|No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 16 Play-in winner |
| 1. PITTSBURGH |
| RECORD: 27-5 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 10-5
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big East
COACH: Jamie Dixon (10-7 NCAA tournament record)
C Gary McGhee, 6-11/250, Sr.
F Gilbert Brown, 6-6/215, Sr.
F Nasir Robinson, 6-5/220, Jr.
G Ashton Gibbs, 6-2/190, Jr.
G Brad Wanamaker, 6-4/210, Sr.
F Lamar Patterson, 6-5/220, Fr.
F Dante Taylor, 6-9/240, Soph.
G Travon Woodall, 5-11/190, Soph.
|BACKCOURT: Gibbs is Pitt's best scorer and essentially the Panthers' only 3-point threat. The Panthers won all three games (including road trips to West Virginia and Villanova) when Gibbs was injured, but they shot 4-of-19 from 3-point range during that stretch. While Gibbs may be their most dynamic player, Wanamaker is probably the Panthers' most important player. He's not flashy, but he's as sound a player there is in the Big East. He's the second player in school history to have at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists. He's also solid defensive player. Woodall is the top guard - and essentially the only guard - off the bench. |
FRONTCOURT: McGhee doesn't score a ton, but he's the key cog in the frontcourt. He has a defense-first mindset, and coach Jamie Dixon consistently has praised his effort. That said, Pitt needs him to be an offensive threat. In regular-season losses to Notre Dame, St. John's and Louisville, McGhee was a non-factor on offense. Gibbs and Wanamaker often carry the team, but Brown is an impressive third option. He's a great athlete who has taken well to a supporting role. When called upon, though, Brown can be a dynamic player. Robinson is similar to McGhee as a maximum effort, defense-first forward.
X-FACTOR: Pitt can run into problems if it faces teams that can match its physicality. Tennessee and Louisville did it in their wins over the Panthers. Notre Dame beat Pitt with discipline and milking the shot clock. Pitt can do these things, too, but when the Panthers run into someone playing the Panthers' game, it can be jarring.
THE BUZZ: Pitt would like to dispel the stereotype that it's a slow, blue-collar team. That much has been disproven to a degree - the Panthers can play up-tempo and Gibbs can score with just about anyone. Pitt also would like to end the idea that it can't get beyond the Elite Eight. Dixon has taken Pitt through its most successful era in school history. The next step is a Final Four.
- DAVID FOX
| UNC ASHEVILLE |
| RECORD: 19-13 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 0-3
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Big South tourney
COACH: Eddie Biedenbach (1-1 NCAA tournament record)
F Quinard Jackson, 6-5/240, Jr.
F John Williams 6-4/215, Sr.
G Matt Dickey, 6-1/180, Jr.
G J.P. Primm, 6-1/195, Jr.
G Chris Stephenson, 6-3/200, Jr.
C D.J. Cunningham, 6-10/240, Soph.
F Jaron Lane, 6-4/170, Soph.
G Trent Meyer, 6-2/165, Fr.
|BACKCOURT: Dickey and Primm make the Bulldogs go. They are the Bulldogs' top two scorers, combining for nearly 30 points per game. They also were among the Big South leaders in steals for a team that led the league in that category. Dickey's steal of an inbounds pass and 27-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Coastal Carolina in the regular season was one of the more memorable plays of the season. Primm has played his best against the toughest competition this season, and you'd expect that to continue during the Big Dance. Stephenson also plays a big role in the backcourt. He had 14 points and eight rebounds in UNCA's victory over Coastal in the final of the Big South tournament. |
FRONTCOURT: Williams is quick and a phenomenal leaper - reportedly, he has a 40-inch vertical - who has come on strong down the stretch. Jackson is a tough inside player, but he struggles at the foul line (33 percent). Lane, a small forward, has scored in double figures in seven of the past eight games off the bench. Cunningham, who led the team in rebounding, injured an ankle in the quarterfinals of the Big South tourney (the latest injury for him). It looks like he will play in the NCAA tourney, which is good news for the Bulldogs. They would be hurting without him.
X-FACTOR: Williams missed seven games with a broken bone in his face (courtesy of an elbow from North Carolina's Tyler Zeller early in the season) and he wears a protective mask, but you can't hide Williams' importance to the Bulldogs. Despite just being 6 feet 4, Williams is a tremendous leaper and is the Bulldogs' biggest force inside - and he'll have to come up big in the Big Dance if UNCA has any chance to pull off an upset, especially if Cunningham can't go.
THE BUZZ: UNC Asheville was the first team to qualify for the NCAA tournament; now the Bulldogs hope they won't make an early exit, but it won't be easy. Dickey and Primm will lead the Bulldogs' charge, but Williams must hold his own inside and Lane has to score off the bench. Biedenbach coached UNCA in the NCAA tourney in 2003, when the Bulldogs became the first Big South team to win an NCAA tournament game (in a play-in game). He'd love to add another one to the resume.
- GARY MONDELLO
| ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK |
| RECORD: 19-16 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 0-1
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Sun Belt tourney
COACH: Steve Shields (first NCAA appearance)
F Gus Leeper, 6-9/229, Fr.
F Marlon Louzeiro, 6-7/241, Jr.
G Solomon Bozeman, 6-0/183, Sr.
G Alex Garcia-Mendoza, 6-3/205, Sr.
