 43.3 percent from the field. If Walker’s supporting cast doesn’t step up Connecticut could ripe for an upset.
4. Texas Longhorns
Location: Austin, TX Record: 27-7 At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference Key Players: Jordan Hamilton (18.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Tristan Thompson (13.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Gary Johnson (11.5 ppg, 7 rpg), Cory Joesph (10.5 ppg), J’Covan Brown (9.8 ppg) Strength: Texas may have the most talented starting five in America. Texas has any number of guys who can fill it up led by freshman Tristan Thompson. The Longhorns have shown they can beat anyone in the country as evident by their win at Kansas. They are hard to guard together and can score in bunches. This team will be tough to beat and is capable of making a deep run in the Big Dance. Weakness: Texas is still a very young team. The Longhorns get a lot of production from underclassmen and that could be a detriment in the tournament. They’ve already shown a lack of maturity in some of their losses this year and it’s quite possible that it can happen again. Texas’ young players are no doubt talented, but that was also the case in 2007 with Kevin Durant and that ended with a second round loss to USC. There’s plenty of evidence here to say that may happen again.
5. Arizona Wildcats
Location: Tucson, AZ Record: 27-7 At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference Key Players: Derrick Williams (19.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Lamont Jones (9.6 ppg), Kyle Fogg (8.3 ppg) Strength: It’s easy to see why the Wildcats have had a renaissance year and he wears No. 23. Derrick Williams is an All-American and a load in the paint. He has carried this team all season long with his stellar play. He really has no peer at his position in college basketball and his teammates have done a good job of playing off of him. Williams is a great college basketball player – one with the talent to take the Wildcats on a long run. Weakness: The Wildcats struggle mightily when they turn the ball over. They sit in eight place in the Pac-10. The team can be really explosive when they’re playing well, but they can also give games away with their carelessness. Even Williams, as good as he is, is a turnover factory as he leads the team with 86 turnovers and just 37 assists. If the Wildcats don’t take care of the ball they could lose to anybody.
6. Cincinnati Bearcats
Location: Cincinnati, OH Record: 25-8 At-Large Bid: Big East Conference Key Players: Yancy Gates (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Dion Dixon (11.6 ppg), Sean Kilpatrick (9.9 ppg), Cashmere Wright (8.9 ppg), Rashad Bishop (8.1 ppg) Strength: The Bearcats, just like most teams in the Big East, are an awesome defensive team. Cincinnati’s 41.1 percent field-goal percentage defense yields just 59.2 points per game from opponents; good enough for first in the conference. Their guards are great at pressuring the basketball and they have enough length to bother jump shooters. Cincinnati may have flown under the radar, but they’ll prove to be a match-up nightmare in the NCAA Tournament. Weakness: Cincinnati struggles mightily to score. The Bearcats are one of the worst shooting teams in the Big East as they only shoot 43.6 percent from the field on the year. In fact, the Bearcats second through fifth leading scorers don’t come anywhere near shooting 50 percent. Cincinnati has to make games ugly to win, but if they play against a team that gets hot, there won’t be much it can do to stay in it.
7. Temple Owls
Location: Philadelphia, PA Record: 25-7 At-Large Bid: Atlantic-10 Conference Key Players: Ramone Moore (14.9 ppg), Lavoy Allen (11.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Juan Fernandez (10.7 ppg), Khalif Wyatt (10 ppg), Rahlir Jefferson (5.1 rpg) Strength: Temple has one of the most frustrating styles of play to prepare for. The Owls play a deliberate style where they control tempo on offense and play tough defense. They’re physical and tough inside with Lavoy Allen. Their experienced on the perimeter with the unflappable Juan Fernandez. It’s not the most beautiful brand of basketball to watch, but it is very effective. Weakness: Injuries have really depleted the Owls this season. Temple’s rotation is virtually nonexistent now. Temple only played seven players in their Atlantic 10 semifinal loss to Richmond. The Owls cannot afford any foul trouble because all that’s left at this point are walk-ons. If Temple plays a team with great depth, it may be in serious trouble.
