|No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 ETSU|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won SEC tourney
COACH: John Calipari (25-11 in NCAA tournament)
PROBABLE STARTERS: :
|BACKCOURT: Most likely, this will be Wall's only trip to the NCAA tournament. He likely would be the top pick in the NBA draft if he is a one-and-done player. He's already one of the top players in college basketball. Wall is blazingly fast and the perfect point guard to run Calipari's up-tempo offense. Wall isn't the only freshman star in the backcourt, though. Bledsoe is a true point guard but plays combo guard for Kentucky. After those two starters, Kentucky has plenty of big guards available in Miller, Dodson and DeAndre Liggins. |
FRONTCOURT: Cousins is a freakishly athletic big man who could be the best player on the court at anytime - that includes Wall. But his head hasn't caught up to his body. Cousins played fewer than 25 minutes a game, struggling with fouls and keeping his emotions in check. Patterson adjusted from being the star of the show to being a complement to Cousins and Wall. Along the way, he developed a solid outside game to go with his presence in the paint. As with Bledsoe, Orton is a freshman who would be the star of numerous other teams; with UK, he comes off the bench.
X-FACTOR: It's all about focus and maturity. The Wildcats may be the most talented team in the nation, but their focus waned at times during the season. They seemed to play up or down to the level of their opponent. They also showed they could dominate like few other teams when they were focused for 40 minutes. When the margin of error is smaller in the tournament, will Kentucky be mentally prepared for the challenge?
THE BUZZ: It's tough to believe Kentucky played in the NIT last season. Calipari, Wall and Cousins returned the swagger back to "Big Blue," but they know as well as anyone that success for Kentucky is measured in the NCAA tournament, not the regular season. Kentucky fans will hope the Wildcats deliver their eighth national championship and their first since 1998.
ñ DAVID FOX
|16. EAST TENNESSEE STATE|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Atlantic Sun tourney
COACH: Murry Bartow (0-3 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: Tubbs and Williams are going to have to be effective offensively if ETSU is to have a good NCAA showing. Tubbs, an Alabama transfer, has good range but is way too in love with the 3-pointer. He's a good rebounder and a solid defender. Williams is an effective long-range shooter but he also can get to the rim - and to the foul line. Davis, who redshirted last season while recovering from injuries suffered when he was carjacked, provides no offense, but he might be the best passer on the team and is a tenacious defender. Cooley is one of the better passers on the team and that trait gets him on the floor. Sollazzo's offense has not come along, but he's an OK passer and defender with good size. As a group, these guys don't take care of the ball, combining for 50 more turnovers than assists. |
FRONTCOURT: Hubbard emerged as a key player after returning starter Mike Smith - expected to be the team's best player - was lost to an injury early in the season. Despite a lack of size, Hubbard is tough in the paint and knows how to get to the line. He also is a big-timer (8.3) on the boards and leads the team in steals. Brown is a returning starter - the only one after Smith's injury - off last season's NCAA tourney team. His offense is a work in progress and he's a bricklayer from the line, but he works hard and isn't afraid to mix it up down low. Ward provides defense and rebounding - but no offense - off the bench.
X-FACTOR: Hubbard can be a foul machine, and that bodes ill. Despite his lack of size, he is the Bucs' best "big man," and ETSU will struggle to score if he's on the bench.
