Bubble Boys

Ethan Hyman -Raleigh & Observer Former Wolfpack basketball players Tom Gugliotta, center, and Chris Corchiani, center right, are removed from the stands with 6 minutes, 40 seconds left in N.C. State's 76-62 loss to Florida State on Saturday.

Today we’re going to examine the resumes of several teams on the bubble.  Central Florida, Colorado St, Connecticut, Loyola Marymount, Miami(FL), NC State, Northwestern, Seton Hall, St. Joseph’s, Texas, Washington, Xavier

Central Florida

RPI: 56

Record: 19-7 (8-4 Conference-USA)

Key Wins: Connecticut, Memphis

Key Losses: Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa

Outlook: UCF is just 2-4 against Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulsa and Marshall – the other top teams in Conference USA.  Still has a road game at Memphis but will probably need to get to at-least the Conference USA title game to feel good about their chances.

Colorado St

RPI: 29

Record: 16-9 (5-5 Mountain West)

Key Wins: Colorado, Denver, Wyoming, San Diego St

Key Losses: TCU, Boise St

Outlook: The Rams still have a road game at San Diego St sandwiched between home games against New Mexico and UNLV so the opportunity to make a jump is there.  It’ll be difficult, but if the Rams can go 3-1 in their last four and get to the semi-finals of the Mountain West tournament then that will probably be enough for a bid.

Connecticut

RPI: 24

Record: 16-10 (6-8 Big East)

Key Wins: Florida St, Harvard, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Seton Hall

Key Losses: Rutgers, Tennessee

Outlook: The Huskies will have one of the top two or three strength of schedules in the country.  Despite the issue that have plagued them, they have a favorable schedule down the stretch.  A split in their last four and a visit to the quarters will get them to the Big Dance.

Loyola Marymount

RPI: 86

Record: 18-10 (10-4 West Coast)

Key Wins: Saint Louis, BYU, Saint Mary’s

Key Losses: Columbia, North Texas, Morgan St

Outlook: The Lions’ wins over Saint Louis, BYU and Saint Mary’s are better than any wins many of the teams on this list will have.  Those losses to Columbia, North Texas and Morgan St give severe pause though.  May have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to get in, if they get to final they’ll be seriously considered.

Miami (FL)

RPI: 44

Record: 16-9 (7-5 ACC)

Key Wins: Massachusetts, Duke

Key Losses: None

Outlook: Miami has just one quality win, but a win in Cameron carries a lot of weight.  The Hurricanes have a pretty solid strength of schedule, but are just 1-6 against the top 50.  They go to Maryland followed by a home game against Florida St and a road game at NC State.  Their margin of error is extremely slim.

NC State

RPI: 59

Record: 18-9 (7-5 ACC)

Key Wins: Texas, Miami (FL)

Key Losses: Stanford, Georgia Tech

Outlook: NC State had the worst week ever last week.  The Wolfpack lost a game it had won at Duke and then lost at home to Florida St where two of it’s legends were kicked out of the arena.  Win those two games and they’re not even on this list.  NC State has North Carolina and Miami at home coming up.  The opportunity to solidify a tournament berth is still available.

Northwestern

RPI: 37

Record: 16-10 (6-8 Big Ten)

Key Wins: LSU, Seton Hall, Michigan St, Illinois, Minnesota

Key Losses: None

Outlook: The Wildcats have never gone to the NCAA tournament before, but that all can change this season.  They have Michigan and Ohio St at home along with trips to Penn St and Iowa.  4-0 definitely, 3-1 probably, 2-2 and they better get to the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

Seton Hall

RPI: 34

Record: 18-9 (7-8)

Key Wins: Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton, West Virginia, Connecticut, Pittsburgh

Key Losses: Villanova

Outlook: Solid Strength of schedule, but still has a lot of work to do.  The Pirates have Georgetown at home this week and that will go a long way.  Remaining games versus Rutgers and Depaul are more can’t lose than must wins.  If Seton Hall goes 2-1, one of those two needs to be against Georgetown.

