Tag: West Virginia

2018-2019 Big XII Preview

Preseason Player of the Year:

Dedric Lawson, Kansas

Preseason All-Conference Team:

Barry Brown, Kansas St

Jaylen Fisher, TCU

Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Dedric Lawson, Kansas

Dean Wade, Kansas St

Preseason Newcomer of the Year:

Dedric Lawson

Projected Order of Finish:

1. Kansas

Memphis transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson are eligible just in time for Bill Self. That’s because the Jayhawks have to replace Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailluk, and Malik Newman. The Lawson twins will be joined by newcomers Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes and David McCormack. Junior Udoka Azubuike and senior Lagerald Vick will provide stability and extra production for what I believe to be the best team in the country.

2. Kansas St

A direct beneficiary of UMBC upsetting Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Kansas St was able to use that fortune to make a run to the elite 8. That run was made, for the most part, without senior forward Dean Wade. He’s back and will be joined by other key returners in fellow senior Barry Brown, junior Xavier Sneed and sophomore Cartier Diarra. This is clearly Bruce Weber’s best team since being in charge in Manhattan.

3. West Virginia

“Press Virginia” is now a system that people believe in, but that belief will be put to the test now that Jevon Carter is in the NBA. There is still plenty here including one of the best rim protectors in the country in junior forward Sagaba Konate. Returning with him in the frontcourt will be senior Esa Ahmad and junior Lamont West while junior James Bolden will attempt to replace Carter in the backcourt.

4. TCU

Head coach Jamie Dixon is showing why he was so successful at Pitt. He’s turned this program around in short order with the help junior guard Jaylen Fisher. Fisher’s health is the key to season as he’s already had two knee surgeries this calendar year. Sophomore forward Kouat Noi, senior guard Alex Robinson and freshmen R.J. Nembhard, Kaden Archie and Kendric Davis will need to pick up the slack if Fisher isn’t at full strength early.

5. Iowa St

The Cyclones return much of what was a very competitive, albeit last place team in the Big XII last season. One the best scorers in the conference senior guard Lindell Wigginton is back with his backcourt mate senior Nick Weiler-Babb. Sophomore Cameron Lard returns in the frontcourt and he’ll be joined by Virginia transfer Marial Shayok and freshman Talen Horton-Tucker. There’s is plenty here to get the Cyclones back to the tournament.

6. Texas

Head coach Shaka Smart isn’t on the hot seat, but he might be if he doesn’t get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament this season. The problem is he may not have the roster for that kind of a run. Sophomore Matt Coleman III and senior Kerwin Roach II return in the backcourt for the Longhorns. A top-10 recruiting class should be able to provide plenty depth for Texas. Watch out to see if Texas can replace Mo Bamba’s rim protection.

7. Texas Tech

Chris Beard is making a name as one of the best X and O’s coaches in the country and he’ll have to use all of that to get his Red Raiders back to the tournament. Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith are gone leaving sophomore guard Jarrett Culver to carry the torch from last year’s outstanding team. Transfers Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney will be looked to for help as well. Freshmen Khavon Moore and Kyler Edwards are solid pieces for the future.

8. Baylor

This is one of the most intriguing teams in the league because there are so many unknowns. Transfers Mario Kegler and Makai Mason will be big pieces to their success while freshmen Matthew Mayer and Flo Thamba will have to be ready to hit the ground running. The league is probably just a little too difficult for the roster head coach Scott Drew has this season.

9. Oklahoma

The Sooners are going to have a helluva Trae Young hangover. Young dominated the ball last season and didn’t have much to work with. That is a significant reason why Oklahoma faltered down the stretch. Senior guard Christian James and sophomore forward Brady Manek do return though. Grad transfer Aaron Calixte will be tasked with replacing Young.

10. Oklahoma St

The Cowboys almost made the tournament last season, but head coach Mike Boynton lost quite a bit from that team. He’s going to need transfers Mike Cunningham and Curtis Jones as well as freshman Isaac Likekele to make an instant impact. The Cowboys are in a rebuilding year, but Boynton has the program in good shape.

