2010 NCAA Tournament Preview: Mid-Majors

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  1. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (17-15)

    WHY TO LOVE: Three players average double digits: senior guard Terrance Calvin (10.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg), sophomore guard Savalance Townsend (10.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and senior center Lebaron Weathers (10.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg).

    WHY TO HATE: Ugh. Where do I start? The Golden Lions…

    – Violate Rule No. 5 of my NCAA Tournament Credo. Their scoring average is a meager 64.9.

    – Violate Rule No. 4 as well; they were just 6-14 on the road.

    – Turn the ball over way too much (17.1 turnovers per game).

    – Shoot poorly from the field (41.3%) and beyond the arc (30.6).

    – Struggled against NCAA Tournament teams. Pine Bluff went up against five squads in the Big Dance: UTEP (loss, 70-52), Oklahoma State (loss, 81-66), Georgia Tech (loss, 65-53), Missouri (loss, 88-70) and Kansas State (loss, 90-76).

    THE VERDICT: This is the worst team in the NCAA Tournament. If they come within single digits of their first-round opponent, they should walk away with their heads high.

  2. Butler (28-4)

    WHY TO LOVE: Butler is the hottest team in the country; they’ve won 20 in a row, and the last time they lost was Dec. 22.

    The Bulldogs have four double-digit scorers: sophomore swingman Gordon Hayward (15.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg), sophomore guard Shelvin Mack (13.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.1 apg), junior forward Matt Howard (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and senior forward Willie Veasley (10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

    As you may expect, Butler has a few dynamic three-point shooters: Mack (37.2%), Veasley (37.0) and Zach Hahn (43.4).

    The Bulldogs play terrific defense, limiting foes to just 60.0 ppg.

    WHY TO HATE: Inexperience and rebounding are weaknesses; three of the top five scorers are underclassmen.

    THE VERDICT: This young Butler team had a taste of the NCAA Tournament last year, losing to LSU in the first round by four points. They’ll probably get out of the opening round this season, and there’s a chance they could shoot their way into the Sweet 16.

  3. Cornell (27-4)

    WHY TO LOVE: Cornell is led by three outstanding seniors, all of whom average double digits: forward Ryan Wittman (17.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg), center Jeff Foote (12.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and guard Louis Dale (11.9 ppg, 4.8 apg).

    The Big Red shoot terrifically from beyond the arc, nailing an amazing 43.4 percent of their threes. Five players make the long ball frequently: Wittman (42.0%), Dale (39.4), Chris Wroblewski (45.5), Jon Jaques (48.8) and Geoff Reeves (45.9).

    WHY TO HATE: Cornell has only four losses on the year. They played three top-level teams – Syracuse, Seton Hall and Kansas – and they lost all three games by 15, 10 and 5, respectively.

    The Big Red don’t rebound the ball very well.

    No Ivy League team has won an NCAA Tournament game since 1998, which means Cornell violates Rule No. 8 of my NCAA Tournament Credo.

    THE VERDICT: People love to pick Ivy League teams to pull an upset or two, but it never happens. This Cornell team is solid, but my bracket will have them losing in the first round.

  4. East Tennessee State (20-14)

    WHY TO LOVE: Three solid players: junior 6-4 forward Tommy Hubbard (14.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg), and junior guards Micah Williams (12.5 ppg) and Justin Tubbs (12.0 ppg).

    WHY TO HATE: This team is just not that good. They turn the ball over a lot (14.9 per game). They don’t rebound well. They’re undersized. They don’t shoot well from the field (43.5%) or from three-point range (31.0).

    THE VERDICT: East Tennessee State doesn’t have the three-point shooting to knock off a No. 1 or 2 seed.

  5. Gonzaga (26-6)

    WHY TO LOVE: Three players average more than 13.5 points per game: senior guard Matt Bouldin (15.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.1 apg), freshman forward Elias Harris (14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and junior guard Steven Gray (13.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg).

    Gonzaga shoots the ball very well. The three-pointer is not a big factor in their offense, though they shoot it fairly well (36.3%). However, the team hits 49.4 percent of its field goals.

