AMERICA EAST: Albany was by far the most dominant team in the league this season. The Great Danes didn’t lose their first conference game until Feb. 17. With all games being at campus sites its going to take a lot to keep Albany from repeating.
MISSOURI VALLEY: This certainly was a top heavy league this year as Wichita St and Northern Iowa ran away and hid from the rest of the conference. That’s why it is expected that those will be the two teams playing for the championship on Sunday. In the rubber match, expect Wichita St, the team with the superior experience and talent, to cut down the nets.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: A loss on the last day of the regular season is the only thing that kept Iona from winning the league by three games. The Gaels’ misstep doesn’t scare me too much as they’ve been to the tournament recently and will be tough prep on short rest. The tournament will be competitive as always, but expect Iona to go dancing.
SOUTHERN: As good as Wofford has been over the course of the year, Chattanooga has been right there all along. The two squads were far and away the class of this conference and appear to be on a collision course for a Monday night showdown. The teams won on each other’s home floor so this creates a bit of intrigue. Wofford is the favorite here, but not by much.
COLONIAL: The regular season in the CAA finished in a four-way tie for first place. If there’s anyone out there who’ll tell you they have this league pegged than than call that person’s bluff. On a true neutral court in Baltimore anything can happen. Given the disappointment from last season and performing well against the other top teams in the league, I’m going with William & Mary.
WEST COAST: There may be many people wondering if there’s a major kink in the armor of Gonzaga after losing to BYU in it’s last regular season home game. I am not one of those people. BYU played fantastic and could very well be a tournament team itself, but Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country and it’ll have motivation. The Zags will win in Vegas.
SUMMIT: South Dakota St and North Dakota St went back and forth this season vying for the Summit League’s No. 1 spot. At the end of the day, both teams finished with 12-4 records with South Dakota St winning the tiebreaker. Playing the tournament in the state of South Dakota gives the Jackrabbits a bit of a chance. Despite that, there’s a team on their side of bracket who’s beaten them and is even closer to the site where the tournament will be played. That’s the South Dakota Coyotes and they’re my upset pick to win the Summit League.
Last Four In: Memphis, Colorado, Butler, St. Mary’s
Last Four Out: Michigan, Clemson, USC, Penn St
Good for games through 3/7
1.Ohio St16.Texas Southern/McNeese St Cleveland
5.Texas A&M12.Harvard Tampa
6.Temple11.Georgia Washington, D.C.
7.Cincinnati10.Boston College Tulsa
2.Texas15.St. Peter’s(MAAC) WEST
1.Duke16.Boston U Charlotte
5.St. John’s12.Butler/Colorado Washington, D.C.
2.Notre Dame15.Northern Colorado SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.North Texas Cleveland
5.Kansas St12.Richmond Tucson
4.San Diego St13.Oakland
6.Connecticut11.Michigan St Tampa
2.North Carolina15.Long Island SOUTHWEST
5.West Virginia12.St. Mary’s/Memphis Tucson
6.Arizona11.Florida St Denver
2.Purdue15.Long Beach St
PATRIOT LEAGUE: Bucknell and American are way ahead of the pack in this league. Bucknell ran through Patriot League competition with only one loss and American only three. Too bad for the Eagles, two of those losses came from the Bison. Nothing really to say here, but to expect part three with Bucknell winning again.
MISSOURI VALLEY: I’m used to seeing multiple bids come from this league, but the trend of it being one-bid the past few seasons has to be troubling for commissioner Doug Elgin. Despite this, there are still teams in this conference who can win a game in the NCAA tournament. The Missouri St. Bears finished in first with the Wichita St. Shockers one game behind. The two teams were the most consistent all year and appear to be on a collision course. In round three, expect the Shockers to come out on top.
NORTHEAST: Long Island’s uptempo style has led it to an impressive 16-2 league record. In fact, the Blackbirds have only loss once in the 2011 calendar year. Given the fact that this tournament is played entirely on home courts give them an extra advantage. The Blackbirds should expect a challenge from the tournament-tested Robert Morris Colonials, but this team is head and shoulders above the rest of the league and will make their way to the NCAA tournament.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: This one should be interesting. After back-to-back losses to Hofstra and Old Dominion, George Mason ran off 15 wins in-a-row to put a stamp on an at-large bid. Old Dominion, by virtue of stellar play in the non-conference did the same. The question right now goes to the hunger of both teams and I believe both may already know they’re dancing. One team however, isn’t going to be dancing without an automatic bid and I expect it to come out firing on all cylinders. Virginia Commonwealth, at home in Richmond, will “steal” a bid and punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: After its impressive showing in BracketBusters, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) became one of the most intriguing leagues in the country. The conference tournament is usually entertaining and this year should be no different. Fairfield finished in first in the regular season, but show kinks in the armor in losses to Rider and Iona, the two teams that tied for second. Iona, by virtue of being hot at the right time seems to be surging towards a NCAA bid, which it’ll get.
SOUTHERN: College of Charleston was cruising through league play until the last week of the regular season where it lost its final two games. That brought into a tie for the South Division and league title with defending champion Wofford. Although Charleston has a win over Tennessee and an almost win at Maryland, I think its going to be tough for it to navigate through this tournament. Chattanooga and Wofford will meet for round 3 with Wofford making a repeat trip to the NCAA tournament.
WEST COAST: St. Mary’s and Gonzaga both have at-large hopes with Gonzaga’s chances being a tad bit better at the moment. Given that the tournament is set up to give top two teams an advantage expect to see the two class programs in the conference go at it one more time. It will be a heavyweight slugfest in Vegas with St. Mary’s getting an automatic bid ensuring two WCC teams go dancing.
AMERICA EAST: Vermont and Boston University have been the two best teams in league play, but neither is perfect. Maine had a run at the both of them and should be in the mix this weekend in Hartford. However, I still believe that Vermont and Boston will get through a tough tournament to meet for all the marbles once again. Boston will not be able to finish Vermont for a third time and the Vermont Catamounts will go dancing.
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.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: For the past three years, Siena has been rolling through the MAAC like a warm knife through hot butter. The Saints once again coasted to the regular season title with a 17-1 record. They have shown vulnerabilities though. Not all of the Saints wins have been dominant and some have been downright close. Fairfield has a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset, but I don’t see it. The Saints seem to be extremely focused in their last two games and playing on their home floor will be a huge advantage. I expect Siena to go dancing again.
SOUTHERN: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in the country. The SoCon has wins over schools from the Big East, ACC, SEC, and Atlantic 10 this season. Those wins came from Appalachian St., Western Carolina, College of Charleston and Wofford. Throw in Davidson and there will be some high-quality hoops in Charlotte this weekend. In the end, you have to go with the team that’s lost only one game this calendar year. I expect Wofford to make its first trip to the Big Dance.
WEST COAST: Once again, Gonzaga has proven to be the class of this league. It’s amazing to see the Bulldogs have the success they’ve had given the losses they sustain in the offseason. Despite that, Gonzaga has proven to be beatable this season and, over its record 11-year run, in the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s and Portland are extremely capable of winning this tournament. There is a high probability of the two meeting in the semi-finals, a game in which Portland will win on their way to the WCC tournament title.
AMERICA EAST: The top four teams in the America East are separated by two games. Stony Brook, Vermont, Maine and Boston University are all capable of going dancing. However, there’s one team who clearly has the number of the other three. In its six meetings with Vermont, Maine and BU; Stony Brook has a 5-1 record. They’ve won 10 out of 11 and are looking very strong. The loss to New Hampshire is a bit alarming, but it was the last game of the season and Stony Brook had nothing left to play for. The Seawolves do now and they’ll be going dancing.