NCAA Bracket 2011 Preview: Duke Seeded First In West Region

The Blue Devils landed in a difficult bracket that features San Diego State, Big East Champion Connecticut and Texas.

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NCAA Bracket 2011 Preview: West Region Primer

Defending national champion Duke is the final top seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket. That means the Blue Devils get shipped to the West Coast, as the West Regional will be held in Anaheim next Thursday and Saturday. At first glance, Duke's draw looks fairly easy, as Mountain West Tournament champion San Diego State is the two seed, a team with suspect guard play, and Big East tourney champ Connecticut, fresh off playing five games in five days, is the No. 3. However, the Blue Devils could have plenty of problems against No. 4 seed Texas, a team I feel is a bit underseeded, but that's only if the Longhorns don't play as inconsistently as they have over the past month.

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One of the most curious things about this region is the potential of a first weekend matchup between two Big East teams. The No. 6 seed in UConn's Washington, D.C. pod is Big East rival Cincinnati, a team they defeated by 8 on the road back on February 27th. Of course, both teams would have to get out of the Second Round for that to happen, and the Bearcats will get a stiff test, as they have to take on a capable Missouri team, who probably deserved a bit better in the seeding department, like their conference rivals from Austin.

The No. 8 vs. No. 9 game is another to watch, as Tennessee, one of the most inconsistent teams in the country, takes on Michigan, a team that's come together late in the season after a rough early season.

Most Intriguing Second Round Game: No. 12 Memphis vs. No. 5 Arizona in Tulsa on Friday: Josh Pastner, a member of the Wildcats 1997 National Championship team and assistant under Lute Olson, faces his alma mater in a matchup of two teams that, much like Tennessee, baffle their respective fan bases. This one may come down to which young point guard, the Tigers' Joe Jackson or the Wildcats' Lamont Jones, makes the fewest mistakes.

Upset Special: No. 13 Oakland over No. 4 Texas in Tulsa on Friday: With Keith Benson and Will Hudson inside and point guard Reggie Hamilton running the show, the Golden Grizzlies have the size and playmaking abilities to give the Longhorns fits.

Chris Dobbertean's Regional Pick: Once again, Duke has a favorable path to yet another Final Four.

Need a printable NCAA bracket to fill out for the tournament? Download SB Nation's March Madness Bracket.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Duke Blue Devils Tournament Primer

The Duke Blue Devils are the No. 1 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face the 16th-seeded Hampton Pirates in the first round in Charlotte, N.C. But the defending national champions head into the 2011 NCAA Tournament with a few more questions than usual, despite an ACC title game victory on Sunday over North Carolina.

Foremost on Coach K's oversized brain: "How to get Kyle Singler untracked and where to find interior scoring?" Singler is fine when the Devils have the luxury to move him to four to punish the opponents slow footed power forwards. When the hybrid wing is tasked with playing the three due to size matchups evidenced by the UNC game, Singler struggles if he's checked by a similarly sized athletic wing (See Harrison Barnes).

From a back to the basket standpoint, the Blue Devils lack that true threat to run offense through, allowing Coach K the luxury of playing inside-out.  Duke is fine running up and down the floor for easy buckets and secondary threes, but put them in a half court to half court grinder versus a team with an athletic front court and solid guard play and they’ll likely struggle.

Key wins: Michigan State (pre-collapse), Temple, UNC.

Key losses: St. John’s, Virginia Tech, UNC.

Players to watch: POY Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Mason Plumlee (X-factor)

For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Duke Blue Devils, head over to Duke Basketball Report.

Duke Profile by Kevin Berger.

Click here to download a printable 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete San Diego State Tournament Primer

The San Diego State Aztecs are the No. 2 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face the 15th-seeded Northern Colorado Bears.

San Diego State will be one of the new bullies of March Madness this year; the Aztecs enter the NCAA Tournament with just three losses, and all of them have come against their Mountain West archrivals BYU. That's a credit to Steve Fisher's bunch, which has played hard all year and made the most of a crop of major talent at its mid-major station, and is good enough to make the Final Four if the NCAA Tournament bracket breaks its way. For this crew, the Sweet Sixteen is probably the least it can do.

