Who wins, who’s overrated and what’s the best game? I’m here to help.
Here’s a Southwest Regional breakdown with team capsules below. Enjoy.
By nearly any measure — victories, RPI, kenpom.com rating — the Rebels deserved better than an underperforming Big Ten team capable of insane shooting performances and a second-round matchup with Kansas.
Not that it’s a no-win situation. Lon Kruger’s team (24-8) is filled with athletic players who thrive on defense and create matchup difficulties for nearly any team. UNLV as an 8 seed? No respect.
Giving the Commodores a 5 seed isn’t horrible. They posted another solid season and have three fine players in John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli. But they were third in the SEC East and faded down the stretch.
Last year, they fell to Murray State as a 4 seed. Could Vandy be the 5-12 upset this time around?
Most likely first-round upset
I already mentioned Richmond-Vanderbilt, so let’s target another first-round game: No. 11 USC vs. No. 6 Georgetown. The Hoyas (21-9) lost five of their last six games, three of which came when point guard Chris Wright went out with a hand injury. He’ll be back for the NCAA tournament, but he’ll almost certainly be rusty, as will the Hoyas’ offense.
As for the Trojans (19-14) they do have to get past VCU first. But USC has the talent and the game-breaking player in Nikola Vucevic to get to the second round.
Best matchup: Kansas vs. Louisville
A possible regional semifinal game looms as perhaps the toughest test for the top-seeded Jayhawks. Kansas struggles against quick guards who can hit from outside, and the Cardinals (23-8) have two in Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles.
Not that it’s about the upset — it should be a wildly entertaining game, too. Louisville loves to push the pace and Kansas (32-2) has never been shy about running when given the chance. The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, should be salivating at the thought of the Cardinals’ post defense.
It could be Chris Singleton, Florida State’s outstanding defender and best player. He hasn’t played since fracturing his foot on Feb. 12, but maintains he’ll play again this season. He would certainly be the difference in the first round vs. Texas A&M, and would make life miserable for the No. 2 Irish.
But, in light of his uncertain status, I’ll go with Purdue’s JaJaun Johnson. The senior center is the best player in the region. He’s a double-double machine, blocks shots and provides the big plays when the third-seeded Boilermakers need them. He’ll be the reason why Purdue gets to the Elite Eight.
Alas, Johnson isn’t enough. The Jayhawks are too deep, too talented and playing too well to pick anyone else. No, this wasn’t written last season when Kansas was doing all those things entering the tournament only to lose in the second round.
The difference is that Kansas isn’t as reliant on one player to do all the clutch scoring and has more threats on the outside. Plus, point guard Tyshawn Taylor — demoted after a late-season suspenion — got motivated to play. He smoked Texas in the Big 12 title game.
The Jayhawks are motivated and the’re playing like it. That’s enough.
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
Location: Lawrence, Kan.
Conference: Big 12
Coach: Bill Self
Pre-tournament record: 32-2, 14-2
Best wins: Arizona, Missouri (twice), Kansas State
Surprising losses: None
Key players: Junior forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, senior guard Tyrel Reed, sophomore guard Elijah Johnson.
Strengths: Rebounding, shooting, depth.
Weaknesses: Sloppy play, free-throw shooting.
Outlook: Perhaps the deepest and most talented team in the tournament, the Jayhawks boast impressive offensive stats – they make 58 percent of their 2s, 39 percent of their 3s and hit the offensive glass – and a defense that occasionally wins games, too. Self’s team isn’t as good at man-to-man defense as the 2008 champs, but the offense usually makes up for any defensive lapses. The Morris twins – or Morrii, if you prefer – have developed into game-breaking forwards. Marcus is more versatile and more likely to step back for a 3, while Markieff is essential to Kansas’ defense and rebounding. Kansas doesn’t have any guards who can consistently create their own shot, but that hasn’t been an issue when teams have to account for the Morrii down low. When Kansas is on, they’re the best team in the country. Then again, that’s what we wrote about last year’s team, too.
No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Location: South Bend, Ind.