THE BUZZ: ETSU was the surprise winner of the Atlantic Sun tourney. The Bucs are a try-hard, athletic group that beat Arkansas and played well in losses to Louisville, Tennessee and UAB. But they're not that efficient offensively, are poor from 3-point range and lack size. Keeping it close for 30 minutes, as they did against Pitt in the first round last season, should be the Bucs' goal this time around.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
|No. 8 Texas vs. No. 9 Wake Forest|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big 12
COACH: Rick Barnes (19-17 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: The Longhorns lost two of their top guards (Varez Ward and Dogus Balbay) to season-ending injuries, but luckily they had enough depth to make up for it. Bradley ranks second on the team in scoring, but he has been a mild disappointment considering the hype he received in the preseason. So, too, has Brown, a good one-on-one player who still is struggling to adapt to Barnes' system. All of it has resulted in continued playing time for fourth-year starter Mason, who offers nothing on offense. |
FRONTCOURT: James was a national Player of the Year candidate when the Longhorns were 17-0 and ranked No. 1 in January. Texas has struggled since then - but James hasn't. He ended the regular season averaging 18.0 points and 10.4 rebounds. The problem with the Longhorns' frontcourt has been the disappearance of Pittman, who was one of the country's most dominant players before Christmas. In Big 12 play, he often was a non-factor. Johnson is a good rebounder and a high-effort guy.
X-FACTOR: One of the biggest bright spots at the end of the regular season was the play of Johnson, a reserve forward who averaged just under 18 points in Texas' final three regular-season games. He helped make up for the mediocre play of Pittman.
THE BUZZ: Texas is one of the country's most disappointing team. The Longhorns lack cohesion on offense, aren't that strong defensively and appear to have zero confidence. That's not a good thing entering the NCAA tournament. Yes, Texas remains a scary team because of its talent. But there's no reason to think the Longhorns suddenly will put it all together.
- JASON KING
|9. WAKE FOREST|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from ACC
COACH: Dino Gaudio (0-1 NCAA tournament record).
|BACKCOURT: Smith really does it all for Wake Forest. He can score and defend, and was among the ACC leaders in assists and steals. Smith even recorded 19 blocks - the most in the nation by any player 6 feet or shorter - after entering the season with just four in his career. Williams is one of the ACC's best defenders, and Harris is a solid outside shooter who is among the better first-year players in the conference. Clark has hit more than 40 percent of his 3-pointers coming off the bench. |
FRONTCOURT: Wake Forest led the ACC in rebounding because of its athletic front line, led by Aminu. He averaged a double-double during the regular season - the only player in the ACC to do so - but he hasn't been playing all that well down the stretch. McFarland is a solid rebounder, and Stewart provides the Demon Deacons a 3-point shooter off the bench. Woods and Weaver also have the ability to give Wake good minutes in reserve roles.
X-FACTOR: Wake Forest tied for playing the most true road games of any Big Six team. The Deacs were also 4-0 in overtime games and 3-1 in games decided by three or fewer points. So if an NCAA tournament game comes down to the final possession, the Deacs should be in good shape because of their experience. But the way Wake Forest looked in losing its ACC tourney first-round game against Miami, it's hard to imagine the Deacs will be that close in their NCAA first-round game.
THE BUZZ: This is the most experienced team Wake has had in years, and the seniors have experienced a lot in their careers - good and bad. There was the death of then-coach Skip Prosser, a surprising first-round loss to No. 13 seed Cleveland State in last season's NCAA tournament and an embarrassing 21-point loss to Miami in the ACC tournament in its most recent game; this group should be determined to end on a high note. But the way it played down the stretch, losing five of its last six games, one win in the NCAA tourney would be an accomplishment.
- GARY MONDELLO
|No. 5 Temple vs. No. 12 Cornell|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Atlantic 10 tourney
COACH: Fran Dunphy (1-11 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: Brooks and Fernandez give Temple two dangerous 3-point shooters. Brooks is a 1,000-point career scorer who also plays exceptional perimeter defense. Fernandez has made nearly half his 3-point attempts and scored 33 points in an early-season upset of Villanova. Guzman is a veteran point guard who provides assists and rebounds, though he isn't much of a scorer. Moore came on strong down the stretch and led the Owls in scoring during February. |
FRONTCOURT: Allen provides consistent double-doubles. His 21-rebound performance against La Salle made him the first Temple player since 1973 to pull down 20 boards in a game. Allen also is the rare big man who produces more assists than turnovers. Eric usually doesn't score much, but his 19-point performance against Rhode Island shows he is capable of the occasional big game.
