RECORD: 32-2 RPI: 1st RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 10-2 HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Big 12 tourney COACH: Bill Self (25-11 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Marcus Morris, 6-9/235, Jr. F Markieff Morris, 6-10/245, Sr. G Elijah Johnson, 6-4/195, Soph. G Brady Morningstar, 6-4/185, Sr. G Tyrel Reed, 6-3/193, Sr. KEY RESERVES F Thomas Robinson, 6-9/237, Soph. G Mario Little, 6-6/218, Sr. G Josh Selby, 6-2/183, Fr. G Tyshawn Taylor, 6-3/185, Jr.
BACKCOURT: Off-guards Reed and Morningstar lack NBA-caliber talent, but without them, the Jayhawks may have finished third or fourth in the Big 12. Both are seniors who operate with tremendous poise and take pride in playing relentless defense and sharing the ball. Point guard has been more of a revolving door for the Jayhawks. An NCAA-mandated suspension and an injury prevented freshman phenom Selby from developing as quickly as hoped. Taylor is a third-year starter but has been inconsistent. Johnson is the best defender but may be too green to count upon heavily in March. The good thing about all three is that they realize that their main job is to move the ball, attack and, hopefully, get an open shot for one of the Morris twins. With the exception of Selby, who is getting better, none of Kansas' guards have displayed selfish tendencies. FRONTCOURT: Not many teams are as imposing in the paint as the Jayhawks, who have three forwards projected to go in the first round of the NBA draft either this year or next. Leading the way is Marcus Morris, who earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors after averaging more than 17 points and seven rebounds. He and his twin, Markieff, are as versatile as they come, with the ability to score from down low, with a mid-range game and from beyond the arc. Spelling the twins off the bench is Robinson, a behemoth of a post presence who is one of the most improved players in the Big 12. Robinson's physical strength makes him almost impossible to stop once he gets the ball near the basket. X-FACTOR: Robinson is a game-changer in the paint. His ability to get easy putbacks on the offensive glass can squelch the momentum of a surging team, and he can be a pest defensively. As good as the Jayhawks are when both twins are playing well, they are arguably the top team in the country when Robinson brings his A-game. THE BUZZ: Kansas won the national title in 2008, but the Jayhawks also have had a tendency to play tight in the NCAA tournament. Fans won't forget the first-round exits against Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and 2006. Then there was last season's second-round setback against Northern Iowa. Self is confident this bunch will carry a swagger into the tournament that may have been lacking last season.
RECORD: 21-13 RPI: 129th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 0-4 HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won America East tourney COACH: Patrick Chambers (first NCAA appearance)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Patrick Hazel, 6-6/220, Jr. F/G John Holland, 6-5/205, Sr. F Dom Morris, 6-7/240, Fr. G D.J. Irving, 6-0/165, Fr. G Darryl Partin, 6-6/190, Jr. KEY RESERVES C Jeff Pelage, 6-8/240, Jr. G Matt Griffin, 5-10/180, Jr.
BACKCOURT: Partin, a second-team All-America East performer, is a La Salle transfer who made an immediate impact for the Terriers. He's a solid 3-point shooter who also can use his size to overpower smaller defenders. But he can be pressured into mistakes. Irving has provided a relatively steady hand at the point as a freshman. He has good quickness and is money from the line. Griffin, a transfer from Rider, is all about the 3-pointer; he hits a sizzling 46.5 percent from beyond the arc and also is third on the team in assists. FRONTCOURT: Holland was the player of the year in America East. He's a solid all-around offensive player, though he does take too many 3-pointers. He's a good rebounder and almost automatic (85.6 percent) from the line. He also leads the team in steals. Morris is a physical presence who became a starter when Jake O'Brien was lost to injury halfway through the season. O'Brien's loss has hurt BU's offense, as Morris just isn't that good on that end of the court. But he works hard and can rebound. Hazel is all about rebounding and defense. Pelage is a big body off the bench who isn't afraid to throw his weight around defensively. X-FACTOR: Any chance for a respectable outcome in the first round rests on Holland, who is one of the best low-major players in the nation. Thing is, opposing teams know it, and while he can have his way with America East foes, it's going to be tougher against major-conference powers. THE BUZZ: Boston U. finished second in America Eats in the regular season and benefited from some upsets in the league tourney. Holland deserves a national stage, though it's going to be a short visit.
RECORD: 24-8 RPI: 26th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 2-7 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Mountain West COACH: Lon Kruger (14-12 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Chace Stanback, 6-8/210, Jr. F Quintrell Thomas, 6-8/245, Soph. G Oscar Bellfield, 6-2/185, Jr. G Anthony Marshall, 6-3/200, Soph. G Tre'Von Willis, 6-4/195, Sr. KEY RESERVES F/C Brice Massamba, 6-10/240, Jr. G Justin Hawkins, 6-3/190, Soph. G Derrick Jasper, 6-6/215, Sr.
