Live From the American Conference Semifinals

In an unlikely semi-final matchup, the Memphis Tigers (19-14) cruised to a 74-54 victory over the upstart Tulane Green Wave (12-22).

It appeared that playing three games in as many days had caught up with the Green Wave. As turnovers and missed shots began to pile. To add on even more, the team has been dealing with rumors that its coach will be fired once the season ends.

“From day one since I’ve been in this program Coach Conroy always preached to keep the
outside noise out and don’t listen to what no one says and just stay together,” said senior guard Louis Dabney. “When all that was going down, we didn’t really bother to even care, because Coach Conroy always put us first.”

Memphis will now try to play spoiler for a bubble team as it has a chance to win an automatic bid by defeating UConn.

“We know we’re going to have to play a great game if we want to have an opportunity to beat them,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “But we’re excited about the challenge, and it should be a high level game with two high level teams tomorrow afternoon.”

UPDATE: 9:45 p.m.

The UConn Huskies (23-10) continue to ride the wave of emotion following their quadruple overtime win on Friday with an impressive 77-62 victory over the Temple Owls (21-11).

“It was a well-played game by our guys,” said UConn head coach Kevin Ollie. “They were focused. They were determined to get to the championship game.”

The game was decided midway through the first half when the Huskies went on a 35-11 run to turn an eight-point deficit at 14:05 into a 16-point lead at 1:44 in the first half.

Temple struggled with UConn’s size in the first half – struggling to finish around the hoop causing it to shoot 28.1 percent and being outrebounded by nine boards at the break.

The Owls were able to dwindle the Huskies lead down to six on several occasions in the second half – the last being at 9:44. However, the Huskies had an answer to every run.

Sophomore guard Daniel Hamilton and senior forward Shonn Miller both finished with 19 points for the Huskies. Senior forward Jaylen Bond led the Owls with 17.

UConn saw its NCAA tournament hopes take another step forward and it can erase all doubt with a win in the championship game. In the meantime, Temple will have 24 hours to see if its fate will be the same as last season.

“It’s not in our hands,” said junior guard Josh Brown. “We pray that our name is called”

Published in: on March 12, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Live from the American Conference Tournament Quarterfinals

For the second year in a row, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane wilted under the pressure of the bubble as it fell to the Memphis Tigers 89-67.

Freshman forward Dedric Lawson scored 22 points and grabbed 12 boards. Senior guard Ricky Tarrant, Jr. and senior guard Trashon Burrell added 21 and 19 points respectively.

Tulsa was outsworked from the tip as Memphis seemed to be the more motivated team. Memphis out-rebounded Tulsa 43-35 and forced 13 turnovers.

Now, the American is a conference bubble teams around the country will be watching as the late semifinal will feature two teams that need an automatic bid to make the Big Dance.

Tune in tomorrow as the blog will be back live from the Amway Center for semifinal Saturday. Tulsa, meanwhile, will be on a flight back to Oklahoma pondering whether or not it will make the tournament.

UPDATE 12:20 a.m.

The upstart No. 10-seed Tulane Green Wave outscored the No. 2 seed Houston Cougars by 11 in the second half and pulled off the biggest upset of the day in Orlando with a 72-69 win.

With nine seconds left in the game, sophomore guard Cameron Reynolds knocked down a three to put the Green Wave up 70-69. On the ensuing Houston possession freshman guard Galen Robinson, Jr. turned the ball over.

Robinson’s turnover was indicative of a sloppy game for the Cougars as they allowed the Green Wave to stick around in the second half despite taking a eight-point lead into the break.

By the 13-minute mark, and despite the lead getting up to nine, the motivated Green Wave tied the game.

The victory was made all the more astonishing by the fact that reports came out during the game had Tulane head coach Ed Conroy being fired as soon as the season was over.

“I had two guys behind the bench put their phones up and say ‘hey coach, you’re gone,'” Conroy said. “That was fun when you’re trying to come back from an eight-point deficit.”

Houston’s faint at-large hopes are now certainly destroyed with a loss to a team, who’s RPI is below 230.

UPDATE 9:45 p.m.

In arguably the best game in the three-year history of the American Athletic Conference, the UConn Huskies (22-10) outlasted the Cincinnati Bearcats (22-10) in quadruple overtime 104-97.

