Critics tried to make a case why the Zags didn't deserve a No. 1 seed, but what more could Mark Few's crew do? They played a tough non-conference schedule, lost only twice to ranked teams and went unbeaten in the West Coast Conference.
They also got a boost from a surprise national player of the year candidate. Kelly Olynyk, a 7-foot junior from Canada, blossomed into the WCC player of the year, averaging a team-best 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. Olynyk's emergence made life easier for fellow All-WCC picks Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos. Harris, a 6-8 senior forward, does the dirty work inside, while Pangos, a sophomore guard, is the team's best 3-point threat.
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The fawning over Aaron Craft is well-deserved, but Ohio State would likely be a .500 team without Deshaun Thomas. The 6-foot-7 forward leads the team in rebounding (6.2 rpg) and is the Buckeyes' only real offensive threat, averaging 19.6 points per game.
Craft is a terror on defense (2.1 spg), and the junior has carried the team at times this season, but he's frustrated Ohio State fans with his lack of offensive productivity. The Buckeyes are peaking at the right time, having won their last eight games, and Thad Matta's teams are prone to deliver in March. The question: Can Ohio State find offense if Deshaun Thomas hits a cold streak in the tourney?
Coach Steve Alford says he will put his starting five up against anyone. After thoroughly dominating the Mountain West, Alford and his Lobos definitely need new challenges. New Mexico won the regular-season championship wire to wire, then captured the conference tourney title pretty handily in Las Vegas.
Junior guard Kendall Williams, the Mountain West player of the year, leads a decorated group that includes all-conference picks Alex Kirk and Tony Snell. The Lobos don't shoot the ball particuarly well, but neither do their opponents. With the 7-foot Kirk anchoring an in-your-face defense, New Mexico has limited teams to 39 percent shooting.
In his first season at Kansas State, Bruce Weber guided the Wildcats to a share of their first regular-season conference title since 1977. Guard Rodney McGruder led the Wildcats with 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
The Wildcats aren't a great shooting team overall (43.9 percent), but do some have some 3-point threats. Kansas State lost all three of its meetings with rival Kansas, but did beat ranked Oklahoma State twice and had an early season victory over Florida.
Slow and steady wins the race, right? Well, the Badgers take slow and steady to a whole new level. But Wisconsin's methodical approach had them in contention for a Big Ten title until a late-season lapse led to their demise. Still, wins over highly ranked teams Michigan and Indiana in the conference tournament show the Badgers are a tough out.
As always, Bo Ryan's team employs a disciplined defense and excels in the half-court offense. Guard Ben Brust and forward Jared Berggren lead the team in scoring, averaging 11.4 and 11.3 points per game, respectively. The Badgers' motor, though, is Ryan Evans. The senior forward leads the team in rebounding (7.5 rpg) and is very active around the bucket offensively.
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Despite starting the season 14-0 and rising as high as No. 3 in the AP top 25, the Wildcats still face this question: How good are they? Dig deep into the résumé and you will find that Arizona has been lucky and good, pulling out one-point wins over Florida and San Diego State and needing a disallowed 3-pointer to log a win over Colorado.
What can't be disputed is U of A's impressive collection of talent. Senior guard Mark Lyons and senior forward Solomon Hill earned spots on the All-Pac-12 first team, and the 'Cats' recruiting class, ranked No. 3 by Rivals.com, has had its moments with freshmen bigs Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski.
The Irish are a slow-paced team that make the most of their possessions. Notre Dame shoots pretty well from behind the 3-point line and from short range, is good on the offensive glass, passes the ball well and doesn’t turn it over often. The offensive efficiency is one reason Notre Dame is 25-9 this season.
The Irish are also one of the few teams this year to beat Louisville, which they did in five overtimes on Feb. 9 in one of college basketball’s games of the year. Although coach Mike Brey has done a fine job at Notre Dame, he has had a tough time getting the Irish out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. The last time Notre Dame made the Sweet 16 was in 2003. If the Irish win a couple games in this year’s tournament, it will be on the inside-outside combo of forward Jack Cooley (13.1 points per game) and guard Jerian Grant (13.4 points per game).