BACKCOURT: Slow to recover from offseason knee surgery, Willis has offered more glimpses of last season's all-conference form late in the season. During UNLV's final seven regular-season games, he averaged 15.1 points, shot better than 50 percent from the field and played his usual stellar on-ball defense, leading the Rebels to a 6-1 record during that stretch. UNLV's up-tempo system demands a lot of long-armed, athletic guards who can trap and force turnovers, so four others besides Willis averaged at least 19 minutes per game. Of those, Marshall is dynamic athlete and UNLV's most consistent player, Bellfield is a clutch scorer and the team leader in assists and Hawkins is a defensive stopper off the bench. FRONTCOURT: There's no more enigmatic player on UNLV's roster than Stanback, who carried the Rebels to a strong start early in the season in Willis' absence but regained that form only intermittently in conference play. Stanback is a solid defender and streaky shooter who at times appears to be UNLV's go-to scorer. But he only reached double figures in two of the Rebels' final six regular-season games. UNLV typically only plays with one true big man on the floor, which means Harris, Massamba and Carlos Lopez split time. Thomas, a Kansas transfer, went through a midseason stretch where he barely played; recently, though, he has been the most productive of the three. X-FACTOR: If Thomas can be productive down low and fill UNLV's interior scoring and rebounding void, that would be a huge boost for the Rebels' hopes of an NCAA win or two. He fell to third in the rotation in January but recommitted himself in practice, earning back his starting job and helping UNLV close the regular season on a roll. THE BUZZ: Lost in the hoopla over Northern Iowa last season was that UNLV came within three points of defeating the Panthers and preventing them from ever facing Kansas in the second round. For the Rebels to avoid another first-round exit this season, it likely will come down to outside shooting and the production from their trio of big men. UNLV's defense and ability to score in transition will keep most games close, so timely 3-point shooting, low-post scoring and rebounding typically make the difference.
RECORD: 19-13 RPI: 48th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 8-10 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big Ten COACH: Bruce Weber (10-7 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS C Mike Tisdale, 7-1/250, Sr. F Bill Cole, 6-9/215, Sr. F Mike Davis, 6-9/225, Sr. G Demetri McCamey, 6-3/200, Sr. G D.J. Richardson, 6-3/195, Soph. KEY RESERVES F/G Jereme Richmond, 6-7/205, Fr. G Crandall Head, 6-4/185, Fr. G Brandon Paul, 6-4/200, Soph.
BACKCOURT: McCamey clearly is a talented point guard - he does have the most assists among active players. But at the same time, he's gone through baffling cold stretches. During a three-game stretch in the Big Ten, he went 6-of-32 from the field, with 17 total points. McCamey and coach Bruce Weber haven't always been on the same page, but McCamey remains the key to Illinois' success. Richardson has had his slumps, too. He can be Illinois' top defender, but he struggled late in the season. That prompted Weber to start Paul and Head in Richardson's place. Paul is a good athlete with a bright future. Head was used sparingly, but he did bring energy to the lineup. FRONTCOURT: Tisdale and Davis are an accomplished duo, but overpowering they are not. Tisdale has developed an outside shot this season, but his production has been linked to McCamey's hot and cold streaks. Davis led the Big Ten in rebounding a year ago, but like the rest of the team, he has struggled with consistency this season. Cole has transformed himself into the hustle guy. As with Paul and Richardson, Richmond may be a key player on the horizon but he's a role player for now. He can be an impact player, as evidenced by his 18 points and 12 rebounds against Ohio State earlier this season. X-FACTOR: Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but the Illini will go where McCamey takes them. Heading into the Big Ten tournament, McCamey had a 2.7-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in 19 wins (128 assists, 47 turnovers) and a 1.4-1 ratio in 12 losses (54 assists, 40 turnovers). THE BUZZ: This is Weber's last go-round with a sometimes maddening group of seniors. McCamey, Tisdale and Davis have shown themselves to be capable of great things, but they've also shown themselves to be capable of underachieving. They have not won a tournament game in their careers - they lost to Western Kentucky in the first round in 2009 in their only appearance - so perhaps that will be a motivating factor.
RECORD: 23-10 RPI: 27th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 6-8 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the SEC COACH: Kevin Stallings (5-6 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS C Festus Ezeli, 6-11/255, Jr. F/G Lance Goulbourne, 6-8/230, Jr. G John Jenkins, 6-4/220, Soph. G Brad Tinsley, 6-3/210, Jr. G/F Jeffery Taylor, 6-7/225, Jr. KEY RESERVES F Rod Odom, 6-9/215, Fr. F Steve Tchiengang, 6-9/245, Jr. F Andre Walker, 6-7/220, Jr.