The high drama came at the end of the third overtime. After Cincinnati junior guard Kevin Johnson broke a 95-95 tie with a three-pointer with .8 seconds left, UConn freshman guard Jalen Adams banked in a three from halfcourt to force a fourth overtime.

“It’s something that just happened,” Adams said. “Early in the year, me and (sophomore wing Daniel Hamilton) used to see who could make the most halfcourt shots. I guess it’s paying off.”

The Huskies trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, but fought back to take a seven-point lead with 3:36 remaining in the second half. However the Bearcats clawed their way back into the game to force overtime at 62-62

From there, the game became a slugfest with neither team leading by more than four in any of the first three overtime periods.

In the fourth overtime, UConn grabbed a five-point lead at 100-95, Cincinnati was able to cut it to three on a tip-in by senior forward Octavius Ellis with 25 seconds left. From there UConn was able to salt the game away from the free-throw line.

For UConn, they have a 3 p.m. tilt tomorrow with Temple. Cincinnati, on the other hand, is left to wonder about its NCAA tournament fate. It’s a fate that head coach Mick Cronin says should already be decided.

“I don’t even know why anyone would ask us the question, based on what we’ve accomplished this year versus the rest of the field,” Cronin said. “I understand that our conference doesn’t get as much respect by the people on TV a lot as some other people.”

UPDATE 6:25 p.m.

In the first game of the day here in Orlando, Temple (21-10) pulled away in the second half en route to a 79-62 win over South Florida (8-25).

The Owls were paced by senior guard Jaylen Bond’s 17 points and 8 rebounds. His fellow senior and backcourt mate, Quenton DeCosey added 14 points and 8 rebounds while sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia chipped in 13 and 5.

Meanwhile, the Bulls were led by junior forward Chris Perry who dropped 19 points and grabbed 8 boards. Freshman guard Jahmal McMurray added 16 points.

This blog believes the Owls are in, but they certainly saved themselves from a more nerve wracking weekend by taking care of business versus the Bulls – especially with this being the day that will make or break bubble teams around the country.

Despite that, the Owls say after last year’s disappointment their only focus is the automatic bid.

“Having that feeling from last year, we all remember it. We all remember how it felt,” Enechionyia said. “That’s something we all want to experience – getting to the tournament. Getting to play late in the season.

“Having that feeling in our minds and remembering that. I think its motivated all of us,” he continued

Gael Force Wind

Photo by Tod Fierner

Two years ago Saint Mary’s shocked the country in the NCAA tournament when, as a No. 10 seed, it upset Richmond and Villanova on its way to the Sweet 16.  If the Gaels shock anyone in the tournament this year then it’s because of negligence because they might be the best team on the West Coast.

The Gaels are currently undefeated in the West Coast Conference, including an impressive 3-0 over Gonzaga and BYU.  In those three wins, the smallest margin of victory was 14 points.

Leading the Gaels is Australia native Matthew Dellavedova who played a key role in that Sweet 16 role two years ago as a sharpshooting roleplayer.  He’s still a sharpshooter, but now he’s one of the best guards in the country.

Complimenting Dellavedova is Rob Jones who’s averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.  This is a dangerous team and clearly a top-25 squad.

Stock Up: Florida St. Earlier in the season it looked like the Seminoles were in serious trouble of making the tournament.  However, they turned it around and are looking like legit contenders for the ACC regular season championship.  More than the wins over North Carolina and Duke; the Seminoles are staying focused and taking care of the Maryland’s and Wake Forest’s of the world.  That shows staying power at the top of the conference.

Stock Down: Pac-12.  The conference has been struggling for a few years now, but at least last year it had a few good teams.  This is the worst I’ve seen a power conference.  This week I only have one Pac-12 team in the bracket and that’s a shame.  UCLA is down, Arizona is struggling.  Those are the two bell cows for this league and it won’t get back right until they do.

Stock Up: Notre Dame. Mike Brey might be doing it again.  People seem to count his teams out every year yet he manages to get them going again.  The Fighting Irish are in a three-way tie for third place in the Big East with Georgetown and South Florida due to a three-game winning streak over Syracuse, Seton Hall and Connecticut.  Notre Dame is young and lacking star power, but make no mistake about it, its ready to make another run at the Big Dance.