St. Joseph’s

RPI: 46

Record: 18-10 (8-5 Atlantic-10)

Key Wins: Drexel, Creighton, Duquesne, Dayton, LaSalle, Massachusetts

Key Losses: American, Charlotte, Penn

Outlook: The Hawks are benefitting from a weak bubble.  They’re currently 0-3 against Temple, Saint Louis and Xavier, which makes their game against Temple on Saturday uber-important.  They lose that game and they’re probably looking at winning the Atlantic-10 tournament to get in.

Texas

RPI: 51

Record: 17-10 (7-7 Big 12)

Key Wins: Temple, Oklahoma St, Iowa St, Kansas St

Key Losses: Oregon St

Outlook: The Longhorns host Baylor tonight and close the season at Kansas.  They have four games remaining and I thing going 3-1 in those games will get them in.  Under no circumstances can they lose to Texas Tech or Oklahoma.

Washington

RPI: 57

Record: 19-8 (12-3 Pac-12)

Key Wins: Oregon, Arizona (2)

Key Losses: None

Outlook: Washington is going to  have to finish at least tied for the Pac-12 regular season title and make it to the championship game to get an at-large berth.  Whether the committee wants to admit it or not; winning the regular season title of a power six conference carries weight.

Xavier

RPI: 54

Record: 17-9 (8-4 Atlantic-10)

Key Wins: Vanderbilt, Purdue, Cincinnati, Duquesne, St. Josephs, Dayton

Key Losses: Hawaii

Outlook: While the Musketeers haven’t been playing as well as they had been before the brawl, they still have the same roster.  That means this team is still capable of winning big games.  One of the best resumes on this list and may have a larger margin for error than other team seen here.  Still, I’d go 3-1 down the stretch if I were Xavier.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: St. Josephs, Connecticut, Miami (FL), Seton Hall
Last Four Out: UCF, NC State, Colorado St, Illinois

Good for games through of 2/19

SOUTH

1.Kentucky16.Vermont/Savannah St Louisville

8.Virginia9.St. Mary’s

5.Louisville12.Northwestern Albuquerque

4.Baylor13.Oral Roberts

6.UNLV11.Mississippi St Columbus

3.Georgetown14.Davidson

7.Creighton10.Memphis Pittsburgh

2.Ohio St15.Belmont

WEST

1.Duke16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Greensboro

8.Saint Louis9.Harvard

5.Wisconsin12.Texas Albuquerque

4.Notre Dame13.Drexel

6.Indiana11.Seton Hall/Miami(FL) Nashville

3.Florida14.Middle Tennessee St

7.California10.Southern Mississippi Omaha

2.Kansas15.Long Island

MIDWEST

1.Missouri16.Bucknell Omaha

8.West Virginia9.Purdue

5.Florida St12.Washington Nashville

4.Temple13.Iona

6.Gonzaga11.Alabama Portland

3.Marquette14.Nevada

7.San Diego St10.Iowa St Columbus

2.Michigan St15.Valparaiso

EAST

1.Syracuse16.UT-Arlington Pittsburgh

8.Kansas St9.BYU

5.New Mexico12.Long Beach St Portland

4.Wichita St13.Connecticut/St. Josephs

6.Vanderbilt11.Xavier  Louisville

3.Michigan14.Akron

7.Murray St10.Cincinnati Greensboro

2.North Carolina15.Weber St

In Graphical Form

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

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.

Rock Chalk

Marcus Morris leads the Jayhawks

I haven’t seen a more impressive team this season then Kansas. Coach Bill Self’s squad lost Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich and hasn’t skipped a beat.

The Morris twins are proving to be a load in the paint. Marcus and Markieff are averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds between the two of them and in Mondays game against Baylor, they were unstoppable.

Kansas has also been getting good guard play. Tyshawn Taylor held down the fort for the beginning of the season, but now Josh Selby is in the fold giving them another dimension.

Selby is explosive and can create his own shot and shots for his teammates. The athletic freshman out of Baltimore is hell in Nikes and will burn the Big XII up this year.

Stock Up: San Diego St. The Aztecs have run roughshod over their competition this year. With wins over Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, Wichita St., UNLV and New Mexico, the Aztecs have a very impressive resume. Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay and Malcolm Thomas are three of the best players in the nation and come March everyone will become acquainted with them.