G D'Andre Williams, 5-10/156, Jr.
F Courtney Jackson, 6-6/221, Jr.
F Eric Kibi, 6-6/220, Jr.
F Montrell Thornton, 6-7/240, Sr.
G Daylon Guy, 5-10/164, Fr.
G Matt Mouzy, 6-0/190, Sr.
G Tramar Sutherland, 6-3/199, Jr.
|BACKCOURT: Bozeman, who began his career at USF, was the Sun Belt Conference player of the year. He averages 16.5 points and is the only Trojan in double figures. He is excellent from 3-point range, hitting at a 46.4 percent clip (that's 3 percent better than his 2-point percentage). He's athletic and also can get to the rim, and he has attempted 270 free throws, a figure that's in the top three nationally. He has made 80.4 percent of those attempts. Garcia-Mendoza, from Mexico, is one of three Trojans who attended high school outside of the United States before being signed out of American junior colleges by UALR (Louzeiro is from Brazil and Sutherland is from Canada). He's another solid 3-point shooter, hitting 40.0 of his shots from beyond the arc, and he also drains 81.6 percent of his foul shots. Mouzy is all about the 3-point shot, and he leads the teams in makes (72) and attempts (186). Williams is a solid distributor and a willing defender. Guy is an effective backup point guard who can hit the 3-pointer, while Sutherland adds backcourt size off the bench. |
FRONTCOURT: Don't expect many points from UALR's big guys. The quartet that for sure will get legitimate minutes in the tourney averages a combined 13.0 points - that's combined. We say "for sure" because Jackson has missed time recently with an injured foot and may not return for the tourney. He's the team's leading rebounder but not much of a scorer (5.3 ppg). This is not a good rebounding team, either. UALR's big men will bump and grind, and Thornton and Leeper have shot-blocking ability, but these guys won't scare anybody. Their lack of production has to bother assistant coach Joe Kleine, a former star center at Arkansas and in the NBA.
X-FACTOR: UALR's offense is centered on its guards; actually, it's centered on its guards making 3-pointers. UALR, which averages 68.0 points, shoots just 42.6 percent overall. But the Trojans are excellent from 3-point range, hitting 39.8 percent. If their 3-pointers aren't falling, they have no shot (no pun intended).
THE BUZZ: UALR isn't that good. The Trojans fifth in their division in the Sun Belt, which was down this season. Despite having lost seven of their final 10 regular-season games, the Trojans put it all together in the Sun Belt tourney and won four games in four days to nab the automatic bid. If not for that hot streak, there would've been no postseason appearance at all; they were under .500 overall entering the Sun Belt tourney. Their 3-point shooting could make things interesting for a while against a power-conference opponent, but their over-reliance on the "3" and their weak frontcourt means eventually they'll lose by about 20.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
|No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion |
| 8. BUTLER |
| RECORD: 23-9 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 1-3
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Horizon League tourney.
COACH: Brad Stevens (6-3 NCAA tournament record)
C Andrew Smith, 6-11/239, Soph.
F Matt Howard, 6-8/230, Sr.
G Shelvin Mack, 6-3/215, Jr.
G Ronald Nored, 6-0/174, Jr.
G Shawn Vanzant, 6-0/172, Sr.
F Khyle Marshall, 6-7/210, Fr.
G Zach Hahn, 6-1/176, Sr.
G Chase Stigall, 6-4/190, Soph.
|BACKCOURT: Mack is a fearless player who has grown accustomed to playing against top-level competition; he played for the USA Basketball Select Team, then sparked Butler on last season's Final Four run. He isn't shooting as well overall or from 3-point range this season, but he started to heat up late in the season. Nored is an outstanding leader and perimeter defender, though he won't provide much scoring. Vanzant has come on strong lately and heads into the tournament having shot 7-of-11 from 3-point range over his past four games. Stigall has made major strides as a spot starter this season. He's bigger than most of Butler's other guards and can help out on the boards. Hahn has a reputation as a good shooter, but he enters the tournament having gone 1-of-13 from 3-point range in his past five games. |
FRONTCOURT: Howard has been a cornerstone of Butler's program for four seasons. He has earned first-team All-Horizon honors in three consecutive seasons and has been named MVP of the conference tournament in each of the past two seasons. Foul trouble was a major issue for him last season, but he has done a much better job of staying on the floor this season. Butler was good enough to survive last season even when Howard was on the bench for significant portions of the game. This season, Butler relies on him more. Smith moved into the starting lineup early in the season and has improved over the course of the year. His emergence helped Howard move from center to his natural position of power forward. Marshall's playing time has been up and down, but he's capable of scoring in double figures.
X-FACTOR: Butler advanced to the NCAA final last season largely because of a defense that didn't allow anyone to break the 60-point mark until its 61-59 loss to Duke in the championship game. Butler has allowed 64.7 points per game this season, but the Bulldogs have stepped up their defense lately and have yielded an average of 58 points during their current nine-game winning streak. If Butler keeps playing that kind of defense, it has a shot to get beyond the first round.