Record: 29-2, 14-2 in the Mountain West

RPI: 3

Key wins: The Aztecs' 79-76 win at Gonzaga on Nov. 16 was the signal that they might be good; wins over UNLV — 55-49 at home on on Jan. 12 and 63-57 in Las Vegas on Feb. 12 — proved San Diego State could take care of the second-biggest obstacle in the Mountain West.

Key losses: San Diego State has lost twice to BYU: the 71-58 loss in Provo dashed dreams of an undefeated season, while the 80-67 defeat in San Diego gave BYU the inside track to the Mountain West regular season championship both teams ended up sharing. It's worth noting both of these losses came before BYU forward Brandon Davies' suspension.

Player to watch: Kawhi Leonard makes San Diego State go, and his talent has lifted the Aztecs all season and made him a lottery prospect in the 2011 NBA Draft. He's got good size for a small forward (6-foot-7, 225 pounds) but can rebound with the best (10th nationally in Defensive Rebound Percentage) and handle the ball exceptionally well with his large hands. He's not the best shooter, but neither is the rest of his team: San Diego State shoots under 33 percent from three-point territory, one of the lowest numbers of any NCAA Tournament team.

San Diego State profile by Andy Hutchins of SBNation.com. Click here for a downloadable printable 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket.

For more on San Diego State, please visit our Mountain West Conference blog, Mountain West Connection.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Connecticut Huskies Tournament Primer

The Connecticut Huskies are the No. 3 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face 14th-seeded Bucknell in the first round. The Huskies made a surprise run through the Big East Tournament and beat Louisville in the championship game on Saturday, 69-66.

A five game gauntlet through the Big East tournament in the Garden isn't usually the best proving ground for a young team like Connecticut Huskies. Historically it's a near mathematical certainty some Big East beast is going to hang an L on you before you even get to the semifinals but when you're lead by the Michael Jordan of college hoops finishers, anything's possible. 

It's important to note the manner in which UConn made its unprecedented title run including its exorcism of the zone defense demon that has haunted it during the regular season. Going into the tournament teams like Seton Hall, St. John's, and Syracuse have absolutely confounded the young Huskies with credible 2-3 zones. It makes sense considering the young Huskies have zero back-to-the-basket threats and a tendency to stand around and watch Kemba Walker do work. The scouting reports were clear on how to stop this squad.

However, in UConn's five game tourney run, they vanquished three credible zone teams in Georgetown, Syracuse and Louisville. Scouting reports are apparently made to be burnt if you're Jim Calhoun and your young pups are all grown up. Whether attacking 2-3, matchup, or box-and-one zones, this team seems to have matured in diagnosing and attacking whatever scheme confronts them.

Key wins:  Pitt, Texas, Louisville, Syracuse

Key losses: Two close losses to Notre Dame and a Loss to Marquette tells me they may struggle against teams that spread the floor, especially with the front court.

Player to watch: Kemba Walker could be the best player in the country, but he's at his very best when Napier can get him off the ball to go to work running his defender through a labyrinth of screens.

For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Connecticut Huskies, please visit The UCONN Blog.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Texas Longhorns Tournament Primer

The Texas Longhorns are the No. 4 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face 13th-seeded Oakland in the first round. It's coach Rick Barnes' 13th NCAA Tournament team in his 13 years as Texas coach, after heading west from Clemson in 1998.

During Barnes' tenure the Longhorns have reached one Final Four (2003) and two Elite Eights (2006, 2008). While he has produced consistent results, some question his in-game coaching and cite his failure to win a post season Big 12 tournament, as well as eight NCAA Tournament losses to lower seeds. Barnes appears to have his best shot at removing that stigma since the days of T.J. Ford.  

Texas entered the 2010-11 season as a team in transition, after losing their top three scorers – Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Avery Bradley – to the NBA, Justin Mason to graduation, and underclassmen Varez Ward and Shawn Williams to premature exits after injury problems. Highly regarded recruits Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph arrived to take some of the load, while seniors Gary Johnson and Dogus Balbay have assumed team leadership roles. 

While the Longhorns are still one of the higher scoring teams in the country at 75.0 points per game, they have evolved into more of a defensive team. Despite an improved collection of ball handlers they’ve slowed their pace a bit and have cut opponents’ shooting percentage and points per game considerably. The six key performers who average more than 15 minutes per game are all listed between 6-1 and 6-8, so this Texas team relies on athleticism over size and often utilizes a 2-3 zone against larger teams.

