MIDWEST REGION BREAKDOWN
1. Kansas Jayhawks
Location: Lawrence, KS
Automatic Bid: Big 12 Conference Champions
Key Players: Darrell Arthur (13.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Brandon Rush (12.9 ppg), Mario Chalmers (12.4 ppg), Darnell Jackson (11.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
Strengths: Kansas may be the most complete team in the country. The Jayhawks can score with the best of them but what people don’t realize is their defense can be stifling. Kansas scores over 81 points a game and only gives up 61. The Jayhawks’ opponents are only shooting 38% against them. That’s scary given the talent on that ball club. If they can continue to play like this, Kansas just may cut down the nets.
Weakness: Kansas probably doesn’t have the depth that some of the other top teams in the country have. The Jayhawks have a wealth of talent but, can they sustain the same energy level when other squads send waves of players at them. Should be interesting to see.
2. Georgetown Hoyas
Location: Washington, DC
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Roy Hibbert (13.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), DaJuan Summers (11.3 ppg), Jonathan Wallace (10.6 ppg)
Strengths: Defensively, Georgetown is tops in the country in opponents field goal percentage. The Hoyas lock people down. Teams have scored 70 just four times this season. They’re long and athletic in the front court, and have physical guards in the backcourt. Georgetown also has experience. It’s rare to see a team of its caliber with so many seniors. That’s the main reason the Hoyas have been able to win the close games this season.
Weakness: For Georgetown’s size inside, they don’t rebound the ball well at all. The Hoyas have consistently been out-rebounded on the year by the better teams they’ve faced. The Hoyas must also figure out a way to get Hibbert his touches when teams play zone. They’ve struggled running their offense against the zone and must figure that out because teams will play them zone.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
Location: Madison, WI
Automatic Bid: Big Ten Conference Champions
Key Players: Brian Butch (12.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Marcus Landry (11.3 ppg), Trevon Hughes (11.3 ppg), Joe Krabbenhoft (6.5 rpg)
Strengths: Wisconsin plays the kind of defense that just kills your confidence. The Badgers have, on more than one occasion, kept their opponents under 40 points in a 40 minute game. That’s amazing defense. They’ve not only locked down teams in the Big Ten, but they’ve also taken it on the road and done it to Texas. Holding its opponents to 38% and 53 points per game, Wisconsin will stay in every game in this tournament.
Weakness: The Badgers don’t score the ball consistently enough. It’s sometimes a struggle for Wisconsin to put the ball in the basket. The fact that the Badgers play such great defense, it has been able to get away with it. However, the Badgers cannot score 51 and expect to win games as they did in the Big Ten tournament versus Michigan.
4. Vanderbilt Commodores
Location: Nashville, TN
At-Large Bid: Southeastern Conference
Key Players: Shan Foster (20.8 ppg), AJ Ogilvy (17.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Alex Gordon (10.6 ppg)
Strengths: When the three-pointers fall Vanderbilt is tough. Really tough. Vanderbilt has six guys that can come in and knock down shots from behind the arc consistently. That makes them a nightmare to guard when you have a guy like Ogilvy who can hurt you in the post. The combination of Ogilvy and Foster could spell another run to the second weekend for the Commodores.
Weakness: Defense and rebounding are the Commodores Achilles heel. They have struggled in both departments all season. They’ve been able to get away with for most of the season by outscoring their opponents, but there will come a time when the shots don’t fall and we’ll see if Vanderbilt can scrap.
5. Clemson Tigers
Location: Clemson, SC
At-Large Bid: Atlantic Coast Conference
Key Players: KC Rivers (14.7 ppg), Cliff Hammonds (11.5 ppg), Trevor Booker (11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg), James Mays (10.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Terrance Oglesby (10.5 ppg)
Strengths: Clemson’s pressure defense is something that has cause teams problems all year long. It will continue to do so in the tournament. The Tigers have excellent size which causes problems on the press. They turn opposing teams’ turnovers into easy points. They have guys who can finish at the rim and guys who can shoot it from behind the arc. Clemson is a match-up problem waiting to happen.
Weakness: 62%. That’s what Clemson shoots from the free-throw line. Amazingly enough, the Tigers have survived an entire season in the ACC with a winning record shooting that poorly from the line. Clemson’s shooting from the charity stripe cost it both games against North Carolina and if the Tigers don’t get a handle on it, it will cost the Tigers more.