BUZZ: Butler doesn't have a Gordon Hayward-type player who can create matchup problems for any team in the nation, but the Bulldogs possess plenty of confidence and toughness from last season's run to the championship game. Don't expect another march to the Final Four, but the Bulldogs could reach the second or third round if they play good defense and keep Howard out of foul trouble.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
| 9. OLD DOMINION |
| RECORD: 27-6 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 7-4
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Colonial Athletic Association tourney
COACH: Blaine Taylor (1-5 NCAA tournament record)
F Chris Cooper, 6-9/230, Jr.
F Frank Hassell, 6-9/255, Sr.
G/F Kent Bazemore, 6-5/195, Jr.
G/F Ben Finney, 6-5/215, Sr.
G Darius James, 6-0/170, Sr.
F Keyon Carter, 6-8/218, Sr.
G Trian Iliadis, 6-3/185, Jr.
G Marquel De Lancey, 6-0/190, Jr.
|BACKCOURT: Bazemore was the CAA's defensive player of the year (2.3 steals per game) and a second-team all-league pick. He's also the Monarchs' second-leading scorer. The lefty is ODU's most efficient 3-point shooter (but that's not saying that much; more on that in a moment). Bazemore is a great athlete who has a nice all-around game. James is another lefthander who is tied for team lead with Finney in assists; he's not a great shooter, but ODU wants him at the free-throw line as often as possible (82.1 percent). Finney's offensive efficiency plunged this season, but he has made up for it in other ways. He's a good passer and a tough rebounder who's also a solid defender. Iliadis, an Australian, is probably ODU's best outside shooter, while De Lancey provides adequate relief at the point. |
FRONTCOURT: Hassell is a big, physical guy who was a first-team All-CAA selection. He's another lefty who makes his living in the lane. He knows how to carve out space, is a big-time rebounder and an effective defender. For a physical guy, he does a great job avoiding fouls. Cooper is limited offensively, but he's another big body who isn't afraid to throw his weight around. Unlike Hassell, Cooper does commit a lot of fouls. But coach Blaine Taylor can live with that because that means Carter gets a lot of minutes. Carter has a lot of tools but lacks consistency. He is another big body who can be an effective offensive player, though he doesn't always have the best shot selection.
X-FACTOR: ODU doesn't shoot all that well. The Monarchs hit just 44.1 percent from the field as a team and make only 32.9 percent of their 3-pointers. They have a lot of positives, but shooting isn't one of them. Will it cost them? And watch their perimeter defense. The Monarchs play lockdown defense inside the arc. Beyond the arc, though, they're spotty, allowing foes to hit 37.0 percent of their 3-point attempts.
THE BUZZ: While they can't shoot all that well, the Monarchs won 27 games for a reason. The main one is that these guys are ferocious on the boards. They outrebound foes by more than 12 per game - you read that right, 12 per game - and make a living on second-chance points. ODU scores better than 40 percent of its points off offensive rebounds. This is a big, bruising, physical group that isn't afraid to get its hands dirty on either end of the court. A Sweet 16 run is possible. But because of their poor shooting, so is a first-round loss.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
|No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 12 Utah State |
| 5. KANSAS STATE |
| RECORD: 22-10 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 4-6
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big 12
COACH: Frank Martin (4-2 NCAA tournament record)
F Curtis Kelly, 6-8/245, Sr.
F Jamar Samuels, 6-7/220, Jr.
G Rodney McGruder, 6-5/205, Soph.
G Jacob Pullen, 6-1/200, Sr.
G Shane Southwell, 6-6/210, Fr.
F Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, 7-0/245, Soph.
G Martavious Irving, 6-1/210, Soph.
G Nick Russell, 6-4/200, Soph.
G Will Spradling, 6-2/180, Sr.
|BACKCOURT: Not many players in the country finished the regular season on as high of a note as Pullen, who led Kansas State to wins in eight of its final nine regular-season games. Pullen averages just below 20 points and has failed to score in double figures just twice all season. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that opponents focus their entire defensive game plan on stopping Pullen, who at times can seem like a one-man show. One of the reasons the Wildcats bounced back from their poor start was because McGruder and Spradling improved offensively, which took some of the pressure off Pullen. McGruder is a slasher who can get hot from beyond the arc. The presence of Spradling, a point guard, allows Pullen to move off the ball, which allows him to be a more productive scorer. |
FRONTCOURT: What appeared to be the Wildcats' main strength entering the season now is one of their biggest weaknesses. Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla left the team at midseason, which has left K-State with virtually no talent down low other than Kelly, whose off-court issues and occasional poor work ethic have led to an up-and-down season. Still, when he's at his best, Kelly is one of the top post players in the Big 12. Samuels, who is more of a wing, is an extremely difficult matchup because of his size and athleticism. Henriquez-Roberts is a rapidly improving shot-blocker who is one of K-State's only options off the bench. As long as Kelly stays out of foul trouble, the Wildcats should be able to get by.
X-FACTOR: Despite a loss to Colorado in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, Kansas State enters the NCAA tournament full of swagger. Confidence is everything in March, and the Wildcats certainly have it. Last season's march to the Elite Eight will help matters, too, as the Wildcats won't be intimidated or overwhelmed by the hoopla surrounding the Big Dance.
THE BUZZ: K-State entered the season as the No. 3-ranked team in the nation but eventually fell out of the polls following a horrendous performance in December and January. But give coach Frank Martin - and Pullen - credit. They turned this team around just when it appeared that all hope was lost. In a season defined by parity, no one would be surprised if Kansas State made a deep NCAA tournament run.
