WEST REGION BREAKDOWN
Location: Westwood, CA
Automatic Bid: Pac-10 Conference Champions
Key Players: Kevin Love (17.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Darren Collison (15.2 ppg), Josh Shipp (13.0 ppg), Russell Westbrook (12.6 ppg)
Strengths: It doesn’t matter what the numbers say, UCLA is the best defensive team in the country. The Bruins can lock a team down whenever it wants to no matter who that team is. They have size inside and great quickness at the guard position. With their size, they’re able to keep people off the boards by out-rebounding teams by eight per game. This team can just grind you into submission.
Weakness: On occasion, UCLA will have problems putting points on the board. In UCLA’s losses this year, they’ve scored 63 points or less. If the Bruins can get out and run, it could be a long night for their opponents. However, if you can make the game half court and play solid defense, you can stay in striking range of the Bruins.
2. Duke Blue Devils
Location: Durham, NC
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: Demarcus Nelson (15.2 ppg), Kyle Singler (13.6), Gerald Henderson (12.3 ppg), Jon Scheyer (11.5 ppg), Greg Paulus (11.3 ppg)
Strengths: Duke loves to play a full court game. That doesn’t necessarily mean Duke will full-court press you, but they will extend defensively and contest the dribble and pass. The Devils love to get you to play faster than you’d like and take advantage of you mistakes. When that happens, they move quickly to their offense where they have a bevy of outstanding three-point shooters. It’s definitely a chore to prepare for the Blue Devils.
Weakness: Duke is in trouble on both ends of the court in the low post. The Devils don’t have any who can guard talented big men and they don’t have anyone to go to when the outside shots aren’t falling. Duke lives and dies by the three, if they’re not hot, they’ll die by it.
3. Xavier Musketeers
Location: Cincinnati, OH
At-Large Bid: Atlantic-10 Conference
Key Players: Josh Duncan (11.7 ppg), Derrick Brown (10.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Drew Lavender (10.7 ppg), CJ Anderson (10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), BJ Raymond (10.3 ppg), Stanley Burrell (10.0 ppg)
Strengths: Xavier has great offensive balance. With six guys averaging double figures, the Musketeers have a number of guys who can beat you on any given night. The Musketeers are strong in the backcourt with Lavender and Burrell, but, also have a guy in Josh Duncan who’s good in the post and can also shoot it from deep. This team can score and do it in bunches.
Weakness: It’s strange, but Xavier’s strength can also work against it. This team needs contributions from it’s key players on a night-in, night-out basis to win. Xavier has had a lot of games this season where the high scorer was somewhere between 13-15 points. When you average 75 points a game and that’s the high scorer, that means the contributions are coming from everywhere. When those contributions don’t come, they don’t put up the type of numbers necessary and they lose.
4. Connecticut Huskies
Location: Storrs, Ct
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: AJ Price (14.9 ppg), Jeff Adrien (14.7 ppg, 9 rpg), Jerome Dyson (12.4 ppg), Stanley Robinson (10.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Hasheem Thabeet (10.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.5 bpg)
Strengths: Balance. Not many teams in America can go inside out like the Huskies. They can get out in transition with Price, Dyson and Jerome Wiggins off the bench, then, they can punish you down low with Adrien and Thabeet. Then you have 6’9” Stanley Robinson who can step out and hit threes and that presents a whole other set of challenges. UConn’s size and athleticism makes it a tough out.
Weakness: Connecticut has an issue with ball control. The Huskies were 14th out of 16 teams in the Big East in ball control. It is the reason why teams can shoot less than 40% against the Huskies yet still average close to 70 points per game. You must be able to take care of the ball against good teams.
5. Drake Bulldogs
Location: Des Moines, IA
Automatic Bid: Missouri Valley Conference Champions
Key Players: Josh Young (15.8 ppg), Leonard Houston (14 ppg), Jonathan Cox (11.8 ppg), Klayton Korver (10 ppg), Adam Emmenecker (6.2 apg)
Strengths: Drake plays a style similar to Tennessee. The Bulldogs extend defensively and love to get up and down the court. Drake is very efficient offensively as well only averaging 11.7 turnovers a game. This is a team that can get hot from the arc and really hurt you. Drake is also solid from the free-throw line where it’s shooting just under 76%.
Weakness: Drake has no post presence to speak of. At 6-8, Jonathan Cox is best option Drake has in the paint. Drake doesn’t like to play in the paint though. The Bulldogs will have issues defending in the low post. The Bulldogs only plays effective defense when it’s sped the game up.