X-FACTOR: Temple relies heavily on its defense and ranked among the NCAA leaders in scoring defense for much of the season. Temple has a better chance of advancing in this tournament if it keeps the score in the 50s or 60s. The Owls shoot the "3" well enough to survive a game in the 70s, but the lower the score, the better off they are.
THE BUZZ: Disregard Dunphy's poor NCAA tournament record, which largely is a product of coaching in the Ivy League for so long. The guy can coach. This team shoots the 3-pointer and plays defense well enough to give Temple its best NCAA tournament run since the glory years of John Chaney's tenure. A spot in the Sweet 16 should be expected.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Ivy title
COACH: Steve Donahue (0-2 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: Dale is a coach's dream - a senior point guard who is a great leader and can do a bit of everything. He has a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He hits 39.4 percent from 3-point range. He's a pesky defender. He's money from the line (83.3 percent). And he doesn't take many bad shots (46.2 percent from the field). Wroblewski is a big-time 3-point threat, and he's also an effective distributor and tremendous from the line (86.7 percent). Reeves is strictly a 3-point shooter who provides offense off the bench - and when you hit 45.9 percent from 3-point range, you can earn important minutes. |
FRONTCOURT: Foote, who began his career at St. Bonaventure, isn't exactly a great athlete, but he's a big body who knows his way around the paint and is a good rebounder. He also has some shot-blocking skills. Because the Big Red is so proficient from 3-point range, Foote usually has some room to work down low. Though he gets to the free-throw more than anyone else on the team by an almost 2-1 margin, he is the Big Red's one weak link from the line. Wittman, the son of former Indiana All-America Randy Wittman, is Cornell's best player. He has a great outside stroke, is superb from the line and can wear out opponents when he comes off screens. He's also an OK defender. Jacques is another perimeter threat, with two-thirds of his shot attempts coming from 3-point range. Despite his size, he's not much of a rebounder. Tyler started last season but has seen his role diminish this season; still, he is a banger who isn't afraid to throw his weight around, though his offensive skills are limited. Wire is a physical presence off the bench. He can rebound and play defense, but any offense is a miracle. Coury is a good rebounder who can score in the low post when asked.
X-FACTOR: These guys can shoot, folks. Cornell hits 43.4 percent of its 3-point attempts, which makes up for a lack of athleticism and a lack of quickness. Every starter except Foote is a legit 3-point shooter, as is Reeves off the bench. And if deep reserve Max Groebe gets into the game, you can bet he'll fire away, as well. If any two- or three-man combination is hot from the outside, Cornell can beat anybody. And, yes, we mean anybody; the Big Red lost by just five at Kansas in January after leading for most of the game.
THE BUZZ: This is a senior-dominated team making its third consecutive NCAA appearance. The Big Red take good care of the ball and do all the little things well. Cornell is not athletic and isn't going to wow you with one-on-one moves. But these guys are a trendy pick to win a game or two for one reason: Basketball is about putting the ball in the basket, and these guys know how to do that. With the right matchups, Cornell has Sweet 16 potential. At the least, they will give someone a good game in the first round.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
|No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Wofford|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big Ten
COACH: Bo Ryan (11-7 NCAA Tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: Wisconsin ran a three-guard lineup at the end of the season, led by Hughes and Bohannon. Hughes can cause problems with his speed, while Bohannon was one of the Big Ten's best free-throw and 3-point shooters. The wild card this season was Taylor, who emerged as the starting point guard. |
FRONTCOURT: The Badgers received a key addition down the stretch when Leuer returned from a wrist injury after missing nine games. He was shaky at first upon his return, but looked more comfortable the more he played. Nankivil is a good perimeter shooter for a big man, and his inside game is improving. Jarmusz is a former starter who now brings his experience off the bench.