- JASON KING
| 12. UTAH STATE |
| RECORD: 30-3 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 0-2
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Western Athletic tourney
COACH: Stew Morrill (1-8 NCAA tournament record)
F Nate Bendall, 6-9/250, Sr.
F Tai Wesley, 6-7/240, Sr.
G Tyler Newbold, 6-5/210, Sr.
G Brockeith Pane, 6-1/195, Jr.
G/F Pooh Williams, 6-4/190, Sr.
F Brady Jardine, 6-7/220, Jr.
G Brian Green, 6-1/200, Sr.
G James Walker III, 6-2/185, Fr.
|BACKCOURT: Pane has been a textbook example of how Utah State is able to add junior college players seamlessly to the mix. Pane was the only new starter this season and he became an all-conference guard, replacing another All-WAC guard in Jared Quayle. Pane is best around the basket; he's not much of a threat from the perimeter. Those responsibilities fall to Green - who is one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation - and Williams. Between Pane, Green and Williams, Utah State has three legitimate scoring options in the backcourt. |
FRONTCOURT: Utah State loves having Wesley on its side. Not only was he the WAC player of the year, he's the league's most feisty player and agitator. He's a textbook stat-sheet stuffer, too, leading the Aggies in scoring and rebounding and topping 250 assists and 130 blocks for his career. Including Wesley, Utah State had three of the top 15 rebounders in the WAC. One of those, Jardine, came off the bench and is a key energy guy. Bendall's production dropped this season, but he's a good rebounder and a physical presence.
X-FACTOR: Newbold knows his role as a defensive stopper, but he can be far more valuable than that. Newbold can score, rebound and feed the post. Utah State's scoring depth could be an X-factor, but Newbold's versatility in particular should be an asset. Newbold also had some of his best games on the road.
THE BUZZ: Utah State has been a model of consistency in the WAC, with at least 23 wins in 12 consecutive seasons. While the Aggies have had regular-season success, that hasn't followed in the NCAA tournament. Utah State has lost five consecutive tournament games and has reached the second round only once since 1970. The Aggies breezed through the WAC and didn't play a tough non-conference schedule. Were the Aggies just the best team in a subpar conference or are they poised to make an overdue appearance in the second round?
- DAVID FOX
|No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Belmont |
| 4. WISCONSIN |
| RECORD: 23-8 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 8-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big Ten
COACH: Bo Ryan (12-9 NCAA tournament record)
F Jon Leuer, 6-10/228, Sr.
F Keaton Nankivil, 6-8/240, Sr.
G Josh Gasser, 6-3/185, Fr.
G/F Tim Jarmusz, 6-6/205, Sr.
G Jordan Taylor, 6-1/195, Jr.
F/C Jared Berggren, 6-10/235, Soph.
F Mike Bruesewitz, 6-6/220, Soph.
G/F Ryan Evans, 6-6/210, Soph.
|BACKCOURT: Taylor is perhaps the nation's best pure point guard. He has more than four times as many assists as turnovers and is the only player to rank in the top five in the Big Ten in scoring and assists. His ability as a floor general has helped give Wisconsin one of the nation's most efficient offenses. He also plays his best in clutch situations. Gasser, the first Big Ten freshman to deliver a triple-double since Magic Johnson, can play either guard position and does a great job of avoiding turnovers. He also has improved his 3-point shooting after an ice-cold start. Jarmusz is a solid 3-point shooter who also is extremely careful with the ball. |
FRONTCOURT: Leuer teams with Taylor to give Wisconsin one of the nation's best inside-outside duos. He's a good rebounder who also is an outstanding shooter from 3-point range and the free-throw line. He simply is one of the nation's most consistent frontcourt performers. Nankivil gives the Badgers another big man who can make the 3-pointer. Bruesewitz may be best known for his flowing red hair, but he also is a quality offensive rebounder.
X-FACTOR: Don't expect Wisconsin to choke away a game down the stretch. The Badgers lead the nation in free-throw percentage. Over the past two seasons, they have lost just twice when they're leading or tied with four minutes left in regulation.
BUZZ: Wisconsin isn't a team that's going to beat itself. The Badgers rarely turn the ball over and have a steady point guard who doesn't make mistakes, particularly in critical situations. The Badgers might not have the athleticism to reach the Final Four, but they do have two of the nation's top 20 players in Taylor and Leuer and a superb tactician in coach Bo Ryan. It would be a surprise if the Badgers don't make it to the second week of the tournament.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
| 13. BELMONT |
| RECORD: 30-4 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 1-3
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Atlantic Sun tourney
COACH: Rick Byrd (0-3 NCAA tournament record)
C Mick Hedgepeth, 6-9/235, Jr.
F/G Jon House, 6-6/215, Sr.
F Trevor Noack, 6-7/240, Soph.
G Ian Clark, 6-3/175, Soph.
G Drew Hanlen, 5-11/180, Jr.
C Scott Saunders, 6-10/250, Jr.
F/G J.J. Mann, 6-6/210, Fr.
F Brandon Baker, 6-6/220, Soph.
F Blake Jenkins, 6-7/200, Fr.
G/F Jordan Campbell, 6-5/210, Sr.
