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Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Reading into tourney teams' fortunes

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

Ah, brackets. So tempting with all of those empty spaces and the promises of choosing wisely.

So overwhelming when you know absolutely nothing about Albany and Iona other than that they are in the same state.

Consider this your study guide. Now you merely need to parse through it all and figure out which Cinderellas you trust and which would-be princes will be first-round frogs.

Presuming you'll be standing around watercoolers and perhaps watering holes for the next month, I've also included a little factoid so you can amaze your friends with your vast knowledge.

Like, why, for example the urban campus of Temple would choose a forest creature for its nickname.

Enjoy.

East | Midwest | South | West

EAST REGIONAL

Indiana (1)

Write 'em in: When the Hoosiers are clicking offensively, few teams in the country can match them. It's downright pretty to watch, with guys who can score from essentially every position. If Indiana gets in that groove, it won't stop until it cuts down the nets.

Write 'em out: If the Big Handsome is nothing more than a pretty face, the Hoosiers are in trouble. As balanced as they are, they still need Cody Zeller to perform in order to win this thing. Indiana is better when the offense runs through Zeller and when he establishes his position inside. If that doesn't happen, neither will the net cutting in Atlanta.

Write it down: Former vice president and then-Indiana senator Dan Quayle once petitioned the folks at Merriam-Webster to change their definition of the word "Hoosier," which at the time read "unskilled person." Except he spelled it "Hosier."

LIU Brooklyn (16)

Write 'em in: The Blackbirds are unapologetically offense first, second and third. They push the life out of the ball, and with Jason Brickman, one of the more savvy true point guards you'll see in this tournament, they're really good at it. Brickman leads the nation in assists.

Write 'em out: All of that frenetic offensive energy can lead to less-than-positive work on the defensive end. Sometimes LIU simply doesn't get back and gives up as many easy buckets as it tries to make.

Write it down: From 1951 to 1957, there was no basketball program at LIU; it was shut down after a legendary point-shaving scandal at the school.

James Madison (16)

Write 'em in: Pick a guard, any guard; they all can beat you. Coach Matt Brady has four of them at his disposal, all similarly skilled, talented and averaging around the same number of points per game. That means you can't take one guy out and hope to win, which makes James Madison difficult to defend.

Write 'em out: It's always good to have guards who don't play like guards and aren't afraid to get inside and rebound, but at the end of the day, they are who they are. Namely, smaller than forwards. James Madison is in the minus for rebounding margin, and that was in the Colonial Athletic Association. The numbers won't improve much in this tourney.

Write it down: If you're wondering why a university named after a U.S. president is called the Dukes, well, so was I. Turns out the nickname honors one of the school's presidents, Dr. Samuel P. Duke. The first basketball team was formed under his watch, and the players promised to name their team for him in exchange for towels and equipment.


NC State (8)

Write 'em in: The regular season has been something of a disappointment for the Wolfpack, which says just how high people were on NC State early. This is still a team with four upperclassmen in the starting lineup -- and a lot of NBA talent -- a balanced scoring attack, a great perimeter shooter in Scott Wood and tough rebounders, all ingredients for a good run.

Write 'em out: The Wolfpack don't have a terribly effective bench after Rodney Purvis, so foul trouble is a huge issue. Also, if Wood isn't hot from the arc, this team becomes imminently more beatable.

Write it down: On April 4, it will be 30 years since Lorenzo Charles' game-winning put-back off Dereck Whittenburg's air ball and Jim Valvano's mad celebratory dash.

Temple (9)

Write 'em in: Fran Dunphy has an understated and solid rotation here, much more than just Khalif Wyatt. Anthony Lee is undersized for his position, but that has yet to bother him. If Lee, plus frontcourt mate Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, are scoring, Temple is tough to beat.

Write 'em out: Wyatt is so good that sometimes the Owls wait for him to do something extraordinary. He's won games by himself this season, but that's a tall order in this tournament. If he doesn't get help, it will be a harder sell for Temple.

Write it down: There are neither a lot of trees nor a lot of owls on Broad Street in North Philadelphia, but the university's nickname isn't an homage to a native bird. It's about his nocturnal habits, a nod to the number of night students who attended the university when it began.


UNLV (5)

Write 'em in: If Anthony Bennett plays like Anthony Bennett, UNLV is tough to beat. He's arguably one of the top freshmen in the country, even if his numbers didn't always show it. Bennett has the ability to take over a game and carry a team.

