West Region: Breaking down the teams

Yahoo! Sports Staff
Yahoo! Sports

No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 16 Vermont



RECORD: 28-4
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big East
COACH: Jim Boeheim (42-26 NCAA tournament record)

F Rick Jackson, 6-9/240, Jr.
F Wesley Johnson, 6-7/205, Jr.
F Arinze Onuaku, 6-9/261, Sr.
G Andy Rautins, 6-4/195, Sr.
G Brandon Triche, 6-4/198, Fr.
F Kris Joseph, 6-7/207, Soph.
G Scoop Jardine, 6-2/190, Soph.

BACKCOURT: More than a few Orange fans grimaced when coach Jim Boeheim announced over the summer that he'd start Triche at point guard. But Triche has done an excellent job considering his age, and it's also helped Syracuse that he's had such a solid backup in Jardine, who is generally more of a scoring threat. Rautins, though, has been the biggest key for Syracuse's backcourt. Along with being one of the best 3-point shooters in the country, Rautins is a team leader who also stands out defensively.
FRONTCOURT: A knee injury to Onuaku in the Big East Tournament has resulted in an unstable situation in the frontcourt for the Orange. Even if Onuaku plays, there's a strong chance he won't be 100 percent. That's not good for a Syracuse team that already had major depth problems in the post. Jackson has started all season with Joseph playing the role of sixth man off the bench. If Onuaku is limited there's a good chance, Mookie Jones could play an increased role.
X-FACTOR: The one player we haven't mentioned is Johnson, the Iowa State transfer who won Big East Player of the Year honors after leading the Orange to the regular-season championship. He is a slasher who can score from anywhere on the court and also is an effective rebounder and shot blocker.
THE BUZZ: If Onuaku is healthy, Syracuse will be a favorite to reach the Final Four. The Orange will give opponents fits with their zone defense, and not many teams play with as much chemistry and cohesion offensively. A second national for Boeheim definitely is a possibility.




RECORD: 25-9
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won America East tourney
COACH: Mike Lonergan (first NCAA tournament appearance)

F Marqus Blakeley, 6-5/225, Sr.
F Evan Fjeld, 6-8/215, Jr.
G Maurice Joseph, 6-4/190, Sr.
G Nick Vier, 6-1/165, Sr.
G Garvey Young, 6-4/190, Soph
F Ben Crenca, 6-10/260, Fr.
F Garrett Kissel, 6-9/245, Jr.
G Joey Accaoui, 5-10/165, Jr.
G Brendan Bald, 6-4/200, Fr.
G Simeon Marsalis, 5-11/185, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Joseph, a Canadian who began his career at Michigan State, is a solid perimeter threat for the Catamounts. He has good size but generally is content to stay outside and fire away; he is excellent from the line. Vier serves as the Catamounts' point guard; he's a good defender but not much of an offensive threat. Young is a good rebounded with some defensive skills, but he struggled to make shots this season. Accaoui has good range and provides offense off the bench. Bald and Marsalis, the son of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, don't provide much offense; Marsalis is a solid defender, though.
FRONTCOURT: Blakely is a really good player. He is the only player in the nation who leads his team in -- deep breath here -- scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals. He is a good athlete who, despite his size, can score in the low post; he also has developed a solid mid-range game and can slash to the basket, too. He's a tremendous offensive rebounder because of his timing. That time also helps him block two shots per game, and his quick hands lead to 2.5 steals per game. He gets to the line seemingly at will and has become a proficient foul shooter (68 percent). Fjeld is an able complement up front. He does most of his work in the paint and is a good rebounder. He also has an emotional story, as his mom died after a long battle with cancer five days before the Am East tourney final. Crenca and Kissel are big, physical bodies off the bench. Kissel plays 10 minutes a game -- and averages 3.5 rebounds.
X-FACTOR: It's all on Blakely. He has dominated far less talented frontcourt players in America East, and obviously will be going up against better players in the NCAA tourney. But he has the talent to hold his own.
THE BUZZ: The last time Vermont was in the field, in 2005, it upset Syracuse in the first round as a No. 13 seed. This team isn't as good, but that team didn't have anyone as talented as Blakely. If he has a big-time game, Vermont could make its first-round opponent sweat. And if he plays well and Joseph and/or Accaoui can consistently hit their 3-pointers, that first-round opponent definitely will sweat.