G Kerron Johnson, 6-1/175, Soph.
|BACKCOURT: The most impressive thing is that every guard or swingman on the roster has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. Clark, a Memphis native, is the team's most talented player. He's a solid offensive player with excellent range, and he puts his quickness to good use on defense. He's also excellent from the line. Hanlen isn't asked to do much scoring, but he is the leading assist man and has an almost 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. He has 3-point range and shoots 86.4 percent from the line. Johnson, a former Alabama "Mr. Basketball" who was a starter last season, is a key performer off the bench. He can hit the 3-pointer, too, but he is much more dangerous with his forays to the hoop. He is quick and surprisingly strong, and frequently goes to the foul line. He is the Bruins' best defender. Campbell is the Bruins' best 3-point shooter, and 161 of his 195 shot attempts have come from beyond the arc. He's a good passer and a willing defender. |
FRONTCOURT: Hedgepeth is the Bruins' second-leading scorer and leading rebounder. Saunders, his backup, began his career at Rice, and those two give the Bruins 20.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Not bad for a low-major center, huh? House and Noack are limited, but both are scrappy and House is a solid defender. Mann can hit the 3-pointer, and Baker and Jenkins also are nice-sized guys off the bench. Baker has 3-point range but isn't afraid to get physical on defense, while Jenkins does most of his work in the paint.
X-FACTOR: Belmont goes a legit 11 deep; those 11 guys average between 10.4 and 24.6 minutes per game. Eight Bruins have led the team in scoring this season, while six have been the Bruins' top rebounder.
THE BUZZ: This is a dangerous team for numerous reasons. One is that the Bruins are extremely good from 3-point range, hitting 38.1 percent; they make 9.4 3-pointers per game. Second is that they have competent big men who can score in Hedgepeth and Saunders; when teams worry too much about the 3-pointer, Hedgepeth and Saunders can do some damage down low. Third is that they take care of the ball and have five players with at least 57 assists. Fourth is that they force a ton of turnovers (19.2 per game) and come up with 9.7 steals per game. Fifth is that there is excellent depth. Finally, Rick Byrd is not going to be outcoached. He can X and O with the best of them; while he doesn't have elite athletic talent, he can make up for it in a variety of ways. With the right draw, these guys can get to the Sweet 16.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
|No. 6 St. John's vs. No. 11 Gonzaga |
| 6. ST. JOHN'S |
| RECORD: 21-11 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 9-7
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big East
COACH: Steve Lavin (11-6 NCAA tournament record)
F Justin Brownlee, 6-7/219, Sr.
F Dwayne Polee II 6-7/193, Fr.
G Dwight Hardy, 6-2/196, Sr.
G Paris Horne, 6-3/189, Sr.
G Malik Boothe, 5-9/184, Sr.
F Justin Burrell, 6-8/244, Sr.
F Sean Evans, 6-8/259, Sr.
G Malik Stith, 5-11/184, Soph.
|BACKCOURT: Hardy sparked the Red Storm's resurgence this season by emerging as one of the nation's most improved players. After being one of the Red Storm's top reserves last season, he has developed into a true star with a flair for the dramatic. He made a game-winning basket in the closing seconds against Pittsburgh and exceeded the 30-point mark against UCLA, Connecticut and Villanova. St. John's suffered a major blow in the Big East tournament when G/F D.J. Kennedy tore the ACL in his right knee. He was the Red Storm's top rebounder and third-leading scorer. Horne is a solid perimeter defender, while Boothe is probably the Red Storm's best distributor. |
FRONTCOURT: This is clearly a guard-oriented team, as St. John's ranks last in the Big East in blocks and often gets outrebounded by opponents. The starting lineup doesn't feature anyone taller than 6-7, though Evans and Burrell provide more height off the bench. The Red Storm's top frontcourt performer is Brownlee, though he was more productive in the first half of the season. Burrell provides plenty of experience and toughness off the bench. Although Polee is a starter, he generally plays only about 15 minutes per game. Polee provides plenty of athleticism when he's on the floor, as he has a 40-inch vertical jump.
X-FACTOR: How will St. John's fare without Kennedy? He was injured early in a Big East tournament loss to Syracuse, so the Red Storm's first-round game in the NCAA tournament will be their first full game without him. Kennedy's loss could hurt the rebounding ability of a team that doesn't have a whole lot of height.
BUZZ: St. John's moved into NCAA contention because of its success at Madison Square Garden, but the Red Storm proved they could win away from home by delivering late-season victories at Cincinnati, Marquette and Villanova. This team has proved it can win anywhere, and it boasts an abundance of athleticism. But Kennedy's loss is a major concern. This is a tough team to predict. The Red Storm are talented enough to make a serious Final Four run, but their lack of NCAA tournament experience could make them an early upset victim if they get the wrong kind of matchup.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
| 11. GONZAGA |
| RECORD: 24-9 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 2-5
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won West Coast Conference tournament
COACH: Mark Few (12-11 NCAA tournament record)
C Robert Sacre, 7-0/260, Jr.
F Elias Harris, 6-7/245, Soph.
G Marquise Carter, 6-4/178, Jr.
G Demetri Goodson, 6-0/175, Jr.
G Steven Gray, 6-5/205, Sr.
F Mangisto Arop, 6-6/208, Soph.
C/F Sam Dower, 6-9/248, R-Fr.