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Location: West Lafayette, IN
At-Large Bid: Big Ten Conference
Key Players: E’Twaun Moore (12.4 ppg), Robbie Hummel (11.7 ppg 5.9 rpg), Keaton Grant (10.7 ppg)
Strengths: Purdue is one of the leaders in the Big Ten in three-point shooting, averaging 37% on the year. Moore, Hummel, and Grant all shoot over 40% from three on the year so you have to able to find them. It is especially crucial to get to Hummel. Anybody in the college game who is 6’8” and can knock down the three causes match-up problems all over the court.
Weakness: It’s amazing that Purdue was able to get through the Big Ten season with a 15-3 conference record being out-rebounded. Usually, that’s necessary to be successful in that conference and Purdue got away with it. While Purdue shoots well from three, they don’t shoot to well over all. The Boilermakers are ninth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage. If Purdue is going to miss shots and not rebound, they won’t be around the tournament too long.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
Location: Morgantown, WV
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Joe Alexander (16.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Alex Ruoff (13.5 ppg), Da’Sean Butler (12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Darris Nichols (10.9 ppg)
Strengths: When the Mountaineers are knocking down there three-point shots, they are trouble. West Virginia will spread you and then use its quickness to find open shots. We haven’t even gotten to the nightmare that is Joe Alexander. His size and athleticism makes him one of the most difficult people in the country to guard. Also, like all Bob Huggins’ teams, West Virginia crashes the boards. They are really dangerous rebounding ball, especially offensively.
Weakness: Post play is really an issue for the Mountaineers. Alexander can post up, but he’d rather play on the wing. Jamie Smalligan, West Virginia’s 7-footer, is not really a threat offensively and is the only serviceable interior defender for the West Virginia. The Mountaineers will have to get some production out of Smalligan to be successful in the tournament.
8. Brigham Young Cougars
Location: Provo, UT
At-Large Bid: Mountain West Conference
Key Players: Lee Cummard (15.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Trent Plaisted (15.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Jonathan Taverneri (13.1 ppg)
Strengths: BYU can really fill it up from the land of three. The Cougars are shooting better than 37% from deep and have a number of players who can knock it down. Led by Cummard at 46%, BYU is always a streak away from changing a game. The Cougars have also shown the ability to attack the boards. BYU is first in the Mountain West in rebounding margin. They really get after it on the backboard.
Weakness: As good as BYU is, the Cougars really have issues with their depth. Goin only about seven or eight men deep, BYU may have issues if it gets caught in a transition game during the tournament. That’s not to say BYU won’t take its chances on the break, but it will have to be careful about running during the tournament.
9. Texas A&M Aggies
Location: College Station, TX
At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference
Key Players: Josh Carter (11.9 ppg), Joseph Jones (10.4 ppg) DeAndre Jordan (8.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Strengths: This team has a lot of size in the paint. Jordan stands 7’0” while four other Aggies stand 6’9” or taller. That has helped Texas A&M to hold its opponents to less than 40% from the field and to third place in rebounding margin in the Big 12. Just like the Cardinal at Stanford, Texas A&M’s size in the frontcourt is a problem for any team in the country.
Weakness: Texas A&M shoots less than 64% from the free throw line. That’s amazing that they’ve been so successful in a conference as good as the Big 12 shooting so poorly. There’s no doubt about, the Aggies don’t have the horses to shot 64% and win in the tournament.
10. Arizona Wildcats
Location: Tucson, AZ
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: Jerryd Bayless (20.0 ppg), Chase Budinger (17.0 ppg), Jordan Hill (13.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
Strengths: Arizona will always strike fear into its opponents because of the talent on it has. This year is no different. Bayless, Budinger, and Hill are all capable of putting up big numbers for the Wildcats. Now, that the Wildcats are healthy, teams will have a handful putting up with them.
Weakness: This squad has shown a lack of toughness and it’s shown in its rebounding. Teams have are beating the Wildcats on the boards for the season causing the Wildcats to finish in ninth place in rebounding margin in the Pac-10. There will be teams in this tournament that can match Arizona’s talent, but will the Wildcats be able to knuckle up is the question.
11. Baylor Bears
Location: Waco, TX
At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference
Key Players: Curtis Jerrells (14.9 ppg), LaceDarius Dunn (13.5 ppg), Kevin Rogers (12.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Henry Dugat (12.1 ppg)
Strengths: Baylor’s style of play is tough to prepare for. The Bears get up and down the court and score in bunches. Averaging 81.4 points per game, good enough for second in the Big 12, trying to keep up with Baylor has been a nightmare for opposing coaches the entire year. Unfamiliarity and the lack of time to prepare could make the Bears a very dangerous team in the tournament.