Stock Down: Sun Belt. Sun Belt officials tried to come up with strategies to increase at-large bid opportunities for the conference. What’s transpired has been a failure on all levels. The conference has underachieved mightily with no team being more disappointing than Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers went down to the San Juan Shootout hoping to get some quality wins and came back 1-2 with a loss to Davidson. The rest of the conference hasn’t been much better as it is ranked 26 out 31 conferences in RPI. Looks like it might be time to look over the plan for the conference again.

Stock Up: Xavier. It’s almost to the point where it’s like death and taxes with the Musketeers. We shouldn’t be surprised to see them atop the Atlantic-10 again. Year after year they contend for the title and it looks like this year will be no different. They bounced back nicely after their loss to Cincinnati by winning their first three conference games. With a trip to St. Bonaventure followed by two home games, the Musketeers can really distance themselves.

Stock Down: Auburn. How can a BCS conference team be so bad? I know people may be asking if I’ve seen Depaul play. Yes I have live and they’d mop the floor with Auburn. How the Tigers beat Florida St. is beyond me, but they’re already 0-3 in league play and it can get really ugly down the stretch. Thank God for football.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Marquette, Butler, Cincinnati, Miami (FL)
Last Four Out: Memphis, New Mexico, Dayton, UCLA

Good for games through 1/17

SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.Northern Colorado/Morgan St Tulsa
8.North Carolina9.Tennessee
5.Wisconsin12.Xavier Tampa
4.West Virginia13.James Madison
6.Louisville11.Utah St Chicago
3.Purdue14.Vermont
7.Washington10.Gonzaga Washington, DC
2.Connecticut15.Bucknell
WEST
1.Duke16.Austin Peay Charlotte
8.Vanderbilt9.Missouri St
5.Minnesota12.Cincinnati/Butler Chicago
4.Missouri13.Oakland
6.Colorado11.Old Dominion Denver
3.Villanova14.Coastal Carolina
7.St. John’s10.Boston College Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Chattanooga
SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Island Cleveland
8.St. Mary’s9.Oklahoma St
5.Florida12.Southern Mississippi Tampa
4.Michigan St13.Ball St
6.Illinois11.Miami(FL)/Marquette Denver
3.BYU14.Belmont
7.Arizona10.Wichita St Tulsa
2.Texas A&M15.Long Beach St
EAST
1.Ohio St16.McNeese St/Jackson St Cleveland
8.Temple9.Georgia
5.Notre Dame12.Harvard Tucson
4.Texas13.Valparaiso
6.Georgetown11.Florida St Charlotte
3.Kentucky14.Iona
7.UNLV10.UCF Washington, DC
2.Syracuse15.Florida Atlantic

In Graphical Form

West Region Team Capsules

1. Syracuse Orange
Location: Syracuse, N.Y.
Record: 28-4
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Wesley Johnson (16 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Andy Rautins (11.7 ppg, 5 apg), Kris Joseph (11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Arinze Onuaku (10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Rick Jackson (10 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Scoop Jardine (8.8 ppg), Brandon Triche (8.1 ppg)
Strength: Syracuse has outstanding balance. Across the board, the Orange can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. Wes Johnson is a match-up problem for anybody, Andy Rautins is deadly from deep and Rick Johnson and Arinze Onuaku are space eaters in the paint. The Orange can attack in the half court or in transition. They are just a nightmare to match-up with and that’s why they’re one of the best teams in the country.
Weakness: Late in the season, some chinks in Syracuse’s armor. Both Louisville and Georgetown has exposed holes in the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. Louisville shot 58.1 percent in the second half against Syracuse and Georgetown 57.9 percent for the whole game. If Syracuse doesn’t sure up the weaknesses in that zone, it may be the opening its foes is looking for to defeat it.