Stock Down. A-10 contenders.  What’s going on in the Atlantic 10.  St. Joseph’s, St. Louis, Dayton, Xavier and Temple are all taking turns proving that they can’t handle success.  Despite impressive non-conference resumes, none of them seem to want to win the regular season conference title.  This has resulted in a three-way first place tie between Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure and La Salle.  Stretch run in the A-10 looks to be fun, but it may not be pretty.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: BYU, Arkansas, Colorado St, Alabama
Last Four Out: UCF, Washington, Wyoming, Mississippi

Good for games through 1/29

SOUTH

1.Kentucky16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Louisville

8.Wichita St9.Illinois

5.Gonzaga12.Seton Hall Portland

4.Florida St13.Oral Roberts

6.Mississippi St11.Minnesota Albuquerque

3.UNLV14.Akron

7.Louisville10.Xavier Albuquerque

2.Baylor15.Montana

WEST

1.North Carolina16.Texas-Arlington/Stony Brook Greensboro

8.California9.Notre Dame

5.Wisconsin12.Alabama/BYU Portland

4.Marquette13.Long Beach St

6.Virginia11.Dayton Nashville

3.Vanderbilt14.Davidson

7.Michigan10.Connecticut Omaha

2.Kansas15.Long Island

EAST

1.Syracuse16.Bucknell Pittsburgh

8.Southern Miss9.Kansas St

5.San Diego St12.Purdue  Nashville

4.Florida13.Iona

6.Murray St11.Massachusetts Columbus

3.Michigan St14.Nevada

7.West Virginia10.Iowa St Greensboro

2.Duke15.Belmont

MIDWEST

1.Ohio St16.Norfolk St Pittsburgh

8.Temple9.Memphis

5.Georgetown12.Colorado St/Arkansas Columbus

4.St. Mary’st13.Middle Tennessee St

6.Indiana11.New Mexico Louisville

3.Creighton14.Cleveland St

7.Harvard10.Cincinnati Omaha

2.Missouri15.George Mason

In Graphical Form

West Region Breakdown

1. Duke Blue Devils
Location:
Durham, NC
Record: 30-4
Automatic Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference Champions
Key Players: Nolan Smith (21.3 ppg, 5.2 apg), Kyle Singler (17.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Seth Curry (9.5 ppg), Mason Plumlee (8.5 rpg)
Strength: Duke is one of the most experienced teams in the country as it returns much of the team that won the national championship last season. Led by seniors, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, the Devils picked up where they left off last season. This team has been focused and primed for a repeat and are very capable of doing that. The Blue Devils may have been the most surprising No. 1 seed to ever win a national championship last season, but they won’t shock anyone if they repeat.
Weakness: This is a solid three-point shooting team, but if it’s off it really throws them into a tizzy. Almost 35 percent of Duke’s field goal attempts are from behind the arc so if its not making a good percentage of them it makes it very difficult for it to score. Duke has size inside, but it must learn to lean on it a bit more or it could come back to haunt it.

2. San Diego State Aztecs
Location:
San Diego, CA
Record: 32-2
Automatic Bid: Mountain West Conference Champions
Key Players: Kawhi Leonard (15.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Malcolm Thomas (11.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg), D.J. Gay (11.2 ppg), Billy White (9.9 ppg), Chase Tapley (8.4 ppg)
Strength: This is a very tough team. The Aztecs are grown men on the boards as they are first in the Mountain West in rebounding margin. They also defend as they only allow their opponents to shoot 39.6 three from the field and 30.9 percent from three. They do a great job taking teams out of what they like to do and just pound teams into submission. Any team that wants to beat them will have to match their toughness and judging by their record, that’s been easier said than done.
Weakness: The Aztecs have been able to get through the Mountain West schedule with a seven-man rotation, but that’s not going to cut it in the NCAA Tournament. D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Kawhi Leonard all play a lot of minutes and that could come back to haunt the Aztecs. This is a supremely talented team, but it’s going to take more than just the talent in the starting five to make it to the Final Four.