X-FACTOR: Down the stretch in the regular season, Wisconsin made Taylor the starting point guard while moving Hughes to off-guard and Jarmusz to the bench. The Badgers rolled through their remaining competition - most of whom were not tournament-bound Big Ten teams. It remains to be seen how the new lineup will fare against top competition.
THE BUZZ: Wisconsin is a difficult opponent simply because of the Badgers' ability to do all the little things well. They defend well, avoid turnovers and shoot free throws well. They're also patient on offense. All of those factors mean the Badgers usually are better than the sum of their parts.
- DAVID FOX
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Southern Conference tourney
COACH: Mike Young (first NCAA tournament appearance)
|BACKCOURT: The Terriers have six guards who average at least 11 minutes and all but one - Giltner, who plays mostly because of his 3-point ability - has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. Diggs, a transfer from Division II Wayne (Neb.) State, is a tough defender with 3-point range. Loesing is the classic pass-first point guard. Salters is the Terriers' main 3-point threat, though his scoring is way down from last season. Rundles is a transfer from Montana who is a former Big Sky freshman of the year; he's another 3-point threat. Giltner has good range but doesn't do much of anything else. Dawson is a scrappy defender who doesn't shoot much - but he, too, has good range when he does fire away. All that depth enables coach Mike Young to be aggressive defensively; none of the guards wear down because Young substitutes so freely. |
FRONTCOURT: Dahlman is the only Terrier averaging in double figures (16.8) and was the Southern Conference player of the year. Dahlman isn't overly bulky, but he is strictly a low-post guy. He is adept at drawing contact and getting to the line; he has attempted 185 free throws this season after shooting 182 last season. Johnson is another big man who is strictly a low-post player; his offense remains raw, but he is a tenacious rebounder who isn't afraid to be physical on defense. Martin adds bulk and toughness - but not much offense - off the bench. Godzinski, who started 15 games, has good range, but he has been awful from 3-point land this season. He isn't much of a rebounder or defender.
X-FACTOR: Wofford played a challenging non-conference schedule - losing by three at Pitt, beating Georgia and South Carolina, playing Illinois and Michigan State tough - and won't be intimidated by its surroundings. Still, foul trouble on Johnson and/or Martin would hurt because of the Terriers' lack of bulk.
THE BUZZ: Wofford goes a legit 10-deep, and that depth enables the Terriers to be extremely pesky on defense. Wofford is here because of its defense, not its offense. The guards may lack size, but they are quick and get in the face of perimeter shooters. The Terriers have won 13 in a row and 19 of 20, and their defense should enable them to cause some problems for a first-round foe. And if their 3-pointers are falling - Wofford shoots 34.9 percent from 3-point range - the Terriers could keep it close throughout.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
|No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Washington|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big East
COACH: Buzz Williams (1-1 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: Marquette's exceptional backcourt has helped the Eagles overcome their lack of height. The shooting ability of Johnson-Odom, Acker and Cubillan has helped Marquette rank among the NCAA leaders in 3-point shooting. Marquette also ranks among the top teams in the nation in assist-turnover ratio and turnover margin. Acker - who began his career at Michigan State - is the top distributor and has three times as many assists as turnovers, but just about everyone on the team handles the ball well. |
FRONTCOURT: Marquette doesn't have a single starter taller than 6-6, but the Eagles still have a couple of productive frontcourt performers. Hayward is the only player in school history with 1,700 career points and 800 career rebounds. Only about a half-dozen active Division I players have reached those totals. Butler is one of the most improved players in the Big East. The former role player has emerged as one of Marquette's top scorers this season while making about half his 3-point attempts.
X-FACTOR: Marquette's lack of height could prove costly if the Eagles get the wrong kind of matchup. Marquette ranks near the top of the Big East in scoring defense, but it also is around the bottom of the league standings in field-goal percentage defense. If Marquette can do a better job of cooling off opposing shooters, the Eagles could go a long way. Since Williams took over as coach before last season, the Eagles have been just about unbeatable when they've shot more accurately than their opponents.