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East Region Breakdown

1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Location:
Columbus, OH
Record: 32-2
Automatic Bid: Big Ten Conference Champions
Key Players: Jared Sullinger (17.2 ppg), William Buford (14.4 ppg), Jon Diebler (12.5 ppg), David Lighty (11.8 ppg)
Strength: The Buckeyes are one of most balanced teams in America. Led by all-everything freshman Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes can score in anyway imaginable. Sullinger demands double-teams in the post, but that allows him to kick out to open shooters on the perimeter and they’re knocking their shots down. This is one of the favorites to win the national championship and it’s because they can do everything.
Weakness: Ohio State may be a great team, but its not a very deep one. The Buckeyes have four guys who play over 30 minutes and that’s a lot. That will be difficult to manage in a tournament situation with a short turnaround. This is a great team, so in all honesty, it may be able to overcome the depth issue. However, if the Buckeyes lose, this could very well be the reason why.

2. North Carolina Tarheels
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Record: 26-7
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Harrison Barnes (15 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Tyler Zeller (14.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg), John Henson (11.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg), Kendall Marshall (5.8 apg)
Strength: Though he’s just a freshman, Kendall Marshall has completely changed the make up of the Tarheel squad. Marshall is a true point guard and has run this team like a seasoned vet. His play has sparked the confidence of his teammates, especially fellow freshman Harrison Barnes, who is playing the best basketball of the season. If Marshall keeps playing well, this North Carolina team can realistically dream about the Final Four.
Weakness: There are still worries about the youth of this team. Coach Roy Williams is leaning on a lot of underclassmen to be successful. Barnes, Marshall and sophomore John Henson are talented players, but not very experienced. This will be the first NCAA Tournament experience for them all so its unknown how they’ll handle the big stage. If they can’t handle it, the Tarheels will have a problem getting out of the first weekend.

3. Syracuse Orange
Location:
Syracuse, NY
Record: 26-7
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Kris Joseph (14.4 ppg, 5 rpg), Rick Jackson (13 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Scoop Jardine (12.8 ppg, 5.8 apg) Brandon Triche (11.3 ppg)
Strength: The Syracuse 2-3 zone is the best in the country. Jim Boeheim has perfected the zone and he has the right personnel to play it well. With Rick Jackson, the Big East Player of the Year, anchoring the back of the defense; the Syracuse zone is almost impenetrable on the interior. Syracuse, then has the length and quickness on the wing and perimeter to challenge outside shots. The zone is a thing of beauty and in a tournament scenario, it is difficult to prepare for.
Weakness: For Syracuse to be successful, it must get steady play from the point guard position. Scoop Jardine can hit tough shots and make big plays because he’s a risk taker. Jardine can also kill Syracuse’s chances because he’s a risk taker. If Jardine is playing well, he can be one of the great point guards in college basketball, but when he’s not the Orange is a very average basketball team. Average doesn’t win games in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Kentucky Wildcats
Location:
Lexington, KY
Record: 24-8
Automatic Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Brandon Knight (17.5 ppg), Terrence Jones (16.5 ppg, 9 rpg), Doron Lamb (13.2 ppg), Darius Miller (11.2 ppg), DeAndre Liggins (8.6 ppg), Josh Harrellson (8.8 rpg)
Strength: This is an explosive team. The Wildcats put up points in bunches. Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb may only be freshmen, but they can put up points in a hurry. Knight is finally settling into his role as point guard and Jones is an absolute nightmare with his versatility. This team is super talented and if it makes jump shots it has a legitimate shot at the Final Four.
Weakness: Kentucky’s youth will be severely tested in the NCAA Tournament. There’s always a risk when a team relies so heavily on underclassmen, even if those underclassmen are as good as Knight, Jones and Lamb. Last season, you saw a team not adjust to the defense West Virginia played and panicked by shooting a lot of ill-advised threes. Kentucky has to show more poise this year.

5. West Virginia Mountaineers
Location:
Morgantown, WV
Record: 20-11
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Casey Mitchell (14.1 ppg), Kevin Jones (13.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Darryl Bryant (10.9 ppg), John Flowers (9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Strength: As with all Bob Huggins-coached teams, this year’s edition of the Mountaineers is tough as nails. They rebound the basketball well as they finished second in the conference in offensive rebounds and offensive-rebound percentage. They also play tough, in your face defense as they only allow their opponents to shoot 40.9 percent from the field. Any team with desires to defeat West Virginia better know it’s in for a fight for 40 minutes.
Weakness: West Virginia has some awful offensive numbers. The Mountaineers have to be a great offensive rebounding team out of necessity, because they struggle to score. West Virginia is 12th in the Big East in field-goal percentage and 11th in three-point field-goal percentage. Outside of Casey Mitchell, no one on this team is capable of going for 25-plus so if this team meets its match on the boards, it could have a short stay in the tournament.