Conference: Big East
Coach: Mike Brey
Pre-tournament record: 26-6, 14-4
Best wins: Pitt, Wisconsin
Key players: Senior guard Ben Hansbrough, senior forward Tim Abromaitis, senior forward Carleton Scott.
Strengths: Shooting, ball-handling, defensive rebounding.
Weaknesses: Forcing turnovers, perimeter defense.
Outlook: Notre Dame’s always had a good offense under Brey. The problem’s been defense. This season, the Irish are better at contesting shots and grabbing misses. They’re not Purdue, but it’s been enough. Question is, will that decent defense and superb offense be enough for a Final Four run? Much of its depends on Hansbrough and Abromaitis. The pair are lethal from deep – they’ve hit 44 percent of their 333 attempts beyond the arc – which opens things up for their undersized forwards inside. You can’t force the Irish into a fast game, either. Hansbrough excels at dictating the tempo and takes over when needed. Your best hope? Get in their face and force the two into rushed shots.
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Conference: Big Ten
Coach: Matt Painter
Record: 25-7, 14-4
Best wins: Ohio State, Wisconsin
Surprising losses: Richmond, Minnesota, Iowa
Key players: Senior center JaJuan Johnson, senior guard E’Twaun Moore, junior guard Lewis Jackson.
Strengths: On-ball defense, ball-handling, interior defense, 3-point shooting.
Weaknesses: Offensive rebounding, shooting slumps.
Outlook: They don’t come much better than Moore and Johnson. The seniors have been Boilermakers’ mainstays since their freshman seasons, and have improved greatly each year. Johnson’s perhaps the best post player in the nation, boasting a repertoire of moves and a fine spot-up jumper. Moore excels at creating his own shot, usually a pull-up jumper from 12 feet, though he’s also improved his outside shot. Jackson, a 5-9 point guard, is tough, quick and thrives when foes underrate his scoring ability. Those are Purdue’s horses, but Painter also has a deep bench that fill outside shooting and defensive roles. But Purdue is perplexing. Just two weeks ago, it had won seven straight and was eyeing a No. 1 seed. Now it enters the Big Dance having lost two in a row. This team’s capable of reaching the Final Four, but the Sweet 16 might be realistic right now.
No. 4 Louisville Cardinals
Location: Louisville, Ky.
Conference: Big East
Coach: Rick Pitino
Pre-tournament record: 25-9, 12-6
Best wins: Pitt, Syracuse, UConn
Surprising losses:Drexel, Providence
Key players: Sophomore guard Peyton Siva, senior guard Preston Knowles, junior forward Terrence Jennings, junior guard Kyle Kuric.
Strengths: Forcing turnovers, shooting, challenging shots.
Weaknesses: Defensive rebounding, free-throw shooting.
Outlook: The Cardinals go as their guards go. When Siva’s able to shake off defenders and get into the lane, and when Knowles and Kuric are hitting from outside, Louisville’s a tough, tough out. Kuric’s the most consistent shooter, but can’t create his own shot like Knowles and Siva. The guards are quick, aggressive and can spark a run and open a big lead in a matter of minutes. Still, for every big run the Cardinals make, they’re also as likely to go cold on a moment’s notice. If the defense isn’t creating easy baskets off turnovers and the shots aren’t falling from outside, Louisville’s a team primed for an upset. Teams with physical post players or who have good guards are trouble. That’s Morehead State exactly.
No. 5 Vanderbilt Commodores
Coach: Kevin Stallings
Pre-tournament record: 23-9, 9-7
Best wins: North Carolina, Kentucky, Belmont
Surprising losses: South Carolina, Arkansas
Key players: Junior guard Jeff Taylor, sophomore guard John Jenkins, junior center Festus Ezeli.
Strengths: Shooting, 3-point defense, shot-blocking.
Weaknesses: Forcing turnovers, rebounding.
Outlook: Vandy is like half a dozen other tourney teams: When the Commodores are hot from outside, they’re tough. If not, they’ll be home early. Simple as that. With Jenkins and Taylor, Vandy has two of the game’s outstanding shooters. They can hit from anywhere, at any time. But Jenkins dealt with a bum ankle during the SEC tournament and Jenkins has been struggling lately. That leaves a lot for Ezeli to do down low. And really, it’s just those three. Murray State stunned Vandy last year in a 4-13 matchup. Another exit could be in the works.