Write 'em out: If the Runnin' Rebels continue their annoying tendency to play down to the competition, it could be an early out for them. This is a loaded roster talentwise, but UNLV had some inexplicable regular-season losses and lapses in concentration. One of those here, and the Rebels go home.

Write it down: Plenty still consider the 1991 UNLV team the best team never to win it all. The Runnin' Rebels won every game by double digits except one, marching to what looked like a perfect finish. And then along came Duke in the Final Four.

California (12)

Write 'em in: Count Allen Crabbe among the players who could have a breakout March. Already the Pac-12 player of the year, he's a terrific scorer and has become a very good playmaker. Even though part of the Bears' evolution this season is due to other players' ability to score, it's Crabbe who will determine how long they dance.

Write 'em out: There's a reason Crabbe averages 36 minutes per game -- he has to. Cal simply cannot win without him in the game. Foul trouble is always an issue, then, and the grind of this tourney could be a factor as well.

Write it down: Cal students pulled off an epic prank in 2006, calling and texting a USC guard repeatedly, posing as a UCLA coed named Victoria. Player and girl were supposed to meet postgame; instead the student section chanted "Victoria" every time he touched the ball. He went 3-of-13. Somewhere, Manti Te'o commiserates.


Syracuse (4)

Write 'em in: If the Big East tournament Orange show up (at least the one that played until about the 15-minute mark of the final), this is a dangerous team. James Southerland's shooting spreads the floor for C.J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams, while the zone defense is never fun to prepare for on a quick turnaround.

Write 'em out: If the Orange's offense chooses to go AWOL, they could be bounced. Syracuse has been out of sync and out of sorts at times this season, forcing Carter-Williams to try to carry the offensive load. The Orange are much better when he can drive and kick instead of just score.

Write it down: Jim Boeheim's family owned a funeral home -- The Boeheim Funeral Home -- in Lyons, N.Y. It's too easy of a lob pass, so I will defer the chance at sarcasm.

Montana (13)

Write 'em in: The Grizzlies are a dangerous team, one with back-to-back Big Sky regular-season and conference titles. With three juniors and a senior in the lineup, they aren't going to get rattled. What they can do to beat you is sink 3s. Montana ranks 18th in the nation from behind the arc, and that's a huge advantage against more talented teams.

Write 'em out: Although Montana is balanced, its wish list is to get Kareem Jamar the ball. Take him away, and you make the Grizzlies work harder.

Write it down: Montana actually has a smudging policy, allowing for the ceremonial burning of herbs in deference to Native American cultures, at certain spots on campus.


Butler (6)

Write 'em in: Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clarke are one of the more effective inside-out combos you'll find. Clarke's range is essentially in the gym, and when he gets hot, Butler becomes a very good offensive team. Defensively, the Bulldogs are just like their namesake -- relentless like a dog with a bone. They don't stop coming and have no problem getting physical. Teams that shy away from tough play are in for it.

Write 'em out: The Bulldogs' lack of a true point guard -- walk-on Alex Barlow is really the best option -- can be their undoing. The Bulldogs simply don't have a player who can adequately handle pressure. Just watch the VCU tape.

Write it down: Back-to-back Final Fours. At Butler. Enough said.

Bucknell (11)

Write 'em in: Technically, any wins the Bison get will be upsets, with their seed and Patriot League locale. If you've paid attention, you'll know otherwise. Bucknell is a good basketball team in any league, and Mike Muscala is a great player in any league. The center is the key to everything Bucknell does and wisely so. When the Bison beat Kansas, it was a shocker. Wins this year shouldn't be so stunning.

Write 'em out: This isn't terribly complicated. Much of what the Bison do is predicated on Muscala. Take him out and make him uncomfortable, and this team becomes limited offensively. There are other good players but none as critical as Muscala.

Write it down: In the 1940s, a booster had the brilliant idea to gift a baby bison to the university at homecoming. Stunningly, it didn't live to see another homecoming.


Marquette (3)

Write 'em in: It's hard not to be impressed with the job Buzz Williams has done. A season after losing the Big East player of the year and the league's leading scorer (and they were two different players), he's got the Golden Eagles right back in good shape. This season it's a legit team effort more than an individual one, which in some ways makes Marquette even tougher. Williams isn't afraid of wholesale line changes, which keeps his team fresh and opponents off balance.