    The Zags were 6-3 on the road; they were able to win at Saint Mary’s and Memphis, and nearly knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing.

    Gonzaga has a 7-5 center named Will Foster. He plays just 7.4 minutes per game, and he hilariously makes only 16.7 percent of his free throws. Just worth mentioning.

    WHY TO HATE: People associate Gonzaga as a Cinderella. Perhaps the ugly step-sister would be a better comparison. The Zags have made it out of the Sweet 16 only once. They’ve been eliminated in the first round in two of the past three years, making them a violator of Rule No. 3 of the NCAA Tournament Credo.

    The Zags are really young; five of their top seven scorers are underclassmen.

    THE VERDICT: Gonzaga is an NCAA Tournament underachiever. Given the inexperience on this team, it’ll be difficult for this team to get out of the first weekend. They’re certainly a candidate to be upset in the first round.

  6. Houston (18-15)

    WHY TO LOVE: Aubrey Coleman is the nation’s leading scorer. The senior guard averages 26.0 ppg and 7.3 rpg. And Coleman isn’t Houston’s only dynamic scorer. Kelvin Lewis, another senior guard, scores 14.9 ppg.

    The Cougars take great care of the basketball, turning it over only 9.1 times per game.

    Houston has three solid three-point shooters: Lewis (39.0%), Adam Brown (37.2) and Desmond Wade (36.2).

    WHY TO HATE: The Cougars had a great run in the Conference USA Tournament, knocking off both Memphis and UTEP. Unfortunately, this means that they violate Rule No. 2 of the NCAA Tournament Credo; underdogs that win their conference tournaments seldom fare well in the Big Dance.

    Houston doesn’t rebound well and plays miserable defense, surrendering 74.6 ppg.

    This team doesn’t shoot well either; its field-goal percentage is a woeful 41.9.

    THE VERDICT: People will pick Houston to pull an upset or two after watching them win their conference tournament. I won’t. I think the Cougars are a one-and-done team.

  7. Lehigh (22-10)

    WHY TO LOVE: Guard C.J. McCollum is a very talented player. McCollum averages 18.9 ppg and 4.9 rpg, and hits 42.9 percent of his threes.

    McCollum is joined by two senior double-digit scorers: guard Marquis Hall (11.0 ppg, 5.7 apg) and forward Zahir Carrington (10.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg).

    The Mountain Hawks are terrific from three-point range (40%). Four players hit better than 36 percent: McCollum, Hall (37.1), Michael Ojo (36.7) and Dave Buchberger (45.2).

    WHY TO HATE: I didn’t mention McCollum’s year because that belongs in this category. He’s a mere freshman.

    Lehigh was just 7-8 on the road this season, meaning they violate Rule No. 4 of my NCAA Tournament Credo.

    The best team the Mountain Hawks played all year is Richmond. They lost by 12.

    The best part of watching the Lehigh-Lafayette championship was hearing that a prominent Lafayette player chose that school over Lehigh because he liked one of Lafayette’s science programs better. It’s almost unfair that these Patriot League teams have to compete with all of those one-and-done blue-chip basketball players.

    THE VERDICT: Lehigh has the three-point shooting to potentially knock someone off, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  8. Montana (22-9)

    WHY TO LOVE: Senior guard Anthony Johnson had one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen in the Big Sky Championship. Despite whatever Weber State tried, Johnson found a way to score, bringing Montana back from a huge deficit. Johnson finished with a whopping 42 points, most of which came in the second half. As Al Davis would say, “Anthony Johnson… is a… great player…”

    Montana shoots the three ball very well. The team as a whole shoots 40.4 percent from long range. Johnson (46.4%) and Ryan Staudacher (46.3) are two of the best long-range shooters in the country.

    The Grizz were 7-7 on the road this year, but knocked off Oregon and nearly defeated Washington.

    WHY TO HATE: Like most mid-majors, Montana has a few flaws. There are two glaring ones:

    First, the Grizz don’t rebound well. More importantly, they violate Rule No. 6 of my NCAA Tournament Credo; they’re a one-man show. Aside from Johnson, no one averages double figures.

