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Big 12 regular season and tournament champion Kansas heads up the Southwest Region, which concludes in San Antonio next Friday and Sunday, March 25 and 27. The Jayhawks will be looking to stick around a bit longer than they did in 2010, when Northern Iowa stunned them in the second round (third round this year). Bill Self's team is once again among the favorites, though not as overwhelmingly so as they were last season, especially since Ohio State has top billing in the bracket.
This quarter of the bracket is full of intriguing potential matchups. Eighth-seeded UNLV would have been Kansas' opponent in the second round last season had they not become the first victim of Panther Power two days earlier. Plus, Runnin' Rebels' head coach Lon Kruger faces Illinois, one of his former employers, in his team's first game. And who did Bill Self coach before Kansas, the Fighting Illini!
The No. 2 and 3 seeds, Notre Dame and Purdue, are the two best programs in the state of Indiana at the moment, so that potential regional semifinal is a big one for recruiting and prestige. Even, the No. 7 vs. No. 10 game, Texas A&M's matchup with Florida State, is one to watch, but only if you're a fan of defense.
Most Intriguing Second Round Game: No. 13 Morehead State vs. No. 4 Louisville in Denver: It's going to be interesting to see how Terrence Jennings and Rakeem Buckles deal with the Eagles' rebounding machine Kenneth Faried. Plus, the in-state rivalry aspect to this one automatically makes this one to watch.
Upset Special: No. 12 Richmond over No. 5 Vanderbilt in Denver on Thursday: The Commodores are one of many teams that just doesn't play as well on the road as they do at home, and the combination of the Spiders' modified Princeton offense, versatile players (Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper, and Dan Geriot) could give Kevin Stallings' team fits if it can't get shots to fall.
Chris Dobbertean's Regional Pick: The path is clear for Kansas, but that's what we all said last year.
Need a printable NCAA bracket to fill out for the tournament? Download SB Nation's March Madness Bracket.
by Joel Thorman
Intro: Once again Bill Self’s Jayhawks looked poised to snag a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and with that came a giant target on the back of the jersey. Expectations can a blessing and a curse. It’s a testament to what this team has accomplished, but it also provides plenty of ammo for critics if they fall short, and the reality is that only one team can come away with the title of champion.
For their part the Jayhawks are without a doubt among the elite in college basketball and after coming up short a season ago the Morris twins are focused on getting Kansas back to the Final Four with the end goal of a National Title.
Considering the Jayhawks have one of the top offenses in the country and they appear to be peaking defensively, this could easily be a team that makes that run and gives the Jayhawk faithful another coveted shot at a title. It boils down to focus, consistency, and effort and as is always the case in March, a little bit of luck. Kansas has the talent and the tools, now it just needs to come together.
Record: 32-2, 17-2
RPI: No. 1
Key wins: Saturday Nov 27th vs. Arizona: Kansas started out with what may have been their most impressive eight minutes of basketball all year long before settling into a lull, allowing Arizona to creep back in. Potential top pick in the upcoming draft Derek Williams served a bit of a wakeup call to the Kansas bigs with a nice game, but Kansas was able to pull out an eight-point win against the eventual Pac-10 champs.
Saturday January 29th vs. Kansas State: The Jayhawks dominated a sinking Wildcat team start to finish. Since that time Kansas State has turned a corner for the positive making the 20-plus-point manhandling by Kansas in this one look fairly impressive.
Wednesday March 2nd vs. Texas A&M: A game that looked like a typical NCAA tournament struggle, and the Jayhawks slowly pulled away. It was a game where Kansas wasn’t shooting their best; the game turned physical, and the Jayhawks found a way to win.
Saturday March 5th vs. Missouri: Missouri was 17-0 at home headed into this one, and the Jayhawks were able to go into Columbia and get a win. Despite a large number of turnovers the Kansas defense carried the load and the Jayhawks clinched the outright Big 12 title.
Saturday January 22nd vs. Texas: The morning after the death of Thomas Robinson’s mother the Jayhawks just ran out of gas in the second half and struggled as badly as they have all year on the offensive end. Not a bad loss in the least.
Monday February 14th vs. Kansas State: The Wildcats won in convincing fashion avenging an earlier loss and have since been labeled the hottest team in college basketball. Again, hardly a bad loss for Kansas.
