NCAA tournament East Region Breakdown
MOST OVERSEEDED: Wisconsin and Marquette each seem a spot too high, at fourth and sixth, respectively. Wisconsin did its best work at home, and Marquette – which was 50th in the RPI – had just four top-50 wins and played a weak non-conference schedule.
MOST UNDERSEEDED: Temple tied for the A-10 regular-season title, then won the league tournament. The Owls had seven RPI top-50 wins, including three away from home. They played 20 games away from home, and went 16-4. They haven’t lost since Feb. 6. They lost by one at Georgetown, which is a No. 3 seed. And their RPI is 8th. Yet they’re a No. 5 seed. They should be a No. 3 – or a No. 4, at worst.
BEST PLAYER: Kentucky guard John Wall. The highly hyped freshman actually has surpassed the hype. He is jet-quick with the ball and always seems to make the key play when it’s needed. Enjoy him this month because he will be in the NBA next season.
FIVE OTHERS TO WATCH: Wake Forest forward Al-Farouq Aminu, West Virginia forward Da’Sean Butler, Kentucky forward DeMarcus Cousins, Marquette forward Lazar Hayward and Texas forward Damion James.
BEST PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF: New Mexico swingman Darington Hobson. Hobson, a junior college transfer, seemed to be the missing piece the Lobos needed. He led them in scoring, rebounds and assists and was second in steals.
FIVE OTHERS TO WATCH: Temple forward Lavoy Allen, Wofford forward Noah Dahlman, Morgan State guard Reggie Holmes, Montana guard Anthony Johnson and Cornell forward Ryan Wittman.
NUMBERS GAME: There are eight conference tournament champions in the region – East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), Kentucky (SEC), Montana (Big Sky), Morgan State (MEAC), Temple (Atlantic 10), Washington (Pac-10), West Virginia (Big East) and Wofford (Southern). There also is Cornell, which won the Ivy’s regular-season title; the Ivy doesn’t have a league tournament. There are nine Big Six conference schools in the region, plus a team from the A-10 and one from the Mountain West.
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS: Games matching 8-9 seeds always are intriguing, and this region’s 8-9 matchup certainly qualifies. Texas was 17-0 at one point but faded badly down the stretch. Wake Forest comes in having lost five of six. Each has some top-level individual talent, but for whatever reason, cohesion/chemistry have not been there. The Cornell-Temple matchup also is a good one. Cornell is a veteran team making its third consecutive NCAA appearance, and the Big Red are a great team from 3-point range. But Temple also is making its third consecutive appearance, and the Owls are one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
THE BUZZ: This is the first NCAA tournament appearance for New Mexico since 2005, when Ritchie McKay – now an assistant at Virginia – was the coach. Steve Alford is in his third season as Lobos coach. … Wofford is making its first NCAA appearance. One of the Terriers’ assistants is Mark Prosser, the son of the late Skip Prosser, who was Wake Forest’s coach when he died of a heart attack in June 2007. Wofford set a school record with 26 wins this season; the old mark of 24 had been set in 1959-60, when the school was in the NAIA. … Montana guard Anthony Johnson’s wife, Shaunte Nance-Johnson, is a starting guard for the Grizzlies’ women’s team. … Marquette junior swingman Jimmy Butler emerged as one of the Golden Eagles’ best players this season. He was the first player Buzz Williams signed when he became Marquette coach after the 2008 season. … East Tennessee State is making its second consecutive NCAA appearance, out of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Bucs lost as a No. 16 seed to Pitt in the first round last season. The Bucs have had to deal with the death of sophomore big man Seth Coy in a car accident on July 29. … Clemson hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1997, when they went to the Sweet 16 as a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region. The Tigers’ coach that season was Rick Barnes, now at Texas. This is their fourth appearance since ’97. … Wisconsin is making its ninth consecutive NCAA appearance under Bo Ryan. The school had made seven appearances in its history before Ryan’s arrival. … Missouri lost three starters from last season’s Elite Eight team but is in the tournament again this season. The Tigers come in having lost three of their past four games, though. One thing is for certain about their first-round matchup with Clemson: The Tigers will win. (Ahem – both teams are nicknamed “Tigers.”) … West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler has had six game-winning shots this season, including in the Big East tourney quarterfinals against Cincinnati and the tournament final against Georgetown.