6. Xavier Musketeers
Location:
Cincinnati, OH
Record: 24-7
At-Large Bid: Atlantic-10 Conference
Key Players: Tu Holloway (20.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.5 apg), Mark Lyons (13.8 ppg), Kenny Frease (11.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Jamel McLean (10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg)
Strength: The Musketeers have a team with great balance. The Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, Tu Holloway leads the Musketeers, but they’re not a one-trick pony. Xavier has Mark Lyons to complement Holloway in the backcourt while Jamel McLean and Kenny Grease are a load to handle in the post. That balance makes the Musketeers difficult to guard and gives them an excellent chance to advance in the tournament.
Weakness: Xavier has a very short bench. The Musketeers really only have a seven-man rotation and the two reserves don’t provide much more than a brief respite for Xavier’s starters. Xavier has a talented starting five, but it’s not talented enough to overcome foul trouble or an opponent that likes to employ pressure defense. For Xavier to make a run, it’ll need a contribution from an unexpected source.

7. Washington Huskies
Location:
Seattle, WA
Record: 23-10
Automatic Bid: Pac-10 Conference Champions
Key Players: Isaiah Thomas (16.8 ppg, 6 apg), Matthew Bryan-Amaning (15.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Justin Holiday (10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), C.J. Wilcox (8.1 ppg)
Strength: Not many teams can score with the Huskies. Washington has one of the best point guards in America in Isaiah Thomas. Thomas loves to play in transition and that’s where Washington is at its best. The Huskies are third nationally scoring 83.5 points per game and they do it on 47 percent shooting. The Huskies have talent and are hard to guard. This is a dangerous team.
Weakness: This is a team that gives games away. The Huskies are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the Pac-10 at 66.7 percent. The fact of the matter is that Thomas, while not the worst shooter, should be shooting a much higher percentage than 70.6 percent as the point guard of the team. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, the team’s second-leading scorer and best low-post presence shoots just 61.4 percent. The Huskies struggles at the line could cost them postseason success.

8. George Mason Patriots
Location:
Fairfax, VA
Record: 26-6
At-Large Bid: Colonial Athletic Association
Key Players: Cam Long (15.1 ppg), Ryan Pearson (14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Luke Hancock (10.9 ppg), Andre Cornelius (10 ppg), Mike Morrison (5.5 rpg)
Strength: George Mason is one of the most efficient offensive teams on the mid-major level. The Patriots lead the CAA in assist-to-turnover ratio, field-goal percentage and three-point field-goal percentage. That efficiency led to a 15-game winning streak and a dominant season in one of the best mid-major conferences in America. They pass the ball well and have several guys who can score. George Mason will be hard to guard in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Any team that can’t be trusted at the free-throw line can’t be trusted in the Big Dance. George Mason is eighth in the CAA in free-throw percentage at 69 percent. There aren’t a lot of weaknesses in the Mason attack, but this could potentially be a major one. If the Patriots don’t knock down shots from the charity stripe, they could have a short stay in the tournament.

9. Villanova Wildcats
Location:
Villanova, PA
Record: 21-11
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Corey Fisher (15.4 ppg), Corey Stokes (15 ppg), Maalik Wayns (14 ppg), Antonio Pena (9.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Mouphtaou Yarou (8.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
Strength: Villanova has one of the best backcourts in the country. When Corey Fisher, Maalik Wayns and Corey Stokes are playing well, this is a very difficult team to beat. They’re tough in transition and you must respect their jumpers. These guys are explosive and if they all get going they can make a serious run in the tournament. Coach Jay Wright loves guard-laden teams and he has one that can do some damage.
Weakness: Team chemistry was an issue last season for the Wildcats and it appears to be a problem again. Villanova’s late-season slide went from troubling to embarrassing. The lost to South Florida in the Big East tournament was a bad sign reminding everyone of what happened to the team last season. Villanova barely beat Robert Morris in the first round last season before flaming out against St. Mary’s. It looks quite possible that the Wildcats could be one and done this year.