8. Michigan Wolverines
Location: Ann Arbor, MI Record: 20-13 At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference Key Players: Darius Morris (15.2 ppg, 6.7 apg), Tim Hardaway Jr. (13.9 ppg), Jordan Morgan (9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Zack Novak (8.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) Strength: Coach John Beilein has one of the most unusual styles of play in America. The Wolverines love to spread teams out and shoot three pointers. They have outstanding guards, who’ve led the team to shoot a respectable 35.3 percent from behind the arc. Once teams decide to guard Michigan on the three point line, it opens up the lane for layups. Beilein’s West Virginia team got hot and made it to the Elite 8 in 2005 so there’s no reason to believe this Michigan team can’t have success too. Weakness: The Wolverines are extremely weak on the boards. It’s surprising that Michigan was successful in the rugged Big Ten. Michigan was 10th in the conference in rebounding Margin with the likes of Iowa and Indiana finishing ahead of it. That’s part of the reason why the Wolverines were a middling team in the conference and could be the reason why they are booted out of the Big Dance quickly.
9. Tennessee Volunteers
Location: Knoxville, TN Record: 19-14 At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference Key Players: Scotty Hopson (17.4 ppg), Tobias Harris (15.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Cameron Tatum (8.9 ppg), Melvin Goins (8.1 ppg), Brian Williams (7.7 rpg) Strength: Scotty Hopson had a great season for Tennessee. He is one of the most explosive players in the nation and has put up huge numbers against solid defensive teams. Hopson scored 27 on Pittsburgh and 32 on Georgia. He has solid teammates around him who complement his talents very well. If Hopson gets going in the Big Dance, he can carry Tennessee to the second weekend. Weakness: There was only one team in the SEC that got to the free-throw line more than Tennessee, yet it is only eighth in free-throw percentage. Three key guys in the Volunteers’ rotation shoot sub-70 percent from the charity stripe. This is key in pressure situations when free-throws are so important. The Vols have to get the right people to the line or they may give a win away.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
Location: State College, PA Record: 19-14 At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference Key Players: Talor Battle (20.1 ppg), Jeff Brooks (13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg), David Jackson (9.8 ppg), Andrew Jones (5.5 rpg) Strength: Penn St goes as Talor Battle goes. The Nittany Lions follow the lead of Battle who is one of the best players in the nation. Battle has toiled in relative obscurity in State College for four years, but he finally gets his moment in the sun making the first NCAA Tournament of his career. If he gets hot, he can be the catalyst to get the Nittany Lions to the second weekend. Weakness: Watching Penn St play on offense is not a pleasant experience. The Nittany Lions are one of the worst teams in the tournament offensively as they score only 63 points per game. They have no explosion offensively and cannot get down by double digits. The Lions want to grind wins out, but on offense, it seems as though that strategy backfires.
11. Missouri Tigers
Location: Columbia, MO Record: 23-10 At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference Key Players: Marcus Denmon (17.1 ppg), Laurence Bowers (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Ricardo Ratliff (10.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Kim English (10.2 ppg), Michael Dixon (10.2 ppg) Strength: Coach Mike Anderson’s “fastest 40 minutes in basketball” is basketball on roller skates. It’s fun to watch, but it’s also difficult to prepare for and that’s what makes Missouri tough. The Tigers employ one of the nation’s most effective full court pressure defenses. They force over 18 turnovers a game and they use those turnovers to fuel their offense. If the Tigers can impose their will with their style of play, they can make a little noise in the Big Dance. Weakness: This is one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big XII. The tigers get out-rebounded by nearly two boards per game. A lot of that has to do with the Tigers wanting to get out and run, but it also has to do with the fact that Missouri’s big men don’t give consistent production going to the glass. Rebounds can be had against this team and if it gives up too many, it could be one-and-done.