After starting the season 23-3 and spending much of the winter in the top-five of NCAA rankings, Texas limped to the regular season finish line, losing three of their last five. The Longhorns lost to Kansas in the Big 12 title game, 85-73.

Record: 29-8, 13-3 in the Big 12

RPI: 11

Key wins: Texas gained one of their marquee wins under Barnes on Jan. 22, as they topped Kansas 74-63 in Lawrence, ending the Jayhawks’ 69-game win streak at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas jumped out to an early 18-3 lead, but Texas outscored them by 23 in the second half to cruise to victory. ... At the time, the Texas-North Carolina matchup on December 18 in Greensboro, NC seemed to pit two programs at their low points. The Longhorns were ranked 23rd by AP, while the Tar Heels were unranked. In retrospect it would be a matchup of to-be top ten teams and a key road win for Texas. A late 10-2 Horns run put Cory Joseph into position to win the game on a 15-foot jumper with 1.4 seconds remaining. The win eased the disappointment of narrow losses to Big East powers Pittsburgh (68-66) and Connecticut (82-81).

Key losses: Texas appeared primed for a top seed on Valentines Day, but a four-game stretch against Big 12 North teams undid those hopes. Texas visited Nebraska in Lincoln on Febuary 19 ranked third in the country, but missed a shot to tie at the buzzer, falling 70-67. Texas shot 36 percent and was just 12-36 from inside the arc.

They rebounded with a resounding 76-53 home win over Iowa St. and still ranked fifth in the AP poll, but a 91-89 loss on February 26 in Boulder ended their hopes of a top seed. Colorado shot 53 percent and were led by a 33-point, 10-rebound game by Alec Burks. ... The Longhorns ended February with a home loss to surging Kansas St., falling 75-70. They were badly outshot once again (50 percent-34 percent), particularly on the perimeter, with their backcourt shooting a combined 12-46.

Players to watch: Texas is led by sophomore Jordan Hamilton. Often compared to Paul Pierce as a high school player, Hamilton began to fulfill his potential in his second season. The 6-7 forward won three Big 12 player-of-the-week awards, averaging 18.6 and pulling down 7.7 boards per game, while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc. He is a streak shooter, particularly from three-point territory, and has a knack for taking over games when he gets hot. Texas’ second most significant player is freshman Tristan Thompson (13.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG), but possibly the biggest key to the Longhorns’ tourney run will be sophomore guard J’Covan Brown. He averages 9.5 PPG in just 21 minutes and can key their defense with his aggressive play on the perimeter. More often than not, as J’Covan goes, so go the Longhorns.

Texas profile by Brett Perryman of SB Nation Dallas. Click here for a printable 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket.

For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Texas Longhorns, please visit Burnt Orange Nation and SB Nation Dallas-Ft. Worth.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Arizona Wildcats Tournament Primer

The Arizona Wildcats are the No. 5 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face 12th-seeded Memphis in the first round. The Wildcats lost to Washington in the Pac-10 Tournament championship on Saturday night.

The Wildcats need no introduction to NCAA basketball fans; their success in recent history speaks for itself. After longtime coach Lute Olson took a leave of absence in 2007 and subsequently retired in 2008, the program appeared to be heading downhill. The low point was in 2009-10, when Arizona failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years.

The Wildcats, in search of a new coach to restore Tucson to its former glory, hired then-Xavier head coach Sean Miller to take the reins of the program after the 2008-09 season. After a rough year of transition, Miller has largely delivered on the promise in his second campaign and was reward with Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. 

The Wildcats were the class of the Pac-10 this season, going 14-4 in conference play and going undefeated at home in the regular season. They faltered towards the end of the year, dropping both road games in Los Angeles in late February, but regained their footing and took home their 12th regular season conference title.

There are a lot of unresolved questions when it comes to this season's Arizona squad: can they hang with the best teams in the country? Arizona has not defeated a ranked team this entire season, going 0-3 against schools ranked in the top 25 (Kansas, BYU, and Washington). The only way to know for sure is to play the games.

Another thing to worry about is the play of Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams, who has faltered down the stretch after having a career season. This oft-predicted lottery pick still has unfinished business on campus, and needs to refocus for the postseason.