Player(s) to watch: For Kansas it goes without saying that the Morris twins drive the ship and any time the twin forwards are playing at their best the Jayhawks are hard to stop. But if you look beyond that there is a player emerging as a leader especially on the defensive end in Elijah Johnson. Bill Self always preaches defense, and at times this has looked like one of his teams that has a long way to go in that regard. Since Johnson stepped into a more prominent role he has been able to elevate the on ball defense for the Jayhawks and that intensity seems to be rubbing off on others. It’s the type of play that can take this Kansas team, which is great offensively, to great all around.
For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Missouri Tigers, please visit Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City.
Intro: Notre Dame might be one of the most dangerous teams in the NCAA Tournament for the simple reason that they are battle-tested in the Big East Conference. Not just that, but the Irish have proven they can beat teams outside their conference, such as Wisconsin and Gonzaga.
They have one of the more dominant players in college basketball in Ben Hansborough, and their coach, Mike Brey, was the Big East Coach of the Year. Notre Dame was also the only Big East team to go undefeated at home this season.
Record: 26-6, 15-5 Big East
Key wins: Beating Wisconsin early in the season (Nov. 28) was very key, establishing early that Notre Dame was not a pushover this season. Getting a 83-79 win at home against Gonzaga a few weeks later, after a disappointing loss to Kentucky, was also important. Probably the signature win of the whole regular season was the 56-50 win over Pitt at Pittsburgh back on Jan. 24.
Key losses: Feb. 19 at West Virginia. The final was 72-58. This loss likely cost Notre Dame the regular season Big East title, which eventually went to Pitt. Notre Dame was riding a seven-game win streak at the time, but ran into a well-prepared West Virgina team that handled them well.
Player to watch: Ben Hansborough is the unquestioned star of Notre Dame. He was the Big East Player of the Year, and the only unanimous selection to the All-Big East first team.
Intro: The Boilermakers have had a solid season heading into March Madness, finishing second in the Big Ten to Ohio State and they are one of only two teams to knock off the Buckeyes this year. Their regular season success was somewhat of a surprise to some considering the team lost star player Robbie Hummel early to a second torn ACL. Big Ten Player of the Year JaJuan Johnson stepped up and lead the Big Ten in scoring at 20.5 points per game. E`Twaun Moore was also a first team all-Big Ten selection and averaged 18.3 points per game. The duo is the winningest senior class in Purdue history
Record: 25-6, 14-4 Big Ten
Key wins: Feb. 20 vs. Ohio State 76-63 – The Buckeyes are easily the No. 1 team in the nation, but E’Twaun Moore scored a career high 38 points as the Boilers avenged a 23 point loss in Columbus. Feb. 16 vs. Wisconsin 70-62 – The Badgers had beaten Purdue in Madison, and Purdue was lacking a win over a top 10 team before this game. Purdue absolutely dominated at home, separating themselves from Wisconsin for second place in the Big Ten
Key losses: Mar. 5 at Iowa 67-65 – Purdue was stunned by the Hawkeyes as E’Twaun Moore battled illness and Purdue still had a chance to tie for the Big Ten title. Iowa out-rebounded the Boilermakers for just their fourth Big Ten win of the season. Nov. 27 vs. Richmond (Hoffman Estates, IL) 65-54 – Purdue shot poorly and allowed the Spiders to build a big early lead. This is a signature win for a Richmond team that is clinging to the bubble.
Player(s) to watch: JaJuan Johnson – Big Ten Player of the Year E’Twaun Moore – 1st Team All-Big Ten selection Lewis Jackson – Honorable Mention all-Big Ten, averaging better than eight points and four assists per game.
Intro: Louisville’s been an enigmatic team this season, but certainly not one you should take lightly in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, especially after their run to the Big East final. Like all Rick Pitino-coached teams, Louisville is known for their pressure defense. They have a good scoring mix working, with three players who average double figures.
Record: 25-9 overall, 14-7
Key wins: Convincingly beating Butler to open the season (Nov. 8) 88-73 was a big confidence booster for the Cardinals. Other key wins include beating UConn on the road on Jan. 29 by a score of 79-78, and defeating Pittsburgh 62-59 at home Feb. 27.
Key losses: Anytime Louisville loses to rival Kentucky, it’s key. The Cardinals were waxed by the Wildcats 78-63 on New Year’s Eve. Another key loss was their inexplicable meltdown late against West Virginia back on March 5. Louisville had a three-point lead with 8.1 seconds remaining, but managed to lose the game by two due in large part to poor decisions made by Preston Knowles.
Player to watch: Preston Knowles may have been the reason the Cardinals lost to West Virgina back on March 5th, but he’s certainly helped his team win more games than anything else. Knowles averages 14.3 points per game.