12. Memphis Tigers
Location: Memphis, TN Record: 25-9 Automatic Bid: Conference-USA Key Players: Will Barton (12.3 ppg, 5 rpg), Joe Jackson (9.9 ppg), Tank Black (9.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Wesley Witherspoon (9 ppg) Strength: Memphis is one of the most athletic teams in the country. Josh Pastner has built this team in the mold that his predecessor, John Calipari, built his teams. The Memphis roster is full of guys who love to get up-and-down the court and they do it well. The Tigers are treacherous on the fast break and can turn a game into a highlight reel in a hurry. It’s the way they like to play and it’s the way they earned their way to the tournament. Weakness: Memphis is young and very mistake-prone. The Tigers are ninth in Conference-USA in turnover margin as they turn the ball over 15.3 times per game. The Tigers can be exciting to watch, but they can also be frustrating at the same time. They’ve lost games with their out-of-control play this year and they’ll have to reign it in if they expect to have staying power in the Big Dance.
13. Oakland Grizzlies
Location: Rochester, MI Record: 25-9 Automatic Bid: Summit League Champions Key Players: Keith Benson (18 ppg, 10.1 rpg), Reggie Hamilton (17.4 ppg, 5.4 apg), Will Hudson (12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Travis Bader (10.5 ppg), Larry Wright (9.8 ppg) Strength: This team can score and can do it in bunches. Oakland is second nationally in points per game at 85.6. The Grizzlies have four guys who average double figures led by Keith Benson, a future pro. This team is difficult to guard and that’s evident in their win over Tennessee where it scored 89 points. If this team gets hot, it’s not only a threat to win one game, but don’t be shocked to see it in the Sweet 16. Weakness: The Grizzlies can be so focused on scoring that they can forget that they have to play defense as well. Oakland allows its opponents to score over 76 points per game, second worst in the Summit League. The Grizzlies will not be able to outscore everyone, especially given the talent level in the Big Dance. If Oakland doesn’t make a commitment to the defensive end, it could be one-and-done.
14. Bucknell Bison
Location: Lewisburg, PA Record: 25-8 Automatic Bid: Patriot League Champions Key Players: Mike Muscala (14.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Bryson Johnson (11.7 ppg), G.W. Boon (8.8 ppg), Darryl Shazier (8.3 ppg, 5.6 apg) Strength: Bucknell was able to rip through Patriot League competition on the strength of its defense. The Bison were first in the Patriot League in field-goal percentage defense, three-point field-goal percentage defense, and points allowed. That kind of success on the defensive end yielded only one loss in league play and can make the Bison competitive in the Big Dance. Bucknell has a history of success in the NCAA Tournament. If it is able to defend like it has all season, it may add to that. Weakness: Bucknell likes to play close to the vest and control tempo because of its lack of depth. That may be an issue if the Bison get in any foul trouble. Bucknell has seven players averaging 20 minutes or more per game and then there’s a huge drop off in before the next closest player. The book on Bucknell will be to press them or get them into foul trouble and if Bucknell isn’t able to manage that it may have a very short stay in the tournament.
15. Northern Colorado Bears
Location: Greeley, CO Record: 21-10 Automatic Bid: Big Sky Conference Champions Key Players: Devon Beitzel (21.4 ppg), Neal Kingman (10.6 ppg), Chris Kaba (9.5 ppg), Mike Proctor (5.6 rpg), Taylor Montgomery (5.7 rpg) Strength: Northern Colorado is one of the best rebounding teams on the mid-major level. The Bears are No. 1 in the Big Sky in rebounding margin at 5.4 per game. They’re also second in the conference in offensive rebounds and first in offensive rebound percentage getting over 35 percent of their misses. If the Bears are able to out-rebound their opponent, they may be able to cause a scare. Weakness: This is a team that is too reliant on Devon Beitzel to score. Beitzel, the conference’s player of the year, is a great player, but he’s going to need help for Northern Colorado to be successful. If he has an off night this team isn’t capable of being close to anyone in the tournament. Beitzel not only has to score, but he’s going to have to get some partners in crime to be successful.