Weakness: Baylor allows teams to keep pace. The Bears are dead last in the Big 12 in scoring defense. Much of that has to do with its style of play, but allowing people to score breeds confidence in your opponent and keeps them close. That could come back to strike the Bears down.
12. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Location: Bowling Green, KY
Automatic Bid: Sun Belt Conference Champions
Key Players: Courtney Lee (20.4 ppg), Tyrone Braselton (13.3 ppg)
Strengths: Western Kentucky’s style of play is going to be hell to prepare for. The Hilltoppers want to pressure you on defense and get out and run on offense. They love an up-tempo game. It would seem as if they only have two guys who can score, but that’s because they go about 11 deep. Western Kentucky forces 18 turnovers a game and that’s a bad number to have if you expect to beat the Hilltoppers.
Weakness: Western Kentucky struggles to keep teams off of the offensive glass. While they play excellent defense, giving teams second and third chances to score isn’t ideal. The Hilltoppers are also ninth in the Sun Belt in free-throw shooting. They were able to get away with against the New Orleans and Florida Atlantics of the world, but there’s a considerable step up in competition that’ll make you pay for that.
13. San Diego Torreros
Location: San Diego, CA
Automatic Bid: West Coast Conference Champions
Key Players: Brandon Johnson (16.9 ppg), Gyno Pomare (13.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Strengths: Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare are as good of a one-two punch as you’re going to see on the mid-major level. When the Torreros need a hoop, they go to Johnson because he can flat-out score. He’s had ten games so far this season of 20 or more. Pomare does all the dirty work for San Diego as he’s an excellent rebounder and a load to handle in the paint. These two can give teams fits in the tournament.
Weakness: As a team, San Diego doesn’t play defense well enough to score just 66 points in this tournament. The Torreros are averaging a little bit less than that on the year. That’s not good enough at this level. They will have to find someone else outside of Johnson and Pomare to put the ball in the basket or it could be a short stay for the Torreros.
14. Georgia Bulldogs
Location: Athens, GA
Automatic Bid: Southeastern Conference Champions
Key Players: Sundiata Gaines (14.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Billy Humphrey (12.2 ppg), Terrance Woodbury (10.8 ppg)
Strengths: Let’s face it, at one game over .500 there’s nothing the Bulldogs do that excites you. However, the heart beating inside the chests of every one of the Bulldog players is huge. Many people will say they stole a bid to get into the tournament. Georgia had to win two games in one day against two tournament teams and then come back the next day to beat another one. The Bulldogs did that and now they’re on they’re in the tournament.
Weakness: Georgia has an extremely short bench. Head Coach Dennis Felton had to make some decisions that meant getting rid of some of the better players on his team and that has left his team pretty depleted. That may finally jump up to get Georgia when it faces tough competition in the tournament.
15. Belmont Bruins
Location: Nashiville TN
Automatic Bid: Atlantic Sun Conference Champions
Key Players: Justin Hare (14.9 ppg), Shane Dansby (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Matthew Dotson (11.3 ppg)
Strengths: This team can score and can score with the best of them. Averaging over 80 points per game, Belmont led the Atlantic Sun in scoring. The Bruins do much of their damage from behind the arc making over 10 three-point filed goals per game. With that kind of shooting, Belmont is always within striking distance.
Weakness: The Bruins aren’t as athletic as many of teams in the tournament and therefore, they may have issues guarding people. Belmont’s opponents are shooting just under 46% on the season; that’s better than Belmont shoots it. Belmont’s ability to score has gotten in by thus far, but they’ll need to come up with something to be able to compete in the tournament.
16. Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils
Location: Itta Bena, MS
Automatic Bid: Southwestern Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Carl Lucas (12.7 ppg), Larry Cox (12.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Stanford Speech (10.8 ppg)
Strengths: The Delta Devils have very talented frontcourt in Cox and Lucas. These are the guys who must play well for Mississippi Valley St to have any success in the tournament. Anytime you can get 25 points and 13 boards out of two guys on the Delta Devils level, you’re doing pretty well. We’ll see what they’ll do when the bright lights are on.
Weakness: At this level, 62.7 points per game will not cut it. When the Delta Devils walk on the court this week, they will not see Alabama St or Southern. They’ll see a team from a power conference, which can put lots of points up. If the Delta Devils can’t score the ball better, it may be an inauspicious trip to the tournament.