No. 6 Georgetown Hoyas
Conference: Big East
Coach: John Thompson III
Pre-tournament record: 21-10, 10-8
Best wins: Syracuse, Louisville
Surprising losses: None
Key players: Senior wing Austin Freeman, senior guard Chris Wright, junior guard Jason Clark.
Strengths: Shooting, guard play.
Weaknesses: Turnovers, fouls.
Outlook: Two of the 11 Big East teams in the field finished the season on a swoon: Villanova and Georgetown. Yet the Hoyas have escaped the naysayers bemoaning the Wildcats’ season, mostly because point guard Chris Wright broke his hand on Feb. 23 vs. Cincinnati. The Hoyas haven’t won since. Freeman remains a supremely talented offensive player and Clark’s capable of scoring in bunches. But without Wright’s ability to break down defenses, Georgetown becomes one-dimensional on offense. As an added worry, the Hoyas have no reliable post players and struggle on defense. Remember the first-round loss to 14-seed Ohio last year? History could repeat itself.
No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies
Location: College Station, Texas.
Conference: Big 12
Coach: Mark Turgeon
Pre-tournament record: 24-8, 10-6
Best wins: Temple, Missouri, Kansas State
Surprising losses: Baylor (twice), Nebraska
Key players: Sophomore forward Khris Middleton, junior forward David Loubeau, senior guard B.J. Holmes.
Strengths: Rebounding, defense, deliberate play.
Weaknesses: Shooting, sloppy play.
Outlook: The Aggies would feel right at home in the Big Ten. They rarely push the pace and focus on maximizing each possession. They rebound well and rarely allow an easy look at the basket. Sometimes it’s ugly, but it works. Where A&M gets into trouble is when it faces teams with elite scoring talents. The defense gets stretched, then the Aggies fall behind and don’t have enough offensive firepower to catch up. They have underrated guards and a solid scorer in Middleton, though he’s been less aggressive looking for his shot of late. A Sweet 16 berth would be a fine accomplishment for this team.
No. 8 UNLV Rebels
Location: Las Vegas
Conference: Mountain West
Coach: Lon Kruger
Pre-tournament record: 24-8, 11-5
Best wins: Wisconsin, Kansas State, Virginia Tech
Surprising loss: UC Santa Barbara
Key players: Senior guard Tre’Von Willis, junior forward Chase Stanback, junior guard Oscar Bellfield, sophomore forward Quintrell
Strengths: Forcing turnovers, challenging shots.
Weaknesses: Fouls, 3-point shooting.
Outlook: If the Rebels could hit shots consistently, they’d be dangerous. They’re a dynamite defensive team that relies on its physical man-to-man to force turnovers and force bad shots. That’s not a bad scheme when you’re loaded with athletic players – all between 6-3 and 6-8 – who also do a fair job on the boards. And yet, there’s the shooting. UNLV works for its shots by breaking down defenders and ball movement. Just one outside threat would make it so much easier. The Rebels will be a tough out, but the Sweet 16 is a long shot.
No. 9 Illinois Illini
Location: Champaign, Ill.
Conference: Big Ten
Coach: Bruce Weber
Pre-tournament record: 19-13, 9-9
Best wins: North Carolina, Wisconsin, Gonzaga
Surprising losses: Illinois-Chicago, Indiana
Key players: Senior guard Demetri McCamey, senior center Mike Tisdale, sophomore guard Brandon Paul, senior forward Mike Davis.
Strengths: Perimeter defense, shooting, shot-blocking.
Weaknesses: Forcing turnovers, settling for jump shots.
