American’s Team?

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane is rolling through the American

In the American Athletic Conference, more ballyhooed basketball programs like UConn, Temple, Memphis and Cincinnati were supposed to keep the league afloat in its second year of existence. However, it’s a program that was left behind that is making the most noise.

Tulsa is 7-0 in league play and has continued it’s great run after ending last season with a blitz through the Conference-USA tournament to the Big Dance.

The Golden Hurricane has managed to sneak its way to an undefeated start by excelling at the free-throw line.  No one is as adept at getting to the line as Tulsa as it gets almost a quarter of its points from the charity stripe.

When Frank Haith left Missouri to take this job at the end of last season, everyone wondered why.  Now it appears he was just ahead of the curve.

Stock Up: Murray St.  It’s been a couple years since the Racers have gone dancing, but they looked primed and ready to not only being the Ohio Valley representative in the NCAA tournament, but also a dangerous out once they get there.

Stock Down: Seton Hall.  At the beginning of January, the Pirates looked like a force to be reckoned with.  Now they just look like a wreck.  They need Isaiah Whitehead back badly.

Stock Up: D’Angelo Russell.  The Ohio State freshman is quietly having an All-American season.  He’s averaging 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game for a team that needs him to be as good as he’s been in all three of those areas.

Stock Down: Saint Mary’s. The Gaels will inevitably be on the bubble.  Their SOS and lack of strong wins will do them in.  They’ll have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to get in despite the predictable pontificating on their behalf, which is sure to come.

On to the Bracket

Last Four In: Washington, NC State, Old Dominion, Tennessee

Last Four Out: Michigan St, Seton Hall, Mississippi, Texas A&M

It’s good for games thru 1/25

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.North Florida/Alabama St Louisville

8.Miami(FL)9.Stanford

5.West Virginia12.Murray St Jacksonville

4.Louisville13.Yale

6.Arkansas11.Kansas St Portland

3.Utah14.Kent St

7.Indiana10.Oklahoma St Columbus, OH

2.Notre Dame15.Coastal Carolina

SOUTH

1.Duke16.New Mexico St Charlotte

8.Dayton9.Colorado St

5.Oklahoma12.Green Bay Jacksonville

4.Maryland13.Stephen F. Austin

6.Providence11.Old Dominion/NC State Columbus, OH

3.VCU14.Iona

7.San Diego St10.Xavier Omaha

2.Wisconsin15.Georgia Southern

WEST

1.Arizona16.North Dakota St Portland

8.Northern Iowa9.Georgia

5.Georgetown12.Tulsa Seattle

4.Iowa St13.UC Davis

6.Texas11.Western Kentucky Louisville

3.North Carolina14.William & Mary

7.Butler10.Ohio St Seattle

2.Gonzaga15.Sacramento St

EAST

1.Virginia16.St. Francis(NY)/Colgate Charlotte

8.LSU9.George Washington

5.Baylor12.Wofford Portland

4.Wichita St13.Wyoming

6.Cincinnati11.Tennessee/Washington Pittsburgh

3.Villanova14.North Carolina Central

7.SMU10.Iowa Omaha

2.Kansas15.Albany

Kentucky Blues

Image

Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari

It’s hard to do what John Calipari did in the previous three years at Kentucky.  He’s taken extremely young teams, meshed them perfectly and had great seasons.  People may have opinions about his tactics, but he’s found a way to work within the system.

However, relying on freshmen and sophomores every year is going to produce some seasons like the one the Wildcats are currently experiencing.  It’s hard to count on young players to give you consistency  in effort and performance on a night-in night-out basis.

It’s doubly hard in a year when the freshman class just isn’t that good nationally.  Nerlens Noel was arguably the best freshman in the country but Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein haven’t been what Calipari expected.

People around the country are wondering what’s wrong with Kentucky.  It’s just the natural progression of a young team.  It’s tough for Big Blue Nation this season, but no one should shed a tear for Kentucky fans.  They’ll be back.

Stock Up: Memphis.  The Tigers are making the most of their last season in Conference-USA.  They’re dominating right now with an 11-0 record including a convincing 13-point win over second-place Southern Miss.  They’re poised for a strong finish.

Stock Down: Ohio St.  Now I’m pretty confident that the Buckeyes are going to make the tournament.  However their resume leaves a lot to be desired.  You wouldn’t even be able to call Ohio St paper champions with the way its resume looks right now.

Stock Up: Colorado St. New Mexico is in first place by a half game in the Mountain West, but Colorado St is turning heads out west.  The Rams are following up on an outstanding year last year with another this year and looks prime for a solid seed in the Big Dance.