3. Connecticut Huskies
Location:
Storrs, CT
Record: 26-9
Automatic Bid: Big East Champions
Key Players: Kemba Walker (23.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Jeremy Lamb (10.3 ppg), Alex Oriakhi (10 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Shabazz Napier (8.3 ppg), Roscoe Smith (5.1 rpg)
Strength: The world knows by now that to beat Connecticut you have to find a way to contain Kemba Walker. Walker, a national player of the year candidate, has been hard for everybody to stop. Teams have tried zone and man against him and somehow, he’s managed to still score and carry his team. The show he put on in the Big East Tournament was amazing and he’s fully capable of duplicating that in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Outside of Walker, the Huskies just haven’t gotten consistent production from the rest of the roster all year. There have been nights when Jeremy Lamb or Alex Oriakhi have really scored, but not on a night-in night-out basis. Due to that, many teams have played zone against Connecticut and it has worked. The Huskies shoot only 43.3 percent from the field. If Walker’s supporting cast doesn’t step up Connecticut could ripe for an upset.

4. Texas Longhorns
Location:
Austin, TX
Record: 27-7
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: Jordan Hamilton (18.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Tristan Thompson (13.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Gary Johnson (11.5 ppg, 7 rpg), Cory Joesph (10.5 ppg), J’Covan Brown (9.8 ppg)
Strength: Texas may have the most talented starting five in America. Texas has any number of guys who can fill it up led by freshman Tristan Thompson. The Longhorns have shown they can beat anyone in the country as evident by their win at Kansas. They are hard to guard together and can score in bunches. This team will be tough to beat and is capable of making a deep run in the Big Dance.
Weakness: Texas is still a very young team. The Longhorns get a lot of production from underclassmen and that could be a detriment in the tournament. They’ve already shown a lack of maturity in some of their losses this year and it’s quite possible that it can happen again. Texas’ young players are no doubt talented, but that was also the case in 2007 with Kevin Durant and that ended with a second round loss to USC. There’s plenty of evidence here to say that may happen again.

5. Arizona Wildcats
Location:
Tucson, AZ
Record: 27-7
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Derrick Williams (19.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Lamont Jones (9.6 ppg), Kyle Fogg (8.3 ppg)
Strength: It’s easy to see why the Wildcats have had a renaissance year and he wears No. 23. Derrick Williams is an All-American and a load in the paint. He has carried this team all season long with his stellar play. He really has no peer at his position in college basketball and his teammates have done a good job of playing off of him. Williams is a great college basketball player – one with the talent to take the Wildcats on a long run.
Weakness: The Wildcats struggle mightily when they turn the ball over. They sit in eight place in the Pac-10. The team can be really explosive when they’re playing well, but they can also give games away with their carelessness. Even Williams, as good as he is, is a turnover factory as he leads the team with 86 turnovers and just 37 assists. If the Wildcats don’t take care of the ball they could lose to anybody.

6. Cincinnati Bearcats
Location:
Cincinnati, OH
Record: 25-8
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Yancy Gates (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Dion Dixon (11.6 ppg), Sean Kilpatrick (9.9 ppg), Cashmere Wright (8.9 ppg), Rashad Bishop (8.1 ppg)
Strength: The Bearcats, just like most teams in the Big East, are an awesome defensive team. Cincinnati’s 41.1 percent field-goal percentage defense yields just 59.2 points per game from opponents; good enough for first in the conference. Their guards are great at pressuring the basketball and they have enough length to bother jump shooters. Cincinnati may have flown under the radar, but they’ll prove to be a match-up nightmare in the NCAA Tournament.
Weakness: Cincinnati struggles mightily to score. The Bearcats are one of the worst shooting teams in the Big East as they only shoot 43.6 percent from the field on the year. In fact, the Bearcats second through fifth leading scorers don’t come anywhere near shooting 50 percent. Cincinnati has to make games ugly to win, but if they play against a team that gets hot, there won’t be much it can do to stay in it.

7. Temple Owls
Location:
Philadelphia, PA
Record: 25-7
At-Large Bid: Atlantic-10 Conference
Key Players: Ramone Moore (14.9 ppg), Lavoy Allen (11.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Juan Fernandez (10.7 ppg), Khalif Wyatt (10 ppg), Rahlir Jefferson (5.1 rpg)
Strength: Temple has one of the most frustrating styles of play to prepare for. The Owls play a deliberate style where they control tempo on offense and play tough defense. They’re physical and tough inside with Lavoy Allen. Their experienced on the perimeter with the unflappable Juan Fernandez. It’s not the most beautiful brand of basketball to watch, but it is very effective.
Weakness: Injuries have really depleted the Owls this season. Temple’s rotation is virtually nonexistent now. Temple only played seven players in their Atlantic 10 semifinal loss to Richmond. The Owls cannot afford any foul trouble because all that’s left at this point are walk-ons. If Temple plays a team with great depth, it may be in serious trouble.

