Who's feeling the tourney pressure?

Originally Published: March 19, 2013
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

The brackets are set. The fun will begin soon. Every team in the field is under pressure to perform. But some are feeling it more than most.

The NCAA tournament Pressure Meter is on right now. Here are the teams, players and coaches feeling the most heat, per the following Pressure Scale:

1. Broke college student shooting half-court shot for $50,000 on "College Gameday."
2. Sideline reporter charged with interviewing Bo Ryan at halftime.
3. Assistant coach responsible for snatching Marshall Henderson off the floor before he draws a technical foul after a big shot.
4. Arena security guard seconds before a court-storming.
5. The NCAA tournament selection committee on Selection Sunday.

Teams

[+] EnlargeSteve Alford
Jeff Bottari/Getty ImagesSteve Alford's New Mexico Lobos are likely the Mountain West's best hope at breaking the league's Elite Eight drought.

New Mexico: As the highest seed in the competitive Mountain West and a squad that's positioned in the weakest region (West), there's certainly pressure on the Lobos to make a run. No Mountain West squad has ever gone to the Elite Eight, but Steve Alford's squad is capable. The Lobos are 10-3 against the RPI's top 50. They're balanced and talented. But they will not meet expectations, especially in that lukewarm region, if they fail to reach the second weekend of action. And if Alex Kirk encounters early foul trouble this weekend, the Lobos could certainly exit early.

Pressure Meter: 3

Florida: The Gators were the most dominant team in college basketball for a lengthy stretch. They clearly have the tools to contend for the national championship and reach the Final Four (they are fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency and second in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). But they've struggled in tight games in 2012-13. They've won all 26 of their victories by double digits. They're 0-6 in single-digit contests. The team that whipped Marquette and Wisconsin during its nonconference slate is the one that's supposed to show up once the NCAA tourney begins. But this is also a team that's suffered five losses to SEC teams since Feb. 5. And as its SEC tourney title game loss to Ole Miss proved, it sometimes struggles in clutch situations in tight games. Let's see how long the Gators last.

Pressure Meter: 4

Ohio State: For some time, Ohio State was ignored when people discussed the top teams in America. But the Buckeyes' run to the Big Ten tournament title put many on notice. Ohio State finished strong. That win over Wisconsin in the league title game was its eighth consecutive victory and its fifth consecutive tournament title game appearance. Now, the Buckeyes are entering the tournament with momentum. And they might be the best team in the West Region. Gonzaga is the top seed, but the Buckeyes could certainly reach Atlanta. There's pressure on the Buckeyes because they have a favorable draw. Plus, the only thing missing from Thad Matta's trophy case is a national championship. The Buckeyes have been to the Final Four in the past. But the field wasn't as open as it is in 2013.

Pressure Meter: 4

Michigan: Earlier this season, the Wolverines were considered one of the best teams in America. They're still elite. But they've fallen slightly in recent weeks. Since the beginning of the year, naysayers have questioned Michigan's defense (58th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). The Wolverines' offense, led by Trey Burke, is special. But the lack of balance could be a challenge for the program, and Burke is facing as much pressure as any player in the field right now as a result. The Wolverines open the tournament against a dangerous South Dakota State team that features pro prospect Nate Wolters. Then, they'll probably end up in a showdown with VCU. They were a Final Four pick for a lot of folks a few weeks ago. Perhaps they still are. But there's certainly questions as to whether they'll even reach the Sweet 16 due to their draw.

Pressure Meter: 5

Louisville: It makes sense that Louisville faces considerable pressure heading into the tourney. The Cardinals have the right components to secure the crown in Atlanta. They're a popular pick to win the national title. They're a great defensive team (first in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). They're experienced, too. After going to New Orleans last season, they know what it takes to rally in the NCAA tournament. They're versatile. They have a proven coach in Rick Pitino. And unlike last season, when few projected the Cardinals to reach the Final Four as they struggled late in the regular season, there's a target on their backs right now. But they're also in the toughest region (Midwest). So it won't be easy to fulfill those lofty expectations. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Pressure Meter: 5

Players

Otto Porter Jr.: Georgetown is my pick to reach the Final Four out of the South Region. I think the Hoyas are strong defensively, and I'm impressed by the fact that they were so dominant in one of America's toughest leagues (11 consecutive Big East wins from Jan. 21 through March 2). But let's be honest. If Porter (16.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG) has an off night, then the Hoyas could bust a lot of brackets. He's arguably the most important player in the field because he means so much to the overall performance of a team that's capable of winning a national title. There's no Atlanta without Porter. The Hoyas might not even get out of Philadelphia if he struggles.

Pressure Meter: 4

Marcus Smart: Oklahoma State is locked in the brutal Midwest Region, which features some of the best teams in America. But the Pokes are capable of fighting through the gauntlet with Smart in charge. He's one of the best players -- not just freshmen -- in America. And he's the catalyst for Oklahoma State. Smart (15.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.9 SPG) can't slip with such a tough path awaiting his squad. Oklahoma State's tournament begins with an Oregon team that's slotted as a 12-seed even though it won the Pac-12 tournament. A Saint Louis team with legit Final Four potential may stand in its way in the third round. There's little chance that Oklahoma State will survive the first weekend if Smart is just average. He might have to be phenomenal for Travis Ford's program.