2. Kansas State Wildcats
Location: Manhattan, Kan.
Record: 26-7
At-Large Bid: Big XII Conference
Key Players: Jacob Pullen (18.9 ppg), Denis Clemente (16.2 ppg), Jamar Samuels (11.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Curtis Kelly (11.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Dominique Sutton (5.8 rpg)
Strength: This is an explosive team when their big men play well The Wildcats play hard and they like to get out in transition. Led by the backcourt of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, they can just absolutely pound teams into submission. Coach Frank Martin has molded this team in his personality and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the tournament.
Weakness: This team can play out-of-control sometimes. They play so hard that it’s excused by Martin, but it can be frustrating to watch. Pullen and Clemente are known to take bad shots. Their big men have been known to commit questionable fouls. They need to play smart in this tournament to have success. They can get to the Final Four or they can lose in the first weekend.

3. Pittsburgh Panthers
Location: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Record: 24-8
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Player: Ashton Gibbs (15.8 ppg), Brad Wanamaker (12.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Jermaine Dixon (10.7 ppg), Gilbert Brown (10.3 ppg), Gary McGhee (6.9 rpg), Nasir Robinson (5.6 rpg)
Strength: The Panthers reflect the identity of their city and their coach. They’re tough. It’s like Groundhog’s Day with Pitt because every year they seem to have the same kind of team. They’re going to play great defense and crash the boards. They’re not going to be intimidated by anyone and there’s not many who can match the effort they’re going to give. Jamie Dixon has a formula and he doesn’t need to change it as long as it keeps working.
Weakness: There’s a feeling that Dixon has gotten everything he can out of this team. The Panthers have greatly overachieved this season. That’s partly due to the brilliant coaching job Dixon has done and partly due to no one had a read on his players. Now teams have a book on his players and they know what the Panthers like to do. It’ll be interesting to see if that translate to an early exit for Pitt.

Vanderbilt guard Jermaine Beal


4. Vanderbilt Commodores
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Record: 24-8
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Jermaine Beal (14.7 ppg), A.J. Ogilvy (13.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Jeffery Taylor (13.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), John Jenkins (10.9 ppg), Andre Walker (5.5 rpg)
Strength: Vanderbilt is a tough team to prepare for. They run a Princeton-style offense with great shooters and a solid post presence. A.J Ogilvy, the 6’11” Aussie, along with Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins were tailor-made for this offense. Beal and Jenkins really spread the defense with excellent outside shooting while Ogilvy does his work in the paint. They’re difficult to defend and will be an issue this March.
Weakness: There’s not much depth for the Commodores. After the top six players in their rotation, the production drops sharply. This is a team that needs every starter to play well every night. If they get in foul trouble, or one of the starters has an off night, they could be cooked. Vanderbilt may need to get some else to step up un-expectantly if they expect to make a run at the tournament.

5. Butler Bulldogs
Location: Indianapolis, Ind.
Record: 28-4
Automatic Bid: Horizon League Champions
Key Players: Gordon Hayward (15.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Shelvin Mack (13.9 ppg), Matt Howard (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, Willie Veasley (10.3 ppg)
Strength: Most would equate Butler with three-point shooting and offense. However, Butler’s defense is the biggest reason why they’ve been so successful. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to just 60 points per game. In fact, in its BracketBuster game, Butler held Siena to just 53 points. This isn’t just because of tempo, this is because the Bulldogs allow their opponents to shoot just 41.4 percent from the floor.
Weakness: Butler has no frontcourt depth. Matt Howard, the Bulldogs best post player, often finds himself in foul trouble and it puts them in a bind. Howard has got to stay out of foul trouble and play effective minutes for them to be successful. He’s good scorer and can rebound with the best of them, but it does the Bulldogs no good if he’s sitting beside Butler coach Brad Stevens on the bench.

6. Xavier Musketeers
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Record: 24-8
At-Large Bid: Atlantic 10 Conference
Key Players: Jordan Crawford (19.7 ppg), Jason Love (11.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Terrell Holloway (11.8 ppg), Jamel McLean (8.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Mark Lyons (8.4 ppg)
Strength: The Musketeers are one of the most explosive teams in the country. Led by sophomore swingman Jordan Crawford, the Musketeers are putting up 80 points per game. They have offensive diversity with good wing players, good guard play and solid post players. That means that they are balanced and can beat you in a variety of ways. Xavier seems to always have great scorers and this year is no different.
Weakness: Xavier’s youth could come back to bite them. The Musketeers depend on three underclassmen for major production. Crawford, Terrell Holloway and Mark Lyons are all talented players, but they’re green when it comes to these situations. Shot selection has been an issue all year for them and chances are it’s not going to improve now. Xavier is going to need is young guys to grow up in a hurry if expects to make another deep run in the tournament.