16. Hampton Pirates
Location: Hampton, VA Record: 24-8 Automatic Bid: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champions Key Players: Darrion Pellum (17.7 ppg), Kwame Morgan (16.5 ppg), Charles Funches (10.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) Strength: Hampton is easily one of the best defensive teams on the mid-major level. The Pirates hold their opponents to just 37.9 percent shooting – good enough for first in the MEAC. It’s allowed Hampton to do major things in the non-conference portion of it’s schedule, including beating George Washington, Colorado St and fellow NCAA Tournament team, Boston University. Teams only averaged 57 points per game against the Pirates in the MEAC Tournament and they hope to duplicate that play in the Big Dance. Weakness: The Pirates offensive efficiency is some of the worst you’ll see in the NCAA Tournament. Hampton shoots only 40.7 percent from the field and 32.5 percent form behind the three-point line. The Pirates are even bad from the free-throw line only making 65 percent of those as well. This all leads to a poorest 67.2 points per game in the MEAC. If the Pirates can’t score in the tournament, they’ll have no chance to even be close.
The return to prominence of Arizona has been remarkable under second-year coach Sean Miller. The Wildcats, who were thought to have fringe NCAA Tournament chances, are now almost at lock status with a high seed.
Miller came to Arizona after a successful run at Xavier. He kept that program afloat after replacing Thad Matta, and now has Arizona back on top in the Pac-10 after years of turmoil at the coaching position.
The trouble can be traced back to the beginning of the 2007-2008 season when it was announced that legendary coach Lute Olson was taking a leave of absence from coaching for the season. Journeyman coach Kevin O’Neill replaced Olson on what he believed to be a promise that he’d be Olson’s successor.
That season, despite great talent, the Wildcats struggled. At a postseason press conference, Olson became very agitated with reporters and announced that O’Neill would not be returning to coach at Arizona in any capacity.
Olson was then set to return to the bench, but just before the season began, he abruptly retired; citing health concerns. Russ Pennell coached another Wildcat squad that barely made the tournament, but parlayed their selection to the Sweet 16.
Enter Miller. Anyone who knows college basketball knows that he was going to turn this program back around. He’s one of the best young coaches in the game and has great contacts.
Arizona is back and soon, so will the Pac-(12)10.
Stock Up: Princeton. The first-place team in the Ivy League looks poised to reclaim its dominant position as the class of the conference. Coach Sydney Johnson’s Tigers have performed very admirably for team out of the Ivy – already recording four RPI top-100 wins. It’s already beaten it’s primary challenger, Harvard, at home with a return trip set for later in the season. If this keeps up, the Tigers may be heading for a pretty nice seed in the tournament.
Stock Down: Maryland. Get ready to hear Gary Williams complain about more NCAA tournament berths for the ACC because his team didn’t get the job done on the court. Maryland has had golden opportunities to get quality wins, but just haven’t been able to do so. There’s no weight to Williams’ argument if he even has one this season. The Terrapins are just going to have to win the ACC tournament to get in.
Stock Up: Texas. Could this be the best team in the Country? It seems the chemistry problems that plagued last season’s uber-talented Longhorn squad are long gone. Rick Barnes has found a way to get his guys to play certain roles. It also doesn’t hurt to have a guy like Jordan Hamilton, who is one of the best players in the nation. Texas seems poised for a Final Four run reminiscent of its 2003 team.
Stock Down: Michigan St. I don’t like this team any more than Tom Izzo does. This is not the way Michigan St plays basketball. The Spartans are always tough and rugged. They kill teams on the glass and play in your face defense. This team lacks all that toughness and it’s very surprising. This is a veteran group that many saw as the favorite to win the national championship. At this point, this team might have to set its sights on winning the NIT.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: Gonzaga, Alabama, Memphis, Cincinnati
Last Four Out: Virginia Commonwealth, Baylor, Virginia Tech, New Mexico
Good for Games through 2/14
1.Texas16.Long Beach St/McNeese St Tulsa
5.North Carolina12.Memphis/Alabama Washington, D.C.