Record: 23-10, 9-7
Key wins: Vandy took down Kentucky, eventual SEC champions, back when the Cats were ranked No. 18 in the country. An early-season win against North Carolina, who went on to reach the ACC championship game, also boosts Vandy’s regular-season cred.
Key losses: Spills to Arkansas and South Carolina are particularly ugly. Any losses to non-Alabama SEC West teams should count as two or three. The Dores were also unable to notch any victories over ranked teams besides Kentucky, UNC, and St. Mary’s.
Player to watch: Jenkins. Scoring 19.5 points per game, the six-foot-four sophomore guard changes Vandy’s game when he’s on the floor. Without him, they’re sluggish and struggle to score.
by Mike Prada
The Georgetown Hoyas enter the 2011 NCAA Tournament on a major down swing thanks to the broken hand suffered by Chris Wright in late February. Without Wright, the Hoyas dropped four straight games by an average of 14.25 points per game, including a 79-62 loss in the first round of the Big East Tournament.
Wright is expected to return in time for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but it’s not clear how healthy he will be when he comes back. He will be only about three weeks removed from surgery on the first Thursday or Friday of the NCAA Tournament, and he will be completely out of rhythm. That makes Georgetown one of the most difficult teams to peg in the entire tournament.
With Wright healthy, the Hoyas were among the nation’s best teams. They went through a rough stretch to start Big East play when they lost four or five, but they got both their offense and defense in gear and went on a nine-game winning streak thereafter. They have three outstanding, experienced guards in Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark, and while they lack the same depth inside, they were getting a lot out of Julian Vaughn, Nate Lubick and Hollis Thompson prior to Wright’s injury. But when you remove a cog like Wright, the whole team falls off. Such is the nature of a team that relies on the balanced Princeton Offense employed by John Thompson III.
How quickly Wright and the Hoyas recover will determine whether they end up showing they were dramatically underseeded or whether they will ultimately exit the NCAA Tournament quietly.
Record: 21-10, 10-9 in the Big East (21-6, 10-4 before Wright’s injury)
Player to watch: Wright is the obvious answer here. If he’s healthy, Georgetown is one of the best teams in the country. If he’s not healthy, they are barely NCAA Tournament material.
by David Coleman
The Texas A&M basketball team has certainly played well enough to dance this March in the NCAA Tournament. They are just good enough to stay ahead of the middle of the Big 12, but not good enough to consistently beat the best of the Top 25. Head coach Mark Turgeon is in his fourth season at A&M and is hoping to lead the Aggies to a sixth straight NCAA appearance. Whether his team can make it back to the Sweet Sixteen is an open question. Right now, most of the projections show the Aggies as a sixth seed, but with a costly loss to Baylor on Feb. 26 and a grueling Big 12 Tournament upcoming, A&M could easily drop to as low as an eighth seed.
Record: 23-7, 10-6 in Big 12 as of
RPI: 30 (as of March 9th.)
Key wins: Dec. 11, 2010: 63-62 victory over No. 21 Washington - Toughest test of early season. Kept five game winning streak alive despite fending off furious comeback by Cougars.
Jan. 15, 2011: 91-89 overtime victory over No. 12 Missouri - Showdown of two Top 15 teams. A&M prevailed to stay perfect in Big 12 play and at home.
Key losses: Jan. 29, 2011 - 57-48 loss at Nebraska - Aggies may have been looking ahead to two key home games against Texas and Baylor. As it is, they dropped a game to a tough defensive team in the Huskers.
Jan. 31, 2011: 69-49 loss to No. 3 Texas - Second of two blowout losses to Longhorns. This one came on A&M's home court. The Aggies were down by 10 early in the first half and were never even close to competing.
Feb. 26, 2011: 58-51 loss at Baylor - The Aggies closed at halftime, but couldn't stop Baylor's interior presence. Second of two big losses to the Bears, who may be headed to the NIT.