Stock Down: The end of Bracketbusters.  This was a great event for mid-majors to get a signature win and has directly led to some squads getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.  If George Mason doesn’t have the opportunity to beat Wichita St in Wichita in 2006 then the Patriots end up in the NIT and the Final Four.

This Week’s Bracket Projections.

Last Four In: Alabama, Temple, California, Villanova

Last Four Out: Baylor, St. Mary’s, Indiana St, Iowa

This bracket is good for games through 2/18.

MIDWEST

1.Indiana16.Charleston Southern/Norfolk St Dayton, OH

8.Saint Louis9.Missouri

5.Marquette12.Belmont Austin

4.Oregon13.Akron

6.Illinois11.Creighton Salt Lake City

3.New Mexico14.Valparaiso

7.Pittsburgh10.Virginia Kansas City

2.Kansas15.Stony Brook

WEST

1.Michigan St16.Robert Morris Auburn Hills, MI

8.UNLV9.Colorado

5.Butler12.Mississippi Austin

4.Georgetown13.South Dakota St

6.Ohio St11.Middle Tennessee St Salt Lake City

3.Arizona14.Davidson

7.Cincinnati10.La Salle Philadelphia

2.Duke15.Mercer

EAST

1.Florida16.Niagara Lexington, KY

8.Notre Dame9.San Diego St

5.Wisconsin12.Louisiana Tech Kansas City

4.Kansas St13.California/Temple

6.NC State11.Arizona St Dayton, OH

3.Louisville14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Minnesota10.Oklahoma San Jose

2.Gonzaga15.Montana

SOUTH

1.Miami(FL)16.Northeastern/Southern Lexington, KY

8.UCLA9.Wichita St

5.Colorado St12.Villanova/Alabama San Jose

4.Oklahoma St13.Bucknell

6.VCU11.Iowa St Philadelphia

3.Syracuse14.Harvard

7.Memphis10.North Carolina Auburn Hills, MI

2.Michigan15.Long Beach St

In graphical form

 

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.

BRACKETOLOGY SUNDAY MARCH 13 FINAL (Welcome Duke, Richmond, Kentucky, Ohio St)

EAST
1.Ohio St(B10)16.Arkansas-Little Rock(SBelt)/UT-San Antonio(SLC) Cleveland
8.Gonzaga(WCC)9.George Mason
5.Texas A&M12.Alabama/USC Tucson
4.Syracuse13.Belmont(ASun)
6.Georgetown11.Richmond(A10) Tampa
3.Kentucy(SEC)14.St. Peters(MAAC)
7.UNLV10.Penn St Washington, D.C.
2.Connecticut(BEast)15.Long Island(NEC)
WEST
1.Duke(ACC)16.UC-Santa Barbara(BWest) Charlotte
8.Utah St(WAC)9.UCLA
5.West Virginia12.Michigan Denver
4.BYU13.Oakland(Summit)
6.Xavier11.Illinois Tulsa
3.Texas14.Indiana St(MVC)
7.Vanderbilt10.Memphis(CUSA) Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Boston U(AEast)
SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.Hampton(MEAC) Cleveland
8.Temple9.Colorado
5.Arizona12.Virginia Tech/Georgia Denver
4.Purdue13.Morehead St(OVC)
6.Cincinnati11.Missouri Washington, D.C.
3.North Carolina14.Wofford(SoCon)
7.Old Dominion(CAA)10.Villanova Tampa
2.Florida15.Akron(MAC)
SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas(B12)16.UNC_Asheville(BSouth)/Alabama St(SWAC)Tulsa
8.Marquette9.Washington(P10)
5.St. John’s12.Butler(Horizon) Chicago
4.Wisconsin13.Princeton(Ivy)
6.Kansas St11.Florida St Tucson
3.San Diego St14.Bucknell(Patriot)
7.Tennessee10.Michigan St Charlotte
2.Louisville15.Northern Colorado(Bsky)

In Graphical Form

Published in: on March 13, 2011 at 4:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Other Commonwealth

Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg

While Kentucky gets pub for being a hotbed of college hoops; it’s neighbor to the east isn’t doing too shabby itself. The commonwealth of Virginia is having a great this season with mid-majors and Virginia Tech.

In the Colonial Athletic Association, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion and George Mason all harbor at-large hopes after performing well in the non-conference. All have sub-60 RPIs and sit atop of the conference.