No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State



RECORD: 26-6
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from West Coast Conference
COACH: Mark Few (11-10 NCAA Tournament record)

C Robert Sacre, 7-0/247, Soph.
F Elias Harris, 6-8/215, Fr.
G Matt Bouldin, 6-5/224, Sr.
G Demetri Goodson, 5-11/164, Soph.
G Steven Gray, 6-5/208, Jr.
F Bol Kong, 6-6/220, Soph.
F Kelly Olynyk, 6-11/215, Fr.
G Grant Gibbs, 6-4/204, R-Fr.

BACKCOURT: The Zags' only returning starter from last season, Bouldin flourished in his role as Gonzaga's primary scorer and ballhandler. The senior is one of the most versatile guards in the country, and set career-highs in scoring, rebounding, assists and 3-pointers. Gray is athletic and became a nice complement to Bouldin in his ability to score and pass. Gray's inconsistency hurts, though. Goodson is jet-quick and can get to the rim, and he's an able distributor.
FRONTCOURT: Harris is the biggest reason Gonzaga was able to overcome the departures of Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye. He arrived from Germany to give Gonzaga an athletic and physical presence in the frontcourt. Sacre mans the post, and while he can run the floor and is athletic, he lacks consistency. Olynyk and Kong give Gonzaga some quality options off the bench. The Bulldogs' depth took a hit when freshman forward Mangisto Arop was lost for the season with a broken foot earlier this month.
X-FACTOR: Perimeter defense is a key. Gonzaga held teams to just over 30 percent 3-point shooting in wins, but opponents shot 42.5 percent from beyond the arc in five regular-season losses. Some of that could be attributed to the quality of teams, such as Michigan State, Wake Forest and Duke, but San Francisco and Loyola Marymount upset Gonzaga by picking them apart defensively.
THE BUZZ: Gonzaga is a tournament mainstay, with 12 consecutive appearances, but the Bulldogs have made first-weekend exits in six of the past eight seasons. Gonzaga is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, but this remains a young team with only two upperclassmen in the top eight scorers. In other words, they appear to be a year away.




RECORD: 22-9
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from ACC
COACH: Leonard Hamilton (4-3 NCAA tournament record)

C Solomon Alabi, 7-1/251, Soph.
F Ryan Reid, 6-8/238, Sr.
F Chris Singleton, 6-9/227, Soph.
G Derwin Kitchen, 6-4/204, Jr.
G Michael Snaer, 6-5/200, Fr.
F/C Xavier Gibson, 6-11/240, Soph.
G Deividas Dulkys, 6-5/196, Soph.
G Luke Loucks, 6-5/205, Soph.

BACKCOURT: The Seminoles lack an exceptional perimeter scorer. Kitchen is a nice distributor, but he rarely scores in double figures. The guy to watch is Snaer, who moved into the starting lineup late in the season and provided some necessary scoring punch. Loucks moved to the bench when Snaer entered the starting lineup, but both players have stepped up their scoring lately. Dulkys is a good 3-pointer, but his production tailed off late in the season.
FRONTCOURT: This is the clear strength of Florida State. The Seminoles boast as much overall height as just about any team in the country, and that size has helped make this one of the best defensive teams in Florida State history. Singleton can defend just about any position on the floor and is a threat to make a steal or block a shot at any time. Alabi has been a premier shot blocker for the past two season, and Gibson offers size off the bench. Alabi doesn't score as much as you might expect, but he picks his spots well and rarely has a bad shooting night.
X-FACTOR: Rated as the No. 7 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, Snaer didn't make a huge impact early in his freshman season. But he made a nice late-season surge after moving into the starting lineup. He scored 18 points in a win over Boston College and delivered 14 points plus two game-clinching free throws in the victory over Wake Forest that sealed an NCAA bid. If Snaer continues his recent improvement, he can give the Seminoles the perimeter scoring threat they lacked for much of the season.
THE BUZZ: Florida State's size and defensive intensity could give opponents fits, but the Seminoles need to upgrade their offense. We also worry about the Seminoles' lack of a killer instinct. They staggered down the stretch at home late in the season in a loss to Clemson and a narrow win over Wake Forest. They must perform better at crunch time to survive in the NCAA tournament.