Record: 27-7, 14-4 Pac-10

RPI: 19

Key wins: On Feb. 5, the Arizona Wildcats defeated the California Golden Bears in triple overtime, 107-105. It was easily their highest scoring output of the season, and showed that Arizona would not back down from a fight in a hostile setting. ... On Feb. 19, the Wildcats scored their biggest win of the season, putting away the Washington Huskies 87-86 at home in Tucson. Derrick Williams came up with a huge block during the last few seconds of regulation to ensure the victory.

Key losses: On Nov. 27 in Las Vegas, Arizona lost 87-79 to the Kansas Jayhawks. The Wildcats kept it close the entire game but were unable to come away with the win. Derrick Williams scored 27 points in a losing effort. ... On Dec. 11 in Salt Lake City, the BYU Cougars dismantled the Wildcats 87-65. BYU took a 44-25 lead at the half and cruised to victory on the back of Jimmer Fredette's 33 points.

Players to watch: Derrick Williams, six-foot-eight sophomore forward, is averaging 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds a game this season. Williams has led the Wildcats back from the brink of mediocrity and right into the spotlight. The star forward has only scored less than ten points once this entire season (in a loss to USC on Feb. 24 when he scored eight points) and has played well against tough competition (27 points against Kansas, 22 and 26 point games against Washington). Alongside Williams plays Lamont "MoMo" Jones, Arizona's point guard. Jones averages around 10 points a game and has played fairly well for Sean Miller. It's not fair to say that the Wildcats are a one-man team, but if Williams doesn't play well, Arizona doesn't have much of a shot against quality opponents.

Arizona profile by Corey Williams of SB Nation Arizona

For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Arizona Wildcats, please visit AZ Desert Swarm and SB Nation Arizona.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Cincinnati Bearcats Tournament Primer

The Cincinnati Bearcats are the No. 6 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face 11th-seeded Missouri in the first round. Cincinnati hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since joining the Big East after their 2005 appearance. But Mick Cronin has revitalized the program that Bob Huggins built, and the Bearcats look like a dark horse Sweet Sixteen candidate this year. It would be Cincinnati's first appearance in the round of 16 since 2001 — otherwise known as the year Cincinnati looked like a national title contender before Kenyon Martin broke his leg.

Record: 25-8, 11-7 in the Big East

RPI: 36

Key wins: Cincinnati's season has been predicated on taking care of the teams it should at home and battling on the road. The Bearcats' best home win is one 63-54 win over Louisville on Feb. 16, and their best road effort is a 53-51 win over St. John's at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 22. Also, though Cincy went undefeated in its non-conference schedule, the only two teams worth mentioning on a slate with more cupcakes than the cute parts of New York City were Dayton and Xavier. Both were summarily dispatched by 20-plus points.

Key losses: Weirdly, though, the Bearcats couldn't handle St. John's at home, losing 59-57 to the Red Storm on Feb. 13.

Players to watch: The names to know are Cashmere Wright (CASHMERE WRIGHT!), Sean Kilpatrick, and Dion Dixon. All three shoot better than 35 percent from three-point range and key a Cincinnati defense that is 10th nationally in efficiency.

Cincinnati profile by Andy Hutchins of SBNation.com.

For more on the Cincinnati Bearcats, please visit Down the Drive, our Bearcats blog.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Temple Owls Tournament Primer

The Temple Owls are the No. 7 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face No. 10 Penn State in the first round. It's familiar territory for the Owls, who have reached have reached the Big Dance for the fourth straight year and 29th time in school history.

Getting on to the NCAA Tournament bracket hasn't been a problem for Temple but winning sure has as they have been bounced out of the first round the past three seasons (2008: Michigan State, 2009: Arizona State, 2010: Cornell) and have not won a tournament game since 2001 when they made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to, you guessed it, Michigan State.

Coach Fran Dunphy, thought of by many as one of the country's most underrated coaches, is 1-12 in NCAA Tournament games. Dunphy's first tournament appearance came with the University of Pennsylvania way back in 1993 and resulted in a four point loss to the University of Massachusetts. The Quakers won their first round game in 1994, beating Nebraska by 10 points. Since then, Dunphy led teams have gone 0-11 in tournament play.

Doom and gloom aside, this may just be the squad the breaks the 'One and Done-phy' curse as the Owls have a dynamic group of guards and one of the more talented -- and unheralded -- senior big men in America. Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall all have the ability to light it up from any spot on the floor.