George Mason has the highest RPI with 29 with a resume, which on the surface, seems to be a bit inflated. However, the OPatriots’ wins against Harvard and Duquesne may become key parts of their profile.

Old Dominion is the second of the three with a RPI of 32, but it has stumbled a bit out of the gate in league play. That still does not fully diminish an extremely impressive non-conference resume which includes wins over Xavier, Dayton, Clemson and Richmond.

Virginia Commonwealth has a rather low RPI for a mid-major trying to get into the tournament as an at-large at 58, but don’t be fooled. This team beat UCLA on a neutral floor and won at Old Dominion. The Rams uptempo style is tough to prepare for and will put them in consideration Selection Weekend.

Virginia Tech checks in with a RPI at 63, but it’s set up so well for the home stretch. This extremely talented squad has a great opportunity to stack up a lot of wins in a power conference. The ACC is indeed down this year, but not to the point where five league losses won’t get you the tournament. That’s realistic for the Hokies in a year they may get them off the snide.

Now we come to Richmond. The Spiders have an RPI of 66, but has one of the best non-conference wins of anybody when the shocked Purdue in Chicago. They also lay claim to a win over Virginia Commonwealth and are sitting pretty in second in 3rd place in the Atlantic 10. This team hasn’t fully lived up to expectations so far, but it is capable of taking home the A-10 regular season championship.

Stock Up: Ohio St. I didn’t believe in the Buckeyes before the season started, but Jared Sullinger has made a believer out of everybody. He may be the toughest cover in college basketball and gives them so many options offensively. Last year was the Evan Turner show in Columbus, but Sullinger and company maybe in for an even better year.

Stock Down: Wake Forest. My apologies to the Auburn Tigers who I incorrectly called the worst BCS conference basketball team in the country last week. It’s clearly Wake Forest. I hope there’s a plan in place, but I didn’t think Jeff Bzdelik was a good hire and so far I’m being proven right. I know he has to get his players to fit his system but the Demon Deacons lost by 35 to Georgia Tech. That’s downright pathetic.

Stock Up: The Showdown in Provo. It might be the biggest game in the history of the Mountain West Conference on Jan. 26 when San Diego St travels to face BYU. Two top-ten teams and one of the best players in the country in Jimmer Fredette will take the national stage in the clear game of the night. So sad that it won’t happen next year with BYU moving on the West Coast Conference.

Stock Down: UCF. It was all good just two weeks ago. It’s not now. UCF has lost four of its five conference games and, in the process, ruined any at-large hopes it was harboring. The Knights have a chance to salvage their season, but they probably need an automatic bid to go dancing.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: UCLA, Colorado, Richmond, Gonzaga
Last Four Out: Colorado St, Kansas St, Butler, Dayton

Good for games through 1/24/2011

EAST
1.Ohio St16.Tennessee St/Texas Southern Cleveland
8.Utah St9.Boston College
5.Georgetown12.Gonzaga/UCLA Tampa
4.Kentucky13.Harvard
6.Illinois11.Marquette Tucson
3.Texas A&M14.Belmont
7.Tennessee10.UNLV Washington, DC
2.Villanova15.Coastal Carolina
WEST
1.Kansas16.Florida Atlantic Tulsa
8.Arizona9.Temple
5.Florida12.Virginia Commonwealth Tampa
4.Notre Dame13.Oakland
6.Florida St11.Wichita St Charlotte
3.Syracuse14.Hampton
7.Michigan St10.St. John’s Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Northern Colorado
SOUTHWEST
1.Duke16.Long Island Charlotte
8.Cincinnati9.Missouri St
5.Minnesota12.Old Dominion Chicago
4.Missouri13.Charleston
6.Vanderbilt11.Virginia Tech Chicago
3.Purdue14.Bucknell
7.Xavier10.Oklahoma St Washington, DC
2.Connecticut15.Maine
SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Beach St/Lamar Cleveland
8.North Carolina9.Georgia
5.Washington12.Richmond/Colorado Denver
4.Wisconsin13.Valparaiso
6.West Virginia11.Memphis Denver
3.BYU14.Ball St
7.Louisville10.St. Mary’s Tulsa
2.Texas15.Fairfield

In Graphical Form

Midwest Region Team Capsules

1. Kansas Jayhawks
Location: Lawrence, Kan.
Record: 32-2
Automatic Bid: Big XII Conference Champions
Key Players: Sherron Collins (15.6 ppg), Xavier Henry (13.6 ppg), Marcus Morris (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Cole Aldrich (11.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg)
Strength: The Jayhawks are talented and deep. Led by Sherron Collins, the No. 1 team in the nation can do multiple things right. Now that coach Bill Self has settled on a rotation, it has just made them even more dangerous. It is just simply going to take an out-of-this-world performance to defeat the Jayhawks. They’re great offensively, defensively, and their best is just downright better than anyone else.
Weakness: Team chemistry has been an underlying issue for the Jayhawks this season. They seem to have solve those issues down the stretch, but it’s still has to be a concern for Self. This is still a young team for the most part so it can be unpredictable at times. If they come out with the focus to win a national championship, they’ll be difficult to beat. However, if they’re worried about other things, they might be in trouble.