    THE VERDICT: Johnson is awesome, and Montana’s three-point shooting is deadly. They’re more than capable of knocking off a first-round favorite. But a one-man army can only take a team so far in the Big Dance. A Sweet 16 appearance is unlikely.

  9. Morgan State (27-9)

    WHY TO LOVE: Morgan State has one of the top scorers in the nation. Senior guard Reggie Holmes averages 21.9 ppg and 4.3 rpg. He also shoots 36.2 percent from long distance.

    Complementing Holmes are two double-digit scorers: sophomore forward Kevin Thompson (12.7 ppg, 12.0 rpg) and freshman forward Dewayne Jackson (10.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg). Jackson is the team’s top three-point shooter, hitting 43.2 percent of his long-range jumpers.

    Morgan State’s coach looks like an older version of Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

    WHY TO HATE: With Holmes and Jackson shooting threes so well, it might be surprising that Morgan State collectively hits 33.4 percent from beyond the arc. That’s because so many other players shoot threes inaccurately. No other regular nails better than 26 percent of his threes.

    The Bears are 0-4 against NCAA Tournament teams this year; they’ve lost to Louisville by 9, Minnesota by 30, Baylor by 16 and Murray State by 9.

    No MEAC team has an NCAA Tournament win since 2001.

    THE VERDICT: Morgan State could give a No. 2 seed some trouble early in the game, but I’ll be really surprised if the Bears pull an upset (unless they’re matched up against West Virginia and the choking Bob Huggins).

  10. Murray State (30-4)

    WHY TO LOVE: Amazing balance – Murray State amazingly has five players who average between 10.3 and 10.6 ppg: sophomore forward Ivan Aska (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), junior guard B.J. Jenkins (10.5 ppg, 3.2 apg), senior forward Danero Thomas (10.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg), senior center Tony Easley (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and freshman guard Isaiah Canaan (10.3 ppg).

    Murray State shoots the ball tremendously; the team hits 50.3 percent of its field goals and 36.8 percent of its threes. They have three quality long-range snipers: Jenkins (37.7%), Isacc Miles (35.9) and Canaan (45.7).

    The Racers play quality defense (60.5 ppg).

    WHY TO HATE: The Racers are untested; they inflated their record by beating crap opponents. The only NCAA Tournament team they played was Cal, which was a 75-70 loss. However, it’s tough to gauge how much that means because that contest took place back on Nov. 9.

    Murray State turns the ball over too much (14.6 turnovers per game).

    THE VERDICT: Murray State could shoot past a weak No. 4 seed, but two NCAA Tournament wins is unlikely.

  11. New Mexico State (22-11)

    WHY TO LOVE: This Aggies squad has been playing lights out ever since sophomore forward Troy Gillenwater joined the roster in February after being academically ineligible early. With Gillenwater in the lineup, New Mexico State is 9-3.

    New Mexico State has a great offense that averages 78.9 points per game. Five players average in double figures, including three who average more than 14 points: junior guard Jahmar Young (20.5 ppg), senior guard Jonathan Gibson (17.7 ppg) and Gillenwater (14.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg). And don’t forget about junior forward Wendell McKines, who averages a double-double (11.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg).

    The Aggies shoot brilliantly from beyond the arc, collectively hitting 37.2 percent. Some of the better shooters are: Young (37.0%), Gibson (41.3), Gillenwater (38.5) and Gordo Castillo (37.2).

    WHY TO HATE: Excluding Utah State, New Mexico State has played three NCAA Tournament teams. All four games were losses to Saint Mary’s (100-68), New Mexico twice (97-87, 75-58) and UTEP (79-58). However, it must be noted that this was early in the year when Gillenwater was not on the active roster.

    New Mexico State turns the ball over a bit too much (13.2 times per game). Rebounding is iffy as well.

    THE VERDICT: I love this New Mexico State team to pull an upset (or two) depending on whom they’re seeded against. They’re a very talented offensive team that drill threes all game long.

  12. North Texas (24-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: North Texas is a hot team that hasn’t lost since Jan. 30. They have four double-digit scorers: junior guards Josh White (14.9 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Tristan Thompson (14.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg), senior forward Eric Tramiel (13.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and junior forward George Odufuwa (11.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg).