6.Kentucky11.Michigan St Charlotte
7.St. John’s10.Utah St Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Bucknell WEST
5.Xavier12.Boston College Tampa
6.Missouri11.Colorado St Washington, D.C.
7.St. Mary’s10.Marquette Charlotte
1.Pittsburgh16.Murray St Cleveland
8.Kansas St9.Old Dominion
7.Florida St10.Georgia Denver
1.Ohio St16.Long Island/Texas Southern Cleveland
5.Texas A&M12.Missouri St Tucson
2.Notre Dame15.Florida Atlantic
1. Kentucky Wildcats Location: Lexington, Ky. Record: 32-2 Automatic Bid: Southeastern Conference Champions Key Players: John Wall (16.9 ppg, 6.4 apg), DeMarcus Cousins (15.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg), Patrick Patterson (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Erick Bledsoe (10.8 ppg) Strength: This team has talent everywhere. Coach John Calipari brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country and they haven’t disappointed. John Wall has the entire state doing his dance while DeMarcus Cousins has owned opposing big men. They defend; they’re dangerous in transition and have guys who can create their own shot in the half-court. This is definitely a legit national title contender. Weakness: This team is young and has showed its youth on occasion. It hasn’t hurt the Wildcats so far, but the NCAA tournament is a different animal. There’s a whole other kind of pressure that comes with the Big Dance, especially when Kentucky is across the front of the uniform. If they show their immaturity at any point in this tournament it could be lights out for them.
2. West Virginia Mountaineers Location: Morgantown, W.V. Record: 27-6 Automatic Bid: Big East Conference Champions Key Players: Da’Sean Butler (17.4 ppg 6.3 rpg), Kevin Jones (13.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Devin Ebanks (11.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Darryl Bryant (9.7 ppg) Strength: West Virginia owns the backboards. The Mountaineers are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. They’re not big, but coach Bob Huggins makes it a prerequisite for players in his program to rebound. It’s such a weapon for a team that’s not explosive offensively. They lead the Big East in offensive rebound percentage at 42.4 percent. When a team is allowed that many second chances, it makes them extremely difficult to beat. Weakness: West Virginia really struggles to shoot at times. They’re streaky, but if you can make them miss and keep them off of the boards, they’re a really ordinary team. They’re only shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 69.6 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers are going to have to go up if they expect to make a deep run in the tournament.
3. New Mexico Lobos Location: Albuquerque, N.M. Record: 29-4 At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference Key Players: Darrington Hobson (16.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Roman Martinez (13.8 ppg, 6 rpg), Dairese Gary (12.7 ppg), Phillip McDonald (10.7 ppg), A.J. Hardeman (5.6 rpg) Strength: The Lobos have four guys who can light up the scoreboard with the best of them. Led by Darrington Hobson, the Lobos have the type of offensive balance most teams dream of. They score over 76 points per game and have a number of guys who can score at any given moment. The four all shoot a good percentage from behind the arc and have been consistent all year. If they’re getting good offensive outputs from all four, they’re a very tough out. Weakness: New Mexico gets a lot of production out of its four stars, but they get nothing out of anyone else. New Mexico has been good when the four guys get going, but what happens if one player doesn’t get it going. That’s the challenge New Mexico coach Steve Alford has to face this postseason. If one star doesn’t produce, than someone else will have to play outside of themselves for the Lobos to be successful.
4. Wisconsin Badgers Location: Madison, Wis. Record: 23-8 At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference Key Players: Trevon Hughes (15.4 ppg), Jon Leuer (14.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Jason Bohannon (11.8 ppg), Jordan Taylor (10.2 ppg), Keaton Nankivil (8.6 ppg) Strength: This team is about toughness and tempo. Bo Ryan-coached teams are going to defend well, hit the boards, and run their sets on offense. This team is no different. It’s not going to scare you with athleticism, but no team is going to be able to scare the Badgers using their athleticism either. They’re physical, disciplined and will scrap to the end. Weakness: Explosiveness is really lacking when you look at the Badgers. Not just offensively, where they don’t have a guy who can really take over a game, but they also don’t have a guy who can overwhelm you with his athleticism defensively. They’re not dangerous in transition and they can’t really challenge people at the rim. This is a typical Wisconsin team, which means if their toughness is matched, then they will be in a lot of trouble.