Big Ten Player of the Year Evan Turner of Ohio State


2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Record: 27-7
Automatic Bid: Big Ten Conference Champions
Key Players: Evan Turner (20.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 5.9 apg), William Buford (14.5 ppg 5.6 rpg), Jon Diebler (12.8 ppg), David Lighty (12.7 ppg), Dallas Lauderdale (5 rpg)
Strength: There’s no doubt what (who) the strength of the Buckeyes is. National player of the year candidate Evan Turner does it all for Ohio St. He’s a 6’7” point guard who scores, rebounds, runs the offense and defends. Basically, he does everything for the Buckeyes. He leads them in every major statistical category and can will them to a national championship all by himself.
Weakness: The Buckeyes have virtually no depth. There have been games when coach Thad Matta has only trotted four players out on the floor. If someone gets in foul trouble, they may be toast. They just don’t have the bodies to come in off of the bench to produce. If any of Ohio St’s tournament games are called tightly, they might have a shorter stay in the Big Dance then they’d like.

3. Georgetown Hoyas
Location: Washington, D.C.
Record: 23-10
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Austin Freeman (16.7 ppg), Greg Monroe (16.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg), Chris Wright (14.8 ppg), Jason Clark (10.6 ppg)
Strength: The “Georgetown” (with Princeton principles) offense is already one of the most difficult offenses to defend. Georgetown throws three McDonald’s All-Americans into it and it becomes almost unstoppable. Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman, and Chris Wright are 3/5 or what many to be perhaps the best starting five in all of college basketball. When all three are playing well, the offense can’t be defended. If they play like they did in the Big East tournament, they can cut the nets down.
Weakness: The Hoyas have been inconsistent all year long. They have big wins against Duke, Villanova, Syracuse and Temple and have had bad losses against South Florida and Rutgers. It appears that they may have corrected that issue, but if it rears its ugly head again, they could make an early exit from the Big Dance. That’s not a situation Hoya fans look forward to.

4. Maryland Terrapins
Location: College Park, Md.
Record: 23-8
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Greivis Vasquez (19.5 ppg, 6.3 apg), Landon Milbourne (12.5 ppg), Eric Hayes (11.1ppg), Sean Mosley (10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Jordan Williams (9.2 ppg, 8.3)
Strength: While everyone knows about Greivis Vasquez, its Maryland’s presence in the paint that has given them an edge this season. Jordan Williams has arrived on campus and has joined with Landon Milbourne to give the Terps one of the most underrated frontlines in the ACC. They’re outstanding on the boards and Williams is an absolute load to guard in the post. The Terps have balance now and that makes them a legitimate threat to make a run in this year’s tournament.
Weakness: Maryland is only as good as its star, Greivis Vasquez. When he’s on, the Terps are very good. When he’s off, the Terps are very mortal. Vasquez can be explosive, but he can also shoot them out of the game. He’s streaky and if he gets on a cold streak at the wrong time, it makes them very easy to guard. Maryland better hope that Vasquez is able to put up huge numbers.

5. Michigan State Spartans
Location: East Lansing, Mich.
Record: 24-8
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Kalin Lucas (14.9 ppg), Raymar Morgan (11.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Durrell Summers (10.1 ppg), Draymond Green (10.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Chris Allen (9.1 ppg), Delvon Roe (5.2 rpg)
Strength: As with all Tom Izzo-coached teams, this edition of the Spartans really crash the boards. Michigan St is the best rebounding team in a conference that values the art of owning the backboard. By out-rebounding their opponents by nine per game, the Spartans are once again showing the kind of toughness Izzo loves. It’ll take a special team to be able to compete with them on the boards.
Weakness: Kalin Lucas is a great player, but the Spartans showed what kind team they were without him. Most teams depend on a great player, but even the Spartans secondary players like Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers struggled without Lucas. This is not an explosive offensive team as it is so any dip in Lucas’ production could be the death of the Spartans.