THE BUZZ: Marquette didn't resemble an NCAA tournament contender in late January after losing five times in a seven-game stretch, but the Eagles are among the nation's hottest teams since then. The lack of height could ultimately seal Marquette's fate, but don't be surprised if the Eagles win a game or two first.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Pac-10 tourney
COACH: Lorenzo Romar (5-5 in NCAA tournament)
|BACKCOURT: Washington's smallish guards push the pace on one of the nation's most up-tempo teams. Other than Pondexter, Thomas is Washington's only reliable scorer. Together, they account for nearly half of Washington's scoring. Thomas is a better scorer than a true point guard, a role assumed by Gaddy. Gaddy, though, struggled in his first college season. Overton's stat line might not say much, but he's the team's most valuable player after Pondexter and Thomas. Overton leads the Huskies in assists and is one of the team's best defenders. |
FRONTCOURT: Pondexter, once a top recruit, finally developed into the player Lorenzo Romar hoped he would become. Pondexter is an NBA-caliber athlete who averaged more than 20 points per game while leading the Huskies in rebounding. Bryan-Amaning was a role player his first two seasons, but he can be a legitimate factor around the basket and on the boards.
X-FACTOR: Holiday struggled early in the season after sports-hernia surgery, but he was indispensable in the final weeks of the season. In the final month, he may have surpassed Overton as Washington's top defender. Washington always will allow a high amount of possessions, so cutting down scoring opportunities is key.
THE BUZZ: The Huskies were expected to be a top-20 team, but they fell apart early in the Pac-10 season. Washington finally regrouped late. Is Washington finally playing up to its potential or was the hot finish partly due to the weakness of the Pac-10?
- DAVID FOX
|No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 14 Montana|
|3. NEW MEXICO|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Mountain West
COACH: Steve Alford (3-4 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: If New Mexico makes a long tournament run, Hobson may get the showcase that allows him to shed his status as one of the nation's most underrated players. Hobson, a junior college transfer, is the biggest reason New Mexico established itself as one of the season's biggest surprises. He's a dynamic scorer who also can crash the boards and set up his teammates. He even delivered a critical block in the Lobos' signature win at BYU. Gary is a solid distributor who developed into a potent scorer toward the end of the regular season. McDonald is an effective 3-point shooter. |
FRONTCOURT: Martinez provides senior leadership for a young team, but he offers much more statistical production than the typical "glue guy." Martinez is only the third player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 150 3-pointers in a career. He also owns a 3.48 grade point average. Hardeman provides rebounding, shot blocking and toughness for a team that doesn't have a whole lot of height.
X-FACTOR: New Mexico may not possess much height, but the Lobos have figured out a way to dominate the glass. New Mexico is challenging for a school record in offensive rebounds per game and consistently has outrebounded opponents all season.
THE BUZZ: The first-round flameouts by MWC programs BYU and Utah last season make it easy to write off New Mexico, but this team seems equipped to make it to the second week. The Lobos have been outstanding in close games, on the road and against ranked teams. Those traits certainly bode well for their postseason prospects.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Big Sky tourney
COACH: Wayne Tinkle (first NCAA tournament appearance)
|BACKCOURT: Johnson singlehandedly won the Big Sky tourney final for Montana, scoring 42 points - including the Grizzlies' last 21 - as it rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to shock top-seeded Weber State. Thing is, Johnson played at an extremely high level all season. He is the only Grizzly to average in double figures (19.6 points per game) and his shooting figures were extraordinary - 50.6 percent from the field, 46.4 percent from 3-point range, 88.0 percent from the line. He can get to the rim because of his strength and quickness, yet also possesses a quick release that makes him deadly from midrange and from 3-point range. Bottom line: The guy can play - and so can his wife, Shaunte Nance-Johnson, who is a starting guard for Montana's women's team. Cherry is a good defender with quick hands; he is an OK offensive player but has been brutal from 3-point range (12.5 percent). Staudacher strictly is a long-range bomber - but an effective one, hitting 46.2 percent. He frequently gets open looks because of Johnson's forays to the basket. Taylor is another solid 3-point shooter. |
FRONTCOURT: The Grizzlies have good size for a low-major team. Qvale, who has some shot-blocking skills, does all of his work in the low post and is Montana's leading rebounder. McGillis, who began his career at Oregon State, works hard and is an able rebounder. Selvig can drag opposing big men out of the lane because of his perimeter shooting skills; more than a third of his 146 field-goal attempts have been 3-pointers. Banny, a native of the Ivory Coast, and the ultra-skinny Young bring energy off the bench; Young has some offensive skills, while Banny rebounds well and plays solid defense.