Outlook: The talent’s there for a Sweet 16 run. Maybe even further. But the Illini will be lucky to get out of the first round. Few teams are more baffling. McCamey’s a gifted point guard and has drawn comparisons to Deron Williams, but he makes too mistakes. Davis and Tisdale are skilled big men, but very soft inside. When’s Paul’s shot is falling, he’s impossible to stop. But that’s becoming increasingly rare. And, for all of Illinois’ defensive ability, they don’t get stops when it matters most. But this isn’t a team to be taken lightly. A few favorable matchups could result in the Illini heating up from outside and making it to the second week of the tournament. But odds aren’t good.
No. 10 Florida State Seminoles
Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
Conference: Atlantic Coast
Coach: Leonard Hamilton
Pre-tournament record: 21-10, 11-5
Best wins: Duke, Clemson
Surprising loss: Auburn
Key players: Senior guard Derwin Kitchen, sophomore guard Michael Snaer, junior forward Bernard James, junior forward Chris Singleton.
Strengths: Interior defense, shot-blocking, offensive rebounding.
Weaknesses: Ball-handling, 3-point shooting.
Outlook: There are two FSU teams. One plays nasty defense and beats teams like Duke. The other plays good defense and comes up short in losses to North Carolina. The difference? Singleton. Their best player and defensive stopper has missed five games with a fractured foot. Even if he plays, he won’t be the same Singleton foes saw for most of the ACC season. He has the height (6-9) to guard forwards and the mobility to handle guards. Without him, FSU is more limited on defense and offense. This athletic team will be a tough out, but without a fully healthy Singleton, it won’t see the weekend.
No. 11 USC Trojans
Location: Los Angeles
Coach: Kevin O’Neill
Pre-tournament record: 19-14, 10-8
Best wins: Texas, UCLA, Washington, Arizona
Surprising losses: Mercer, TCU, Bradley, Oregon State
Key players: Junior forward Nikola Vucevic, junior guard Jio Fontan, senior wing Marcus Simmons, senior forward Alex Stephenson.
Strengths: Ball-handling, defensive rebounding.
Weaknesses: Forcing turnovers, offensive rebounding, shooting.
Outlook: USC’s the most bi-polar team in the field. The Trojans have beaten Texas, yet lost to Bradley. They beat Washington, but lost to TCU. They took down Arizona, yet fell to Mercer. At home. They’re athletic, sturdy on defense, have one of the Pac-10’s best talents in Vucevic and a floor leader in Fontan. The problem? USC just makes dumb plays sometimes. Maybe it’s a fatigue factor. O’Neill rarely goes to his bench and rides his starters as long as he can. But the Trojans are capable of brilliance. You just never know when. There’s not a more difficult team to predict in the field. Beating VCU and Georgetown? It’s possible.
No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Location: Richmond, Va.
Conference: Colonial Athletic
Coach: Shaka Smart
Pre-tournament record: 23-11, 12-6
Best wins: UCLA, ODU, George Mason
Surprising losses: Georgia State, Northeastern
Key players: Senior guard Joey Rodriguez, senior forward Jamie Skeen, senior guard Brandon Rozell.
Strengths: Forcing turnovers, ball-handling.
Weaknesses: Rebounding, interior defense.
Outlook: The Rams lost six of their last 11 games, but somehow snuck into the tournament. But the strength of the CAA and a win vs. George Mason in the conference tournament was apparently enough. They’ll have their hands full vs. USC as well. The Rams will have decent athletes, but nobody who can check athletes from major conference schools. They’ll need to open up space for Skeen and find Rodriguez and Rozzell open on the wings for 3-pointers. Might not make it out of the First Four.
No. 12 Richmond Spiders
Location: Richmond, Va.
Conference: Atlantic 10
Coach: Chris Mooney
Pre-tournament record: 27-7, 13-3
Best wins: Purdue, Duquesne
Surprising losses: Rhode Island, Bucknell
Key players: Senior guard Kevin Anderson, senior center Justin Harper, senior forward Dan Geirot.
Strengths: Shooting, ball-handling, perimeter defense.
Weaknesses: Rebounding, settling for jump shots.