Tennesse forward Wayne Chism leads the Vols


6. Tennessee Volunteers
Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Record: 25-8
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Wayne Chism (12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Scotty Hopson (12.5 ppg), Bobby Maze (9.6 ppg), J.P. Prince (9.3 ppg), Brian Williams (5.7 rpg)
Strength: Tennessee is one of the best transition teams in the country. Triggered by their full-court press defense, the Volunteers love to get out on the fast break. Bobby Maze expertly controls this team finding many of the great athletes he has at his disposal. They have guys who can finish at the basket and they have guys who can pull up on the wings and knock down threes. If the Volunteers are able to play at their pace, they’ll be tough for anyone to deal with.
Weakness: The free-throw line has been rough on the Volunteers all year long. At a little under 67 percent, they’re among the worst free-throw shooting teams in the SEC. This team is very talented, but they leave too many points at the line. It’s part of the reason why they only score 73.6 points per game. We saw Memphis lose a title game at the free-throw line two years ago and it could kill Tennessee’s chances for a deep run this year.

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Location: Stillwater, Okla.
Record: 22-10
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: James Anderson (22.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Obi Muonelo (13.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Keiton Page (10.7 ppg), Marshall Moses (8.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Matt Pilgrim (8.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Strength: Led by James Anderson, the Cowboys have one of the best backcourts in the country. Anderson, the Big XII player of the year, along with Obi Muenelo and Keiton Page combine for close to 47 points per game. They are explosive and can put up big numbers in a hurry. The team goes as they go and fortunately for Oklahoma St, they’ve been going pretty well all year.
Weakness: Shooting under 69 percent, free-throw shooting has been an issue for the Cowboys all year. Muonelo, Marshall Moses and Matt Pilgrim all shoot in the low-60’s in terms of percentage. Oklahoma St relies on those three players too much for them not to deliver at the line. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again, if the Cowboys don’t convert from the charity stripe, it will have a short stay in the tournament.

8. UNLV Rebels

Location: Las Vegas, Nev.
Record: 25-8
At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference
Key Players: Tre’Von Willis (17.3 ppg), Chace Stanback (10.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Oscar Bellfield (9.2 ppg)
Strength: UNLV is one of the most efficient teams in America. The Rebels lead the Mountain West in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. They also shoot a respectable 46.2 percent from the field. They like to control the tempo and make their possessions count. They can frustrate teams with their patience and precision on offense and that could help the Rebels make some noise in the tournament.
Weakness: The Rebels are not a good rebounding team. Fortunately for UNLV, the Mountain West doesn’t have solid rebounding across the board or it could’ve been in real trouble. It won’t have that luxury in the Big Dance as it is highly likely that no Mountain West foes will be in the Rebels’ path. If UNLV does play a team that is solid on the boards, than it is really going to have to fight on the boards because it leaves itself little margin for error.

9. Northern Iowa Panthers
Location: Cedar Falls, Iowa
Record: 28-4
Automatic Bid: Missouri Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Jordan Eglseder (12 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Adam Koch (11.8 ppg), Kwadzo Ahelegbe (10.7 ppg), Ali Farokhmanesh (9.3 ppg)
Strength: UNI’s opponents are only averaging 54.3 points per game. Any team that is playing defense like that is doing something right. Part of that low number is the slow pace the Panthers like to play, but another part of it is the 40.3 percent field goal percentage they’re holding their opponents to. They switch on everything and don’t let opponents get clean looks at the basket. This is one team that will frustrate whoever it plays.
Weakness: This is a team that might be susceptible to an athletic opponent. The Panthers play great position and help defense but there aren’t many guys in the MVC like they’ll be facing in the NCAA tournament. They’ll not only have to face teams that’ll be able to take them off the dribble, but they’ll be facing teams that can defend them better than any team in the MVC. This may be an Achilles heel for the Panthers.

10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Record: 22-12
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Gani Lawal (13.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Derrick Favors (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Iman Shumpert (10.1 ppg), Zachery Peacock (8.7 ppg)
Strength: The Yellow Jackets may have the best frontcourt in the nation. Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors are quite possibly NBA lottery picks. Zach Peacock gives them another complementary piece up front. When Georgia Tech gets the ball down low, they look like world beaters. In the tournament, great players carry teams to great results and the Yellow Jackets have two players who can do that.
Weakness: Georgia Tech’s guards are nowhere near where their frontcourt is. as a matter of fact, they actually hurt the team. Georgia Tech turns the ball over 16.4 times per game which is the second most in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets are 11th in the conference in turnover margin and 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio. There’s too much talent in the paint for Georgia Tech for its guards to hurt it this much.