BACKCOURT: Jenkins led the SEC in scoring during the regular season. A former five-star prospect, Jenkins is perhaps the best pure shooter in the nation. Brad Tinsley struggled early in the season, but he put together a solid campaign at point guard. Taylor began the season as Vanderbilt's top NBA prospect; in some circles, he was considered the top pro prospect among college veterans. He is a solid all-around player and a versatile defender. FRONTCOURT: Perhaps the biggest change for Vanderbilt this season was Ezeli's emergence. He came to Vanderbilt from Nigeria with little basketball experience. He redshirted, developed and has become an impact center and shot-blocker. Goulbourne leads the team in rebounding. The Commodores have depth in the frontcourt with veterans Tchiengang and Walker (when he's healthy). X-FACTOR: Vanderbilt went 1-4 in games decided by three or fewer points. There wasn't a trend in those games - it was poor free throw shooting in one, losing a double-digit lead in another and failing to complete a rally in another - just that Vanderbilt found ways to lose those close games. THE BUZZ: Vanderbilt has been a No. 4 seed twice in the past three seasons and lost in the first round both times (to Siena in 2008 and to Murray State last season). Vandy is somewhat of a mystery this season. Clearly, this is a talented group, but Vanderbilt has had its share of perplexing losses (Arkansas, South Carolina, three home conference losses). If Jenkins is on, Vandy can hang with just about anyone. It's the production from others that will determine if Vandy can get to the Sweet 16, which appears to be this team's ceiling.
RECORD: 27-7 RPI: 41st RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 3-4 HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Atlantic 10 tournament. COACH: Chris Mooney (0-1 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERSC Dan Geriot, 6-9/230, Sr. F Justin Harper, 6-10/225, Sr. F Kevin Smith, 6-5/200, Sr. G Darien Brothers, 6-3.200, Soph. G Kevin Anderson, 6-0/175, Sr. KEY RESERVES C Darrius Garrett, 6-9/210, Jr. F Francis-Cedric Martel, 6-6/205, Jr. G Cedrick Lindsay, 6-1/190, Fr.
BACKCOURT: Anderson is small, but he is the engine for the Spiders. Coming into the season, he was skilled at scoring in traffic, but his overall game improved this season - he improved his efficiency from 3-point range and set a career high in assists while also cutting his turnovers. He's a defensive pest as well. Brothers is the only non-senior in the starting lineup. Richmond brings more youth off the bench in Lindsay. FRONTCOURT: Richmond was the best 3-point shooting team in the A-10 - in total number and efficiency - because of the frontcourt of Harper and Geriot. Both can spread out a defense with their ability to shoot from the perimeter. Harper, the team's leading scorer, also is Richmond's most capable rebounder. The Spiders don't get to the line a ton, but Harper is an 80-percent free-throw shooter. Off the bench, Garrett is a defensive specialist who led the Spiders in blocks despite limited minutes. X-FACTOR: Richmond has some tall guys, but don't mistake the Spiders for a power team. Richmond struggles on the boards - the Spiders were minus-4.1 in rebounding margin per game during the conference season. Richmond can cause teams matchup problems with its Princeton-style offense, but those matchup difficulties go both ways. BUZZ: Richmond returned to the NCAA tournament last season after a six-season absence, but the trip was short-lived as the Spiders lost to Saint Mary's in the first round as a No. 7 seed. Making consecutive tournament appearances for the first time since 1990-91, Richmond returns the core group from last season's team. The Spiders hope that experience pays dividends this time around. One win is a legit goal, but if the shots are falling, the Spiders could make a longer run.
RECORD: 25-9 RPI: 17th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 11-7 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big East COACH: Rick Pitino (38-14 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS C Terrence Jennings, 6-9/220, Jr. F Kyle Kuric, 6-4/195, Jr. F Stephan Van Treese, 6-9/220, Soph. G Preston Knowles, 6-1/190, Sr. G Peyton Siva, 5-11/180, Soph. KEY RESERVES C Gorgui Dieng, 6-10/225, Fr. G Mike Marra, 6-5/200, Soph. G Chris Smith, 6-2/200, Jr.
BACKCOURT: The vast majority of Louisville's offense comes from the perimeter, particularly if you add Kuric (listed as a forward) to the mix. Knowles and Siva are inconsistent shooters, but both have the ability to take over a game. Knowles hit at least six 3-pointers in consecutive games at one point this season. If he gets on that kind of roll again, Louisville will be extremely difficult to beat. Siva isn't a huge scorer, but his speed makes him dangerous as he drives to the basket and hits the open man. Knowles and Siva also are ballhawks who have helped Louisville rank among the NCAA leaders in steals per game. Opponents never should feel comfortable bringing the ball upcourt against this team. FRONTCOURT: Kuric is listed as a forward, though he has the size of a guard. However you label him, Kuric has come on strong for the Cardinals. He's an outstanding 3-point shooter who showed he could score in bunches by racking up 28 points against Notre Dame and 23 against Syracuse in back-to-back games. Jennings has rebounded from a disappointing sophomore season to provide a shot-blocking presence in the paint. Although he still isn't a consistent scorer, Jennings has become more of an offensive weapon. Dieng has provided consistent minutes and toughness off the bench. Louisville's frontcourt depth took a major hit in late February when 6-8 F Rakeem Buckles tore the ACL in his right knee. Louisville already had been playing without Jared Swopshire, a starter in 2009-10 who injured his groin over the summer and is redshirting. X-FACTOR: Louisville thrives on its ability to make 3-pointers and force steals, but the Cardinals' success often depends on their rebounding efforts. The Cardinals are so strong in every other facet that they're just about unbeatable if they're controlling the glass. But they were outrebounded by a double-digit margin in losses to Drexel, Kentucky, Villanova and Notre Dame this season. THE BUZZ: Louisville has a solid backcourt and a coach who certainly knows how to win in the postseason. This team's moxie makes up for its lack of star power, as Louisville continually has shown a penchant for coming from behind. Louisville could make an early exit if it struggles from 3-point range against a veteran backcourt that knows how to take care of the ball, but this team seems built for a run into the second week of the tournament.