No. 5 Butler vs. No. 12 UTEP



RECORD: 28-4
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Horizon League tourney
COACH: Brad Stevens (1-2 NCAA tournament record)

F/G Gordon Hayward, 6-9/207, Soph.
F Matt Howard, 6-8/230, Jr.
F Willie Veasley, 6-3/206, Sr.
G Shelvin Mack, 6-3/215, Soph.
G Ronald Nored, 6-0/174, Soph.
F Avery Jukes, 6-8/215, Sr.
G Zach Hahn, 6-1/176, Jr.
G Shawn Vanzant, 6-0/172, Jr.

BACKCOURT: Butler's two starting guards are sophomores, but Mack and Nored boast plenty of experience and court savvy. Both started as freshmen and have improved in their sophomore seasons. Mack has developed into more of a scorer and showed his capabilities by outplaying the highly regarded Ronald Moore in Butler's BracketBusters victory over Siena. Nored's leadership is evident from his stint as the university's freshman class president last year. Nored is capable of scoring in double figures, but he usually is content to pass and play defense.
FRONTCOURT: Hayward would be a star player in any conference. He's a big man with perimeter skills who is equally comfortable working around the basket or shooting 3-pointers. He eventually will be playing in the NBA. Veasley technically is listed as a forward, but he's a 6-3 guy who can shoot from beyond the arc. Veasley also is a solid defender who helped limit Clemson star Trevor Booker to seven points earlier this season. Howard was the Horizon League player of the year last season, but he hasn't been as productive this year. Howard did start to recapture his 2008-09 form in the last third of the season.
X-FACTOR: Howard's struggles this season are mainly because of his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Howard fouled out of seven of Butler's first 12 games; he also fouled out of three of Butler's four losses and picked up four fouls in the other one. If Howard can stay on the floor and play 30 minutes a game, Butler has a much better chance of winning.
THE BUZZ: Butler opened the season as a popular pick to make a long NCAA tournament run, then lost four games before Christmas. But since that relatively slow start, the Bulldogs have done a great job of showing why so much was expected of them. Butler has a true star in Hayward and plenty of solid players surrounding him. Only time will tell whether the Bulldogs' Horizon League schedule adequately prepared them for the NCAA tournament, but this team is talented and tough enough to make a Sweet 16 run.


12. UTEP


RECORD: 26-6
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Conference USA
COACH: Tony Barbee (first NCAA tournament appearance)

F Derrick Caracter, 6-9/275, Jr.
F Arnett Moultrie, 6-11/225, Soph.
F Jeremy Williams, 6-7/215, Jr.
G Randy Culpepper, 6-0/165, Jr.
G Julyan Stone, 6-6/195, Jr.
C Claude Britten, 6-11/270, Sr.
G Christian Polk, 6-3/200, Jr.
G Myron Strong, 6-2/185, Jr.

BACKCOURT: Culpepper, one of five Memphis natives on the team, had a big-time season. Culpepper is extremely quick and can get into the lane, but he also has 3-point range. He's a good defender but a little too lax with the ball. The point-guard duties are Stone's, and he does a nice job as a distributor. He is not much of an offensive threat. Polk, a transfer from Washington, provides offense off the bench; he's a big-time 3-point threat. Strong plays the point and is a good passer and defender.
FRONTCOURT: Caracter, a transfer from Louisville, has had a solid season for the Miners. He always had talent but was immature; he seems to have cured that issue and is a load in the low post. He has a variety of ways to score and is a good rebounder, but he still needs work on his defense - he commits a lot of dumb fouls - and on how to pass out of a double-team. Moultrie, another Memphian, had a somewhat disappointing season; there's no question Caracter's arrival has curbed Moultrie's production. Moultrie is athletic and that especially helps on the defensive end. Williams is an athletically gifted perimeter player. He doesn't take bad shots and is solid on the boards. Britten is a former starting center who brings bulk and toughness - but not much rebounding - off the bench.
X-FACTOR: When the Miners bear down on defense, they're extremely tough. This team has a bunch of big-time athletes who can play lockdown defense. They're OK on the boards and from 3-point range, but if they want to make their mark in this tourney, it'll be on defense.
THE BUZZ: The Miners had won 16 in a row until they were shocked in the C-USA tourney final by Houston - a game in which the Miners played lackluster defense. They have been given a second chance by the selection committee and could make some noise. Again, this is a group of big-time athletes, and in Culpepper and Caracter, they have a nice outside-inside balance.