8. Michigan Wolverines
Location:
Ann Arbor, MI
Record: 20-13
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Darius Morris (15.2 ppg, 6.7 apg), Tim Hardaway Jr. (13.9 ppg), Jordan Morgan (9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Zack Novak (8.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Strength: Coach John Beilein has one of the most unusual styles of play in America. The Wolverines love to spread teams out and shoot three pointers. They have outstanding guards, who’ve led the team to shoot a respectable 35.3 percent from behind the arc. Once teams decide to guard Michigan on the three point line, it opens up the lane for layups. Beilein’s West Virginia team got hot and made it to the Elite 8 in 2005 so there’s no reason to believe this Michigan team can’t have success too.
Weakness: The Wolverines are extremely weak on the boards. It’s surprising that Michigan was successful in the rugged Big Ten. Michigan was 10th in the conference in rebounding Margin with the likes of Iowa and Indiana finishing ahead of it. That’s part of the reason why the Wolverines were a middling team in the conference and could be the reason why they are booted out of the Big Dance quickly.

9. Tennessee Volunteers
Location:
Knoxville, TN
Record: 19-14
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Scotty Hopson (17.4 ppg), Tobias Harris (15.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Cameron Tatum (8.9 ppg), Melvin Goins (8.1 ppg), Brian Williams (7.7 rpg)
Strength: Scotty Hopson had a great season for Tennessee. He is one of the most explosive players in the nation and has put up huge numbers against solid defensive teams. Hopson scored 27 on Pittsburgh and 32 on Georgia. He has solid teammates around him who complement his talents very well. If Hopson gets going in the Big Dance, he can carry Tennessee to the second weekend.
Weakness: There was only one team in the SEC that got to the free-throw line more than Tennessee, yet it is only eighth in free-throw percentage. Three key guys in the Volunteers’ rotation shoot sub-70 percent from the charity stripe. This is key in pressure situations when free-throws are so important. The Vols have to get the right people to the line or they may give a win away.

10. Penn State Nittany Lions
Location:
State College, PA
Record: 19-14
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Talor Battle (20.1 ppg), Jeff Brooks (13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg), David Jackson (9.8 ppg), Andrew Jones (5.5 rpg)
Strength: Penn St goes as Talor Battle goes. The Nittany Lions follow the lead of Battle who is one of the best players in the nation. Battle has toiled in relative obscurity in State College for four years, but he finally gets his moment in the sun making the first NCAA Tournament of his career. If he gets hot, he can be the catalyst to get the Nittany Lions to the second weekend.
Weakness: Watching Penn St play on offense is not a pleasant experience. The Nittany Lions are one of the worst teams in the tournament offensively as they score only 63 points per game. They have no explosion offensively and cannot get down by double digits. The Lions want to grind wins out, but on offense, it seems as though that strategy backfires.

11. Missouri Tigers
Location:
Columbia, MO
Record: 23-10
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: Marcus Denmon (17.1 ppg), Laurence Bowers (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Ricardo Ratliff (10.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Kim English (10.2 ppg), Michael Dixon (10.2 ppg)
Strength: Coach Mike Anderson’s “fastest 40 minutes in basketball” is basketball on roller skates. It’s fun to watch, but it’s also difficult to prepare for and that’s what makes Missouri tough. The Tigers employ one of the nation’s most effective full court pressure defenses. They force over 18 turnovers a game and they use those turnovers to fuel their offense. If the Tigers can impose their will with their style of play, they can make a little noise in the Big Dance.
Weakness: This is one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big XII. The tigers get out-rebounded by nearly two boards per game. A lot of that has to do with the Tigers wanting to get out and run, but it also has to do with the fact that Missouri’s big men don’t give consistent production going to the glass. Rebounds can be had against this team and if it gives up too many, it could be one-and-done.