RECORD: 24-9 RPI: 77th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 0-2 HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Ohio Valley tourney COACH: Donnie Tyndall (1-1 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F/C Kenneth Faried, 6-8/228, Sr. F Drew Kelly, 6-7/235, R-Fr. G Demonte Harper, 6-4/195, Sr. G Terrance Hill, 6-1/175, Jr. G Ty Proffitt, 6-4/190, Jr. KEY RESERVES G Lamont Allen, 6-0/175, Jr. G Sam Goodman, 6-2/190, Sr.
BACKCOURT: Harper is the key here. He's Morehead's second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. He also hits 39.9 percent from 3-point range and is a good defender. He's sloppy with the ball, though, with 15 more turnovers (128) than assists. Hill is the third-leading scorer and generally can be found firing away from beyond the arc. He's good from the line and a solid defender, but he, too, needs to take better care of the ball. Proffitt, who began his career at Notre Dame, is another good 3-point shooter. He has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, which makes him a rarity on this team. Goodman is a superb athlete off the bench. Despite his lack of size, he hits the boards hard and does most of his offensive damage from 15 feet in. Goodman is an extremely aggressive defender, and he's also foul-prone. He started for most of the season before giving way to Kelly, which enables the Eagles to start the game with more size on the court. Allen isn't much of an offensive threat, but he is an effective distributor and an excellent foul shooter. He's also a pesky defender. FRONTCOURT: Faried is an absolute monster on the boards. He leads the nation in rebounding (14.5) and is the leading career rebounding in NCAA modern history (which the NCAA says began in 1972). He is absolutely relentless and, simply put, considers every missed shot to be his. He's athletic and strong, and can jump, too. He's limited offensively, but he knows his limitations (he shoots 64.4 percent from the floor). He rarely strays away from the low post and gets fouled a lot; too bad he's such a mediocre foul shooter (57.8 percent). He also is a good defender and averages 2.4 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. Don't let the small-school uniform fool you: Faried can play for anyone - and rebound against anyone - in the nation. Kelly, a former "Mr. Basketball" in Tennessee who is the grandson of former Austin Peay coach Lake Kelly (he coached James "Fly" Williams) became a starter late in the season. He works hard on both ends but isn't asked to do much offensively. He's a good rebounder, though. His uncle is Green Bay Packers OT Chad Clifton. X-FACTOR: Any chance of pulling an upset - or staying close - is on Faried. He plays a lot of minutes and commits a lot of fouls. He has fouled out three times, and if he is on the bench for extended minutes, the Eagles are going to get crushed on the boards and in the low post. THE BUZZ: Faried is good - really good. In addition, Morehead State has some guys who can hit from 3-point range. If Faried is his usual self down low and the Eagles are hitting from beyond the arc, they can make things interesting against a big-name foe. The Eagles played Florida and Ohio State this season, and lost both by a combined 25 points. But Faried pulled in 30 rebounds against those teams and isn't going to be intimidated by anyone. Indeed, by the end of the game, we're betting the opposing big man is the one who's intimidated.
RECORD: 21-10 RPI: 13th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 10-10 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big East COACH: John Thompson III (7-6 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Nate Lubick, 6-8/238, Fr. F Julian Vaughn, 6-9/247, Sr. G Jason Clark, 6-2/170, Jr. G Austin Freeman, 6-3/227, Sr. G Chris Wright, 6-1/208, Sr. KEY RESERVES C Henry Sims, 6-10/232, Jr. F Jerrelle Benimon, 6-7/237, Soph. F Hollis Thompson, 6-7/205, Soph.