Outlook: The Spiders’ aggressive man-to-man defense doesn’t force as many turnovers as last season, but it’s still an effective deterrent of open shots. They even do it without getting into foul trouble. This team’s capable of beating elite teams, too. A win vs. Purdue is awfully impressive. Anderson’s an excellent talent, flanked by Harper and Geirot up front. But take caution: the Spiders rarely rebound. It’s just not how they play. That means if their shots aren’t falling – not usually the case – they’re in trouble. They’ll have a chance against Vandy, but only if John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor aren’t hitting.
No. 13 Morehead State Eagles
Location: Morehead, Ky.
Conference: Ohio Valley
Coach: Donnie Tyndall
Pre-tournament record: 24-9, 13-5
Best win: College of Charleston
Surprising loss:at Eastern Illinois
Key players: Senior forward Kenneth Faried, senior guard Demonte Harper.
Strengths: Rebounding, interior defense, forcing turnovers.
Weaknesses: Turnovers, perimeter defense, free-throw shooting.
Outlook: Faried grabs all the attention because of his ferocious rebounding – he broke Tim Duncan’s career mark this season and is the top offensive and defensive rebounder this season – and freakish athletic ability. After Florida escaped with a six-point win over Morehead State back in November, coach Billy Donovan called Faried “the next Dennis Rodman.” But Faried’s far from the only star at Morehead. Harper’s the team’s second-leading scorer and assist leader and, at 6-foot-4, has the size to play against anyone. This is the tandem’s second appearance in the NCAA tournament, which could pay dividends in a close game. And given their defensive style of play, expect a close game.
No. 14 St. Peter’s Peacocks
Location: Jersey City, N.J..
Conference: Metro Atlantic
Coach: John Dunne
Pre-tournament record: 20-13, 11-7
Best win: Alabama
Key players: Senior swingman Jeron Belin, senior guard Nick Leon, senior guard Wesley Jenkins.
Strengths: Challenging shots, steals.
Weaknesses: Making shots.
Outlook: For most of the season, the Peacocks won with their defense. Few teams are better at forcing teams into bad shots. Opponents make just 40.6 percent of their 2-pointers and 30.5 percent of their 3s, both well below the D-I average. But here’s the thing: When St. Peter’s ripped off three wins to take the MAAC tourney title, it made 47 percent of its field-goal attempts. That’s not great, but was far better than what St. Peters’ did most of the year. If the Peacocks come close to that vs. Purdue, they’ll be in position to pull off the upset.
No. 15 Akron Zips
Location: Akron, Ohio.
Coach: Keith Dambrot
Pre-tournament record: 23-12, 9-7
Best wins: Kent State (twice), Detroit
Surprising losses: Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan
Key players: Junior forward Nikola Cvetinovic, sophomore center Zeke Marshall, senior guard Steve McNees.
Strengths: Shot-blocking, ball-handling.
Weaknesses: Rebounding, interior scoring, fouls.
Outlook: The Zips are an aggressive, defensive-oriented team that relies on its depth to wear out opponents (mostly because the offense can’t reliably hit shots). They blocked 15 shots in the MAC tournament championship vs. Kent State. Much of that credit goes to Marshall, who blocked nine of those himself. But unless someone emerges as a scoring threat (senior guard Darryl Roberts, maybe?), the Zips probably won’t pull off an upset like Ohio did last year against Georgetown.
No. 16 Boston Terriers
Conference: America East
Coach: Patrick Chambers
Pre-tournament record: 21-13, 14-4
Best wins: Vermont, Nevada
Surprising losses: Maryland-Baltimore CO, Hartford, New Hampshire
Key players: Senior wing John Holland, junior forward Darryl Partin, freshman guard D.J. Irving.
Strengths: Offensive rebounding, challenging shots.
Weaknesses: Forcing turnovers, defensive rebounding.
Outlook: The Terriers have won 11 straight, but that’s quickly coming to an end. Outside of Holland, Boston doesn’t have any game-breaking players. That’s not a dig on their fine run to end the season, just a realistic assessment of their tournament chances. Their biggest strength is challenging shots on the perimeter and inside, but they don’t have the height to compete inside and their guards will be a step too slow for Kansas. It could stay close for a while if Holland heats up, but that’s about it.
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