Write 'em out: The Golden Eagles quite literally cannot shoot 3-pointers. They average 30 percent from the arc. More, Marquette can be its own worst enemy with turnovers. That knocked the Golden Eagles out of the Big East tournament and could do the same here.

Write it down: Long before adidas redefined ugly in uniforms, Marquette and Al McGuire were making waves and turning heads with its choices. The Golden Eagles' bumblebee uniforms were actually banned by the NCAA for disorienting opponents.

Davidson (14)

Write 'em in: This team is entirely different from the Steph Curry era, with plenty of players who can beat you, not just one. All five starters -- three seniors and two juniors -- average between nine and 14 points per game. The Wildcats, who played New Mexico, Gonzaga and Duke this season, aren't going to be starry-eyed at the tournament. With sound shot selection, they will be a tough team to beat. For bonus points, Davidson is also the nation's best free throw shooting team.

Write 'em out: As sound and smart as the Wildcats are, they aren't terribly quick or strong. Teams able to exploit those weaknesses will win.

Write it down: Bob McKillop was cut by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972. Until last season, that team earned the distinction as the worst in NBA history, going 9-72.


Illinois (7)

Write 'em in: John Groce has given the green light to his trio of guards -- most notably Brandon Paul -- and they've happily driven right through it. There is not a shot the Illini won't take, and many of them they'll actually make. When they are hot, they are sizzling and can truly beat anyone.

Write 'em out: Who knows which team will show up? The one that started 12-0 or the one that dropped off the cliff at 2-7? The trouble with guys who never saw a shot they didn't like is sometimes those shots don't go in. If that happens early, this will end badly for Illinois.

Write it down: Now with a student section known as the Orange Krush, it's worth noting that for years, Illinois was more like a rainbow. The school color combos included silver and crimson, blue and white, yellow and black, and in an apparent color-blind fit yellow, crimson and olive green. Finally the university formed a commission to settle on one combo for good. Orange and blue won the day.

Colorado (10)

Write 'em in: If Spencer Dinwiddie (first team All-Name, though not necessarily one you'd want to inherit via marriage) gets in the lane, opponents are in for it. He not only can score, he can also get to the free throw line. If that happens, count it -- Dinwiddie hits 83 percent from the charity stripe.

Write 'em out: As balanced as this team is -- four of the five starters average in double figures -- it needs Dinwiddie and, to a lesser extent, Andre Roberson, to score. If either is pushed out of his zone, the Buffaloes will have trouble generating enough offense to stay in a game. Another problem -- a short bench.

Write it down: In his senior season, Tad Boyle captained the Kansas Jayhawks. The roster included a freshman by the name of Danny Manning.


Miami (2)

Write 'em in: Combine a brilliant coach with a terrific point guard and two solid (one literally so) big men, and you've got the recipe for a Cinderella season perhaps ending in a dominant NCAA tournament run. The Hurricanes are deep, can beat you from outside with Shane Larkin and Durand Scott and can squash you inside with Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson. Above all else, Jim Larranaga will leave no stone or metric unturned. To beat the Hurricanes, pack all your savvy. You'll need it.

Write 'em out: Let's face it: This is all very new to the Hurricanes, so how they handle the pressure and attention will be critical. Equally important is Miami's energy. Larranaga doesn't have the luxury of a deep bench, so if his team gets worn out -- or is worn out already -- it's a problem.

Write it down: As you might guess, the Miami basketball record books aren't exactly thick. This is quite simply the best the Hurricanes have ever been.

Pacific (15)

Write 'em in: This isn't an easy team to prepare for, with essentially 10 guys who can get into the scoring column and six who can score regularly and ably from long distance. That's really the Tigers' biggest advantage -- keeping opponents on their toes by going with the hot hand, whoever's hand that might be.

Write 'em out: The Tigers' tallest players are listed at 6-foot-8, and that's a problem against bigger schools and bigger men, both when it comes to rebounding and scoring. Miami's Reggie Johnson may literally cast a shadow.

Write it down: Talk about good fortune. The Tigers' best player in program history, Englishman Michael Olowokandi, said he chose Pacific because the college directory he was looking at happened to open to the university's page. He wound up the Clippers' first pick in 1998.