G David Stockton, 5-11/152, R-Fr.
|BACKCOURT: Gray is Gonzaga's laid-back leader. Until the WCC tourney final against Saint Mary's, maybe he was too laid back. He's Gonzaga's go-to player, but he had a quiet two weeks before scoring 15 points and adding seven rebounds in the title game despite picking up a cut above his eye that required stitches. Gonzaga knew it had a proven player in Gray, but the rest of the backcourt needed to develop as the season went on. PGs Marquise Carter, a junior college transfer, and former walk-on David Stockton (John Stockton's son) were seldom-used early in the season, but took some of the burden off Gray late in the season. |
FRONTCOURT: Harris started out as the WCC preseason player of the year. He struggled early with injuries, but he has been healthier late in the season. Sacre finished the season on a hot streak, scoring in double figures in each of the last five games. He was one of the WCC's top shot-blockers and became a better passer as a senior. Like Carter and Stockton, Dower earned more playing time as the season progressed. By the end of the season, he was the top forward off the bench.
X-FACTOR: How will Gonzaga's youth handle the tourney pressure? The increase in minutes for the three new faces late in the season changed the Bulldogs' fortunes. After Stockton, Carter and Dower started to earn regular minutes, Gonzaga went 11-1 following a 13-8 start.
THE BUZZ: On Jan. 27, Gonzaga was riding a three-game losing streak in the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs wondered if their streak of tournament appearances would end. But by the end of the season, Gonzaga was in a familiar position - on top of the WCC and in the NCAA tournament. Still, this team is flawed, and if the Zags win more than one NCAA tourney game, it will have been a great season.
- DAVID FOX
|No. 3 BYU vs. No. 14 Wofford |
| 3. BYU |
| RECORD: 30-4 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 6-2
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Mountain West
COACH: Dave Rose (1-4 NCAA tournament record)
F/G Charles Abouo, 6-5/215, Jr.
F Noah Hartsock, 6-8/230, Jr.
G Kyle Collinsworth, 6-6/210, Fr.
G Jackson Emery, 6-3/190, Sr.
G Jimmer Fredette, 6-2/195, Sr.
F/C James Anderson, 6-10/240, Jr.
F Logan Magnusson, 6-6/210, Sr.
F Stephen Rogers, 6-8/195, Soph.
|BACKCOURT: Everything about BYU's offense is driven by Fredette, the nation's leading scorer. He's best-known for his seemingly limitless range, yet what makes him perhaps the country's most formidable offensive player is that he can also finish at the rim or set up his teammates if opposing defenses focus too much on him. The lone knock on Fredette is his defense. BYU sometimes will hide him in a zone defensively and typically will have him guard an opposing team's least effective perimeter scorer. In addition to Fredette, Emery is an excellent scorer and Abouo has emerged as a scoring threat as well in the past month. |
FRONTCOURT: The suspension of Brandon Davies for a violation of the school's honor code deprived BYU of its best low-post scorer, defender and rebounder. The Cougars simply do not have another player on their roster who can replace Davies' 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds, which is a problem because it allows opposing defenses to focus on taking away the 3-point shot without the fear of getting beaten inside. What BYU does still have in its frontcourt is Hartsock, a spot-up shooting forward who is dynamite in a pick-and-pop with Fredette. Magnusson and Rogers absorb some of Davies' minutes off the bench.
X-FACTOR: The rebounding, slashing and defensive energy that Abouo has brought of late are critical for BYU. If he can build on his last six regular-season games in the postseason, that will help mitigate Davies' absence.
THE BUZZ: While BYU had the look of a Final Four contender before Davies' suspension, the team that has taken the floor since hasn't been of the same caliber The combination of Fredette and a stable of outside shooters still could take BYU to the second weekend of the tournament, but the Cougars are vulnerable to an early upset and anything more than a trip to the Sweet 16 seems far-fetched at this point.
- JEFF EISENBERG
| 14. WOFFORD |
| RECORD: 21-12 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 1-4
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Southern Conference tourney
COACH: Mike Young (0-1 NCAA tournament record)
F Noah Dahlman, 6-6/215, Sr.
F Tim Johnson, 6-6/228, Sr.
G Jamar Diggs, 6-2/180, Sr.
G Brad Loesing, 6-0/180, Jr.
G Cameron Rundles, 6-1/190, Sr.
F Drew Crowell, 6-9/230, Jr.
F Terry Martin, 6-6/235, Sr.
G Kevin Giltner, 6-6/200, Jr.
|BACKCOURT: Rundles, who scored 21 points in the Southern Conference tournament final against College of Charleston, has really developed in his second season with the team (after transferring from Montana). He has scored in double figures in 10 consecutive games. Diggs averages double figures on the season and had a big SoCon tourney, and Loesing leads the team in assists. Giltner contributes off the bench. The Terriers are efficient on offense, take good shots and don't turn it over a lot. Guard play is a big reason. |
FRONTCOURT: Any hopes Wofford has of doing any damage in the tournament come from Dahlman, who was the MVP of the SoCon tourney. Dahlman, who is just nine points shy of 2,000 for his career, has to put himself in good position to score against what will most likely be taller defenders. Johnson is quick and thick and led the Southern Conference in rebounding this season. He's a nice complement to Dahlman. Crowell and Martin provide experience and minutes off the bench for the Terriers.