Player to watch: Small forward Kris Middleton - The sophomore from South Carolina has been the leading scorer in 13 of A&M's 29 games this season. He's leading the Aggies in scoring (14.4 ppg), minutes played and free throw percentage (.818). He's also second on the team in rebounds per game with 5.2 and steals with 34 and is third on the team with 84 assists. Middleton has worn down a little in the tail end of the Big 12 season as teams focus more effort on stopping him, but his combination of outside shooting, ball skills and rebounding make him a big threat offensively and defensively.
by Mountain West Connection
The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels will hit March Madness just as their name indicates: running. UNLV has very talented guards and three big men that can all run the floor fairly well, so when this team gets in transition, they are hard to stop. UNLV has three tall, talented big men that all share time. Due to our excessive amount of guards that could start and play well on any given team, you will only see one of them at a time. Quintrell Thomas is the starter and has recently increased his impact, getting 3 double-doubles in the past 5 games. Carlos Lopez and Brice Massamba both play a similar style to Thomas’s, but they don’t have as big of an impact. Our guard play is outstanding, with every guard that is in the game at the time being able to handle the ball and run the offense from the point position – don’t expect to see the same guy bring the ball up the court every time. What sets the Rebels apart from other teams is their pressure man-to-man defense. Lon Kruger, who has taken Florida to the Final Four in his career, has coached each guard into playing almost seamless one on one defense and teams have real trouble with penetration against this team. Their full court press also creates 5-8 turnovers a game of which become easy buckets on the other end. The only real weakness for this team is playing against the zone. The offense is almost entirely predicated upon penetration and a zone is designed to eliminate that. Unless the shooters are hot from the outside, UNLV struggles mightily against a 2-3 or 3-2 zone.
Record: 23-7 (11-5) as of March 10th.
Key wins: Nov. 20 over Wisconsin, 68-65; The Badgers have a Top 20 RPI. Dec. 21 at Kansas State, 63-59; A win in the “Octagon of Doom” looks very good on the Rebels resume. Jan. 22, over New Mexico, 63-62; UNLV had lost to the Top 3 MWC teams already in the first half of the conference season and a win here kept the Rebels on track to make the Tournament.
- 12/11/10 – Louisville, KY – Louisville 77, UNLV 69: UNLV was undefeated up to this point and looked to have a grip on the game in the second half when they took a 45-36 lead. The Rebels lost, but a win here would have put the Rebels into the Top 15 into the polls.
- 12/15/10 – Las Vegas, NV – UC-Santa Barba 68, UNLV 62: A bad letdown loss following a tough loss in Louisville really put a damper on the season which had been great up until that point.
Players to Watch: Tre’Von Willis was a second team all-MWC choice and had been the Rebels best player over the past two years. Willis is a lockdown defender who averages two steals per game, but he also leads the Rebels in scoring at 13 points per game. Anthony Marshall is only a sophomore point guard, but he can dunk, get to the rim and finish and shoot the three. Marshall is an inconsistent scorer, but if his shot is falling then Marshall is an extra weapon that can make UNLV very dangerous come this March.
For more coverage of the Runnin’ Rebels, please visit our Mountain West blog, Mountain West Connection.
by Joe Kutsunis
The Fighting Illini seemed like a lock for the NCAA tournament
right out of the gate this season, starting out ranked in the top 20
and bringing back a roster loaded with seniors. An overtime loss to
Texas in Madison Square Garden, a blow out over Gonzaga in Seattle and
a solid win against North Carolina at home vaulted the Illini into the
top 15 and made them a real contender for the Big Ten Title and a very
favorable seeding in the tournament. Things started to unravel for the
Illini toward the end of the non conference schedule and they suffered
losses to low RPI teams Illinois-Chicago, Indiana, and Northwestern.
After starting 13-3, the Illini won just six of their last sixteen
games. Bruce Weber’s team suffered a similar swoon down the stretch
last season, and the Illini ended up playing in the NIT after being
left out on Selection Sunday.
This year, the Illini, led my senior point guard Demetri
McCamey and forward Mike Davis, seem to have done enough to
prevent being left out again this year. Relying on a strong schedule
and RPI, along with now very valuable home wins against the Badgers
and the Tar Heels.
Record: 19-13, 9-10
Key Wins: North Carolina, November 30, Champaign, Illinois, 79-67. The Illini shot the nets off of the basket against the Tar Heels in
the Big Ten ACC Challenge. Shooting 8-12 from three and getting double
figures from five different players. Mike Davis had 20 points and 10
rebounds against a UNC front line that was dogged by foul trouble all
night. At the time this win was a good one for Illinois, but no where
near as important as it is now, as North Carolina has righted the ship
and soared to an ACC championship, while Illinois ended at just 9-9 in
Wisconsin, January 2, Champaign, Illinois, 69-61.The Illini once again rode a very high percentage shooting night to
a fairly easy win over the Badgers at home. Early in the year, Demetri
McCamey looked much more the best point guard in the conference as he
tallied 21 points and 7 against Jordan
Taylor. When the Illini are shooting and defending this well, they
are tough to beat.