BACKCOURT: When Wright is healthy, Georgetown's three-guard lineup features a trio of players who all shoot the 3-pointer effectively. You'll have to search for a long time to find another prolific scorer as efficient as Freeman. Wright is a steady distributor who also shoots well from long range and can pick up the scoring load in those rare instances when Freeman is off his game. Clark's shooting percentage shows that he also is efficient, though he's not nearly as consistent in his production. This trio helped Georgetown rank among the NCAA leaders in field-goal percentage before Wright broke his hand in late February. Wright is expected back for the tournament, which would give Georgetown one of the field's most experienced backcourts. Wright and Freeman have been fixtures in the starting lineup for the last three years, while Clark is a second-year starter. They also play outstanding defense, though it's worth noting they were torched by Ohio's backcourt in a first-round NCAA tournament loss last season. FRONTCOURT: This isn't the stereotypical Georgetown team that builds its attack around a pure center in the mold of Greg Monroe, Alonzo Mourning or Patrick Ewing. This season's Georgetown squad is a guard-oriented team without a 7-footer. Georgetown's frontcourt received a boost in January when Lubick replaced Thompson in the starting lineup. Lubick's additional size improved Georgetown's defense in the paint, while Thompson adjusted well enough to the reserve role that his minutes actually didn't decrease much at all. Vaughn, who began his career at Florida State, provides a shot-blocking presence, and he occasionally can deliver double-digit scoring or rebounding efforts. X-FACTOR: This is a team that thrives on its effectiveness from 3-point range and its ability to prevent opponents from shooting accurately. Georgetown has been just about unbeatable when it has made 33 percent of its 3-point shots. But if the Hoyas are missing from long range, they don't always have enough firepower in the paint to pick up the slack. Of course, the real X-factor here is Wright's health. Will he really be back for the tournament? And if he's healthy enough to play, how long will it take him to shake off the rust? THE BUZZ: Georgetown has experience and a quality backcourt - assuming Wright is on the floor - and those traits generally lead to long tournament runs. But it's hard to forget how Georgetown got embarrassed by Ohio's guards last season. Did the Hoyas learn their lesson? The answer could determine whether Georgetown produces a legitimate tourney run or makes an early exit.
RECORD: 19-14 RPI: 67th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 5-5 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Pac-10 COACH: Kevin O'Neill (2-3 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Alex Stepheson, 6-10/250, Sr. F Nikola Vucevic, 6-10/260, Jr. G Jio Fontan, 6-0/175, Jr. G Marcus Simmons, 6-6/220, Sr. G Donte Smith, 5-11/180, Sr. KEY RESERVES G Garrett Jackson, 6-7/215, Fr. G Maurice Jones, 5-7/155, Fr.
BACKCOURT: While Fontan, Smith and Jones lack prototypical size and are susceptible to bigger guards posting them up, each can pressure the ball defensively and pose matchup problems on offense. They all can attack the rim and create for their teammates and Fontan - a Fordham transfer - and Smith are solid outside shooters. Simmons takes pride at being one of the elite on-ball perimeter defenders in the country because of his size, length, athleticism and quickness. His outside shooting is suspect at best, but he did light up Arizona for a career-high 20 points when the Wildcats sagged off him to help on USC's big men in the Pac-10 semifinals. FRONTCOURT: No Pac-10 program had a better tandem of big men than USC with Vucevic and Stepheson. A skilled scorer who can beat defenders with an array of low-post moves or sink a mid-range jumper off a pick-and-pop, Vucevic commanded double-teams throughout the second half of conference play. Nonetheless, he averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 boards and shot better than 50 percent from the field. Stepheson - who began his career at North Carolina - isn't as skilled as Vucevic, but he is a rugged low-post defender and rebounder who's capable of scoring around the rim. The only problem for USC is that there's little depth, so fouls can be troublesome. X-FACTOR: If Simmons can punish teams for leaving him open by sinking jump shots the way he did against Arizona, it makes USC far more difficult to guard. Few teams will be able to play Vucevic 1-on-1, so the Trojans' guards must be able to sink jumpers when their defender helps down low. BUZZ: USC might have slipped into the NCAA tournament, but the Trojans are a threat to win a game or two. Few teams in the nation defend as well and as hard as USC or have a big man as skilled as Vucevic. The Trojans defeated Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, UCLA and Washington in the regular season, closing the year with six wins in eight games to make the field of 68.
RECORD: 23-11 RPI: 49th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 4-6 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Colonial Athletic Association COACH: Shaka Smart (First NCAA appearance)
PROBABLE STARTERS C D.J. Haley, 7-0/250, Fr. F/G Bradford Burgess, 6-6/225, Jr. F Jamie Skeen, 6-9/240, Sr. G Ed Nixon, 6-4/210, Sr. G Joey Rodriguez, 5-10/175, Sr. KEY RESERVES F Juvonte Reddic, 6-9/225, Fr. G Rob Brandenberg, 6-2/170, Fr. G Brandon Rozzell, 6-2/185, Sr. G Darius Theus, 6-3/190, Soph.
BACKCOURT: Rodriguez, who played high school ball with Florida's Chandler Parsons at Casselberry (Fla.) Lake Howell, is a go-go-go type point man. He averages 4.9 assists and can be an effective defender because of his quickness. He has 3-point range, but has struggled from beyond the arc this season. Nixon is a solid defensive player. Rozzell is the key reserve; he's the Rams' third-leading scorer and a big-time 3-point threat. Theus is a good defender and distributor, but his offense is lacking. Brandenberg has 3-point ability. FRONTCOURT: Skeen, who began his career at Wake Forest, is VCU's leading scorer and rebounder and a second-team all-league guy. He toiled in Larry Sanders' shadow last season, but after Sanders went pro early, Skeen seized the opportunity. He has OK perimeter skills but is at his best offensively from 15 feet in. Burgess combines a nice outside stroke (40.1 percent from 3-point range) with some toughness (6.1 rebounds per game). Haley is a big body but extremely raw in almost every facet of the game. Reddic has some skills but they won't be in view until Skeen leaves. X-FACTOR: VCU gets outrebounded by almost four per game. This is not an overly physical group that also can be scored on down low. The Rams need to show some uncharacteristic toughness in the tourney. BUZZ: VCU wins when it is hitting from beyond the arc. The Rams have a variety of guys who can fire away, and given their trouble on the boards and on defense, they have to be hot from the outside if they're to win a game.