No. 4 Vanderbilt vs. No. 13 Murray State



RECORD: 24-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from SEC
COACH: Kevin Stallings (6-4 NCAA tournament record)

C A.J. Ogilvy, 6-11/255, Jr.
F/G Jeffery Taylor, 6-7/210, Soph.
F Andre Walker, 6-7/220, Soph.
G Jermaine Beal, 6-3/205, Sr.
G Brad Tinsley, 6-3/210, Soph.
C Festus Ezeli, 6-11/255, Soph.
F/G Lance Goulbourne, 6-8/225, Soph.
F Steve Tchiengang, 6-9/240, Soph.
G John Jenkins, 6-4/215, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Conventional wisdom suggests you won't go far in the tournament without a solid and steady point guard. In that case, Vanderbilt should be in good shape. Beal is a three-year starter who is playing the best basketball of his career as a senior. His leadership skills never have been in question, but he has developed into a more prolific scorer this season. Taylor is a future first-round pick whose slashing ability gives Vanderbilt the athleticism to compete with anyone. Tinsley is a fine distributor and 3-point shooter, while Jenkins is extremely dangerous from beyond the arc.
FRONTCOURT: Vandy's abundance of big men helped the Commodores go to the free-throw line frequently this season. Ogilvy is inconsistent, but he has the ability to dominate on any given day. Walker can play either forward position and provides plenty of perimeter skills. Tchiengang brings plenty of toughness off the bench, and Ezeli gives the Commodores a shot-blocker off the bench.
X-FACTOR: Jenkins already possesses one of the nation's sweetest shooting strokes. He averaged 42.3 points per game as a high school senior in the Nashville suburbs, and although he has spent most of his freshman season coming off the bench, he has made nearly half his 3-point attempts and went 6-of-9 from beyond the arc in a late-season victory over Florida. If he's hot from beyond the arc, Vanderbilt can beat anyone.
THE BUZZ: Vandy doesn't have an obvious weakness, which could allow the Commodores to go a long way. They have plenty of size. They have great outside shooters. They have experience in the backcourt. They can win away from home. The Commodores lack a legitimate superstar, but they make up for it with their overall balance. If Vanderbilt doesn't go ice-cold from 3-point range, this team is talented enough to make a serious run.




RECORD: 30-4
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Ohio Valley tourney
COACH: Billy Kennedy (0-1 NCAA tournament record)

F Ivan Aska, 6-7/230, Soph.
F Tony Easley, 6-9/200, Sr.
F Danero Thomas, 6-4/190, Sr.
G B.J. Jenkins, 6-0/180, Jr.
G Isacc Miles, 6-2/205, Jr.
F Edward Daniel, 6-7/220, Fr.
F Jeffery McClain, 6-6/230, Jr.
G Isaiah Canaan, 6-0/175, Fr.
G Jewuan Long, 6-1/180, Soph.
G Donte Poole, 6-3/185, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Miles, who began his career at Creighton, is a steady hand at point guard. He's a solid distributor and defender, with 3-point range. Jenkins, who began his career at Liberty, blossomed in his first season as a starter for the Racers. He puts his quickness to good use as a pesky on-ball defender, and he's proficient from 3-point range and from the foul line. Canaan is a big-time 3-point threat off the bench, and he also can provide a spark as a defender. Long and Poole provide athleticism, quickness and defense off the bench; neither is asked to score, but Long can be an efficient offensive player.
FRONTCOURT: This is a good frontcourt, especially for a team from a low-major league. Aska is a hard worker who knows his limitations; he's the Racers' leading scorer - five guys average between 10.3 and 10.6 points per game - and spends all of his time in the low post; he's weak from the line, though. Thomas is a stat-sheet stuffer - he gets you points, rebounds, assists and steals. He has 3-point range but is a little too in love with his outside shot; he has a nice mid-range game and should work on getting to the line more often. Easley is a wiry guy who can run the floor and has great timing as a shot-blocker. His offense has greatly improved this season, and as with Aska, he does all his work in the paint. McClain was a starter last season and provides value as a rugged rebounder off the bench. Daniel is a good shot-blocker who provides no offense.
X-FACTOR: This is a dangerous team, especially if its 3-pointers are falling. Jenkins, Thomas, Canaan and Miles are legitimate 3-point threats, and are dangerous from long range in transition. Murray State hits 36.8 percent from 3-point range.
THE BUZZ: The Racers aren't your typical low-major team. These guys are athletic, have some size, can run all day, crash the boards, get in your face defensively (they average 10.0 steals per game) and - and oh, yeah - they can score, too. If they're allowed to force the pace and get the score into the high 70s or low 80s, watch out.


