March 13, 2011
Three who can carry their teams:
* Jimmer Fredette, G, BYU
* Ashton Gibbs, G, Pitt
* Jacob Pullen, G, Kansas State
This is a rematch of the 2007 NCAA tournament first round where Butler went on to win 57-46. Things have changed quite a bit since then. Butler has established itself as a formidable tournament contender with four consecutive appearances and only one first-round loss. But it will have its hands full against an Old Dominion team that slows down the pace, plays defense and loves to crash the boards. The Monarchs lead the country in rebounding margin and are fourth in the country is scoring defense. Butler and Old Dominion's numbers down the stretch are eerily similar. Both teams finished on a 9-1 run and won their conference tournaments despite being the No. 2 seed. Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season, but Butler's experience, led by forward Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, could give the Bulldogs the edge.
Best potential second-round game: No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 13 Belmont
Although Belmont lost to the two major conference teams it played this season, all of those losses were close and it was early in the season before the Bruins got hot. Should the Bruins make it to the second round, I think the matchup against Kansas State will be a perfect test of guard play between Belmont's Ian Clark and Kansas State's Jacob Pullen. Both are their team's leaders and both have quick hands and nice outside shots. The interior play might be where Kansas State sets itself apart.
Ripe for an upset: No. 4 Wisconsin
Wisconsin comes into the tournament having lost its last two games, including scoring just 33 points in its only Big 10 tournament game. Now it has to face a red-hot Belmont team with nothing to lose. Wisconsin will have to assert its dominance inside with Jon Leuer and not get into a shootout with the Bruins. The Bruins have won their last 12 games and done so with suffocating defense and efficient offense. They've scored more than 70 points in 10 of their last 12 games and shot 48 percent or better from the field in eight of those games. Belmont leads the nation in scoring margin and ranks second in 3-pointers. It also ranks second in steals per game and fifth in turnover margin.
Bound for the Final Four: No. 1 Pitt
Pittsburgh has a tough draw in the second round against the winner of Butler-Old Dominion. Both teams are on a winning streak, fiery and playing with a lot of confidence. Plus, both teams have beaten major squads in the tournament before and will have little fear entering the second round. If the Panthers can get out of the second-round conundrum, its final test will probably be Kansas State, which is a great matchup across the board. The Wildcats have been hit and miss this season, so there's no telling which team will show up. But if Pitt plays the way it has played all year, it should cruise into Houston.
Possible Dark Horse: No. 3 BYU
Yes, everyone counted BYU out after forward Brandon Davies was dismissed from the team for violating the school's honor code, but that could be a mistake. Jimmer Fredette is still the best player in the country and has the ability to keep the Cougars in games all by himself. If the rest of BYU's team starts to play well, too, the Cougars could be scary. And they have a favorable draw as a No. 3-seed with Wofford in the first round and then a winnable game against either St. John's or Gonzaga before likely meeting Florida.