Coach: Bob Williams (406-269 in 23 seasons, 217-169 in 13 seasons at UCSB)
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2010
All-time NCAA record: 1-4 in four appearances
Player to watch: Gauchos guard Orlando Johnson is one of the country’s hottest players entering the NCAA tournament. In three games of the Big West tournament last week, Johnson averaged 28.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He made 12 of 18 3-pointers in victories over Pacific, Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State. Johnson is averaging 21.1 points and 6.3 rebounds this season.
ABOUT THE GATORS
Coach: Billy Donovan (392-166 in 17 seasons, 357-146 in 15 seasons at Florida)
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2010
All-time NCAA record: 29-13 in 16 appearances
Player to watch: Senior forward Chandler Parsons ranks third on the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game. But Parsons was named SEC player of the year because he does so much else. He leads the Gators in rebounding (7.8) and assists (112) and is shooting 49.6 percent from the floor. Since missing action with a deep thigh bruise, Parsons is averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists in seven games.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Florida’s start: The Gators have gotten off to slow starts over the past couple of weeks, but they’re dominating opponents in the second half. In their past five games, the Gators averaged 50.2 points after halftime and outscored opponents by an average of 16 points. Florida’s defense has been stellar after halftime, too, holding opponents to only 25 percent on 3-point attempts.
2. Florida’s big men: If the Gators are going to advance beyond the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, they will need to get more help from their interior players. In Florida’s 70-54 loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament championship game, center Vernon Macklin and forwards Alex Tyus and Patric Young combined for only 16 points and 11 rebounds.
3. Johnson & Nunnally: Johnson gets most of UCSB’s attention, but junior forward James Nunnally is a big-time scorer in his own right. Nunnally averaged 16.4 points and 5.4 rebounds and shot 82.9 percent from the foul line. The Gauchos are difficult to stop when Johnson and Nunnally are shooting well. The pair combined for 52 points in a 72-70 loss at Oregon and 35 points in a 68-62 upset at UNLV -- UCSB’s first win over a ranked opponent since 1993.
Player to watch: Spartans point guard Kalin Lucas is back in the NCAA tournament, after rupturing his left Achilles tendon in an 85-83 victory over Maryland in the second round last season. After a slow start this season, Lucas averaged 20.1 points in February and 19.8 points in March. He has averaged 13.9 points and 4.6 assists in 11 NCAA tournament games.
ABOUT THE BRUINS
Coach: Ben Howland (356-181 in 17 seasons, 188-82 in eight seasons at UCLA)
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2009
All-time NCAA record: 99-36 in 44 appearances
Player to watch: Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson leads the Bruins in scoring (13.9 points), rebounds (9.0) and field-goal percentage (57.4 percent). He had 11 double-doubles this season, including 27 points and 16 rebounds in a 71-49 rout of Arizona on Feb. 26. He’s the Bruins’ emotional leader and his teammates tend to play better when the tattooed Nelson is playing with emotion.
The Bruins’ second-leading scorer with 13 points per game, Lee suffered a small cartilage tear in his left knee near the end of a 58-54 victory at Washington State on March 5. Lee, a junior from Moreno Valley, Calif., played 28 minutes in UCLA’s 76-59 loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament last week, scoring six points on 2-for-3 shooting with four rebounds and two assists.
Howland said Lee has practiced four times this week and hasn’t had any problems.
“He’s fine, and he’s actually practiced really well,” Howland said. “I see him getting back to his normal 35 minutes a game.”
2. Jekyll and Hyde: Which UCLA team shows up? Will it be the one that beat then-No. 10 Arizona by 22 points in Los Angeles on Feb. 26 or the one that flopped in an embarrassing 17-point loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament last week? Which Michigan State team shows up? Will it be the one that defeated then-No. 8 Purdue by 18 points on March 11 or the one that lost to Penn State by 13 points in last week’s Big Ten tournament? Both teams have been plagued by inconsistency throughout their seasons.
3. Michigan State’s defense: The Spartans’ midseason slide was a result of its defense, or more accurately, lack of defense. During a 1-4 downturn against Big Ten foes in late January and early February, Michigan State allowed opponents to shoot 54.3 percent from the floor, including a whopping 50.5 percent on 3-pointers. In the final 10 regular-season games, MSU allowed foes to shoot only 40.4 percent, including 30.8 percent on 3-pointers. Opponents averaged only 61.4 points during that stretch.