X-FACTOR: Wofford nearly upset Wisconsin in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament before losing 53-49, and foul shooting (6-of-13) hurt the Terriers. They seem to have solved that problem, including a 22-of-24 performance in the SoCon tourney title game. Wofford always wants to shoot more free throws than its opponent, and the Terriers will need to do that in the NCAAs - as well as make them.
THE BUZZ: Wofford has enjoyed back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1963-65. With an experienced lineup (four seniors and one junior starting) and last season's NCAA experience (the first in school history), there's reason to believe the Terriers can pull off an NCAA upset. For the second year in a row, they're playing their best basketball at the right time. But the Terriers' trip to the Big Dance will be short unless Dahlman comes up big.
- GARY MONDELLO
|No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan State |
| 7. UCLA |
| RECORD: 22-10 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 4-7
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Pac-10
COACH: Ben Howland (18-8 NCAA tournament record)
C Anthony Stover, 6-10/235, Fr.
F Tyler Honeycutt, 6-8/188, Soph.
F Reeves Nelson, 6-8/235, Soph.
G Lazeric Jones, 6-0/187, Jr.
G Malcolm Lee, 6-5/200, Jr.
C Joshua Smith, 6-10/305, Fr.
G Jerime Anderson, 6-2/183, Jr.
G Tyler Lamb, 6-5/200, Fr.
|BACKCOURT: As a result of UCLA's inability to find an heir apparent to Jordan Farmar, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison at point guard, the Bruins are left with the solid but unspectacular duo of Jones and Anderson. Both have shown an ability to sink an open spot-up jumper, but neither are dynamic creators off the dribble or elite on-ball defenders. Lee, on the other hand, has blossomed into one of the Pac-10's best defensive stoppers as a result of his length, quickness and athleticism. In addition to guarding an opposing team's best perimeter scorer, Lee can get to the rim off the dribble and finish in transition, though his 3-point shot is a weakness. |
FRONTCOURT: Even though his enormous frame and lack of conditioning can make him susceptible to fatigue or foul trouble, Smith still poses an enormous matchup problem for most opponents. He has great hands, a soft touch around the rim and the ability to dominate the offensive glass. Nelson is a crafty scorer and gritty rebounder at power forward, though he'll sometimes allow offensive slumps to affect his defensive focus. Honeycutt is the great mystery for UCLA, an NBA prospect capable of scoring barrages such as his 33-point effort at Kansas or perplexing disappearing acts such as his 0-of-6 shooting night at Washington earlier this month.
X-FACTOR: No doubt it's Honeycutt because you never know what you might get from him on a night-to-night basis. His size, deft passing and buttery shooting stroke tantalize NBA scouts, yet his defense often is lackluster and he's prone to head-scratching turnovers.
THE BUZZ: After missing the NCAA tournament last season and starting this season 3-4, UCLA quietly surged during the second half of the season thanks to improved defense and Smith's development. Two wins in the NCAA tournament is not out of the question for this group, something that few would have said as recently as six weeks ago.
- JEFF EISENBERG
| 10. MICHIGAN STATE |
| RECORD: 19-14 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 6-13
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big Ten
COACH: Tom Izzo (35-12 NCAA tournament record)
C Garrick Sherman, 6-10/240, Soph.
F Draymond Green, 6-7/230, Jr.
G Keith Appling, 6-1/180, Fr.
G Mike Kebler, 6-4/205, Sr.
G Kalin Lucas, 6-1/195, Sr.
C Derrick Nix, 6-9/270, Soph.
F Delvon Roe, 6-8/230, Jr.
G Durrell Summers, 6-5/205, Sr.
G Austin Thornton, 6-5/210, Jr.
|BACKCOURT: Michigan State has had its share of changes in the backcourt, starting in the offseason with the departure of Chris Allen, followed by the midseason suspension of Korie Lucious. The constant, as it has been for four seasons, is Lucas. Through all the turmoil, Lucas put the team on his back through stretches of the season. Perhaps the most telling number of the team's struggles: Lucas likely will set career-highs in scoring and average minutes played and a career-low in assists. His supporting cast has changed through the season, the latest combo being Appling and Kebler, a former walk-on. Appling isn't a great scorer, but he's a top-notch perimeter defender and a good rebounder for a guard. Summers was Michigan State's top player during last season's Final Four run, but he disappeared over the second half of the Big Ten season. |
FRONTCOURT: Green continued to build his reputation as a stat-sheet stuffer, leading the Spartans in rebounding and steals. Not counting Lucious, who was suspended after 18 games, Green led the team in assists. Roe is a former five-star prospect who continued to battle injuries this season. Center has been a three-man effort all season with Sherman, Nix and Adreian Payne splitting time at the position. None of them is an offensive factor.
X-FACTOR: The Izzo factor is huge. Michigan State tends to play its best in the NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four last season even without Lucas after the second round. With Lucas, Summers and Green, this is an experienced group that has enjoyed success in the tournament in the past two seasons.
BUZZ: While Michigan State tends to perform well in the tournament, don't ignore the regular season. Picked in the top two or three nationally to start the season, Michigan State spent most of the season clawing to get into the tournament. Maybe Michigan State will find its postseason magic this season, but nothing has indicated the Spartans are poised for a deep run in the tournament.