No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 Minnesota



RECORD: 24-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Atlantic 10
COACH: Chris Mack (first NCAA Tournament appearance)

C Jason Love, 6-9/265, Sr.
F Jamel McLean, 6-8/235, Jr.
G Jordan Crawford, 6-4/195, Soph.
G Terrell Holloway, 6-0/185, Soph.
G Dante Jackson, 6-5/194, Jr.
C Kenny Frease, 7-0/265, Soph.
G Mark Lyons, 6-1/195, Fr.
G Brad Redford, 6-0/175, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Crawford, a transfer from Indiana, lived up to the hype by leading the Atlantic 10 in scoring. He's not a big guard, but he's confident enough to take the deep "3" or create his own shot. Holloway isn't a star, but Xavier wouldn't be here without him or his clutch play. He also averaged twice as many assists as turnovers during the regular season. Lyons and Redford, a 3-point specialist, can give Xavier quality minutes off the bench.
FRONTCOURT: Love developed into double-double threat as a senior. He headlines an undersized but physical starting frontcourt. He is bulky and tough to move, and is especially good on the offensive boards. McLean probably is better-suited to play the wing rather than power forward, but he appeared more confident in the final third of the season. Frease gives the Musketeers size off the bench, but he averages fewer than 20 minutes per game. He lacks quickness, but he knows how to score in the low post and can pop the occasional 12-footer.
X-FACTOR: Opponents should be advised not to focus all their attention on Crawford. Holloway is capable of carrying the load, too. He can get to the free-throw line, and when he does, he converts at a clip of nearly 85 percent.
THE BUZZ: Xavier lost five games in the first two months of the season, but came together in the final two months. That's not just because of the schedule: The A-10 was awfully good this season, and they beat Florida handily in February. By the end of the season, the first-year head coach and all the new faces appeared to be on the same page.




RECORD: 21-13
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big Ten
COACH: Tubby Smith (29-14 NCAA Tournament record)

F Ralph Sampson III, 6-11/241, Soph.
F Damian Johnson, 6-7/205, Sr.
G Blake Hoffarber, 6-4/210, Jr.
G Devoe Joseph, 6-3/179, Soph.
G Lawrence Westbrook, 6-0/193, Sr.
C Colton Iverson, 6-10/258, Soph.
F Paul Carter, 6-8/203, Jr.
F Rodney Williams, 6-7/200, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Minnesota lost one of its best defensive players and a pass-first point guard when Al Nolen was declared academically ineligible in mid-January. Joseph is more of a scorer and a better shooter than Nolen, but he's not a true point guard and doesn't play defense as well as Nolen. Westbrook is the Gophers' leading scorer and one of the most efficient guards in the Big Ten. Hoffarber is one of the top 3-point shooters in the country in total numbers and accuracy.
FRONTCOURT: Sampson and Iverson are beginning to live up to their high school hype. Sampson had his moments during the season, but mostly against weaker teams. Iverson finally started to break out over the final weeks. Johnson leads the Gophers in blocks and steals, and he's developing an offensive game to match.
X-FACTOR: Joseph was shaky when he took over at point guard, but improved by the end of the season. He was more careful with the ball and near automatic from the free-throw line, but he still can be rattled.
THE BUZZ: Minnesota closed the season on a hot streak in the Big Ten tournament, including a 69-42 demolition of Purdue in a semifinal. Although Minnesota didn't look like a tournament team for most of the season, the Smith-coached Gophers could be dangerous in the first round because of their size and defensive potential.


No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 14 Oakland



RECORD: 24-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big East
COACH: Jamie Dixon (9-6 NCAA tournament record).