The Panthers are ranked very high in many computer rankings, most notably KenPom.com which has Pitt ranked seventh; but the human polls haven’t ranked them very high most of the season. Part of that is that Pitt doesn’t have a lot of great wins, although a 28-point win at Georgetown is quite impressive.
What the Panthers do well, and always seem to do well, is hit the offensive boards. Pitt grabs 12.9 offensive rebounds per game, and the extra possessions help. The Panthers are also a strong defensive team, and will try to grind out wins at a slow pace. Pitt has solid depth, and is led by a fifth-year senior at point guard, Tray Woodall, who leads the team with 11.8 points per game. If you buy into computer rankings, Pitt is under-seeded and a good sleeper.
An unfortunate victim of Creighton’s hot shooting -- not once but twice -- the Shockers enter the tournament hoping to shed their bridesmaid image. Typical of any Gregg Marshall-coached team, Wichita State’s hallmarks are tenacious defense, a never-say-die attitude and gritty interior play.
Carl Hall is an absolute enforcer down low. He is the primary reason why the Shockers rank in the top 25 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Couple his presence with point guard Malcolm Armstead’s polished game, and Wichita State will be an extremely difficult out.
The Cyclones don't lack experience. They start three seniors, including Will Clyburn, who is averaging 15 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Tyrus McGee, another senior, has given Iowa State a lift off the bench for most of the season as one of the nation's top 3-point shooters. The Cyclones' big concern: They don't play well away from Ames, Iowa, going just 4-9 on the road this season.
New conference, same result. That's the Bruins’ motto this year. They changed affiliations, leaving the Atlantic Sun, a league in which they won six championships from 2003-2012, for the Ohio Valley. Naturally, they initiated a new streak, topping Murray State in the conference tourney final.
The Bruins are efficient offensively, ranking second nationally in effective field-goal percentage (56.8). Standout guard Ian Clark is shooting 54 percent from the floor and 46.3 percent from three-point range this season. Relentless on defense and forcing turnovers on 25 percent of opponent possessions, Belmont is a double-digit seed not to take lightly.
Ole Miss returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. It's quite the turnaround for the Rebels, whose prospects to go dancing didn't look so good after losing five of seven games from late January to mid February.
Since then, junior guard Marshall Henderson has been a scoring machine, averaging 22 points a game. Henderson led the SEC in scoring at 20 points a game to earn a spot on the All-SEC second team. His outside game complements the interior play of senior forward Murphy Holloway, an All-SEC second-team selection averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds a game.
The Explorers are one of the worst rebounding teams in college basketball, but they can score points in bunches. Led by a spectacular backcourt duo of Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren, who average 32 points combined, La Salle isn't afraid to push pace. The team is on a bit of a slide, having dropped three of their past six games. But it is battle-tested after surviving a rigorous Atlantic 10 schedule.
Championships are becoming a habit for the Crimson. Not long ago, Harvard was in the midst of a 65-year conference title drought, but it has now won the Ivy League three consecutive years. The Crimson shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range, which is the seventh-best mark in the nation.
Freshman Siyani Chambers and junior Laurent Rivard are the team's top shooters and have combined to hit 45 percent of their three-pointers. Harvard is woefully undersized, turnover-prone and soft defensively, so it must shoot well to remain competitive.
Quietly one of the most efficient offensive machines in the country, the Gaels are in the NCAAs for the second consecutive year. Arizona transfer MoMo Jones is a prolific scorer – he eclipsed 20-plus points 23 times in the regular season – and is also one of the nation’s quickest players.
His nonstop motor is the primary reason why the Gaels are one of the fastest teams in the entire field. The Gaels are solid inside and out, averaging nearly 1.14 points per possession. However, because of their zone-based defensive scheme and willingness to exert full-court pressure, they are vulnerable to teams with solid guard play.
Southern, the mack daddies of the SWAC, finished conference second to Texas Southern before winning the conference tournament. The Jaguars hope to rekindle the magic of the 1993 team, the only SWAC team to ever win a NCAA tournament game. Spearheaded by paint patroller Brandon Moore, Southern is an excellent defensive team.
It competes hard for rebounds, clamps down on the perimeter and challenges shots inside. Overall, the Jags have yielded a 41.8 effective field-goal percentage, the third-best mark in college basketball. It's unlikely they will shock the world, but don't expect the Jags to go out quietly.
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