Key Losses: UIC Flames, December 18, Chicago, Illinois, 57-54. As good as the Illini can look when they are shooting the ball
well, they look awful when the shots aren’t falling. Case in point,
the Illini shot just 32.7 from the field against the Flames, and
allowed way too many open looks to the Flames from three. The loss is
by far the worst of the season for the Illini. From that point on the
Flames lost nine in a row, and the win over Illinois would be only one
of seven they would have all year.
Hoosiers, January 27, Bloomington, Indiana, 52-49. A carbon copy it seems for the Illini in this loss. Another game
shooting below 33 percent from the field and another in which the Illini settled for too
many jumpers. Indiana, like UIC, points to Illinois as their marquee
win for 2010-11, and would only get three total conference wins this
season. Given the blow out the Illini gave to the Hoosiers on March
5, this game is even more perplexing.
Key players: Demetri McCamey is the team’s leading scorer with 15 points per
game and six assists per game, the team’s success is almost entirely
predicated on him playing well.
Mike Davis, the senior power forward is averaging seven rebounds per
game and 12 points per game. Throughout the season, Davis has been the
most reliable producer and a constant threat with his mid range
by Doug Kaid
Intro: Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State Seminoles are coming off their second-straight third-place finish in Atlantic Coast Conference action and are making their third-straight appearance in the Big Dance. While one couldn’t describe FSU as a national power or even an ACC force, the program has improved steadily under Hamilton’s watch and could be primed for a NCAA Tournament run, health permitting, as the ‘Noles are not without injury concerns.
Record: 21-10 (11-5)
Key wins: Jan. 12, at FSU; FSU 66, Duke 61. Perhaps no one should be surprised when the ‘Noles beat Duke anymore, since it has happened so often of late. But any time a No. 1 team in the country is knocked off, it’s noteworthy. Now that’s a quality win.
Key losses: March 2, at FSU; North Carolina 72, FSU 70. The ‘Noles might still be smarting over the one. With their best player (Chris Singleton) on the sidelines, the ‘Noles nearly stunned the No. 13 Tar Heels, only to have their hopes dashed when freshman Harrison Barnes connected on a three-pointer with three seconds left in the game. Ouch. Considering, the proximity of that game to postseason and Singleton’s absence, it may have been an even bigger win than the one over Duke.
Player(s) to watch: The Seminoles don’t really have any one player that jumps at you on paper or on the court, but Singleton is the team’s lead scorer (13.8 points per game) and best defender (reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year). The junior missed the last 5 games of the regular season with foot surgery, but is expected to return for the postseason. The ‘Noles went 3-2 with him on the shelf, but his absence forced other players, particularly senior guard Derwin Kitchen, to step up, and that can only help FSU if Singleton comes back in full health.
by Joey Wheland
Intro: After a 15-year drought between NCAA Tournament appearances, Morehead has won two of the last Ohio Valley Conference championships and the subsequent automatic bids that accompany them. They now enter the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the country, as the Eagles have won 12 of their last 13 games, with the lone loss in that six-week stretch coming on the road while visiting the regular season conference champ Murray State — a team that won an NCAA Tournament game a year ago.
Record: 24-9 (15-5)
Key Wins: 76-59 vs Kent State, December 28th: Certainly a win over conference leader Murray State early in the schedule was a good way to start the OVC season, but all conference wins pale in comparison to an impressive win over the Golden Flashes. A 23-win team that came within one play of making the NCAA Tournament themselves, Kent State represents the Eagles’ best win of the season as they finished with an RPI of 70, far superior to any team in the Ohio Valley.
Key Losses: 47-40 @ Eastern Illinois, January 15: This one really just goes in the books as a head scratcher. This game represented 25 percent of the Panthers’ conference win total, as they finished just 4-14 in the OVC and 9-20 overall. All teams are prone to a lapse from time to time, but this definitely represents the most bizarre on the docket in 2011 for Morehead.
Key Player: Kenneth Faried, Senior, Forward. At this point in the season even the most casual fan has probably heard of the Eagles rebounding machine, as the senior has received a tremendous amount of attention this year. Faried will be selected in this summer’s NBA Draft; that isn’t even a question at this point as he has continuously wowed scouts with his outstanding athleticism and neverending motor.