7. BYU Cougars
Location: Provo, Utah
Record: 29-5
At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference
Key Players: Jimmer Fredette (21.7 ppg), Jackson Emery (12.6 ppg), Tyler Haws (11.3 ppg) Jonathan Tavernari (10.3 ppg), Noah Hartsock (5.1 rpg)
Strength: Any team with Jimmer Fredette is going to have a chance to win. Fredette is one of the most underrated scorers in the country. He’s a 44.8 three-point shooter and 89.6 percent from the free-throw line. He doesn’t waste opportunities and has been consistent all year. His explosive scoring has saved the Cougars numerous times and he’ll be tough for any team to guard in the NCAA tournament.
Weakness: History is not on the Cougars side. They have to be reliving ghosts of NCAA tournaments past. BYU has lost nine consecutive NCAA tournament games. That staggering statistic is why this team gets so little respect. BYU is under more pressure than most people realize. Will that pressure bust pipes for the Cougars or will it create a diamond in the rough?

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Location: Spokane, Wash.
Record: 26-6
At-Large Bid: West Coast Conference
Key Players: Matt Bouldin (15.8 ppg), Elias Harris (14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Steven Gray (13.7 ppg), Robert Sacre (10 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Strength: Unlike previous editions of Gonzaga basketball, this team actually defends very well. The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the WCC in field goal percentage defense allowing their opponents to shoot just over 40 percent. They’re also getting close to seven steals per game which fuels their outstanding transition game. That defense is reason why Gonzaga is once again a threat to reach the second weekend.
Weakness: The Bulldogs really lack backcourt depth. Outside of the Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson, there’s nothing there. The starters have to play the bulk of the minutes and that will be an issue in the tournament. All three of the aforementioned players are very talented, but they need relief. If they play someone who can run a lot of defenders at them, they may wear down and kill Gonzaga’s chances.

9. Florida State Seminoles
Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
Record: 22-9
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Solomon Alabi (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Chris Singleton (10.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Michael Snaer (8.9 ppg), Deividas Dulkys (8.6 ppg), Derwin Kitchen (8.3 ppg)
Strength: There’s no doubt that Florida St is going as far as its low-post duo of Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton will take it. The two big men aren’t big-time scorers, but they do so many things that help the Seminoles win. They run the floor well, block shots and really crash the boards. Their size has given foes fits all year long and will may continue to be an advantage for the Seminole sin the tournament.
Weakness: Not many teams in the ACC have the porous offensive numbers of the Seminoles. They’re in the bottom half of the conference in scoring offense, three-point field goal percentage, free-throw percentage and turnover margin. It’s what led their inconsistent play. Not being able to score consistently will put them at a major disadvantage. They have to show the ability for some offensive explosion to have a chance.

10. Florida Gators
Location: Gainesville, Fla.
Record: 21-12
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Kenny Boynton (13.6 ppg), Erving Walker (12.6 ppg), Chandler Parsons (12.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Alex Tyus (12 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Vernon Macklin (10.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Strength: The Gators have one of the best post games in all of college basketball. Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin each bring a different skill set, but are all very effective. Macklin has solid post moves. Tyus is a good rebounder and can scrap with the best of them. Parsons can step behind arc and shoot the three-pointer effectively. When they’re playing well, the Gators are awfully difficult to beat.
Weakness: To play the type of style the Gators like to play, they don’t score the like they should. They are averaging over 70 points per game, but with the way they like to get up-and-down the floor, they should be able to light the scoreboard up. The biggest issue is the shot selection of Kenny Boynton. He only shoots 28.5 percent from downtown, but he’s taken 55 more three-pointers than the next closest teammate. It’s killing their shooting percentage and opportunities for good shots. He has to make better decisions for the Gators to be successful.