RECORD: 25-7 RPI: 12th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 11-5 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big Ten COACH: Matt Painter (6-5 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F/C JaJuan Johnson, 6-10/221, Sr. G/F D.J. Byrd, 6-5/225, Soph. G Lewis Jackson, 5-9/165, Jr. G E'Twaun Moore, 6-4/191, Sr. G Ryne Smith, 6-3/190, Jr. KEY RESERVES F Travis Carroll, 6-9/247, Fr. G Kelsey Barlow, 6-5/193, Soph. G John Hart, 6-2/199, Soph. G Terone Johnson, 6-2/212, Fr.
BACKCOURT: This is a guard-oriented team whose go-go pace is set by Jackson. He's jet-quick and keeps his foot on the pedal, wheeling and dealing in the open court. He's equally effective driving or dishing. And Jackson has become a key third scoring option with F Robbie Hummel out all season with a knee injury suffered on the first day of practice. Still, as Moore goes, so goes Purdue. If he's shooting well, the Boilermakers win. If he's in a funk, sound the alarm. Moore is a scorer deluxe who possesses a silky jumper that's deadly from anywhere on the court. Moore, a 2,000-point career scorer, also is a weapon running the wing with his speed and quickness. Byrd is a muscular wingman who can work in the paint or stroke it. Smith can't create, but he can catch and shoot coming off a screen. Barlow is a valuable jack-of-all-trades garbage man who can play defense. FRONTCOURT: Johnson may be the most versatile scorer in the Big Ten. What the lithe Johnson lacks in bulk he compensates for in athletic ability and deft moves on the blocks. Johnson, the Big Ten Player of the Year and its leading scorer, can draw his defender to the arc and launch a 3-pointer or drive to the hole with quickness. Johnson also has game on the other end of the court, earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors based on his shot-blocking acumen. Bottom line: The guy is the total package and hasn't been stopped by anyone this season. X-FACTOR: Rebounding could be an issue. The Boilermakers lack size, ranking just fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin. If Purdue shoots poorly and subsequently gets outworked on the boards, it will be in trouble. THE BUZZ: Matt Painter is one of the hottest coaches in the nation, leading a team that is one of just five Division I schools that has won at least 25 games in each of the past four seasons. Painter, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, may have done his best job in his six seasons, leading the Boilermakers to the precipice of the league title even without Hummel, a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection. Purdue likely can ride Johnson and Moore to a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. A trip to the Elite Eight is possible if Jackson also has a hot scoring hand.
RECORD: 20-13 RPI: 92nd RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 1-1 HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Metro Atlantic Athletic tourney COACH: John Dunne (first NCAA appearance)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Ryan Bacon, 6-7/205, Sr. F Darius Conley, 6-7/235, Soph. G Wesley Jenkins, 6-2/195, Sr. G Nick Leon, 5-11/170, Sr. G Steven Samuels, 6-4/170, Soph. KEY RESERVES F Jeron Belin, 6-6/195, Sr. G Brandon Hall, 6-1/185, Jr. G Yvon Raymond, 6-3/180, Soph.
BACKCOURT: Jenkins and Leon have started together for four seasons. Jenkins has been the Peacocks' leading scorer in each of his four seasons, while Leon has been the primary point guard during his time in Jersey City. Jenkins is more effective from 3-point range than 2-point range, but he also knows how to get to the rim and finish. He rebounds well for his size. Leon also has good range, is excellent from the line, an able defender and a solid distributor. Samuels is a good athlete who puts that to good use defensively. Neither Hall nor Raymond are asked to do much offensively; Hall is a solid backup point guard, while Raymond is known for his defense. FRONTCOURT: Belin is the Peacocks' second-leading scorer, though he isn't necessarily a good shooter. He shoots too many 3-pointers, but knows how to score in the lane. He draws a lot of fouls but is a mediocre foul shooter. Bacon is a high-energy guy who strictly works in the paint. He averages 2.1 blocks per game and is a solid rebounder, though increased minutes for Belin has cut down on Bacon's production this season. Conley is limited offensively, but he's a physical presence who rebounds well. X-FACTOR: Pace is going to be incredibly important for the defense-minded Peacocks. They allowed at least 70 points six times and lost each game. St. Peter's averages just 61.4 points and shoots only 40.4 percent from the floor and 64.3 percent from the line. There's no way they'll be able to hang around if an opposing team is able to run. THE BUZZ: Everything is about defense for the Peacocks, who have 123 more turnovers than assists and are outrebounded on average. Saint Peter's did play three "Big Six" schools this season, beating Alabama but losing to Rutgers and Seton Hall. In those three games, the Peacocks averaged 50.3 points; to pull a first-round upset, they have to have the game in the low to mid 50s.