Moore is a prototypical Temple guard who can fill it up from beyond-the-arc or slash his way to the basket for an easy layup. Fernandez, who just missed making Argentina's senior national team this past summer, has had a bit of a down year shooting the three-ball (32 percent this year compared to 45.3 percent last year) but is averaging career highs in assists (3.9) and rebounds (2.8) to go along with his 10.5 points per game.

Wyatt, the newly crowned Atlantic 10 Sixth Man of the Year, has been Dunphy's offensive catalyst off the bench this season, averaging just under 10 points a game on 46 percent shooting from the field. Randall, the A10's Most Improved Player, was another revelation for the Owls as he went from being a deep reserve his first two years on campus to the team's vocal leader and best perimeter defender. He is coming off of a hairline fracture of a bone in his right foot but has insisted he is ready to play and help his team in whatever way possible.

Lavoy Allen, who went from being one of the better seniors in the country to highly underwhelming and back over the course of the season, is the guy who makes a good Temple team great. Dunphy has often commented on the fact that Allen's impact on the team goes far beyond the box score as he has the ability to cover up for his teammates mistakes with his excellent help defense.

The first team All-Atlantic 10 and All-Defense pick will have to stay out of foul trouble for the Owls to have any chance to make a serious run as they have no depth at the forward position thanks to the season-ending knee injury junior Micheal Eric suffered during a practice in February. Sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson has done an admirable job filling in for Eric but, at just 6-6, his lack of size can be exploited on defense.

Aaron Brown and T.J. DiLeo round out the rotation for the Owls. Brown, a freshman out of St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey, filled in admirably for Randall when he suffered his injury. The 6-5 guard is known more for his defense at this stage of the game but he does have the ability to hit the open shot if he finds himself with some room. DiLeo, a third-year sophomore and son of Philadelphia 76er's Senior Vice President Tony DiLeo, is a guard who often spells Fernandez. He was a big-time scorer in high school but has yet to find consistency in his shot. Nevertheless, he plays meaningful minutes as he runs the offense efficiently and makes this happen on the defensive side of the ball.

Record: 25-7, 14-2 in the Atlantic 10

RPI: 30

Key wins: Nov. 29 vs. Georgia (Old Spice Classic), 65-58: Scootie Randall and Ramone Moore combined for nearly half of Temple's points as they rebounded from a first round loss to Cal. The Owls were able to contain Trey Thompkins, a likely first-round draft pick in this year's NBA draft, to 13 points on 5 of 14 shooting. ... Dec. 9 vs. Georgetown, 68-65: Ramone Moore scored a career-high 30 points to lead the Owls to a nationally televised upset victory over the then No. 9 Hoyas. The win was the 400th in Dunphy's career

Key losses: Nov. 25 vs. Cal (Old Spice Classic), 57-50: The Owls were considered one of the favorites to win going in to the Old Spice Classic but they were given a dose of reality by the young Golden Bears. Cal went on a late 16-1 run that turned a seven point Temple lead into an eight point deficit.

Player to watch: At first glance, senior Lavoy Allen's statline won't wow you (11.8 ppg., 8.2 rpg., .488 fg percent) but he is Temple's most important player. He routinely covers up any mistakes his teammates may make on defense and is comfortable guarding down low and on the perimeter. Allen, Temple's all-time leading rebounder, ended the regular season on a five game double-double streak during which he averaged 17.6 points and 14 rebounds. Lately, he has shown that he can consistently knock down open jump shots, something that could not be said about him earlier in the season. While his NBA status may be up in the air, Allen has proven that he is one of the better college players in the nation.

Temple profile by John Lamb of SB Nation Philly. For more on the Owls, please visit SB Nation Philly.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Michigan Wolverines Primer

The Michigan Wolverines are the No. 8 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face Tennessee in the first round. Michigan made a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament, losing to eventual champion Ohio State in the semifinal on Saturday, 68-61.

Going into the 2010-11 season, Michigan had a team with zero seniors and very few players with any in-game experience. The Wolverines' ceiling appeared to be the NIT, especially after they started 1-6 in the Big Ten. The season was headed down the wrong path, and some people were even calling for head coach John Beilein's head.