X-FACTOR: The Grizzlies shoot well, hitting 48.6 from the field and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. If someone other than Johnson provides some offense, specifically from 3-point range, the Grizzlies will be able to hang around for a while.
THE BUZZ: The Grizzlies won the Big Sky tourney as a No. 4 seed, and while they have nine losses, none was by more than 11 points. They can play at a fast pace or slow it down. Their big men aren't overly talented and that's going to cause problems. But Johnson is a big-timer, and if he gets some help, Montana is going to make it difficult on its first-round opponent.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
|No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Missouri|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from ACC
COACH: Oliver Purnell (0-5 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: Trevor Booker undoubtedly is Clemson's best player, but you could make a case that Stitt is the most valuable Tiger. Clemson went 1-4 during a five-game stretch in which Stitt missed two games because of injury and wasn't at full strength in a third game. Once he returned to health, Clemson recaptured its early-season form. Smith provides steady production and plenty of smarts (he owns a 3.3 cumulative GPA). Potter is a streaky 3-point shooter who went through hot-and-cold spurts for much of the season. Clemson is doing a much better job at defending 3-pointers this season because of a renewed defensive emphasis among the guards. |
FRONTCOURT: Inch for inch, there may not be a tougher big man in the nation than Trevor Booker. Although he lacks height, Booker is one of only a handful of active Division I players with 1,500 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. Grant, the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant and the nephew of former Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic forward Horace Grant, complements Booker with his shot-blocking presence.
X-FACTOR: Clemson's ability to come through in close games could help the Tigers end their recent run of NCAA tournament frustration. Clemson beat North Carolina State, Florida State, Butler and North Carolina State by three or fewer points. The Tigers only lost one regular-season game by three or fewer points.
THE BUZZ: Clemson has plenty of experience, with two seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, but the Tigers' inability to advance beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament since 1997 offers cause for concern. Clemson has lost in the first round to lower-seeded teams each of the past two seasons. Is this Clemson team different? We're about to find out.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big 12
COACH: Mike Anderson (6-4 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: The Tigers have a bevy of quick, athletic guards who are ideal for Mike Anderson's "40 Minutes of Hell" defense. Tiller and Taylor are the most well-known names, as each played a pivotal role in last season's surprising march to the Elite Eight. English, though, has been Missouri's top all-around threat this season. He's averaging a team-high 13.9 points. Denmon and Dixon log significant minutes off the bench. |
FRONTCOURT: Missouri's glaring weakness is its lack of quality post players. Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll did great things for the Tigers' frontcourt last season, but once they graduated and moved on, the Tigers didn't have much up front. Safford was doing an admirable job down low until a knee injury knocked him out of the lineup in late February. Bowers (10.2 points) and Ramsey are the only other forwards capable of making much of an impact.
X-FACTOR: Even though he averages just 8.2 points, Taylor is known for making big shots in close games. Last season, he hit buzzer-beaters in victories over Kansas and Texas. This season, he went coast to coast for a layup at the horn to defeat Iowa State in overtime.
THE BUZZ: Missouri enters the NCAA tournament on a sour note. The Tigers have lost three of their last four games - including a 15-point setback against last-place Nebraska in the first round of the Big 12 tourney. If not for an overtime victory against Iowa State 10 days earlier, the Tigers may not have made the tournament. They simply don't have enough offensive weapons or enough talent and depth down low to be much of a factor in this season's field.