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Record: 21-13
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: Lawrence Westbrook (12.6 ppg), Blake Hoffarber (10.1 ppg), Damian Johnson (10 ppg), Devoe Joseph (9.6 ppg), Ralph Sampson III (8.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Strength: This is a Tubby Smith-coached team so there’s no doubt that it’s going to defend. Tubby Smith is one of the best defensive coaches in the country and he once again has a team that has taken on his identity. The Golden Gophers are second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense holding teams to just 40.2 percent shooting. In addition to that, they lead the conference in blocked shots at 5.5 per game and steals at 8 per game. This is one team that believes in defense.
Weakness: Minnesota is just too inconsistent offensively. This team has decent offensive numbers on the year, but when it goes bad, it really goes bad. In six of the Gophers 13 losses, they’ve scored 60 points or fewer. That’s not getting it done. They have a lot of talent, but they have to bring it on a night-in night-out basis. If not, they may see a repeat of the Big Ten championship game.

Explosive UTEP guard Randy Culpepper


12. UTEP Miners
Location: El Paso, Texas
Record: 26-6
At-Large Bid: Conference USA
Key Players: Randy Culpepper (18 ppg), Derrick Caracter (13.8 ppg, 8 rpg), Jeremy Williams (10.1 ppg), Arnett Moultrie (10.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Christian Polk (9.6 ppg), Julyan Stone (5.1 rpg, 5.4 apg)
Strength: Not many teams have the one-two punch of Randy Culpepper and Derrick Caracter. Culpepper has shown the ability to explode offensively and Caracter, the Louisville transfer, has just been a monster down low. The two combine for almost 32 points per game. The Miners don’t even have to run plays for Caracter. He can just go get offensive rebounds. Having two guys you can rely on for consistent scoring gives UTEP a dimension that most teams would kill for.
Weakness: Free-throw shooting has been an issue for UTEP the entire year. The Miners are 11th in the 12-team Conference USA at 67.2 percent. Their best shooter is Isaac Gordon and he rarely plays. Culpepper is the only guy they can really count on for production from the line as no other Miner, who sees significant minutes, shoots 70 percent from the line.

13. Murray State Racers
Location: Murray, Ky.
Record: 30-4
Automatic Bid: Ohio Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Ivan Aska (10.6 ppg), B.J. Jenkins (10.5 ppg), Danero Thomas (10.4 ppg), Tony Easley (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg)), Isaiah Canaan (10.3 ppg), Isaac Miles (9.5 ppg)
Strength: Murray St has a luxury that most teams around the country don’t have; offensive balance. The Racers have six players capable of beating you on any given night. It’s very difficult to prepare for a team that has so many options offensively. That’s why Murray was able to rack up 30 wins this season. This team is talented and is a real threat to make noise this March.
Weakness: The Racers are really have a size deficiency. While Tony Easley and Ivan Aska have decent size in the frontcourt, there’s really no quality depth there. Compounding that issue is it’s three main perimeter players 6’0, 6’0, and 6’2 respectively. Teams with a lot of length will give the Racers fits in the tournament. They’ll have passing lanes disrupted and will face more contested shots than they have all year. Unfortunately for the Racers, there’s nothing they can do about it.

14. Oakland Golden Grizzlies
Location: Rochester, Mich.
Record: 26-8
Automatic Bid: Summit League Champions
Key Players: Keith Benson (17 ppg, 10.5 rpg), Johnathon Jones (12.4 ppg, 6.4 apg) Derick Nelson (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Larry Wright (11.1 ppg), Will Hudson(5.1 rpg)
Strength: The Grizzlies are the highest scoring team in the Summit League. That’s because they have so many guys who can put the ball in the hoop. They have four guys who score in double-figures led by the conference player of the year Keith Benson. They’re difficult to guard because of their offensive versatility and that makes them a very dangerous team.
Weakness: As good as the Grizzlies are offensively, they’re the opposite on defense. They’re allowing opponents to score over 71 points per game on 45 percent shooting. That kind of defense doesn’t transfer well to the tournament. They’ve been able to get by but outscoring the competition in the Summit League. However, there will be no South Dakota St’s in the Big Dance. They’re going to have to guard better to win.