That's when Michigan went to East Lansing and upset rival Michigan State. The surprising victory kicked off a stretch where the Wolverines won eight of their final 11 regular season games, and it got on them on the path to go back to the NCAA tournament.

The last time the Wolverines were in the Big Dance was two seasons ago. (They upset Clemson in the first round and were eliminated by Blake Griffin and Oklahoma in the second round.) Michigan returns to the NCAA tournament with a much different cast of players, including star freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. He was red hot during the final part of the regular season and, along with fellow freshman Jordan Morgan, will play a big role in how far this year's NCAA tournament run lasts.

Record: 20-13, 10-10

RPI: 50

Key wins: Nov. 10 at Clemson (69-61), Dec. 4 vs. Harvard (65-62), Dec. 18 vs. Oakland (69-51), Jan. 27 at Michigan State (61-57), and March 5 vs. Michigan State (70-63).

Key losses: Jan. 15 at Indiana (80-61) and Jan. 18 at Northwestern (74-60).

Players to watch: Guard Darius Morris, guard Tim Hardaway Jr., and forward Jordan Morgan.

For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Michigan Wolverines, please visit Maize n Brew and SB Nation Detroit.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Tennessee Volunteers Tournament Primer

The Tennessee Volunteers are the No. 9 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they will take on eighth-seeded Michigan in the first round.

The Tennessee Volunteers made some noise in the offseason, but for the wrong reasons. Last fall, a teary-eyed Bruce Pearl admitted to recruiting violations and lying to NCAA officials. In response, the SEC suspended Pearl for 8 SEC games and levied additional penalties. The future of Pearl remains uncertain, as the NCAA just recently issued its dreaded "Notice of Allegations" against Tennessee and Pearl. On a lighter note, Scotty Hopson's high-top fade should garner him some votes for hair of the year in college basketball.

On the court, it initially appeared that Tennessee was going to brush aside the off-the-court troubles. The Volunteers stormed out of the gate, beating Villanova to win the Preseason NIT and knocking off Pittsburgh at the CONSOL Energy Center to reach No. 7 in the polls. Then Tennessee inexplicably lost three in a row to "powerhouses" Oakland, Charlotte, and USC. The two steps forward, two steps back mentality would go on to define their season. They finished a perfectly average 8-8 in SEC play.

A lack of offensive coherence has been what ails the Volunteers this year. The Vols aren't very good at outside shooting or ball distribution, meaning lots of one-on-one action in limited space inside the arc. Hopson is the playmaker, and diaper dandy Tobias Harris provides a strong secondary scoring option. The remaining starters offer little on offense, and the bench even less. The problem starts with Melvin Goins, who is a feisty point guard but limited due to his size. Further, wing Cameron Tatum has scored in double figures just twice in the past ten games, and big man Brian Williams, hampered by a bad back, really limits his contributions to offensive putbacks.

Key wins: Villanova (neutral court), at Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt (twice)

Key losses: at Charlotte, College of Charleston, Florida (twice), Kentucky (twice)

Player(s) to watch:  Scotty Hopson (17.3 PPG), Tobias Harris (7.3 RPG), Melvin Goins (X-factor)

Tennessee profile by Kevin Berger and Jeff Chao.

For more on the Tennessee Volunteers, please visit our Tennessee blog, Rocky Top Talk.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Penn State Tournament Primer

The Penn State Nittany Lions are the No. 10 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, and they will face seventh-seeded Temple in an all-Pennsylvania first-round game. The Nittany Lions lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game on Sunday.

Penn State spent the last month on the bubble, but it's back on the NCAA Tournament bracket for the first time since 2001 largely because of one man: Talor Battle, a first-team all-Big 10 selection who averages a cool 20 points a game. Battle has scored in single digits just twice all year, and one of those games was in the 36-33 Big 10 Tournament quarterfinal win over Wisconsin that set back basketball 100 years. 

Indeed, this Penn State team really is all about Battle. Only one other player scores in double figures, and the offensive system the team runs is essentially "Give the ball to Battle." It's been effective enough, especially because Penn State plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation. The default team strategy is to kill the clock and let Battle do his thing. It's been enough to lead Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade, so coach Ed DeChellis won't complain. 