Rebounding is the one skill that has time and again been proven to translate from college to the pro game, and Faried is one of the best glass cleaners in the last 10 to 15 years. He’s no slouch on the offensive end either, averaging a team-best 17.6 points on the season.
by Mike Prada
The Richmond Spiders enter the 2011 NCAA Tournament on a roll, just like last year’s team. The Spiders won eight of their last nine games entering the 2011 Atlantic 10 Tournament, with the only loss coming on the road to an excellent Temple squad. The question now is whether the Spiders can succeed once they get into the NCAA Tournament, which did not happen last season when they fell meekly to St. Mary’s.
The two big guns are familiar faces. Guard Kevin Anderson remains the workhorse, averaging 16 points and 3.4 assists per game, but forward Justin Harper has really stepped up his game. Harper is averaging 18 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this year, after averaging just 10.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. Last year’s Spiders team was much more of a defensive-oriented club, but this year’s team is much more balanced.
Coach Chris Mooney continues to build up this program, and will make his second straight NCAA Tournament appearance in his six-year career. The Spiders will once again be a tough out come tournament time.
Record: 24-7, 13-3 in the Atlantic 10
RPI: 59, as of 3/10/11
Player to watch: Anderson is the team’s heart and soul, but Harper is the real game-changer inside. He provides Richmond with more size than most mid-major teams posses.
For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Richmond Spiders, please visit SB Nation D.C.
by Rob Russell
The last time a Colonial Athletic Association team was a controversial at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament, George Mason put the Madness in March, advancing all the way to the Final Four. Coach Shaka Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth University Rams hope to follow the same script in their first trip to the Big Dance since they stunned Duke in 2009.
The Rams are an athletic, experienced squad, capable of creating turnovers in bunches. 6’9" senior Jamie Skeen led a balanced offense with 15.3 points per game, grabbing 7.5 rebounds per contest. Versatile 6’6" junior Bradford Burgess scored 14.0 ppg, pulled down 6.1 boards, and led the Rams in three-point accuracy, draining just over 40 percent of his longballs. 5’10 senior point guard Joey Rodriguez is VCU’s emotional leader, contributing 10.6 points and nearly 5 assists per game. Senior guard Brandon Rozzell also averages double figures, chipping in 11.3 per game.
Every Ram starter is capable of knocking down deep shots, with all 5 (including senior defensive stopper Ed Nixon) averaging better than 33 percent from behind the arc. VCU also boasts 5 players who average more than a steal per game, a testament to the aggressive defensive system Smart employs. The Rams tend to struggle on the glass, ranking near the bottom of Division 1 in rebounding percentage.
In 2006, George Mason went on the road to beat Wichita State, 70-67 in a high-profile Bracketbusters matchup. Three weeks ago, VCU went on the road to beat Wichita State, 68-67, in a high-profile Bracketbusters matchup. Rams’ fans don’t generally take kindly to George Mason comparisons, but they’ll take this one as far as they can.
RECORD: 23-11 (12-6 CAA – lost in conference tournament final)
89-85 over UCLA, Nov. 26, Madison Square Garden
The Rams bounced back from a tough loss to Tennessee to notch their best out-of-conference win of the season in a nationally televised contest against Ben Howland’s Bruins. Jamie Skeen led VCU with 23 points and 9 boards as the Rams’ frenetic defense turned UCLA over 21 times to overcome a 43-28 rebounding deficit.
59-50 over ODU, Jan. 22, Norfolk, VA
While it remains under the radar nationally, the bitter (http://www.caahoops.com/2011/
68-67 over Wichita State, Feb. 18, Wichita, KS
Bracketbusters came at a good time for Shaka Smart’s squad, as their win over the Shockers was sandwiched between two pairs of CAA losses – a four-game conference skid that seemingly dashed the Rams’ NCAA Tournament dreams. Mercurial point guard Joey Rodriguez was fouled with less than a second left to play, and calmly drained two free throws for the win. Rodriguez added 11 assists to his 15 points, which Burgess led the team with 17 points.
79-63 over George Mason, Mar. 6, Richmond, VA
VCU played as complete a game as any CAA team did all year in cooling off one of the nation’s hottest teams in the CAA Tournament semifinals. The Rams took a 14-point lead at the break and weathered a brief Patriot run at the beginning of the second half before pulling away. Skeen scored 21, Burgess grabbed 13 boards, and defensive stopper Ed Nixon contributed 5 assists to lead VCU into the tournament final.
77-72 to Tennessee, Nov. 25, Madison Square Garden
VCU shot 30.9 percent from the field, was outrebounded, 54-45, and still had Tennessee dead to rights in the semi-finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Brandon Rozzell scored 23, while Skeen recorded a double-double with 12 points and 14 boards.