    The Mean Green shoot well from the field (46.1%). They also have two great three-point snipers, White (39.9%) and Thompson (40.1).

    WHY TO HATE: The only two NCAA Tournament teams North Texas played all year were Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, and those games were 14- and 10-point losses.

    The Mean Green play poor defense (69.4 ppg allowed) and sloppy offense (14.7 turnovers per game).

    THE VERDICT: North Texas could give a No. 2 or 3 seed some problems if White and Thompson can hit their threes. A first-round exit is the most likely scenario, but an upset wouldn’t be shocking.

  13. Northern Iowa (28-4)

    WHY TO LOVE: Northern Iowa has great experience. Three of the team’s top four scorers – center Jordan Eglseder (12.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg), forward Adam Koch (11.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg), guard Ali Farokhmanesh (9.3 ppg) – are seniors. The other (Kwadzo Ahelegbe, 10.7 ppg) is a junior. This group nearly knocked off Purdue in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.

    The Panthers have three solid three-point shooters: Koch (36.4), Ahelegbe (35.9) and Farokhmanesh (36.8).

    Northern Iowa plays suffocating defense, limiting the opposition to just 54.3 ppg.

    WHY TO HATE: A violation of Rule No. 5 of my NCAA Tournament Credo: Northern Iowa has trouble scoring (63.3 ppg).

    The Panthers don’t rebound well and they hit only 43.1 percent of their field goals.

    THE VERDICT: I like watching this Northern Iowa team; they’re so tenacious on defense, and they have great chemistry and experience. Unfortunately, their offensive woes will be their undoing. They could get out of the first round if they play a flawed team, and while I wouldn’t be shocked if they reach the Sweet 16, they’re probably destined for a second-round exit.

  14. Oakland (26-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: Oakland is a very hot team; they haven’t lost since Jan. 28. They’re currently on an 11-game winning streak.

    The Grizzlies have four double-digit scorers: junior center Keith Benson (17.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg), senior guard Johnathon Jones (12.4 ppg, 6.4 apg), senior forward Derick Nelson (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and junior guard Larry Wright (11.1 ppg).

    Oakland rebounds well and shoots a solid 45.1 percent from the field.

    It’s a good thing Al Davis doesn’t run this Oakland team. Can you imagine a basketball squad with guys with fast 40s who don’t know how to play hoops? I think I just described Isiah Thomas’ Knicks teams.

    WHY TO HATE: Oakland played five NCAA Tournament-caliber teams this year, and the results weren’t pretty: Loss at Wisconsin (58-42); loss at Kansas (89-59); loss at Memphis (77-46); loss at Michigan State (88-57); loss at Syracuse (92-60).

    This Grizzlies team has a ton of flaws: They turn the ball over a lot (13.8 times per game); they struggle to hit threes (32.6%) and their defense stinks (71.0 ppg allowed).

    THE VERDICT: I’ll be surprised if Oakland pulls an upset this March.

  15. Ohio (21-14)

    WHY TO LOVE: Ohio has five players who average 9.7 points per game or more, and they’re led by junior guard Armon Bassett (16.7 ppg). The other guys: freshman point guard D.J. Cooper (12.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.9 apg), and junior forwards DeVaughn Washington (11.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Tommy Freeman (10.3 ppg).

    Overall, the Bobcats aren’t great from beyond the arc, but they have one of the top three-point shooters in the country; Freeman hits 46.9 percent of his long bombs.

    WHY TO HATE: As you may have seen above, the Bobcats have a freshman point guard. This is a violation of Rule No. 1 of my NCAA Tournament Credo.

    Ohio also violates Rule No. 4; the team was just 5-9 on the road this season.

    The Bobcats have played only one team in the NCAA Tournament seeded above No. 14. The result wasn’t pretty – Pittsburgh 74, Ohio 49.

    Ohio doesn’t boast a good defense; they surrender 68.3 ppg.

    THE VERDICT: Unless you’re talking about a once-in-a-decade prospect like Derrick Rose or John Wall, you don’t want to pick freshmen point guards in the NCAA Tournament. Ohio is a likely one-and-done.