5. Temple Owls Location: Philadelphia, Pa. Record: 29-5 Automatic Bid: Atlantic 10 Champions Key Players: Ryan Brooks (14.3 ppg), Juan Fernandez (12.4 ppg,), Lavoy Allen (11.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg) Strength: Temple might be the best defensive team in the country. The Owls are first in the A-10 in field goal percentage defense at 37.9 percent and they’re second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage defense at 28.1 percent. They’re also No. 1 in the conference in defensive rebound percentage grabbing 72.5 percent of their opponents’ misses. They’re not only taking away initial offense, but they’re limiting second chances as well. This team will be a tough out in the tournament. Weakness: For a team that controls tempo, the Owls aren’t very efficient. Temple is only shooting 43.6 percent and having a negative turnover margin, Temple is a great offensive team. In addition to that, they’re shooting just 68.9 percent from the free-throw line. They only score 64.9 points per game which is good enough for 12th in the conference. They will need to be better offensively to have a chance for success in the tournament.
6. Marquette Golden Eagles Location: Milwaukee, Wis. Record: 22-11 At-Large Bid: Big East Conference Key Players: Lazar Hayward (18.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Jimmy Butler (14.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Darius Johnson-Odom (12.8 ppg), Maurice Acker (8.5 ppg) Strength: Whatever Marquette coach Buzz Williams is doing, he needs to bottle it up and sell it. There isn’t a team in the country that gives the effort night-in and night-out like the Golden Eagles. This team lost three of the greatest players in the history of the program last season and was able to come out and have an outstanding season. That’s due to how hard they play. They’re going to fight and claw to the end. It’s going to take an amazing effort to knock Marquette out of the tournament. Weakness: The Golden Eagles really lack a quality big man inside. This has shown up in their rebounding numbers and in post defense. They were out-rebounded by opponents by 1.2 rebounds per game. They’re in the bottom fourth of the Big East in every major rebounding category. Then there’s the matter of defending the post. There has been occasions where a team with a solid post player has really exploited Marquette. This will be an issue if Marquette plays a team with solid big men.
7. Clemson Tigers Location: Clemson, S.C. Record: 21-10 At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Key Players: Trevor Booker (15.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Demontez Stitt (11.1 ppg), Tanner Smith (8.9 ppg), Andre Young (8.9 ppg) Strength: Clemson has a style of play that many teams haven’t seen. Clemson will full-court press for 40 minutes and they have the athletes to make it work. With Trevor Booker at the top of the press, the Tigers force over 17 turnovers per game; close 10 of those come off of steals. Clemson takes turnovers and creates offense off of them. If they’re allowed to do that, they are a very dangerous team. Weakness: At just under 66 percent, the Tigers are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the ACC. The crazy thing is most of the team shoots pretty well from the charity stripe, but Trevor Booker is killing the team. He’s taken 69 more free throws than any of his teammates making just 59.2 percent. That is an issue for a team that relies on Booker to give it offensive production.
8. Texas Longhorns Location: Austin, Texas Record: 24-9 At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference Key Players: Damion James (18 ppg, 10.4 rpg), Avery Bradley (11.7 ppg), Dexter Pittman (10.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Jordan Hamilton (9.8 ppg), Gary Johnson (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), J’Covan Brown (9.3 ppg) Strength: Texas has guys in the post who are relentless on the boards. Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson are monsters on the glass. Their efforts helped Texas to a Big XII leading 42.2 rebounds per game, almost seven better than Texas’ opponents per game. James is especially tough. The 6’7” wingman has been the Longhorn’s most consistent player overall and just a complete animal on the boards. Weakness: Texas coach Rick Barnes still hasn’t figured out what to do with his roster. He had one of the country’s best recruiting classes last year and he thought he needed to play everyone. He didn’t figure out who should play and when and it became a major flow issue. It’s the primary reason why a team that was at one time, the No. 1 team in the nation, struggled mightily down the stretch.