10. Georgia Bulldogs
Location:
Athens, GA
Record: 21-11
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Trey Tompkins (16.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Travis Leslie (14.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Gerald Robinson (12.2 ppg), Jeremy Price (9.2 ppg, 5 rpg), Dustin Ware (8.1 ppg)
Strength: Georgia is one of the most athletic teams in America. Led by the high-flying Travis Leslie, the Bulldogs are an exciting team in transition. Their athleticism also helps them defend as well. Georgia holds its opponents to just 39.6 percent shooting from the field. Georgia has the kind of athleticism teams just can’t simulate and that’s what will make it a match-up nightmare in March.
Weakness: Georgia’s five starters are as good as any in America, but after that there’s a tremendous drop-off. The Bulldogs’ bench production is minuscule. They only get 9.8 points per game from it’s bench. That’s not good enough. Some teams in America get that much from one reserve, let alone, all of them. Foul trouble or fatigue could doom the Bulldogs to a quick exit in the Big Dance.

11. Marquette Golden Eagles
Location:
Milwaukee, WI
Record: 20-14
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Jimmy Butler (16 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Darius Johnson-Odom (15.9 ppg), Jae Crowder (11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Dwight Buycks (9.2 ppg)
Strength: There aren’t many teams in the country with the versatility Marquette enjoys. The Golden Eagles have several players that can play multiple positions and can do multiple things. Jimmy Butler can play three positions, Vander Blue and Darius Johnson-Odom can play both guard spots while Jae Crowder is tough enough to play all three frontcourt positions. This team has interchangeable parts and loves to throw different lineups at its opponents. It’s the way the Golden Eagles keep their opponents off-balance on their way to 20 wins.
Weakness: Marquette is usually a perimter-oriented ball club and this year that’s still the case. The only problem with that is it leaves the Golden Eagles soft on the interior. Marquette is in the bottom half of the Big East in rebounding, but what’s worse is it still struggles to defend quality low-post scorers. If Marquette is to make a run, it’ll eventually play a team with a competent scorer in the frontcourt and if Marquette can’t defend then it can’t win.

12a. Clemson Tigers
Location:
Clemson, SC
Record: 21-11
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Demontez Stitt (14.3 ppg), Jerai Grant (12.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Andre Young (10.7 ppg), Milton Jennings (8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Devin Booker (5.4 rpg)
Strength: Despite a slight change in its style of play, Clemson is still one of the ACC leaders in forcing turnovers. Under former head coach Oliver Purnell, the Tigers applied full-court pressure for 40 minutes, but under current coach Brad Brownell, they’ve decided to play in the half court more. Despite that, they’ve still been able to use their athletes to play outstanding defense. That defense could win Clemson a game or two in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Clemson is not the most efficient team offensively. The Tigers are ninth in the ACC in scoring, seventh in free-throw and field-goal percentage, and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio. Those are just ugly numbers for a team that managed to have a winning record in the league. The problem for Clemson is there will be no Wake Forest, Georgia Tech or Virginia in the Big Dance. That kind of inefficiency just won’t cut it.

12b. UAB Blazers
Location: Birmingham, AL
Record: 22-8
At-Large Bid: Conference-USA
Key Players: Jamarr Sanders (17.7 ppg), Cameron Moore (14.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg), Aaron Johnson (12 ppg), Ovie Soko (9.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Strength: Coach Mike Davis has turned his UAB squad into one of the best defensive teams in Conference-USA. The Blazers are third in the conference in field-goal percentage defense, only allowing 41 percent shooting from their opponents. That helps them hold opponents to a little over 62 points per game. Davis is a tough, in-your-face kind of coach and his team has taken on his personality.
Weakness: UAB’s surprising inclusion into this year’s field is partly because of how ordinary its been offensively. The Blazers have offensive numbers that are average in Conference-USA so that should tell you how pedestrian they’ve been on offense. This is a team that scores in the 60’s routinely and sometimes struggle to even hit that mark. At just 44 percent shooting, the Blazers may not have the chops to do much damage in the tournament.

13. Princeton Tigers
Location:
Princeton, NJ
Record: 25-6
Automatic Bid: Ivy League Champions
Key Players: Kareem Maddox (13.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Ian Hummer (13.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Dan Mavraides (12.7 ppg), Douglas Davis (11.9 ppg)
Strength: Everyone knows what the strength of Princeton is. It’s the Princeton offense. No matter how many times you watch the Tigers play, their offense is always difficult to defend. It takes patience and concentration to defend for a full 35 seconds, but that’s what that offense makes teams do. Teams have to guard against three pointers and backdoor cuts. It’s the offense perfected by the Tigers, who can definitely spring an upset using it.
Weakness: Princeton is a team that relies heavily on its starters. The Tigers like the control the pace of the game and that allows their starters to play a lot of minutes without going in the tank, but they’ll be facing competition that’s a couple steps up in the talent department. Princeton’s opponents will force it out of its comfort zone. Will Princeton’s starters be able to handle that?