  16. Old Dominion (26-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: Senior 6-10 forward Gerald Lee has done a great job leading his team to a 26-8 record. Lee averaged 14.6 ppg and 4.9 rpg this season.

    Old Dominion rebounds well and plays outstanding defense, limiting foes to 57.1 ppg.

    The Monarchs were a pedestrian 8-6 on the road, but one of the victories was at Georgetown.

    WHY TO HATE: Old Dominion shoots poorly from the free-throw line (64.5%). More prominently, they are just 31.6 percent from beyond the arc.

    The Monarchs violate two rules in my NCAA Tournament Credo:

    Rule No. 5: The Monarchs struggle to score, averaging just 67.5 ppg.

    Rule No. 6: Besides Lee, no Monarch averages more than nine points per contest.

    THE VERDICT: Old Dominion will be a sexy Cinderella pick, but they can’t hit threes and violate two of my rules. Unless they draw a crap team in the opening game, I’ll have them losing in the first round.

  17. Robert Morris (23-11)

    WHY TO LOVE: Robert Morris has one very good player: guard Karon Abraham, who averages 13.4 ppg and hits 44.2 percent of his threes.

    WHY TO HATE: Unfortunately, Abraham is a freshman. Abraham is the only double-digit scorer, which means Robert Morris violates Rule No. 6 of my NCAA Tournament Credo.

    The Colonials have played two NCAA Tournament teams: Syracuse and Pittsburgh. They lost those games by 40 and 24, respectively.

    Robert Morris turns the ball over a lot (14.7 turnovers per game) and struggles to hit its free throws (66.1%).

    THE VERDICT: A Robert Morris win in the NCAA Tournament would shock me.

  18. Saint Mary’s (26-5)

    WHY TO LOVE: Omar Sandman is awesome. OK, his last name is “Samhan,” but Sandman is a lot cooler. Sandman (20.9 ppg, 11.0 rpg) is a force down low at 6-11, 260.

    Including Sandman, three other Gaels average double digits: junior guard Mickey McConnell (13.7 ppg, 5.3 apg), freshman guard Matthew Dellavedova (12.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.5 apg) and senior forward Ben Allen (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg).

    McConnell is one of the best three-point shooters of all time. OK, maybe he gets a lot of open jumpers with the Sandman down low, but it’s still not an overstatement; McConnell has fired 130 three-pointers this year and has hit 67 of them. That’s a percentage of 51.5. That’s higher than his regular 51.4 field-goal percentage!

    Overall, Saint Mary’s hits 41.2 percent of its threes. In addition to McConnell, Dellavedova (41.4%), Allen (39.1) and Clint Steindl (37.5) are all terrific long-range shooters.

    Saint Mary’s was 9-2 on the road, which includes an impressive victory at Utah State.

    WHY TO HATE: I love this Saint Mary’s team… except for the fact that they have a freshman point guard. Teams with inexperienced floor-generals usually lose early in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a shame, but the Gaels violate Rule No. 1 of my NCAA Tournament Credo.

    THE VERDICT: Unless you’re talking about a once-in-a-decade point guard like Derrick Rose or John Wall, never pick a freshman floor general to go deep into the tournament. Saint Mary’s could win its opening game depending on the matchup, but they’ll have extreme difficulty escaping the first weekend.

  19. Sam Houston State (25-7)

    WHY TO LOVE: Sam Houston State has one of the highest-scoring offenses in the nation; they average a whopping 80.4 points per game. Think of them as the Golden State Warriors of college basketball.

    Three players average at least 12.5 ppg: junior forward Gillberto Clavell (16.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), and senior guards Corey Allmond (15.8 ppg) and Ashton Mitchell (12.6 ppg, 5.0 apg).

    As you can imagine, the Bearkats shoot tons of threes and hit a good amount of them (38.1%). Amazingly, three players hit better than 40 percent from beyond the arc: Mitchell (43.1), Preston Brown (40.3) and Josten Crow (41.4). And it doesn’t stop there – Allmond (37.8) and Lance Pevehouse (35.8) can also drain it from deep.