Pressure Meter: 4

[+] EnlargeMarshall Henderson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss guard Marshall Henderson became perhaps the most polarizing figure in college basketball this season.

Marshall Henderson: At some point this week, Henderson will stand on a dais and field questions about his Ole Miss squad's matchup against Wisconsin in Kansas City. And the quotes will be captivating. Henderson (20.1 PPG) is a special player. Proof? He led the Rebels to the SEC tournament title in Nashville, Tenn., over the weekend. He also mimicked the Gators' chomp after a big shot. He's certainly not shy. He's backed up his theatrics with impressive performances throughout the season. But he hasn't been under this spotlight. And he hasn't faced many teams that pressure the ball the way Wisconsin does. Let's see if Henderson's play will justify his mouth and his antics as Andy Kennedy attempts to advance in his first NCAA tourney trip with the Rebels.

Pressure Meter: 5

Ben McLemore: I think Georgetown will defeat Kansas in the Elite Eight. But the Jayhawks are certainly equipped for a Final Four run. Their defensive presence is proven (fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). They're experienced and they won't be intimidated. But they'll need McLemore to play to his potential if they're going to reach their ceiling. He's arguably the most complete player in America. He can hit shots from the perimeter (43.7 percent from the 3-point line). He's nearly impossible to stop off the dribble. And he's dangerous in transition. Sometimes, McLemore has to be reminded that he's a potential No. 1 pick and he's expected to compete like it. McLemore can handle any situation, any matchup and any defensive scheme. The bigger question for the redshirt freshman and the team that needs him will be the level of aggressiveness he employs throughout the Big Dance.

Pressure Meter: 3

Ryan Kelly: In Duke's second loss to Maryland last week, Kelly missed all six of his 3-point attempts, and the Blue Devils lost by nine to the Terrapins in the ACC tournament. They're still one of America's best teams, and when Kelly is executing from outside, they're probably one of the top two or three. But when Kelly went cold on Friday, his teammates struggled, too. He's such a significant factor in everything that Mike Krzyzewski can do schematically. He stretches the floor. He's an important defender, too. Duke is the No. 2 seed in the toughest region in the field (Midwest). The Blue Devils will need Kelly's shooting touch to survive it.

Pressure Meter: 4

Coaches

[+] EnlargePastner
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsThe Memphis faithful are anxious to see Josh Pastner take the Tigers on a deep tournament run.

Josh Pastner: The Memphis coach was criticized earlier this season when his team blew a double-digit lead at home in a loss to Louisville on Dec. 15. But the Tigers recovered with a 16-0 finish in Conference USA, the league's tourney title and just one loss since that Cardinals defeat. Since John Calipari's departure in 2009, however, Pastner's squad has been bounced in the first round two times. He's still searching for that breakthrough NCAA tourney rally that will appease a fan base that loves Memphis basketball, but demands winning. Pastner has yet to secure the postseason success that's necessary to do that.

Pressure Meter: 4

Tom Crean: Crean deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding Indiana basketball. The program was a mess after Kelvin Sampson racked up NCAA violations prior to his arrival. But the Hoosiers will enter this year's NCAA tournament as a serious contender for the national title. It's not going to be easy for any team to win the national championship. So I don't think Indiana's tournament experience will be a disappointment necessarily if the team doesn't earn the crown. But I'll have a different take if the Hoosiers aren't in Atlanta. And I'm sure I won't be alone. Crean has the pieces to get there. He has experience, a team that can hit the 3-ball, a pair of lottery picks (Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller) and depth. The Final Four should be the expectation.

Pressure Meter: 5

Mark Few: For years, Few's programs have lived under the radar as a top mid-major. So any advancement in the NCAA tournament has been considered a success for the Zags. But this season is different. Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in the weakest region in the field. A multitude of teams could come out the West Region. But there's more pressure on the Zags to reach the Final Four due to their seed and the doubters who've questioned their status as a No. 1 team in recent weeks. The Zags have reached four Sweet 16s under Few. Perhaps this is the season they'll advance beyond that round and silence every critic who questioned their legitimacy and seeding.

Pressure Meter: 3

Jim Larranaga: Few knew what to expect when Larranaga arrived in Miami. He'd proved his coaching prowess at George Mason. But he inherited a roster that was inconsistent under Frank Haith. Larranaga turned the Hurricanes into one of the nation's toughest defensive teams (22nd in defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) as they earned both the regular season and conference tournament titles. Some argued that the Hurricanes deserved a No. 1 seed. Perhaps they did. But that doesn't matter now. Miami has never gone beyond the Sweet 16. Ever. This year's squad, however, can reach new heights and establish a new bar for the program. It's expected given the season that it's had thus far.

Pressure Meter: 4

Tubby Smith: This is Minnesota's third trip to the NCAA tournament under Smith. But the Gophers were dismissed in the first round both times in their first two tourney berths with the former Kentucky coach guiding them. The Gophers have a promising matchup against a young UCLA squad and their strength and experience could give them the edge against the Bruins. It's definitely significant for the program (the Gophers haven't gone beyond the first round since 1997, and that run has been vacated by the NCAA due to an academic scandal) and Smith. The bid took some of the heat off Smith. Not all of it, though. His team is just 5-11 since Jan. 12. An early exit could lead to an interesting offseason for the program and the coach.

Pressure Meter: 5