6. USC Trojans
Location: Los Angeles, CA
At-Large Bid: Pac-10 Conference
Key Players: OJ Mayo (20.9 ppg), Davon Jefferson (12.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Dwight Lewis (11.0 ppg), Taj Gibson (11.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
Strengths: USC has an advantage over just about every team it faces with its athleticism. That athleticism makes the Trojans hard to guard offensively guys like Mayo, Jefferson and Gibson. More importantly, though, it makes them very difficult to score on defensively. Teams are only shooting 39% on USC. In four combined games against UCLA and Kansas, the highest point total against the Trojans was 63, so you know they can get out and guard any team in America.
Weakness: Youth is USC’s issue. While talented, the Trojans’ key players are all freshman and sophomores. That would explain their inexperienced play on the year. That inexperience would include having 74 more turnovers than assists on the year.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Location: Spokane, WA
At-Large Bid: West Coast Conference
Key Players: Matt Bouldin (12.7 ppg), Jeremy Pargo (11.9 ppg, 6.0 apg), Austin Daye (10.6 ppg), Josh Heytvelt (10.2 ppg)
Strengths: Gonzaga does a lot of things well, but one thing it does better than most is score the basketball. The Bulldogs have a nice post game to compliment their outside shooting, which is second in the West Coast Conference at 37%. Gonzaga has only been under 70 points six teams this season. Offensively, Gonzaga is hard to guard.
Weakness: Overall, the Bulldogs are good rebounding team. However, Gonzaga has been punished on the boards when they’ve played athletic teams. Texas Tech, UConn, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Memphis are just a sampling of the teams that have beaten Gonzaga up on the boards. They’re going to have to do a better job against the teams they’ll face in the tournament if the Bulldogs want to survive and advance.
8. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Automatic Bid: Mountain West Conference Champions
Key Players: Wink Adams (16.6 ppg), Curtis Terry (11.2 ppg), Joe Darger (11.2 ppg), Rene Rougeau (9.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Strengths: The Rebels really get after you defensively. Forcing 15 turnovers a game and holding its opponents to less than 41% shooting, the Rebels make it tough for teams to score. UNLV plays passing lanes well, yet still are able to contest shots. That’s difficult to do. As long as UNLV plays this kind of defense, it’ll be able to stay in it against a lot of teams in this tournament.
Weakness: UNLV is not a good rebounding team. On the year, the Rebels are being out-rebounded by a margin of two rebounds a game, that’s seventh in the nine-team Mountain West. That’s not good enough to get it done against the level of competition the Rebels will face. They must sure up the backboards if they expect to win in the tournament.
9. Kent State Golden Flashes
Location: Kent, OH
Automatic Bid: Mid-American Conference Champions
Key Players: Al Fisher (14.0 ppg), Mike Scott (13.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Chris Singletary (10.2 ppg), Haminn Quaintance (10.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
Strengths: Kent St is a lock-down defensive team. The Golden Flashes are second in the MAC in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, steals, and blocked shots. If you couple its defense with how well Kent St shoots from behind the arc then you can see why it has had another year dominating the MAC.
Weakness: The Golden Flashes do not have good size in the low post. Kent St’s best post players, while effective, stand 6’8” and 6’7” respectively. A team with quality big men could really punish Kent St. Scott and Quaintance are going to have to play bigger than there size for the Golden Flashes to be successful in the tournament.
10. Davidson Wildcats
Location: Davidson, NC
Automatic Bid: Southern Conference Champions
Key Players: Stephen Curry (25.1 ppg), Jason Richards (12.6 ppg)
Strengths: Guard play. It’s very rare for a mid-major to have one of the best backcourts in the country. Davidson enjoys the luxury. Curry and Richards lead the way by being deadline from behind the arc. This team is also tested. Having fought tooth and nail against Duke, North Carolina and UCLA has prepared the Wildcats for any challenge they’ll see in the tournament.
Weakness: If Curry and Richards have off nights, Davidson will struggle. Those two make up about half of the Wildcats’ scoring punch. As great as they are, especially Curry, Davidson will need someone else to step up to beat good teams in the tournament.
11. Kansas State Wildcats
Location: Manhattan, KS
At-Large Bid: Big 12 Conference
Key Players: Michael Beasley (26.5 ppg, 12.4 rpg), Bill Walker (15.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Strengths: Kansas St has enough talent in its frontcourt to go a long way in this tournament. Teams have thrown every kind of defense there is at Beasley and Walker and they’ve still been able to score on anybody. Beasley, the most talented player in the country, could easily go on a Danny Manning, Carmelo Anthony type run and carry this team a long way.