DeChellis arrived in State College eight years ago as an up-and-coming coach, but this is his first NCAA Tournament appearance with the Nittany Lions. DeChellis was on the hot seat prior to this season, but he has probably saved his job with his team's late run to the NCAA Tournament. The next step is for DeChellis to replicate Penn State's remarkable run to the Sweet 16 in 2001.

Record: 19-14, 9-9 in the Big Ten

RPI: 39

Key win: 36-33 over Wisconsin in a Big 10 Tournament quarterfinal. The game may have been really, really ugly, but it was a huge win for Penn State that solidified its at-large status. The Nittany Lions also beat Wisconsin 56-52 back on Jan. 29.

Key losses: 74-64 to Maine on Dec. 21. This is one of the worst losses you'll see any major-conference NCAA Tournament team have. Maine finished 15-15 and was the fourth-place team in the American East Conference, and still shot 53 percent from the field in a wire-to-wire win. 

Player to watch: Battle gets all the attention, but senior forward Jeff Brooks is the other big gun on the roster. Brooks is the team's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, and gives the Nittany Lions some semblance of an inside presence.

Penn State profile by Mike Prada of SBNation.com

For more on the Penn State Nittany Lions, please visit our Penn State blog, Black Shoe Diaries, and SB Nation Pittsburgh.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Missouri Tigers Tournament Primer

The No. 11 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament are the Missouri Tigers, who will face the sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round. Given their "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" style of play, the novelty of Mike Anderson's Missouri teams will always make for danger on your NCAA Tournament bracket. But stumbles down the stretch in the regular season leave Mizzou still trying to put all the pieces together before it starts dancing. Two years removed from an Elite Eight appearance, Missouri has shown all of the requisite pieces of a solid tournament team throughout the season, but failed to ever put it all together in one single performance, much less a stretch of games.

Jump shots, rebounds, free throws and perimeter defense have all come and gone without notice during the 2010-11 season. Mizzou remains relatively talented and immensely dangerous, but the Tigers are fighting their own demons as much as they are fighting their opponents these days.

Record: 22-10, 9-9 in the Big 12

RPI: 37

Key wins: Dec. 8 vs. Vanderbilt: Mizzou was two games removed from surrendering a last-minute lead in a loss to Georgetown and one game removed from nearly blowing a 22-point lead against Oregon. Despite a bevy of mistakes, Missouri came away with an overtime win against a solid Vandy team. ... Dec. 22 vs. Illinois (in St. Louis): The win was big not only because it was Mizzou's second straight Braggin' Rights win. Mizzou slogged through 30 minutes of playing a completely foreign brand of basketball before seizing control late. ... Jan. 17 vs. Kansas State: What was supposed to be a marquee Big 12 game was instead further proof of Kansas State's supposed implosion. Mizzou's ball control index (assists plus steals divided by turnovers) was 2.25 for the game, indicative of a prototypical Mizzou performance at home.

Key losses: Nov. 30 vs. Georgetown (in Kansas City): It was the most exciting non-conference game you probably don't remember. Mizzou fought back from a 23-point deficit, only to have Chris Wright drain a late three in regulation on a broken play to force overtime. ... March 1 at Nebraska: Egregious in the fanbase's eyes not because of the opponent or the environment, but because of the sheer listlessness on display. Rock M Nation's Bill Connelly said Mizzou looked "near-leaderless" in Lincoln.

Players to watch: If the stretch run remains the barometer, the only players you need to watch are Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers. As other Mizzou players watched their games disappear in late February in early March, Denmon cemented his place as a first-team All-Big 12 performer. Bowers, on the other hand, almost silently turned himself into Missouri's most efficient player in all facets of the game. His ascension to new levels just happened to coincide with the struggles of fellow forward Ricardo Ratliffe. Mizzou also features three talented but erratic guards in junior Kim English, sophomore Michael Dixon and freshman Phil Pressey, all of whom could either steal headlines or fade into the background without much surprise.

Missouri profile by Ross Taylor of Rock M Nation and SB Nation Kansas City.

For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Missouri Tigers, please visit Rock M Nation and SB Nation Kansas City

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Memphis Tigers Tournament Primer

The Memphis Tigers are the No. 12 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face fifth-seeded Arizona in the first round. The Tigers return to the NCAA Tournament bracket not as a powerhouse like in previous years, but rather as an underdog that arrived a year before people expected. Under second-year coach Josh Pastner, the Tigers rallied to win the Conference USA championship, topping UTEP in a game they trailed practically the entire way. They will be a tough out for whichever team they play.