RECORD: 24-8 RPI: 29th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 5-4 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big 12 COACH: Mark Turgeon (5-4 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F David Loubeau, 6-8/230, junior F/G Khris Middleton, 6-7/215, sophomore F Nathan Walkup, 6-7/210, senior G Dash Harris, 6-1/175, junior G B.J. Holmes, 5-11/175, senior KEY RESERVES F Kourtney Roberson, 6-9/230, freshman F Ray Turner, 6-8/220, sophomore G Andrew Darko, 6-1/175, senior G Naji Hibbert, 6-6/200, sophomore
BACKCOURT: A&M has a pair of veteran guards in Harris and Holmes, but neither - and especially not Harris - is an imposing offensive threat. Holmes averages just below 10 points but he did shoot a respectable 41 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, including a 44 percent clip over his last eight games. Harris is a terrible shooter, but he's an excellent defender, and both he and Holmes do a good job of taking care of the ball. The biggest problem with A&M's guards is a lack of depth. Darko, a former walk-on, averages 11 minutes a game as Harris' backup. Hibbert averaged 5.5 points in 20 minutes per contest. Experience is the strongest trait of A&M's backcourt. FRONTCOURT: The Aggies boast one of the country's more underrated players in Middleton, who averaged 14.4 points during the regular season. He is a threat to score in the paint and on the perimeter, and his ballhandling skills are rare for a player his size. Middleton is probably the only future NBA player on A&M's roster - but that's not to say the Aggies don't have other options down low. Loubeau, who was one of the team's top players down the stretch, is a physical presence, and Roberson and Turner are hustle guys who provide a nice spark off the bench. Whatever this frontcourt lacks in talent it makes up for in grit and determination. X-FACTOR: The MVP of A&M's squad is on the sideline. He may not get much national attention, but Mark Turgeon is blossoming into one of the country's top coaches. Finishing third in the Big 12 with this bunch is quite a feat. Turgeon has squeezed just about every ounce of effort and talent out of the Aggies as he possibly could've. THE BUZZ: The Aggies have lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament four times in the past five seasons and have reached the Sweet 16 just three times in school history. Considering the parity in college basketball this season, don't be surprised if A&M is playing the second weekend.
RECORD: 21-10 RPI: 55th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 2-6 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the ACC COACH: Leonard Hamilton (3-5 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Bernard James, 6-10/240, Jr F Chris Singleton, 6-9/220, Jr. G Deividas Dulkys, 6-5/195, Jr. G Derwin Kitchen, 6-4/204, Sr. G Michael Snaer, 6-5/205, Soph. KEY RESERVES F Xavier Gibson, 6-11/230, Jr. F Terrance Shannon, 6-8/220, Soph. F Okaro White, 6-8/195, Fr. G Ian Miller, 6-3/190, Fr. G Luke Loucks, 6-5/205, Jr.
BACKCOURT: Florida State doesn't have any stars in its backcourt, but it has plenty of solid performers who help the Seminoles play excellent defense. Kitchen is having far and away the best season of his career, as he's shooting at a higher percentage and taking better care of the ball. Dulkys is the Seminoles' biggest threat from 3-point range. Snaer is a former five-star prospect with huge upside, though he hasn't necessarily lived up to that potential just yet. He hasn't developed into a consistent scorer. Loucks and Miller provide the type of depth that allows FSU to keep players fresh, a necessity for a team that relies so much on its defensive tenacity. FRONTCOURT: For most of the season, the Seminoles depended heavily on Singleton, one of the nation's best defensive players. Singleton was leading the Seminoles in points, rebounds and steals when he fractured his right foot in mid-February. The Seminoles believe Singleton will be ready for the NCAA tournament. FSU survived Singleton's absence because James and White stepped up their games. White was particularly effective when he moved into the starting lineup after Singleton's injury. X-FACTOR: How healthy is Singleton? FSU played relatively well without Singleton late in the regular season, but it's hard to imagine the Seminoles advancing far in this tournament without a healthy Singleton harassing an opponent's best scorer. Singleton's health could determine whether the Seminoles can win an NCAA game for the first time since 1998. BUZZ: FSU's defense is good enough to give just about any first-round opponent plenty of headaches, but the Seminoles' lack of offense should prevent them from lasting beyond the opening weekend. One encouraging sign is how well White and James fared in Singleton's absence. FSU may have become a better team by having to live without Singleton for a while. If a healthy Singleton rejoins a stronger Florida State team, maybe the Seminoles can pull a surprise or two.