14. Indiana State Sycamores
Location: Terre Haute, IN
Record: 20-13
Automatic Bid: Missouri Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Dwayne Lathan (11 ppg), Carl Richard (9.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg)), Jake Odum (9.4 ppg), Aaron Carter (8.7 ppg), Jake Kelly (8.7 ppg), Myles Walker (5.3 rpg)
Strength: Just like most other Missouri Valley Conference teams, the Sycamores will lock you down defensively. Indiana St is No. 1 in the MVC in field-goal percentage defense, holding its opponents to 40.3 percent on the year. In addition to that, Indiana St. is No. 1 in blocks and No. 2 steals in the conference as well. None of the Sycamores opponents in the MVC Tournament scored more than 56 and that’s what makes this team dangerous.
Weakness: With only one starter at 6’8 and not a lot of quality frontcourt guys on the bench, the Sycamores can be exposed inside. Indiana St has been an average rebounding team on the year and it’s low-post scoring has been minuscule. When possessions are placed at a premium in the tournament, Indiana St is going to wish it had someone it could dump the ball to in the paint.

15. Long Island Blackbirds
Location:
Brooklyn, NY
Record: 27-5
Automatic Bid: Northeast Conference Champions
Key Players: Julian Boyd (12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Jamal Olasewere (12.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg), David Hicks (11 ppg), Kyle Johnson (10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg), C.J. Garner (9.3 ppg)
Strength: Long Island has a difficult style of play to prepare for as they like to play in the open court for 40 minutes. The Blackbirds are sixth in the nation in scoring at 82.6 points per game. They want to impose their will on their opponent and induce them into playing at their pace. This team can score and run and can pose serious trouble for a team in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Due to their pace, Long Island can keep teams in games with their turnover problem. The Blackbirds have a negative turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. Any team it faces in the tournament will be talented enough to exploit their turnovers. If they want to have any success in the tournament, they’ll have to cut down on the miscues or it’ll be one-and-done.

16a. UT-San Antonio Roadrunners
Location:
San Antonio, TX
Record: 19-13
Automatic Bid: Southland Conference Champions
Key Players: Devin Gibson (17 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.6 apg), Melvin Johnson III (14.8 ppg), Jeromie Hill (13.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
Strength: The Roadrunners force teams into a lot of misses. UTSA finished second in the Southland Conference in field-goal percentage defense. The Roadrunners also force over 14 turnovers per game with over half of those coming on steals. The Roadrunners defense led them to a surprising run in the Southland Conference Tournament and it could also lead them to a win in Dayton.
Weakness: UTSA is a team that relies heavily on three players. Devin Gibson, Melvin Johnson and Jeromie Hill are all outstanding players, but they can’t be what the entire team leans on. If one of them has a bad game, it could be disastrous for the Roadrunners. All three of them have to be great for UTSA to have any chance. If just one of them is off, it’ll ruin the Roadrunners’ hopes.

16b. Alabama State Hornets
Location:
Montgomery, AL
Record: 17-17
Automatic Bid: Southwestern Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Tramayne Moorer (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Tramaine Butler (10.9 ppg), Kenderek Washington (8.7 ppg)
Strength: The best defensive team in the SWAC; Alabama St holds its opponents to just 40.3 percent shooting on the year. That helped Alabama St through their conference tournament where they held their opponents to an average of 58.3 points per game. The Hornets will be looking to carry that defense into Dayton where they have a realistic shot at getting the schools first NCAA Tournament victory.
Weakness: The Hornets struggles on offense have forced it to defend well. Alabama St only scores 61.3 points per game, 2.3 points less than what they yield on the season. That’s why the Hornets had a sub-.500 record against Division I opponents and have to play the opening round game in Dayton. If the Hornets can’t put points on the board, it won’t matter who they play because they’ll be going home.

East Region Team Capsules

National player of the year candidate John Wall of Kentucky

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.

Washington do-everything forward Quincy Pondexter

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.