12. Memphis Tigers
Location:
Memphis, TN
Record: 25-9
Automatic Bid: Conference-USA
Key Players: Will Barton (12.3 ppg, 5 rpg), Joe Jackson (9.9 ppg), Tank Black (9.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Wesley Witherspoon (9 ppg)
Strength: Memphis is one of the most athletic teams in the country. Josh Pastner has built this team in the mold that his predecessor, John Calipari, built his teams. The Memphis roster is full of guys who love to get up-and-down the court and they do it well. The Tigers are treacherous on the fast break and can turn a game into a highlight reel in a hurry. It’s the way they like to play and it’s the way they earned their way to the tournament.
Weakness: Memphis is young and very mistake-prone. The Tigers are ninth in Conference-USA in turnover margin as they turn the ball over 15.3 times per game. The Tigers can be exciting to watch, but they can also be frustrating at the same time. They’ve lost games with their out-of-control play this year and they’ll have to reign it in if they expect to have staying power in the Big Dance.

13. Oakland Grizzlies
Location:
Rochester, MI
Record: 25-9
Automatic Bid: Summit League Champions
Key Players: Keith Benson (18 ppg, 10.1 rpg), Reggie Hamilton (17.4 ppg, 5.4 apg), Will Hudson (12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Travis Bader (10.5 ppg), Larry Wright (9.8 ppg)
Strength: This team can score and can do it in bunches. Oakland is second nationally in points per game at 85.6. The Grizzlies have four guys who average double figures led by Keith Benson, a future pro. This team is difficult to guard and that’s evident in their win over Tennessee where it scored 89 points. If this team gets hot, it’s not only a threat to win one game, but don’t be shocked to see it in the Sweet 16.
Weakness: The Grizzlies can be so focused on scoring that they can forget that they have to play defense as well. Oakland allows its opponents to score over 76 points per game, second worst in the Summit League. The Grizzlies will not be able to outscore everyone, especially given the talent level in the Big Dance. If Oakland doesn’t make a commitment to the defensive end, it could be one-and-done.

14. Bucknell Bison
Location:
Lewisburg, PA
Record: 25-8
Automatic Bid: Patriot League Champions
Key Players: Mike Muscala (14.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Bryson Johnson (11.7 ppg), G.W. Boon (8.8 ppg), Darryl Shazier (8.3 ppg, 5.6 apg)
Strength: Bucknell was able to rip through Patriot League competition on the strength of its defense. The Bison were first in the Patriot League in field-goal percentage defense, three-point field-goal percentage defense, and points allowed. That kind of success on the defensive end yielded only one loss in league play and can make the Bison competitive in the Big Dance. Bucknell has a history of success in the NCAA Tournament. If it is able to defend like it has all season, it may add to that.
Weakness: Bucknell likes to play close to the vest and control tempo because of its lack of depth. That may be an issue if the Bison get in any foul trouble. Bucknell has seven players averaging 20 minutes or more per game and then there’s a huge drop off in before the next closest player. The book on Bucknell will be to press them or get them into foul trouble and if Bucknell isn’t able to manage that it may have a very short stay in the tournament.

15. Northern Colorado Bears
Location:
Greeley, CO
Record: 21-10
Automatic Bid: Big Sky Conference Champions
Key Players: Devon Beitzel (21.4 ppg), Neal Kingman (10.6 ppg), Chris Kaba (9.5 ppg), Mike Proctor (5.6 rpg), Taylor Montgomery (5.7 rpg)
Strength: Northern Colorado is one of the best rebounding teams on the mid-major level. The Bears are No. 1 in the Big Sky in rebounding margin at 5.4 per game. They’re also second in the conference in offensive rebounds and first in offensive rebound percentage getting over 35 percent of their misses. If the Bears are able to out-rebound their opponent, they may be able to cause a scare.
Weakness: This is a team that is too reliant on Devon Beitzel to score. Beitzel, the conference’s player of the year, is a great player, but he’s going to need help for Northern Colorado to be successful. If he has an off night this team isn’t capable of being close to anyone in the tournament. Beitzel not only has to score, but he’s going to have to get some partners in crime to be successful.

16. Hampton Pirates
Location:
Hampton, VA
Record: 24-8
Automatic Bid: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Darrion Pellum (17.7 ppg), Kwame Morgan (16.5 ppg), Charles Funches (10.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
Strength: Hampton is easily one of the best defensive teams on the mid-major level. The Pirates hold their opponents to just 37.9 percent shooting – good enough for first in the MEAC. It’s allowed Hampton to do major things in the non-conference portion of it’s schedule, including beating George Washington, Colorado St and fellow NCAA Tournament team, Boston University. Teams only averaged 57 points per game against the Pirates in the MEAC Tournament and they hope to duplicate that play in the Big Dance.
Weakness: The Pirates offensive efficiency is some of the worst you’ll see in the NCAA Tournament. Hampton shoots only 40.7 percent from the field and 32.5 percent form behind the three-point line. The Pirates are even bad from the free-throw line only making 65 percent of those as well. This all leads to a poorest 67.2 points per game in the MEAC. If the Pirates can’t score in the tournament, they’ll have no chance to even be close.