11. San Diego State Aztecs
Location: San Diego, Calif.
Record: 25-8
Automatic Bid: Mountain West Conference Champions
Key Players: Kawhi Leonard (12.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg), Malcolm Thomas (11 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Billy White (11.2 ppg), D.J. Gay (10.3 ppg)
Strength: On a toughness scale, the Aztecs may be No. 1 in the Mountain West. The Aztecs are one of the conference’s best defensive teams; holding its opponents to 40.4 percent shooting from the floor. In addition to that, the Aztecs lead the conference in rebounding margin as well by out-rebounding their opponents by 6.7 boards per game. This team has taken on an identity that it will be the bad guy on the block and it has paid dividends for it.
Weakness: San Diego St is one of the worst free-throw teams in the tournament. At just 61.7 percent, the Aztecs will be very vulnerable in late-game situations. There some key players in their rotation who aren’t even shooting 60 percent. When the best free-throw shooter on the team is shooting just 72.2 percent, there’s a serious issue there. If Aztecs expect to be successful, they have to shoot a respectable percentage from the charity stripe.

12. New Mexico State Aggies
Location: Las Cruces, N.M.
Record: 22-11
Automatic Bid: Western Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Jahmar Young (20.5 ppg), Jonathan Gibson (17.5 ppg), Troy Gillenwater (14.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Wendell McKines (10.8 ppg 9.9 rpg), Hamidu Rahman (10.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
Strength: Across the board, this is one talented team. The Aggies have put up over 78 points per game this season and that’s because they have a lineup loaded with scorers. Five guys average in double figures led by Jahmar Young. Young along with his backcourt mate Jonathan Gibson are the main options for the Aggies, but there’s plenty of other scorers to worry about. This team is going to be a real problem for opponents this March.
Weakness: Defensively, New Mexico St is one of the worst teams in the WAC. Teams are scoring a staggering 77.8 points per game on the Aggies. It’s amazing that they’ve been able to have this level of success given those numbers. There’s no doubt that they have some outstanding scorers. However, in this tournament, teams that defend are successful. The Aggies don’t and that might doom them.

Houston guard Aubrey Coleman, the nation's leading scorer


13. Houston Cougars
Location: Houston, Texas
Record: 19-15
Automatic Bid: Conference USA Champions
Key Players: Aubrey Coleman (25.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Kelvin Lewis (15.3 ppg), Maurice McNeil (8.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Strength: The Cougars have the luxury having the nation’s leading scorer in Aubrey Coleman. Coleman is an outstanding scorer who can hit the occasional three, slash and get to the free-throw line. The Cougars showed they could win without him having a banner game in their C-USA title game victory over UTEP. However when he’s on, they’re very good and could cause a lot of trouble.
Weakness: The Cougars have been pounded on the boards all year. They’re dead last in C-USA in rebounding margin getting out-rebounded by over eight boards per game. What compounds the problem is their poor shooting numbers. They’re only shooting 42 percent from the field. The fact that they only rebound 30.6 percent of their misses only exacerbates the issue. They have to attack the backboard to be competitive this March.

14. Ohio Bobcats
Location: Athens, Ohio
Record: 21-14
Automatic Bid: Mid-American Conference Champions
Key Players: Armon Bassett (16.9 ppg), D.J. Cooper (13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.9 apg) , DeVaughn Washington (11.2 ppg), Tommy Freeman (10.1 ppg), Kenneth van Kempen (6.9 rpg)
Strength: Indiana transfer Armon Bassett is one of the most underrated mid-major players in America. Many forgot about him after he had to sit out last season, but he’s got plenty of talent. He started the year slow but has it going now. He averaged over 29 points during the MAC tournament carrying the No. 9 seeded Bobcats to the title. He’s explosive and capable of winning a game all by himself.
Weakness: The Bobcats are one of the worst rebounding teams in the MAC. Their opponents are out-rebounding on the year by close to half a rebound per game. The fact that this is a poor shooting team makes matters even worse as they’re in the bottom half of the conference in offensive rebounds. They need to sure this up against the big, athletic teams in the tournament or they may get punished on the boards in the Big Dance.

15. UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos
Location: Santa Barbara, Calif.
Record: 20-9
Automatic Bid: Big West Conference Champions
Key Players: Orlando Johnson (17.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), James Nunnally (15 ppg, 5.7 rpg), James Powell (9.4 ppg), Jaime Serna (8 ppg)
Strength: The Gauchos are the best three-point shooting team in the Big West and it’s not even close. They’re shooting 37.9 percent on the year from downtown which really makes them dangerous. They’re a team that likes to control tempo, so they’re scores are lower, but that just magnifies the importance of the team’s overall range. They’re going make teams guard them for long stretches and then knock down outside shots.
Weakness: The Gauchos are the worst team in the Big West on the Backboards. The Gauchos are being out-rebounded by over two boards per game. They don’t have quality size inside and that’s a huge part of the problem. Teams in the tournament see that weakness and they will exploit it to the fullest. If they’re not able to find a way to rebound the basketball, they’ll be one-and-done.

16. Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Location: Bethlehem, Pa.
Record: 22-10
Automatic Bid: Patriot League Champions
Key Players: C.J. McCollum (18.9 ppg), Marquis Hall (11 ppg, 5.7 apg), Zahir Carrington (10.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Gabe Knutson (9.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Strength: Shooting 40 percent, the Mountain Hawks are the best three-point shooting team in the Patriot League. They were able to stretch defenses all year with their long-range shooting. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh’s best player, along with Marquis Hall are the primary threats shooting 46.6 and 37.3 percent respectively. If they’re able to continue this kind of shooting in the tournament, they may be able to give a team a scare.
Weakness: While they’re not the worst defensive team, Lehigh allows teams to score over 70 points per game. Given up that kind of number might be ok against the Colgate’s and Navy’s of the world, but the Mountain Hawks will be facing a totally different caliber of competition in the NCAA tournament. They have to keep those numbers down if they expect to compete this March.

Evan the Terrible

Ohio State's Evan Turner may be the best player in the country

Ohio St. has that guy. That guy who might be the only player in the country who can single-handedly carry his team to a national championship. Evan Turner has bounced back from his early-season back injury to become the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year and one of the favorites for national player of the year.

Turner is averaging 19.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. His athleticism makes him a nightmare to guard and his versatility allows him to beat you in so many ways.

The Buckeyes struggled without him, but have won 8 of 10 games since he’s returned. He gives them a presence that can take over a game at any given moment.

Ohio St now only trails Michigan St by a game for the Big Ten lead and with a trip to East Lansing coming up, still have a chance to win the regular season title. Something it probably didn’t think was possible this time a month ago.

Stock Up: New Mexico. If someone asked the casual fan who the best college basketball team out west was, they probably would name Gonzaga, California, or maybe even Washington. However, you might have to go to the Mountain West to find New Mexico. The Lobos lost 3 out of 5 from late Dec. to early Jan., but have been rolling outside of that. They’ve done it on the road and against good competition. This is a team on the rise.

Stock Down: Mississippi St. I’m not sure what to make of the Bulldogs. They started the season losing 2 of their first 5. Then they went on a run where they won nine in a row. They’re 4-5 in their last nine including losing 4 of their last 5. Their wins over Old Dominion and Ole Miss will not be enough to save them on Selection Sunday if they don’t turn it around. Beating Ole Miss and Auburn at home this week would go a long way to saving their season.

Stock up: Richmond. For some reason, the Spiders are getting no love and I don’t know why. They have outstanding out-of-conference wins over Missouri, Old Dominion, and Florida to go along with the rout they gave to Temple on Saturday. The Spider’s schedule toughens up down the stretch, but they may have enough fire power to get their first at-large bid since 2004.

Stock Down: Sun Belt Conference. This is normally one of the better mid-major conferences in the country, but it is struggling this year. Denver has the conferences highest RPI at 148, which is lower than three teams from the Atlantic Sun Conference, which has nowhere near the history of the Sun Belt. For a conference which has won NCAA tournament games the past two seasons, this is definitely a down year in the Sun Belt.

This week’s bracket projections:

Last Four In: Washington, Old Dominion, Wichita St, Maryland
Last Four Out: Clemson, Oklahoma St, South Florida, Louisville