- JASON KING
|No. 2 West VIrginia vs. No. 15 Morgan State|
|2. WEST VIRGINIA|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Big East tourney
COACH: Bob Huggins (22-17 NCAA tournament record).
|BACKCOURT: Butler was a first-team All-Big East selection for good reason. The senior is West Virginia's go-to guy in the clutch - hitting six game-winners (including two during WVU's run to the Big East tournament championship) - and needs to shoot well for WVU to have success in the NCAA tournament. Bryant and Mazzulla share point guard duties. Bryant can score but isn't a great defender. Mazzulla can't shoot due to an injured shoulder, but he can defend and came up big in the Big East tourney. Mitchell can give WVU a lift off the bench if he gets hot from the outside. |
FRONTCOURT: This is an athletic group with excellent length, and they're a big reason WVU led the Big East in rebounding margin. Ebanks, a force on the offensive boards as well as a stout defender and good ballhandler, has played well down the stretch. Jones is probably the Mountaineers' most complete player in the frontcourt. Smith is a legitimate 3-point threat for a big man. Flowers, Thoroughman and Kilicli - a freshman who was suspended by the NCAA for the first 20 games of the season - give WVU good minutes off the bench.
X-FACTOR: West Virginia mostly plays man-to-man defense, but Huggins also has used a 1-3-1 zone that was used successfully by the Mountaineers under former coach John Beilein. WVU's 1-3-1 should be especially difficult on opponents in the NCAA tourney because it's not a defense teams are accustomed to seeing. It will be interesting to see how often - or how little - Huggins goes to the 1-3-1.
THE BUZZ: The Mountaineers are riding high after their Big East tournament title, but there is still cause for concern. Too many times during the regular season West Virginia has fallen behind early and has had to rally in the second half - or blown a late lead due to turnovers and missed foul shots. That's not conducive to a long NCAA run. But WVU proved its toughness at Madison Square Garden, and if the Mountaineers continue to play that way, they can reach the Final Four.
- GARY MONDELLO
|15. MORGAN STATE|
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won MEAC tourney
COACH: Todd Bozeman (2-4 NCAA tournament record)
|BACKCOURT: Holmes became Morgan State's leading career scorer this season, passing former NBA center Marvin Webster. Holmes has a lot of offensive skills and has great range, but he's prone to ill-advised shots. He's also sloppy with the ball at times. He's a good defender and rebounder. Thomas made big strides this season, and though he's not an offensive threat, he is a good distributor. Troy Smith has some offensive skills and is a solid defender. Danny Smith was signed from junior college and was expected to be the starting point guard. Instead, he plays key minutes off the bench. He is not a scorer but knows his role is to be a facilitator. Davis is a transfer from Cleveland State, and his role is to be an offensive threat off the bench. But he has struggled with his shot and doesn't play as much as expected. |
FRONTCOURT: Holmes is the best player in the MEAC, and Thompson -- who averages almost 13 points and 12 rebounds -- might be the second-best. He's tough in the low post, has good strength and plays a lot of minutes. Ali starts but doesn't get that many minutes. He is a physical presence on both ends of the court. Jackson is a solid perimeter player who rebounds well. He also is a foul machine, having fouled out of nine games this season. Stokes is a shot-blocker off the bench and is a physical defender.
X-FACTOR: Low-major teams need their stars to play well, and Morgan State certainly is an example. If Holmes is hot, the Bears -- who beat Arkansas and lost to Louisville, Baylor and Minnesota -- can hang around.
THE BUZZ: Because of their schedule, the Bears aren't likely to be intimidated. Morgan State is the rare low-major with both a high-scoring guard and a legit inside presence. But unless the Bears get some help from their opponent, it will be their second consecutive one-and-done appearance.
- MIKE HUGUENIN