72-60 to Richmond, Dec. 11, Robins Center, Richmond, VA
Cross-town rival Richmond handed VCU a bitter defeat, opening up a 23-point halftime lead and cruising to their first win in 6 years over the Rams.
68-65 to UAB, Dec. 18, Birmingham, AL
Fellow bubbler UAB overcame a 19-point second-half deficit to stun the visiting Rams, and give plenty of fodder to those that doubt VCU’s at-large cred. Billy Packer required sedation after the Rams appeared in the bracket.
76-66 to Georgia State, Jan. 3, Atlanta, GA
VCU’s first conference game of the year also represented their only really bad loss. Georgia State finished the season 221 in the RPI, but managed to beat VCU for the first time in 13 tries.
PLAYER TO WATCH:
After three consecutive sub-par offensive games in mid-February, Skeen closed the season on a roll, averaging 20.0 ppg over the Rams’ final 5 contests. He got his points all over the court, hitting 4 of 6 threes in the CAA semifinal against George Mason one day after he dominated Drexel in the low post, making 6 of 9 two-point field goals and 11 of 13 free throws on his way to 24 points. His versatile game creates matchup problems for most bigs.
VCU fans have a habit of covering their eyes from time to time when watching Joey Rodriguez. The senior floor general is capable of getting hot and carrying the team. He’s equally likely to follow a dumb shot with a silly foul. His ability to remain poised, manage VCU’s attack, and hit a few key shots is a significant key to the Rams’ success.
For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the VCU Rams, please visit SB Nation D.C.
Intro: The USC Trojans’ calling card as they enter March Madness is their defense. They led the Pac-10 conference allowing 62.4 points per game, and senior guard Marcus Simmons was named Pac-10 Defensive Player Of The Year. Head coach Kevin O’Neill employs a six-man rotation, with three seniors, two juniors, and a freshman.
Record: 18-13 (10-8 in Pac-10 play)
RPI: 69, per CBS Sports
Key wins: USC has three wins over ranked teams this season. The most impressive was a 73-56 blowout win over No. 19 Texas at Galen Center in Los Angeles on December 5. They also beat No. 19 Tennessee by a point on the road on December 21. USC beat regular season Pac-10 champ Arizona 65-57 in Los Angeles on February 24, and will have to do so again in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals if USC has any chance at making the NCAA Tournament.
Key losses: USC led by two points over No. 3 Kansas with 40 seconds remaining at Allen Fieldhouse on December 18, but ultimately succumbed to the Jayhawks, 70-68. A win there would have made for three wins against ranked teams in a four-game stretch in December.
Player(s) to watch: Junior forward Nikola Vucevic was a legitimate conference Player of the Year candidate, averaging 17.7 points and a conference-best 10.3 rebounds per contest. Vucevic had 20 double-doubles on the season, also best in the Pac-10. Senior forward Alex Stepheson is Vucevic’s partner in crime in the paint, averaging 9.9 points and 9.0 rebounds on the season himself.
After a fourth place finish in the MAAC during the regular season St. Peter’s caught fire in the conference tournament, upsetting two higher seeds to claim their first conference championship and NCAA Tournament trip since 1995 and just their third overall. Led by 5th year head coach John Dunne, the Peacock’s also reached the 20-win plateau for the first time in 16 seasons. Success this season was bred from a stingy defense that ranked 20th nationally in adjusted efficiency and was also top 20 in opponent effective field goal percentage as well as two-point and three-point field goal percentage against.
Record: 20-13 (11-7)
Key Wins: 80-60 vs Rider, January 20: Many would look to the Peacock’s win over Alabama in November as being the key win given the Crimson Tide’s top-100 RPI ranking, but St. Peter’s had no chance as an at-large, so this would have done them little good in the big picture. Ultimately defeating Rider midway through the conference season set the table for things to come as it was the Peacock’s only win over a top-three MAAC team during the regular season.
Key Losses: 77-64 @ Lehigh, December 29: As much respect as there is for the Patriot League, the MAAC was a far superior conference this season. So when St. Peter’s was downed convincingly by a middle of the road Lehigh team to drop the Peacocks to 7-6, it was an early low point to the season.
Key Player: Wesley Jenkins, Senior, Guard
Ironically, after averaging a career low 12.8 points per game this season and missing seven games, Jenkins earned a Second Team All-MAAC nod. The senior is a real threat from the perimeter shooting nearly 42 percent from beyond the arc. He has been a streaky scorer this season (three 20-point games, three games of 5 points or less) and it’s reflected in his strengths and weaknesses in terms of scoring efficiency in various play types. Jenkins is a poor scorer in transition for a guard, but is among the best pick and roll playmakers in the country using the metric of points per possession.