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons Location: Winston-Salem, N.C. Record: 19-10 At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Key Players: Al-Farouq Aminu (15.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Ishmael Smith (13.3 ppg, 6 apg) , C.J. Harris (10 ppg), L.D. Williams (8.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Chas McFarland (7.1 rpg) Strength: Wake Forest is one of the best defensive teams in the ACC. They have athletic players which make for great defenders. The Demon Deacons are holding foes to just over 38 percent in overall field goal percentage, a little under 29 percent from behind the arc and they’re getting over seven steals per game. That defense has allowed them to get their transition game going and helped them to some huge wins this season. Weakness: Wake Forest just flat-out turns the ball over too much. The Demon Deacons are 11th and 12th in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio in the ACC respectively. Al-Farouq Aminu and Ishmael Smith are the cause of many of the issues as they turn the ball over 6.2 times per game. When the two players who dominate the ball at such an alarming rate, it will lead to misfortune and maybe another one-and-done trip to the tournament.
10. Missouri Tigers Location: Columbia, Mo Record: 22-10 At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference Key Players: Kim English (13.9 ppg), Marcus Denmon (10.8 ppg), Laurence Bowers (10.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), J.T. Tiller (8.8 ppg), Zaire Taylor (8.2 ppg) Strength: When the Missouri Tigers step on the floor it is surely to be an out of control affair. A lot of teams employ full-court presses, but none really do it quite the way the Tigers do. They always seem to toe the line of being a little too out of control, but that’s the way they like it. If they’re too frenetic then their opponent probably is too and if that’s the case, they are in their comfort zone. Weakness: Missouri struggles on the boards. The Tigers are one of the weakest rebounding teams in the Big XII. They’re 10th in the league, getting out-rebounded by an average of 2.6 rebounds per game. Being able to turn people over kind of masked that deficiency for most of the season, but against teams who take good care of the basketball, that could come back to haunt the Tigers.
11. Washington Huskies Location: Seattle, Wash. Record: 24-9 Automatic Bid: Pac-10 Conference Champions Key Players: Quincy Pondexter (19.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Isaiah Thomas (17.1 ppg), Matthew Bryan-Amaning (8.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Venoy Overton (8.5 ppg) Strength: Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas comprise one of the most potent one-two punches in the country. Between the two stars, they average about 37 points per game and, because of their efforts, the Huskies led the Pac-10 in scoring. Thomas is a quick point guard who’s tough to handle in transition while Pondexter is a tweener who can score in the post or from behind the arc. Weakness: What’s made the Huskies dynamic in previous seasons is having a dominant low-post presence. They don’t have one this season and that’s why they struggled against many of the good teams on their schedule. There’s no Jon Brockman or Spencer Hawes this season so that’s made them very perimeter dominant. Matthew Bryan-Amaning has been serviceable, but he hasn’t been the answer consistently. They need him to give a huge effort to be successful.
12. Cornell Big Red Location: Ithaca, N.Y. Record: 27-4 Automatic Bid: Ivy League Champions Key Players: Ryan Wittman (17.5 ppg), Jeff Foote (12.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Louis Dale (11.9 ppg), Chris Wroblewski Foote (8.9 ppg) Strength: Cornell is a bit atypical for a college basketball team, especially at the mid-major level. The Big Red has outstanding guards, a great post presence and a swing player who may play in the NBA. This team, once again, proved that it was too difficult to defend in the Ivy League and it is confident that’ll be too difficult to defend for its first-round opponent. Weakness: This is a team that’ll have issues against a team that can really shoot the three-point shot. The Big Red’s opponents are shooting around 35 percent from deep. That stat reared its ugly head big time in its loss to Penn. The Quakers shot over 52 percent from behind the arc. If they can’t defend three=pointers well, they’ll have another short stay in the tournament.