C Gary McGhee, 6-10/250, Jr.
F Nasir Robinson, 6-5/220, Soph.
G Jermaine Dixon, 6-3/200, Sr.
G Ashton Gibbs, 6-2/190, Soph.
G Brad Wanamaker, 6-4/210, Jr.
F Gilbert Brown, 6-6/210, Jr.
F Dante Taylor, 6-9/240, Fr.
G Travon Woodall, 5-11/190, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Gibbs won the most improved player award in the Big East and is a big reason Pitt has had such a surprisingly successful season. Gibbs is the Panthers' go-to player in the clutch; his 30-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Providence is one of this season's more memorable shots. Dixon, the younger brother of former Maryland star Juan Dixon, is the Panthers' best defender. Wanamaker led Pitt in assists and has come up big in some of the Panthers' more memorable wins. And Woodall, who ranked second on the team in assists, provides important minutes off the bench.
FRONTCOURT: Pitt is undersized up front. Robinson is a good rebounder and Brown can score, but both have been inconsistent. McGhee and Taylor split duties at center. McGhee has good size, strength and has improved a lot this season, and Taylor made an impact with his play down the stretch.
X-FACTOR: Brown is a double-digit scorer off the bench, but he doesn't always show up. In fact, in his past 13 games, Brown alternated between not scoring and scoring in double figures. That included 25 points vs. USF and 23 vs. Seton Hall and zero against West Virginia and Providence. More offensive consistency from Brown could really give the Panthers a boost in the NCAA tournament.
THE BUZZ: Picked to finish ninth in the Big East in the preseason, the Panthers finished tied for second and beat three top-five teams (Syracuse, West Virginia and Villanova) during the regular season. Even with Pitt's surprising success, this is one of Jamie Dixon's youngest teams - and the least experienced team in the Big East - so a long postseason run isn't likely. But that's what people said about the Panthers in the preseason, isn't it?




RECORD: 26-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Summit League tourney
COACH: Greg Kampe (1-1 NCAA tournament record)

C Keith Benson, 6-11/221, Jr.
F Will Hudson, 6-9/233, Jr.
F Derick Nelson, 6-5/236, Sr.
G Johnathon Jones, 5-11/160, Sr.
G Larry Wright, 6-2/162, Jr.
G Blake Cushingberry, 6-3/243, Soph.
G Ledrick Eackles, 6-1/184, Fr.
G Drew Maynard, 6-6/231, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Jones is one of the most prolific assist men in the nation, with 219 (against 105 turnovers). He's an excellent free-throw shooter (84.3 percent) and plays a ton of minutes (almost 37 per game). He's also a good defender. Jones has good range, but was spotty with his outside shot this season. He's also the only player on the 12-man roster with more assists than turnovers. Wright, a transfer from St. John's, didn't make quite the offensive splash that was expected, though he is one of four Grizzlies who averages in double figures. He is a great foul shooter (92.4 percent) but too often is content to fire away from 3-point range. Eackles, the son of former NBA player Ladell Eackles, brings athleticism and good defense off the bench. Maynard has a nice mid-range game, but though he has a nice stroke, he has been poor from 3-point range. Cushingberry can hit the 3-pointer, plays good defense and adds a physical presence in the BACKCOURT:.
FRONTCOURT: Benson is seen as a future NBAer. He averages a double-double and has a variety of low-post moves; he also is adept at drawing contact and getting to the line (he shot 245 free throws this season). He also is one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. Nelson missed last season with a broken foot and hasn't been as productive as he used to be offensively. But he's a good rebounder and a solid defender with 3-point range. Hudson is a banger whose biggest value is as a rebounder. He doesn't have much of an offensive game, but is adept at keeping the ball alive on the offensive boards.
X-FACTOR: Oakland dominated Summit League foes, but did not fare well against major-college competition (blowout losses to Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State and Syracuse, and double-digit setbacks to Wisconsin and Oregon). The Grizzlies need to find a way to hit their 3-pointers - they shot only 32.6 percent during the season - to keep the offensive pressure off Benson.
THE BUZZ: Despite the travails from 3-point range, this is a talented offensive team. Benson is the main reason for that; opposing defenses must respect him in the paint, so that opens up some scoring opportunities elsewhere. Oakland also gets to the line a lot; they have made 606 free throws and opponents have shot 625. A look at the scores from this season would make you think the Grizzlies have no shot at a first-round upset, but a big game from Benson and some timely 3-pointers could make it happen.