15. North Texas Mean Green
Location: Denton, Texas
Record: 24-8
Automatic Bid: Sun Belt Conference Champions
Key Players: Josh White (14.9 ppg), Tristan Thompson (14.1 ppg), Eric Tramiel (13 ppg, 5.9 rpg), George Odufuwa (11.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg)
Strength: With four players averaging in double figures, the Mean Green has excellent offensive balance. Josh White leads the quartet, but by no means does he ever have to carry the load by himself. They can score from the outside with White and Tristan Thompson or they can let Eric Tramiel and George Odufuwa score from the frontcourt. This is one of the most talented mid-major teams offensively.
Weakness: North Texas is a turnover waiting to happen. The Mean Green have coughed the ball up 60 more times this season than its foes. Those turnovers have given its opponents extra possessions and its resulted in the Mean Green giving up over 69 points per game. This is something the Mean Green will definitely want to sure up if they expect to pull off an upset in the Big Dance.

Marquis Blakely led Vermont back to the tournament for the first time in give years


16. Vermont Catamounts
Location: Burlington, Vt.
Record: 25-9
Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions
Key Players: Marquis Blakely (17.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg), Maurice Joseph (14.1 ppg), Evan Fjeld (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Strength: The Catamounts are only going as far as their two senior leaders, Marquis Blakely and Maurice Joseph, are going to take them. The two stars are capable of putting up huge numbers and are the reason why the Catamounts are in the NCAA tournament. The two combined for 37 points in the conference championship game and will have to duplicate those numbers to be competitive in the tournament.
Weakness: Vermont doesn’t have the depth that many teams in the NCAA tournament have. The Catamounts really only use a six-man rotation and not even the first man off of the bench can give them much offensive pop. It’s part of the reason why they’re only scoring a little over 70 points a game in a conference where, given the talent they have, should be able to score much more. If the Catamounts expect to make a run, they’re going to have to find a way to put more points on the board.

2/27-2/28 What We’re Watching

Villanova's Scottie Reynolds has his eyes set on another deep run thisyear

Villanova at Syracuse: Clearly this is the game of the day. The two best teams in the Big East all year finally go toe-to-toe. Villanova really needs to score in transition because Syracuse’s zone is too good for ‘Nova’s smaller guards to penetrate and finish. The Orange can get out and run but I’m not sure it wants to test the quicker Wildcats. I like Syracuse in a REALLY close game.

Kentucky at Tennessee: After its performance in Gainesville, Tennessee needs this game. Kentucky has been vulnerable on the road the past couple of weeks and Tennessee has already beaten a top-5 team at home this season. Something isn’t right with the Volunteers and playing the Wildcats isn’t going to fix it. Kentucky by 10…at least.

New Mexico at BYU: This one has the opportunity to be the best game of the weekend. Not a lot separates the two teams and their meeting a month ago was decided by four points. This game will have a similar outcome. I just pray that most of you have Versus, because I don’t. BYU wins in overtime.

Maryland at Virginia Tech: The Hokies need this game. There’s no two ways around it. If they don’t win, it might bury their at-large chances. They had the worst lost of any bubble team this week when Boston College beat them by 20. They have to win this game, but I like the way Maryland is playing. I like the Terps.

Michigan St at Purdue: Nothing breaks my heart like the late-season injury. I really feel badly for Purdue. It’ll still be a good team without Robbie Hummel. I don’t know how good yet, but I do expect an inspired Boilermaker team to show up and beat Michigan St.

Richmond at Xavier: I have watched both these teams play recently and let me tell you something, they’re good enough to hang with anyone. This will be one heck of a game. I think Richmond is the better team, but they won’t be in the Cintas Center on Sunday. Xavier wins.

Louisville at Connecticut: I don’t know who needs it more but I expect both squads to leave it all on the court. UConn has been strong for a couple weeks now and outside of been attacked by Austin Freeman, Louisville has been playing well too. However, the Huskies are the one team I’d hate to have to play right now. I like UConn in this one.

I have a bracket for you too!

Last Four In: Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Old Dominion, Saint Mary’s
Last Four Out: Charlotte, Mississippi St, Notre Dame, Minnesota

Click the link below
NCAA Projected Bracket

Just When You Thought It was Safe to Go to the Desert

The Arizona Wildcats and Arizona St Sun Devils are staking claim to being two of the best teams in the West.  This is shaping to be the best year of college basketball in that state since 1995 when Arizona St earned a #5 seed and made it to the Sweet 16 and Arizona received a #4.