    WHY TO HATE: The Bearkats are untested. They’ve played only one NCAA Tournament team. On the bright side, however, that game was just a 10-point loss at powerhouse Kentucky.

    Sam Houston State relies so much on the three ball. If the shot’s not falling, they’re not going to win.

    The Bearkats are small and will get killed on the glass by a dominant frontcourt.

    THE VERDICT: This team reminds me so much of the 2005 Northwestern team that knocked off Iowa. Sam Houston State is a nightmare matchup for anyone in the NCAA Tournament because of their blazing-fast tempo and dynamic three-point shooting. A slop team that has trouble scoring will have major problems with these Bearkats.

  20. Siena (27-6)

    WHY TO LOVE: Siena has four players who average more than 13 points per game: senior forward Alex Franklin (16.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg), senior swingman Edwin Ubiles (15.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg), junior forward Ryan Rossiter (13.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg) and junior guard Clarence Jackson (13.6 ppg).

    The other starter is senior point guard Ronald Moore (6.8 ppg, 7.8 apg). As you can tell, Siena has a ton of experience. In last year’s NCAA Tournament, they beat Ohio State in the first round and then gave Louisville all it could handle in Round 2.

    The Saints rebound very well and shoot a solid 45.9 percent from the field.

    WHY TO HATE: Siena doesn’t shoot too many threes, and based on their percentage (32.3), it’s easy to see why.

    The Saints don’t have a quality win all year. They’re 0-3 against teams in the NCAA Tournament (losing to Temple, Georgia Tech and Butler).

    THE VERDICT: Siena knows what it takes to win in March. They knocked off Ohio State last year, and they can definitely make another trip to Round 2 or even the Sweet 16 this year. This is a very solid team that no one should want to play.

  21. UC-Santa Barbara (20-9)

    WHY TO LOVE: UC-Santa Barbara has two dynamic scorers: swingman Orlando Johnson (17.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and forward James Nunnally (14.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Unfortunately, both are sophomores.

    The Gauchos shoot threes very well; they are 38 percent as a whole, and they have three guys who hit better than 39 percent: Johnson (39.4%), Nunnally (45.7) and James Powell (42.2).

    WHY TO HATE: Rule No. 4 of my NCAA Tournament Credo is violated here: this team was just 6-7 on the road.

    The only NCAA Tournament team the Gauchos took on during the season was California. They lost by 21.

    UC-Santa Barbara gives the ball away too much (15.4 turnovers per game). If they play a great pressing opponent, they could lose by 20-plus.

    The Gauchos are a talented team, but they are very young. Four of their top five scorers are sophomores.

    THE VERDICT: UC-Santa Barbara has some talent, but they are way too young and careless with the basketball. I’ll be shocked if they win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

  22. Utah State (27-7)

    WHY TO LOVE: Utah State has three double-digit scorers: junior forwards Tai Wesley (13.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Nate Bendall (10.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg), and senior guard Jared Quayle (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg).

    All six of Utah State’s top scorers are upperclassmen.

    The Aggies are terrific from beyond the arc. The team as a whole hits 42.1 percent of its long-range shots, and four players are better than 37 percent: Quayle (42.4), Pooh Williams (37.6), Tyler Newbold (42.3) and Brian Green (51.0).

    In addition to being excellent from three-point range, Utah State is great from the field (49.0%).

    The Aggies play great defense and don’t turn the ball over. They’re a solid, well-coached team.

    WHY TO HATE: Speaking of coaches, Stew Morrill’s record in the NCAA Tournament is an abysmal 1-7, which makes them a violator of Rule No. 3 of the NCAA Tournament Credo. However, it’s worth noting that this is probably the best team Morrill has ever coached. Last year, this group (with a year less of experience) lost to Marquette by only one point.

    THE VERDICT: Depending on whom they’re matched up against, Utah State has a chance to make a Sweet 16 run.

  23. UTEP (26-6)

    WHY TO LOVE: The Miners have two dynamic scorers: junior guard Randy Culpepper (17.8 ppg) and junior forward Derrick Caracter (13.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg). Junior forward Jeremy Williams also averages in double figures (10.5).

    Three UTEP players hit better than 37 percent from beyond: Culpepper (37.9), Williams (39.7) and Christian Polk (38.1).