No. 7 BYU vs. No. 10 Florida

7. BYU


RECORD: 29-5
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Mountain West
COACH: Dave Rose (0-3 NCAA tournament record)

C/F Chris Miles, 6-11/235, Sr.
F Noah Hartsock, 6-8/215, Soph.
G Jackson Emery, 6-3/185, Jr.
G Jimmer Fredette, 6-2/195, Jr.
G Tyler Haws, 6-5/200, Fr.
F Brandon Davies, 6-9/230, Fr.
F Jonathan Tavernari, 6-6/215, Sr.
G/F Charles Abouo, 6-5/210, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Fredette ranks among the best offensive players in the nation. He averages more than 20 points and nearly five assists per game while making nearly half his 3-point attempts. He also is automatic from the line and made a school-record 39 consecutive free throws at one point this season; he was 23-of-24 from the line against TCU in a Mountain West tourney quarterfinal. Emery is a solid 3-point shooter who set a BYU single-season steals record this season. Haws consistently scores in double figures and is a factor on the boards.
FRONTCOURT: Most of BYU's production comes from its guards. Hartsock provides plenty of rebounding but not much scoring. Miles is a role player who offers defense and toughness. The Cougars' best frontcourt scorer is Tavernari, who has rebounded from a slow start this season while thriving in a reserve role. Tavernari is BYU's leading career 3-point shooter.
X-FACTOR: How will this veteran team handle the glare of the NCAA tournament spotlight? The Cougars have exited in the first round each of the past three seasons, and although BYU is a regular NCAA tournament participant, the Cougars haven't advanced beyond the first round since 1993. Will the Cougars get a "here we go again" feeling if they fall behind early in their first game?
THE BUZZ: It all depends on matchups for BYU. Do the Cougars draw the kind of opponent that allows them to utilize their strengths on the perimeter, or do they face someone who will exploit their lack of punch in the paint? The answer should determine whether BYU ends its string of first-round exits.




RECORD: 21-12
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from SEC
COACH: Billy Donovan (22-7 NCAA tournament record)

C Vernon Macklin, 6-10/240, Jr.
F Chandler Parsons, 6-9/215, Jr.
F Alex Tyus, 6-8/220, Jr.
G Kenny Boynton, 6-2/183, Fr.
G Erving Walker, 5-8/171, Soph.
F Erik Murphy, 6-9/217, Fr.
F Dan Werner, 6-8/230, Sr.
G Ray Shipman, 6-5/210, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Walker is a typical New York city point guard - fearless on the drive and fearless when firing away from 3-point range. He has excellent quickness and is an OK passer, but his lack of size hurts. He can get to the rim, but he often has trouble finishing against good big men. He also has played too many minutes and appeared worn down at the end of the regular season. Boynton was a highly hyped signee but hasn't lived up to all the expectations; his defense has been better than expected, but his shot has been inconsistent and he too often settles for 3-pointers (and he's hitting less than 30 percent of his attempts). Shipman is a good defender, but his offense has been negligible this season.
FRONTCOURT: Parsons added strength in the offseason and has developed into a solid all-around player. He has a nice 3-point stroke, and has made an effort to get to the basket more this season. He's also a good ballhandler and passer. Tyus has a nice mid-range game, but can be overpowered in the paint. He is effective when the Gators run because of his athleticism. Macklin, a Georgetown transfer, added some much-needed bulk, but his rebounding numbers aren't close to what they should be. Still, when he scores in double-figures - which means getting involved early in games - Florida has been much more successful. Werner is the last holdover from the Gators' back-to-back NCAA title teams, and though he works hard and does a lot of the little things, his offense has been woeful this season; he lacks confidence in his shot and opponents can leave him unguarded outside the paint if they wish. Murphy, whose dad, Jay, played in the NBA, developed nicely as the season progressed and has some low-post moves. Once he adds some bulk and strength, he can be a double-figure scorer.
X-FACTOR: Boynton and Walker shoot a lot of 3-poiners - but not that many go in. As a team, the Gators shoot less than 32 percent from long range. Parsons actually is the most accurate from outside. For Florida to do any damage in the tourney, they need to have some semblance of a perimeter game.
THE BUZZ: The Gators are well-balanced offensively - all five starters average in double figures - but there isn't much offensive production off the bench (the three subs combined average barely 10 points per game) and the lack of a consistent 3-point threat is a glaring weakness. Defensive intensity isn't always there, either. If everything breaks right, Florida can win a game in the tourney. But getting past the second round would be a big surprise.