RECORD: 26-6 RPI: 9th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 14-6 HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big East COACH: Mike Brey (5-8 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS F Tim Abromaitis, 6-8/235, Sr. F Tyrone Nash, 6-8/232, Sr. F Carleton Scott, 6-8/218, Sr. G Ben Hansbrough, 6-3/206, Sr. G Scott Martin, 6-8/219, Sr. KEY RESERVES F Jack Cooley, 6-9/244, Soph. G Eric Atkins, 6-2/173, Fr.
BACKCOURT: Two years after his older brother Tyler led North Carolina to a national championship, Hansbrough has led Notre Dame into the NCAA tournament by displaying the same competitive fire that helped make his sibling famous. Hansbrough can play either guard position and is comfortable as a scorer or distributor. When a game is on the line, the Irish are going to make sure the ball is in Hansbrough's hands. After missing two full seasons - one because of a transfer from Purdue, another because of a torn ACL - Martin was understandably rusty at the start of the season. His size and perimeter skills make him a matchup problem for most guards. Atkins gives the Irish a solid point guard off the bench. Although he doesn't provide much scoring, Atkins does an outstanding job of finding the open man and avoiding turnovers. FRONTCOURT: The versatility of Notre Dame's forwards makes them dangerous. Abromaitis is similar to Martin in that they combine height and perimeter skills. Abromaitis has struggled with consistency this season, but he's capable of scoring 20-plus points. Nash is capable of leading the Irish in assists on any given day. Scott gives the Irish a toughness in the paint. When he's on his game, he can produce a double-double against just about anyone. When he missed four games with a hamstring injury early in the Big East schedule, the Irish weren't the same. X-FACTOR: Notre Dame is the rare major-conference team that starts five seniors, though three of them (Abromaitis, Martin and Scott) have a year of eligibility remaining. While it's easy to assume that an all-senior lineup should thrive in the postseason, this group doesn't have much successful NCAA tournament experience. The Irish were upset by Old Dominion in the first round last season and failed to earn an NCAA bid in 2009. Notre Dame's age should be an advantage, but it's no guarantee of success. THE BUZZ: Notre Dame's experience and Hansbrough's leadership suggest the Irish could reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003 - and only the second time since 1987 - but this team's lack of depth is a concern. Notre Dame's large collection of road losses by double-digits also is cause for alarm. If the Irish do a better job of responding to adversity away from their home court, they're certainly capable of advancing beyond the first week of the tournament. Indeed, if everything breaks right, a Final Four appearance isn't out of the question.
RECORD: 23-12 RPI: 107th RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 0-1 HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won MAC tourney COACH: Keith Dambrot (0-1 NCAA tournament record)
PROBABLE STARTERS C Zeke Marshall, 7-0/218, Soph. F Nikola Cvetinovic, 6-8/230, Jr. G Brett McClanahan, 6-4/185, Jr. G Steve McNees, 6-2/170, Sr. G Darryl Roberts, 6-0/165, Sr. KEY RESERVES C Mike Bardo, 6-10/240, Sr. F Quincy Diggs, 6-6/195, Soph. F Brett McKnight, 6-6/245, Sr. G Alex Abreu, 5-9/175, Fr.
BACKCOURT: Akron does an excellent job of taking care of the ball. The Zips led the MAC in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. McClanahan is an exceptional 3-point shooter who will be eager to make amends after going scoreless in the MAC championship game victory over Kent State. McNees doesn't score much, but he has about 2.5 times as many assists as turnovers this season. Roberts has stepped up his scoring down the stretch. Abreu has made an immediate impact as a freshman and leads the Zips in assists even though he has started less than half their games. FRONTCOURT: Cvetinovic leads the Zips in scoring and rebounding, though he has scored in double figures in only two of Akron's past six games. Marshall, a national top-50 prospect coming out of high school, has emerged as a premier shot-blocker as a sophomore. He has averaged 4.5 blocks in his past six games and had nine rejections in the MAC championship game. McKnight was suspended early in the season, but he has bounced back and scored in double figures in eight of his past nine games. This team can struggle on the boards. Akron ranked 11th out of 12 MAC teams in rebound margin this season. X-FACTOR: Marshall has been solid thus far in his college career, but his lofty recruiting ranking suggested he'd be dominant. Marshall started showing flashes of dominance - at least on the defensive end - this season and was one point and one block away from a triple-double in the MAC championship game. If Marshall keeps playing the way he did against Kent State, the Zips are capable of scaring a first-round foe. Of course, Marshall must stay out of foul trouble, and that hasn't always been easy for him. BUZZ: Akron has plenty of experience and comes into the tournament with 11 wins in its past 13 games, but the Zips' negative rebound margin is a major concern. Akron's impressive turnover margin suggests it could keep its opening game close, but it's hard to imagine the Zips - who won the MAC tourney as the No. 6 seed - getting out of the first round.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
THE FIRST ROUND MATCHUPS
1. Kansas vs. 16. Boston 2. Notre Dame vs. 15. Akron 3. Purdue vs. 14. St. Peter's 4. L'ville vs. 13. Morehead St.
5. Vandy vs. 12. Richmond 6. Georgetown vs. 11. TBD 7. A&M vs. 10. Florida St. 8. UNLV vs. 9. Illinois