- DAVID FOX
|No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 UC Santa Barbara |
| 2. FLORIDA |
| RECORD: 26-7 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 13-3
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the SEC.
COACH: Billy Donovan (22-8 NCAA tournament record)
F Chandler Parsons, 6-10/215, Sr.
F Alex Tyus, 6-8/220, Sr.
C Vernon Macklin, 6-10/240, Sr.
G Kenny Boynton, 6-2/183, Soph.
G Erving Walker, 5-8/171, Jr.
F Erik Murphy, 6-10/229, Soph.
F/C Patric Young, 6-9/245, Fr.
G Scottie Wilbekin, 6-2/175, Fr.
|BACKCOURT: Walker and Boynton are the Gators' leading scorers. Walker is jet-quick with the ball and has great range; he can get to the basket because of his quickness, but his lack of size means he sometimes struggles to finish. He also can be exploited defensively on the perimeter by bigger point guards. Boynton is a former elite recruit who hasn't been the offensive force that was expected. But his defense has been a constant and he works hard on that end of the floor. He uses his strength to get to the rim. He likes to fire away from 3-point range, but he's not all that proficient from beyond the arc. He is streaky, though, and if he makes a 3-pointer, you can bet another one is going up quickly. Both starting guards are good free-throw shooters. Wilbekin plays about 18 minutes per game, but he's not much of a scorer or even much of a shooter. He takes good care of the ball, though, and is a willing defender. |
FRONTCOURT: This is a big-time frontcourt, with the do-everything Parsons the key guy. He is the leading active rebounder in the SEC, and while he's not bulky, he jumps well and usually gets good position. He's also an excellent ballhandler for a man his size and has a nice outside stroke. But he's a poor free-throw shooter and freely admits it's a mental thing. Macklin, who began his career at Georgetown, is a solid low-post presence on both ends. He doesn't have much range, but he does have a nice hook shot. Macklin runs the court well but he's far from an elite athlete. He also is horrible from the line. Tyus often is the forgotten man. He doesn't do anything great but does a lot of things well. He can hit the occasional mid-range jumper and has the athleticism to be an effective defender. Young is an active - and big - body off the bench. He's not afraid to throw his bulk around. He's a good rebounder and defender, but his shooting range can be measured in millimeters. Murphy has good offensive skills but can be pushed around inside because he lacks strength. Still, when a guy who can provide instant offense is the No. 5 big man, that says a lot.
X-FACTOR: Watch the foul disparity. Florida has committed the fewest fouls in the nation and is the only Division I team that hasn't had a guy foul out. The Gators have shot almost 200 more free throws than their opponents and have made almost as many as their opponents have attempted. Florida's frontcourt depth allows coach Billy Donovan to mix-and-match his big men and avoid foul trouble. Despite Boynton's defensive prowess, he simply doesn't commit many fouls.
THE BUZZ: At their best, the Gators are one of the top 10 teams in the nation. The problem is that they don't always put together a consistent 40 minutes. That's not to say they're inconsistent, just that too often they look "good" rather than "excellent." Part of that may be the burden placed on Boynton and Walker, who play a ton of minutes and have to do all the backcourt scoring. Opponents with defense-minded guards can cause some problems. Still, the frontcourt is deep, which means this is a team that should go to at least the Sweet 16. The right matchups could mean an Elite Eight appearance.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
| 15. UC SANTA BARBARA |
| RECORD: 18-13 |
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 1-1
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Big West tourney
COACH: Bob Williams (0-2 NCAA tournament record)
F Jon Pastorek, 6-10/210, Sr.
F Jaime Serna, 6-9/235, Jr.
G Orlando Johnson, 6-5/205, Jr.
G Justin Joyner, 6-0/177, Sr.
G/F James Nunnally, 6-7/205, Jr.
C Greg Somogyi, 7-3/242, Jr.
G Will Brew Jr., 6-3/175, Jr.
G Jordan Weiner, 6-0/173, Sr.
|BACKCOURT: Johnson, who began his career at Loyola Marymount, was the Big West's player of the year last season and repeated as a first-team all-league selection this season. He's a physical, well-rounded player; he can shoot from the outside (40.1 percent from 3-point range), hit the mid-range jumper, get to the rim, rebound (a team-leading 6.3 per game) and pass effectively. Nunnally is a solid perimeter player who is the team's second-leading rebounder. He and Johnson are the only Gauchos averaging in double figures in points. Joyner isn't an offensive threat, but he's a good distributor who takes care of the ball; he's also a crafty defender who leads the team in steals. Weiner has some 3-point ability. Brew provides no offense, but plays good defense. |
FRONTCOURT: Serna is a big body, but he's not really an offensive option; he scores on putbacks and the like. Pastorek, who began his career at San Diego State, is an effective rebounder. Somogyi, a Hungarian native, is raw offensively, but he's a defensive presence because of his sheer size.
X-FACTOR: Johnson has to get his points if the Gauchos are going to beat anybody. He is talented and will be the focal point of opposing defenses.
THE BUZZ: The Gauchos epitomize a team "just happy to be here." They were the No. 5 seed in the Big West tourney and were 14-13 in the regular season. This is their second consecutive NCAA appearance, and with Johnson and Nunnally returning next season, they could make it three in a row. Next season, though, maybe they'll actually have a chance against a power-conference opponent.
- MIKE HUGUENIN