Intro: The Akron Zips locked down an automatic 2011 NCAA Tournament bid by winning the MAC over Kent State in overtime. They’ve made their name with good ball movement and decent defense for the most part, looking to make up for their weakness on the boards. The Zips have now made the NCAA Tournament three times, twice in the past two years of coach Keith Dambrot’s regime.
Record: 23-11, 12-4 MAC
RPI: .534 (108)
Key wins: Though their best out-of-conference win came on Dec. 1 against RPI top-150 Detroit, beating Bethune-Cookman, a top-200 RPI team, set the Zips up to fall just eight points short of Miami in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic. Akron’s crowning achievements, however, were a pair of wins against RPI No. 78 Kent State.
Key losses: An 83-74 loss to RPI No. 317 NIU hasn’t impressed anybody, but an eight-point Dec. 15 road loss against Minnesota, then ranked No. 20 in the country, was a nice preview of Akron’s eventual postseason success.
Player(s) to watch: Nikola Cvetinovic leads the Zips in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 11.9 and 7 per game plus a couple of assists. The six-foot-eight junior forward from Serbia didn’t have a dominant MAC tournament as far as scoring goes, but senior forward Brett McKnight has taken over some front court offensive production, posting double figures in eight of his last nine.
For more on MAC sports, visit Hustle Belt.
Intro: Boston University qualified for the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, when the Terriers rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to win the America East championship — their first since 2002 — and the auto-bid that comes with it. It was a season of fulfilled destiny for BU, which was tabbed as the conference’s favorite back in October. But it wasn’t an easy road. When conference play began, Boston U. was just 5-9, and when February began, the Terriers were 10-13 overall (5-4 in the league) following a loss to New Hampshire on Jan. 29. But that served as a turning point, because BU has not lost since, making it 11 straight wins with Saturday’s title win over Stony Brook. Pat Chambers, coaching in his second season at BU, focused on defense to lead his young team — there’s just one senior on the roster — to the America East crown: the Terriers were allowing 56 points per game during their win streak.
Record: 21-13, 12-4 America East
RPI: 132 (0.5179)
Key wins: Vermont, 66-64 (OT) (Feb. 27, Burlington, VT): This win completed the season sweep of Vermont (Boston U also won at home on Jan. 9, 75-65), giving the Terriers two wins against the America East conference’s regular season champs (23-8, 13-3).
Key losses: No. 6 Villanova, 82-66 (Nov. 17, Villanova, PA): Boston U. had four players score in double figures and matched Nova in the second half with 42 points, but the sixth-ranked Wildcats were just too powerful in Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off. New Hampshire, 60-48 (Jan. 29, Durham, NH): The good news for BU is that this was its last loss of the season, but the bad news is that they lost to New Hampshire, a team with an RPI of 276. Bucknell, 52-49 (Dec. 4, Lewisburg, PA): The Terriers managed just 49 points and shot 0-for-10 from three but stayed close with the Bison, a team that went on to win the 2011 Patriot League title.
Players to watch: Senior John Holland (19 ppg, 5.7 rpg) was named the America East Player of the Year, and showed why in the conference championship, leading all scorers with 27 points (23 in the second half), including a pair of free throws that gave Boston U. its first lead of the game with 2.4 seconds left. Junior guard Darryl Partin (14.6 ppg), a member of the 2011 America East First Team, is the Terriers’ second-leading scorer and hits 37 percent of his threes.
For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Boston University Terriers, please visit SB Nation Boston.
Kansas basketball took the No. 1 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket's Southwest Regional, which will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on March 24 and 26. That's a 685-mile drive from campus to March Madness, for you Kansas Jayhawks fans. They'll draw Boston University in their NCAA basketball tournament opener.
The region's biggest surprise is UNLV taking the No. 8 seed. Other big-name Southwesters include Notre Dame (No. 2), Purdue (No. 3), Louisville (No. 4), and Vanderbilt (No. 5).
Kansas won the Big 12 Tournament, held the AP No. 1 ranking for a spell, and only dropped two games all year.
Here's the regional's complete seeding:
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Boston University Terriers in Tulsa on Friday
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers vs. No. 14 Saint Peter's in Chicago on Friday
No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies vs. No. 10 Florida St. Seminoles in Chicago on Friday
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