All-Big Sky guard, Montana's Anthony Johnson

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.

Mountain Men

There are many teams in the Big East with instant name cache; UConn Georgetown, Syracuse, and Louisville to name a few.  West Virginia would be pretty far down that list.  However, the Mountaineers have staked their claim as a contender in the best conference in the country.

Alex Ruoff
West Virginia Guard Alex Ruoff

The Mountaineers are at full strength and are a force to be reckoned with.  Alex Ruoff, Da’Sean Butler, and Devin Ebanks are all capable of an offensive explosion.  Add in Darryl Bryant and the tough Joe Mazzulla and you have all the ingredients for a solid basketball team.

Ask Ohio St how potent West Virginia is.  What the Mountaineers did to the Buckeyes was criminal.  They took it to Ohio St from the tip and showed the rest of the country, just how deep the Big East is.

Stock Up: St. Mary’s.  After a questionable loss to UTEP in the 76 Classic, the Gaels have reeled off nine wins in a row including five on the road.  Patrick Mills is easily one of the best guards in the country and is a matchup problem for anyone.  Be clear folks, the West Coast Conference is not just about Gonzaga.

Stock Down: Gonzaga.  Portland St.  Tell me you did not lose to Portland St at home.  Tell me the “Mid-Major that Could” didn’t overlook another Mid-Major.  The Bulldogs have road contests at Utah and at Tennessee.  Mark Few better tighten his ballclub up in a hurry.

Stock Up: Chris Wright.  There was no doubt that Georgetown was going to be a tournament team, but on which weekend it met it’s demise would hinge on it’s point-guard play.  Well, early in the season, I think we have our answer.  Wright, fully recovered from the foot injury which sidelined him much of last season, has been everything John Thompson III could ask for and more.  He’s proving to be one of the best guards in the country.

Stock Down: Mississippi Head Coach Andy Kennedy.  I don’t know WHAT happened that night in Cincinnati.  What I do know is the coach of a college basketball team should not be out, at a bar, on a roadtrip at 1:00am.  I doubt the allegations of assault and racial slurs are true, but what good can come of that.

Ole Miss Head Coach Andy Kennedy

Stock Up: Minnesota.  If there is another coach to be happier for, I can’t find him.  Tubby Smith has the program in the Twin Cities turned around halfway through his second season and it’s great to see.  The Golden Gopher program had falllen on some hard times with the Clem Haskins’ scandal and Dan Monson’s tenure, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.  That light appears to be a NCAA tournament berth.

Stock Down: Mid-American Conference.  Generally, the MAC is one of the better Mid-Major conferences in the country.  In fact, the MAC used the ring out like the Missouri Valley does now.  However, this appears to be a bad year for the conference.  With only three teams over .500 and every team in the West Division with a losing record, any hopes of an at-large bid seem to be all but shot.

This week’s Bracket Projections:

SOUTH
1.North Carolina16.Cornell Greensboro, NC
8.West Virginia9.Illinois
5.Baylor12.Utah St Portland, OR
4.Gonzaga13.Niagara
6.Florida St11.Butler Minneapolis, MN
3.Michigan St14.Vermont
7.Missouri10.Florida Philadelphia, PA
2.Georgetown15.East Tennessee St
WEST
1.Duke16.North Dakota St Greensboro, NC
8.Louisville9.Memphis
5.Minnesota12.Creighton Boise, ID
4.UCLA13.Portland St
6.Ohio St11.Boston College Miami, FL
3.Texas14.George Mason
7.St. Mary’s10.Davidson Dayton, OH
2.Notre Dame15.Pacific
MIDWEST
1.Oklahoma16.Quinnipiac Kansas City, MO
8.Arizona9.Marquette
5.Michigan12.Illinois St Minneapolis, MN
4.Xavier13.Western Kentucky
6.Villanova11.Texas A&M Miami, FL
3.Wake Forest14.Lamar
7.Stanford10.Wisconsin Philadelphia, PA
2.Connecticut15.American
EAST
1.Pittsburgh16.Morgan St/Ark-Pine Bluff Dayton, OH
8.Dayton9.California
5.Clemson12.Northwestern Portland, OR
4.Tennessee13.Miami(OH)
6.Arizona St11.Maryland Boise, ID
3.Syracuse14.VMI
7.Kansas10.UNLV Kansas City, MO
2.Purdue15.Jacksonville St