13. Wofford Terriers Location: Spartanburg, S.C. Record: 26-8 Automatic Bid: Southern Conference Champions Key Players: Noah Dahlman (16.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Jamar Diggs (9.4 ppg), Tim Johnson (7.9 rpg) Strength: The Terriers are an incredible defensive team. They hold their opponents to 41.8 percent shooting and 30.9 percent from three while forcing 14.3 turnovers per game. Teams are barely scoring 61 points per game on them. In fact, the Terriers have held 13 of their opponents under 60 points this season. That kind of defense led them to a pretty dominant year in the Southern Conference and will help them to a possible upset in the Big Dance. Weakness: This is a team that relies one man too much. Noah Dahlman is the conference’s player of the year, but he needs to have help for them to beat the talent they’ll face in the NCAA tournament. He’s the only player averaging in double figures and the only legitimate post presence they have. At just 6’6”, he’s going to play against guys who can match-up with him and Wofford is going to need a plan b to be successful.
14. Montana Grizzlies Location: Missoula, Mont. Record: 22-9 Automatic Bid: Big Sky Conference Champions Key Players: Anthony Johnson (19.6 ppg), Brian Qvale (9.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Ryan Staudacher (8.6 ppg), Will Cherry (8.3 ppg), Derek Selvig (5 rpg) Strength: Montana is the best defensive team in the Big Sky conference. The Grizzlies are holding their opponents to just 41.7 percent shooting from the floor. They’re third in the league in blocks and are in the top half of their league in defensive rebound percentage. That means they stop people and then refuse to give second chances. It helped them come back in the Big Sky Championship game and they hope it helps keep them competitive in the tournament. Weakness: Montana is really dependent on one man to play well. Anthony Johnson has to be aggressive and playing well for Montana to have any chance. In the first half against Weber St in the Big Sky Championship he only had eight first-half points and the Grizzlies found themselves down by 20. They were able to comeback in the second half, but they won’t be playing Weber St in the tournament. They’ll be playing a good team who won’t be easy to make up ground on.
15. Morgan State Bears Location: Baltimore, Md. Record: 27-9 Automatic Bid: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champions Key Players: Reggie Holmes (21.8 ppg), Kevin Thompson (12.8 ppg, 11.9 rpg), DeWayne Jackson (10.1 ppg), Troy Smith (9.3 ppg) Strength: The Bears will go as far as their two stars will take them. Forward Kevin Thompson and his backcourt mate Reggie Holmes are two of the best players at the low-major level. Holmes is leading scorer in Morgan St history and the success the program has enjoyed during his time at Morgan has him at the top of the list of the school’s all-time greats. If those two guys play well, the Bears will have a chance to be competitive. Weakness: The Bears’ depth is almost non-existent. Production drops incredibly once coach Todd Bozeman goes to his bench. The bears are getting a lot of production from their two aforementioned stars along with DeWayne Jackson and Troy Smith, but pass that there’s not much. There’s no way they’re going to be able to win a game without having another guy step up and play outside of himself.
16. East Tennessee State Buccaneers Location: Johnson City, Tenn. Record: 20-14 Automatic Bid: Atlantic Sun Conference Champions Key Players: Tommy Hubbard (14.1 ppg. 8.3 rpg), Micah Williams (12.5 ppg), Justin Tubbs (12 ppg) Strength: Across the board, East Tennessee St is outstanding defensively. The Buccaneers’ opponents are shooting a little over 41 percent while turning the ball over almost 17 times per game. Nothing gives you a chance to win like being able to stop defensively. The Buccaneers have done that all year and find themselves in the NCAA tournament, a very familiar place for the program. Weakness: There’s a reason why East Tennessee St has 14 losses and it’s because it is close to awful on the offensive end of the floor. The Buccaneers barely shoot over 43 percent from the floor, shoot 31 percent from behind the arc, and are in last place in the Atlantic Sun Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 0.73. Those numbers are too ugly to expect them to stay in this tournament for very long.