No. 2 Kansas St. vs. No. 15 North Texas



RECORD: 26-7
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big 12
COACH: Frank Martin (1-1 NCAA tournament record)

C Luis Colon, 6-10/265, Sr.
F Curtis Kelly, 6-8/239, Jr.
F Dominique Sutton, 6-5/218, Jr.
G Denis Clemente, 6-1/180, Jr.
G Jacob Pullen, 6-0/200, Jr.
F Jamar Samuels, 6-7/220, Soph.
F Wally Judge, 6-9/248, Fr.
G Rodney McGruder, 6-4/205, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Pullen averages just under 19 points per game and shoots a respectable 38 percent from 3-point range. He has been a key player for Kansas State for the past three seasons. Clemente, who began his career at Miami, is one of the nation's fastest players and can get his shot off in the blink of an eye. After a mediocre first half of the season, Clemente finished strong and was named first-team all-league by some publications. Pullen may be more consistent, but Clemente is the player opposing coaches fear the most because of his ability to go off for 25 or 30 points. McGruder continues to show promise off the bench.
FRONTCOURT: Kelly, a Connecticut transfer, has given the Wildcats the frontcourt threat they were missing a year ago. The same can be said for Samuels, who may be the top pro prospect on Kansas State's roster. But both have been maddeningly inconsistent, and so has Judge, a McDonald's All-American who is outstanding one game and non-existent the next. Some nights, he rarely gets off the bench.
X-FACTOR: Kansas State's offense isn't pretty. The Wildcats often have to freelance to get buckets because their guards - mainly Clemente - make bad decisions and take ill-advised shots. A lot of K-State's points come in transition and off turnovers.
THE BUZZ: Not many teams take as much pride in their defense as the Wildcats, who always draw praise from opposing coaches for playing with passion. Buckets don't come easy against coach Frank Martin's squad. Still, the Wildcats aren't talented enough offensively to blow many teams out, which is why they lost games to unranked foes such as Iowa State, Missouri and Oklahoma State. In short, Kansas State is good enough to beat just about anyone. But it's capable of losing to just about any team, too.




RECORD: 24-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Sun Belt tourney
COACH: Johnny Jones (0-1 NCAA tournament record)

F George Odufwa, 6-8/240, Sr.
F Eric Tramiel, 6-7/230, Sr.
G Shannon Shorter, 6-4/200, Jr.
G Tristan Thompson, 6-5/190, Jr.
G Josh White, 5-10/175, Jr.
F Jacob Holmen, 6-8/220, Fr.
G Collin Mangrum, 6-5/190, Jr.

BACKCOURT: Thompson and White are returning starters, and they form a solid duo. White is the leading scorer and assist man; he's deadly from the line (83 percent) and also a good 3-point threat. Running mate Thompson also has good range, and he, too, is excellent from the line (81 percent). Both can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Shorter is a complementary talent who rebounds well and is a solid distributor. Mangrum's offense has been inconsistent, but he is another good free-throw shooter (83 percent).
FRONTCOURT: Tramiel and Odufwa are solid low-post threats. Odufwa has been a surprise, averaging a double-double and providing a physical presence in the paint on both ends. Tramiel didn't have quite the season that was expected, but he is a solid offensive player and an OK rebounder. Holmen isn't much of a rebounder and has struggled with his shot, but he's another Mean Green player who is excellent from the line (81 percent).
X-FACTOR: For a team with a solid group of guards, the Mean Green are way too sloppy with the ball. Of the seven guys who see time, only White and Shorter have a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and the Mean Green have 83 more turnovers than assists as a team. They can't afford mistakes in the NCAA tourney.
THE BUZZ: The Mean Green are athletic and can score; if White and Thompson are hot from the outside, the Mean Green will be able to hang around for a while. In addition, their key ballhandlers are deadly from the line. But they make way too many mistakes to pull off a first-round upset.



1. Syracuse vs. 16. Vermont
2. Kansas St. vs. 15. North Texas
3. Pittsburgh vs. 14. Oakland
4. Vanderbilt vs. 13. Murray St.

5. Butler vs. 12. UTEP
6. Xavier vs. 11. Minnesota
7. BYU vs. 10. Florida
8. Gonzaga vs. 9. Florida St.

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