    The Miners were 8-3 on the road this year, which includes wins at Memphis, UAB and Marshall.

    WHY TO HATE: UTEP turns it over a bit too much for my liking. Their rebounding ability isn’t that great either. However, they do play solid defense (63.7 ppg allowed).

    The Miners are fighting history here; they haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1992! Head coach Tony Barbee has never coached a single game in the Big Dance.

    THE VERDICT: UTEP has a good chance of winning its opening-round game, but I doubt they knock off a No. 1/2 seed in Round 2.

  24. Vermont (25-9)

    WHY TO LOVE: Listen to this storyline: Junior guard Evan Fjeld lost his mother to cancer a week ago. With a teary-eyed father watching him, Fjeld responded by going for nine points and six boards against Boston University in the American East Championship. After the final buzzer sounded, Fjeld went into the stands and hugged his father. How can you not root for Vermont?

    Fjeld is the team’s third-leading scorer. The second is senior guard Maurice Joseph (14.1 ppg). The first is 6-5 senior forward Marqus Blakely, who is the only player in the country to lead his team in points (17.2), rebounds (9.2), assists (3.7), blocks (2.0) and steals (2.5).

    WHY TO HATE: Joseph nails the three well, but no one else does. Vermont as a team hits just 31.4 percent from beyond the arc.

    Vermont turns the ball over too much (14.2 turnovers per game).

    The Catamounts are way too untested. Sadly, the toughest team they’ve played all year was Cornell, which was an 8-point loss.

    THE VERDICT: I’ll be rooting for this Vermont team because of the Fjeld storyline, but I don’t think the Catamounts have the three-point shooting to pull a first-round upset as a No. 15 or 16 seed. If they’re awarded a No. 13 or 14 seed, I may reconsider.

  25. Winthrop (19-13)

    WHY TO LOVE: Winthrop rebounds the ball well and plays suffocating defense (61.4 ppg). High-scoring UNC-Asheville couldn’t get anything against them in the Big South Championship.

    WHY TO HATE: The Eagles have tons of glaring flaws:

    – They’re the worst-shooting team in the NCAA Tournament: They hit 38.3 percent of their field goals and 25.5 percent of their threes. Only one regular shoots better than 28 percent from beyond the arc (Reggie Middleton, 33.3).

    – They violate Rule No. 5 of my NCAA Tournament Credo; Winthrop simply can’t score. The team averages only 62.4 ppg.

    – They also violate Rule No. 4 of my NCAA Tournament Credo; the Eagles are just 6-11 on the road.

    – They’re inexperienced; their top two scorers (guard Reggie Middleton, 10.3 ppg; center Matt Morgan, 9.6 ppg) are both sophomores.

    – They can’t hit their free throws (64.6%).

    – They went up against one NCAA Tournament team this season (Clemson) and were debacled, 102-66.

    THE VERDICT: I don’t see how this team wins a game in the Big Dance.

  26. Wofford (26-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: Wofford, making its first ever trip into the NCAA Tournament, is a really hot team. They’re on a 13-game winning streak and haven’t lost since Jan. 22.

    Junior 6-6 forward Noah Dahlman is a very good player; he averaged 16.8 ppg and 6.3 rpg this season. He also shot 58 percent from the field.

    The Terriers play very good defense, limiting opponents to 61.2 ppg.

    Wofford has three solid three-point shooters: junior 6-2 forward Jamar Diggs (9.4 ppg, 37.3 3PT), senior guard Junior Salters (7.7 ppg, 36.5 3PT) and junior guard Cameron Rundles (6.6 ppg, 38.9 3PT).

    WHY TO HATE: I listed the points-per-game averages of Diggs, Salters and Rundles because they are the second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers on Wofford. This team has only one consistent scoring option, meaning they violate Rule No. 6 of the NCAA Tournament Credo.

    The Terriers are undersized and consequently have trouble on the glass.

    THE VERDICT: Wofford has a better chance of pulling off an upset next year when all of their top guys will be seniors. For now, a probable first-round exit.

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2011 NCAA Tournament Preview:
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