Weakness: Kansas St’s youth, especially in its backcourt is a major hindrance. The guys in the Wildcats backcourt turn the ball over a little too much and often have questionable shot selection. Their play has been the reason why Kansas St has been inconsistent all season.
12. Villanova Wildcats
Location: Philadelphia, PA
At-Large Bid: Big East Conference
Key Players: Scottie Reynolds (15.6 ppg), Dante Cunningham (10.4 ppg, 6.5 ppg)
Strengths: Villanova has great team quickness. This is especially true for its guards. Scottie Reynolds and Dwayne Anderson are adept at disrupting offenses and creating easy opportunities for the Wildcats, who are fourth in the Big East in turnover margin. Offensively, Scottie Reynolds is a load. He can score in bunches and can do it against a variety of defenses. He’s the key if Villanova is going to go far in the tournament.
Weakness: The Wildcats shoot it less than 43% from the field. That’s not going to win a lot of basketball games for you. They’ve been able to get by because they’re able to turn people over, but you have to show the ability to knock shots to move on in this tournament.
13. Siena Saints
Location: Loudonville, NY
Automatic Bid: Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions
Key Players: Edwin Ubiles (17.3 ppg), Kenny Hasbrouck (15.6 ppg), Alex Franklin (15.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
Strengths: Siena is a team that likes to get out in transition. The Saints turn you over at a clip of 17.3 per game. They use that to get into their break where they like to get easy layups and open looks from three. Shooting over 38% from three makes them dangerous if the game has a fast pace to it.
Weakness: While the Saints force a lot of turnovers, they’re still easy to score on. Teams are shooting 45% against Siena and scoring over 71 points per game. Siena has also been out-rebounded on average for the year. The Saints are dead last in the MAAC in rebounding margin. Given the competition they’ll see this March, the Saints have to be able to contest shots and rebound better to make any noise.
14. Cal St Fullerton Titans
Location: Fullerton, CA
Automatic Bid: Big West Conference Champions
Key Players: Bobby Brown (20.2 ppg), Scott Cutley (15.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg), Frank Robinson (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Marcus Crenshaw (11.4 ppg), Justin Burns (10.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
Strengths: Fullerton is a team that loves to get you in a track meet. They like to turn you over and then get into their transition game. Fullerton averages about 83 points a game so you know they can fill it up. What’s more crucial to the Titans success though, is the nine steals per game it uses to get out and run. This is definitely a team that won’t be afraid to get up and down the court with anybody.
Weakness: In its exuberance to get up and down the court, Fullerton allows easy buckets. That means if Fullerton isn’t turning people over, they’re in bad shape. The Titans are second from last in field goal percentage defense in the Big West Conference. If they face a solid ball handling club in the tournament, the Titans could fall early.
15. UMBC Retrievers
Location: Catonsville, MD
Automatic Bid: America East Conference Champions
Key Players: Ray Barbosa (16.9 ppg), Darryl Proctor (15.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Brian Hodges (14.1 ppg), Cavell Johnson (13.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Jay Greene (8.8 ppg, 7.3 apg)
Strengths: The Retrievers are an excellent offensive team led by Jay Greene. He’s one of the most underrated players in the country, but he is very solid at point guard. He doesn’t make mistakes and he’s one of the best passers, not just in the America East, but in the country. He makes the Retrievers go and if he continues to take care of the basketball and get easy shots for his teammates, the Retrievers have a chance and making some noise.
Weakness: The Retrievers have virtually no bench. With only a seven-man rotation, UMBC will have to be intelligent about when to run. The Retrievers like to get out in transition, but they might want to think twice about that when they’re up against teams who can throw waves of talented players at them.
16. Portland State Vikings
Location: Portland, OR
Automatic Bid: Big Sky Conference Champions
Key Players: Jeremiah Dominguez (14.3 ppg), Deonte Huff (13.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Scott Morrison (10.6 ppg)
Strengths: The Vikings have one of the best backcourts among all mid-majors. Dominguez and huff do everything for Portland State from setting their teammates up to crashing the boards to knocking down three’s at a high rate. They’ve been the two most consistent guys for Portland State all year and they have to continue to be to have any success in the tournament.
Weakness: Portland State is not a strong free throw shooting club. The Vikings are seventh in the Big Sky in free throw percentage at just over 67%. That’s not going to get it done against the caliber of competition the Vikings will play in the tournament.