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.

Philly’s Finest

Ryan Brooks and the Temple Owls are flying high

Yes, I know everyone knows about Villanova, but do you know who gave the Wildcats their lone defeat. That would be the Temple Owls. Temple has quietly put together its best season sense the days of Mark Karcher and Pepe Sanchez and they show no signs of stopping.

The Owls have a RPI of 11 and boast wins over five teams in this week’s bracket,two of their three losses came against Georgetown and Kansas, and they have a 9-2 record in road/neutral games.

Led by the backcourt of Juan Fernandez and Ryan Brooks, Temple has the guards to be competitive with anyone on the perimter. Lavoy Allen, in the paint, held Greg Monroe of Georgetown to a stalemate earlier in the season so the Owls are set in the frontcourt as well.

Dayton was the preseason favorite, but Temple has decided that wasn’t going to happen on its watch. Fran Dunphy made Big 5 rival, Penn into an Ivy League power and he’s doing the same at Temple.

Stock Up: UAB. Another team rolling along in relative obscurity, the Blazers sit tied with Tulsa atop of Conference USA and they’re the best hope of an at-large bid in the conference. They’ve beaten Cincinnati and Butler and can really put some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference. With Tulsa and UTEP coming in, they can put their mark on the league this year.

Stock Down: Clemson. Doesn’t it seem like we come to the same place every year with the Tigers. They pile up wins against cupcakes in the non-conference only to show their real stripes in conference play. The Tigers actually played pretty well in their loss at Georgia Tech, but they were awful in the loss at home to Duke. We’ll see if they can bounce back down the stretch.

Stock Up: Old Dominion. I didn’t know what to make of the Monarchs after losing by 16 at George Mason. Well I know what to make now. This is a legitimate at-large contender with wins over Georgetown and Charlotte. They’re tied for first in the CAA with Northeastern and George Mason and they controll they are in complete control of their NCAA tournament fate.

Stock Down: Minnesota. I don’t know what’s wrong with Minnesota, but it better get its act together fast. There’s no shame in losing to Michigan St, but twice in the span of three games with another loss to Indiana in between is not good at all. This was a preseason top 20 team and now the Gophers are on the wrong side of the bubble. Not a good place to be with the bubble being as strong as its been in years.

This week’s bracket projections:

Last Four In: Charlotte, William & Mary, Northwestern, Cincinnati
Last Four Out: Louisville, Wichita State, Notre Dame, Maryland

MIDWEST
1.Kentucky16.Lehigh/Ark-Pine Bluff Milwaukee
8.Georgia Tech9.UNLV
5.Pittsburgh12.William & Mary Jacksonville
4.UAB13.Charlotte
6.Ohio St11.Siena New Orleans
3.Kansas St14.Coastal Carolina
7.Mississippi10.Rhode Island Providence
2.Georgetown15.Weber St
WEST
1.Syracuse16.Arkansas St Buffalo
8.Oklahoma St9.California
5.Vanderbilt12.Dayton Spokane
4.Gonzaga13.College of Charleston
6.Baylor11.Florida New Orleans
3.Purdue14.Oakland
7.Connecticut10.Old Dominion Jacksonville
2.Duke15.East Tennessee St
EAST
1.Villanova16.Campbell Providence
8.Florida St9.Texas A&M
5.Temple12.Northwestern San Jose
4.BYU13.Louisiana Tech
6.Wake Forest11.Seton Hall Buffalo
3.Wisconsin14.Murray St
7.Northern Iowa10.Mississippi St Oklahoma City
2.Texas15.Morgan St
SOUTH
1.Kansas16.Robert Morris Oklahoma City
8.Xavier9.Cornell
5.Butler12.Cincinnati Spokane
4.Tennessee13.Pacific
6.New Mexico11.Richmond San Jose
3.West Virginia14.Maine
7.Missouri10.Clemson Milwaukee
2.Michigan St15.Sam Houston St

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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