The Sun Devils, led by James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, have only lost only once this season and despite a lackluster performance Sunday against IUPUI, has looked very impressive in the early-going. Harden and Pendergraph are the kinds of players that can take this team on a long tournament run.

I didn’t expect much out of the Wildcats after the retirement of long-time coach, Lute Olson, but they have really impressed me. Their two losses are by a total of two points and they have some serious firepower on that team in Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill.  While Sunday’s win versus Gonzaga is considered an upset, there was nothing fluke about it.  This Arizona team has the chops to play with anybody.

Stock Up: Niagara.  I watched much of the Purple Eagles 15-point win over South Florida on Sunday.  Here we had a mid-major taking on a Big East school on said school’s homecourt and that Big East school did not belong on the court with the Purple Eagles.  They have the atheticism to just lock teams down.  I expect to see this team in March.

Stock Down: Pennsylvania and Prinecton.  For twenty years, these two schools held the Ivy League in a chokehold.  It now seems as if both programs have fallen on hardtimes due to the departures of former head coaches, Fran Dunphy (Temple) and John Thompson III (Georgetown).  These were two teams that not only dominated Ivy League competition, they also won their fare share of non-conference games as well.  Now they can’t beat Maine.

Stock Up: Xavier.  This is the most underrated program in the country.  There aren’t many teams that share the success that the Musketeers have recently.  After pushing Ohio St to the brink in the second round in 2007, Xavier made it all the way to the Elite 8 last year.  The Musketeers are loaded again and is a legitimate Final Four contender.

Stock Down: DePaul.  God Bless Jerry Wainwright, but that seat is warming up.  Losing to a 4-6 Morgan St team at home is unacceptable.  The Blue Demons have lost four in a row and have Seth Curry coming to town tomorrow.  With the Big East being the monster of a conference it is, it could be a long season in Chicago.

Stock Up: Horizon League.  Currently ranked in the top half of Division I conferences ahead of the WAC and MAC, the Horizon League is currently making a play to be a three-bid league.  Yes, that’s right, THREE.  Butler, Illinois-Chicago, and Cleveland St are winning big-time games on the road.  It will be a great year for the Horizon League.

Stock Down: Kansas.  The defending National Champions losing to UMass is shameful.  They have one solid win versus Washington, but they better fix whatever’s ailing them in hurry.  Four of their next six are against Temple, Arizona, Tennessee, and Michigan St.  Ouch.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.Quinnipiac Greensboro, NC

8.Villanova9.Illinois

5.Bayor12.West Virginia Boise, ID

4.Tennessee13.Niagara

6.Florida St11.Missouri Minneapolis, MN

3.Purdue14.Eastern Washington

7.Arizona St10.Dayton Kansas City, MO

2.Louisville15.Mercer

WEST

1.Oklahoma16.Hampton Kansas City, MO

8.Wisconsin9.BYU

5.Wake Forest12.Miami(OH) Miami, FL

4.Georgetown13.Western Kentucky

6.Michigan11.Texas A&M Philadelphia, PA

3.Syracuse14.VMI

7.Arizona10.Florida Portland, OR

2.Gonzaga15.UC-Santa Barbara

MIDWEST

1.Pittsburgh16.ND St/Ark-Pine Bluff Dayton, OH

8.Northwestern9.St. Mary’s

5.Clemson12.Illinois St Boise, ID

4.UCLA13.Jacksonville St

6.Memphis11.Temple Minneapolis, MN

3.Notre Dame14.Utah St

7.Michigan St10.Seton Hall Greensboro, NC

2.Duke15.Navy

EAST

1.Connecticut16.Cornell Philadelphia, PA

8.Kansas9.California

5.Davidson12.Maryland Portland, OR

4.Ohio St13.George Mason

6.Marquette11.Butler Miami, FL

3.Texas14.Lamar

7.Miami(FL)10.Minnesota Dayton, OH

2.Xavier15.Vermont