MIDWEST
1.Kansas16.Lehigh/Jackson St Oklahoma City
8.Mississippi9.Xavier
5.Gonzaga12.Northeastern Spokane
4.New Mexico13.Kent St
6.Vanderbilt11.Dayton New Orleans
3.Michigan St14.Coastal Carolina
7.Georgia Tech10.Siena Buffalo
2.West Virginia15.Weber St
WEST
1.Villanova16.Arkansas St Providence
8.Richmond9.Illinois
5.Texas A&M12.Wichita St Spokane
4.Tennessee13.Pacific
6.BYU11.Maryland San Jose
3.Ohio St14.Murray St
7.Pittsburgh10.Florida Oklahoma City
2.Kansas St15.Robert Morris
EAST
1.Kentucky16.Jacksonville Milwaukee
8.Missouri9.UAB
5.Wake Forest12.Old Dominion New Orleans
4.Butler13.New Mexico St
6.Northern Iowa11.California Jacksonville
3.Georgetown14.College of Charleston
7.Rhode Island10.Florida St Milwaukee
2.Purdue15.Morgan St
SOUTH
1.Syracuse16.Stony Brook Buffalo
8.Cornell9.Charlotte
5.UNLV12.UTEP San Jose
4.Texas13.Washington
6.Baylor11.Virginia Commonwealth Jacksonville
3.Duke14.Oakland
7.Temple10.Marquette Providence
2.Wisconsin15.Sam Houston St

Tar Heel Blues

North Carolina's Roy Williams has repeatedly been frustrated by his team

In the 2005-2006 season, the season after North Carolina won its previous national championship, not much was expected. All that happened was North Carolina having a surprisingly good year and Roy Williams doing perhaps his best job ever as coach. Unfortunately for Tar Heel fans, this season isn’t shaping up to be quite as successful.

The Tarheels are struggling in every since of the word right now. They are losers of three of its last four including a blowout loss at Clemson and a road loss at the College of Charleston. They are 12-6 right now and their RPI is in the 50’s. The Michigan St and Ohio St wins will go a long way for them, but if they don’t turn it around soon, this season can spiral out of control.

The main reason North Carolina is in this position is because Ty Lawson plays for the Denver Nuggets. North Carolina is solid in the frontcourt, but guard play is holding it back. If they’re able to get solid play out of Larry Drew, this team can be dangerous in March. Right now though, its just not looking good for Roy Williams.

Stock Up: Ohio State. This is a completely different team with Evan Turner. As you saw by the show he put on in West Lafayette, Ind. last week, he’s clearly an All-American. In a foul-plagued game against Wisconsin, Turner still managed to score 15. This team might be too far behind Michigan St to catch the Spartans for the Big Ten regular season title. However, at full strength, this very well may be the best team in the conference.

Stock Down: UConn. The Huskies are very much in the same boat as the Tarheels, except they aren’t the defending national champions and preseason favorites to win their conference. That being said, they are reeling. They haven’t been the same since Georgetown rallied to beat them and with Texas on its way, it could get worse before it gets better.

Stock Up: BYU. The Cougars continue to be the top program in the Mountain West. They were expected to win the conference again, but they way they’re playing it looks like no one else is going to have a shot. At 17-1, the Cougars are in complete control at it appears that they’re going to sail to another NCAA tournament berth.

Stock Down: Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are having the best year they’ve had in years, but they had an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the Big South last week and failed. The Radford Highlanders went into the Chanticleers building at took their lunch. Although the Coastal is still a game ahead, no one is going to put their money on it over Radford to win the Big South.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: St. John’s, UConn, Northwestern, Old Dominion
Last Four Out: Virginia, Notre Dame, California, Oklahoma St

SOUTH
1.Texas16.Lafayette/Jackson St Oklahoma City
8.Mississippi St9.Cornell
5.Temple12.Old Dominion Jacksonville
4.UAB13.St. Johns
6.Northern Iowa11.UNLV San Jose
3.Wisconsin14.Murray St
7.Clemson10.Dayton Buffalo
2.Pittsburgh15.Weber St
EAST
1.Villanova16.Morgan St Providence
8.Georgia Tech9.Minnesota
5.Baylor12.Siena Spokane
4.Gonzaga13.College of Charleston
6.Vanderbilt11.Cincinnati New Orleans
3.Kansas St14.Pacific
7.Richmond10.Illinois Jacksonville
2.Duke15.Coastal Carolina
WEST
1.Kansas16.Campbell Oklahoma City
8.William&Mary9.Rhode Island
5.BYU12.UConn San Jose
4.Purdue13.Louisiana Tech
6.Ohio St11.Washington New Orleans
3.Tennessee14.Buffalo
7.Wake Forest10.Texas A&M Buffalo
2.Syracuse15.Sam Houston St
MIDWEST
1.Kentucky16.Quinnipiac Milwaukee
8.Missouri9.Arizona St
5.Butler12.Northwestern Spokane
4.West Virginia13.Western Kentucky
6.Xavier11.North Carolina Providence
3.Georgetown14.Oakland
7.New Mexico10.Mississippi Milwaukee
2.Michigan St15.Vermont