The Tigers are among the youngest teams in the nation, taking after their baby-faced coach. Pastner has a reputation of being an elite recruiter, and after replacing John Calipari in 2008, his skills there have finally paid off. Part-time starter Will Coleman is the team's only senior, and the team's top three scorers are all freshman. Guard Will Barton is the catalyst, as he leads the team in scoring, is second in rebounding and third in assists. Besides him, the Tigers are deep, with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes a game.

The Tigers like to push the tempo and use their depth to the best of their ability. They were the fastest-paced team in Conference USA, and ranked 70th in the nation in possessions per game. They are also a solid defensive team, finishing second in Conference USA in points allowed per 100 possessions.

Record: 25-9, 13-6 in Conference USA

RPI: 28

Key wins: 76-73 at UAB on Jan. 22, 62-58 vs. UAB on Feb. 16. Memphis' two wins over Conference USA regular-season champion UAB were both tight victories, but they were important to improving their RPI. 62-58 at Gonzaga on Feb. 5: Antonio Barton scored four points in the final minute as Memphis beat Gonzaga on the road. Gonzaga isn't the same juggernaut as it was in the past, but it was still a big win for Memphis.

Key losses: 64-58 at SMU on Jan. 12: SMU finished just 17-14 on the season, so this was a very bad loss. The Tigers had a 14-point lead in this one, but blew it when they surrendered a 17-0 second-half run. 67-52 at Rice on Feb. 19: This was a tougher loss to stomach. The Tigers were leading Conference USA coming into this game, and they laid an egg against a sub .500 team. It was Rice's first win against Memphis in the program's history.

Player to watch: Joe Jackson is the Tigers' second-leading scorer and has nerves of steel, hitting the two free throws that provided the winning margin in the Conference USA title game victory. If the offense breaks down, Jackson is very capable of creating his own shot. 

Memphis Tigers primer by Mike Prada of SBNation.com.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Oakland Golden Grizzlies Tournament Primer

The Oakland Golden Grizzlies are the No. 13 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, where they'll take on the fourth seed, Texas, in the first round. It's the second consecutive year and the third time in school history that Oakland landed a spot on the NCAA Tournament bracket. Oakland won the Summit League tournament by beating Oral Roberts, 90-76, to clinch its ticket to the Big Dance. The Grizzlies were dominant in the Summit League tourney, winning three games by a combined 50 points. They went through the regular season with a 17-1 in-conference record and finished with an overall record of 25-9.

A year ago, coach Greg Kampe led the Grizzlies to the NCAA tournament as a 14 seed and the Grizzlies faced Pittsburgh in the first round and lost by 23 points. This year they are back in the tournament as one of the potential upset picks. Despite being a 14 seed a year ago many had Oakland set to pull an upset, and this year will probably be no different. The Grizzlies already showed they can beat a team from one of the big six conferences by upsetting Tennessee on the road back in December, and now they will look to pull off an upset as part of March Madness.

Record: 25-9, 17-1 in the Summit League

RPI: 53

Key wins: Dec. 14 at Tennessee (89-82), March 8 vs. Oral Roberts (90-76) in Summit League tournament championship game.

Key losses: Nov. 23 at Wright State (82-79), Dec. 21 vs. Valparaiso (103-102), Feb. 2 at IUPUI (100-88)

Players to watch: G Reggie Hamilton, F Will Hudson, C Keith Benson

Oakland profile by Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Connection. For more NCAA Tournament coverage of the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, please visit SB Nation Detroit.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Bucknell Bison Tournament Primer

The Bucknell Bison are the No. 14 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, and they'll meet third-seeded Connecticut in the first round. There's a good argument to be made that Bucknell is the hottest team on the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket. The Bison have lost only twice since Dec. 1, going 22-2 over that span. In fact, only four teams in the country have as good a record since Christmas as Bucknell (Belmont, Oakland, Long Island and Utah State). They've won 10 straight games including their 3rd ever Patriot League tournament title.

Bucknell hasn't been to the tournament since the mid 2000s, but in those years they earned a reputation as upset specialists. Their first round defeat of No. 3 seed Kansas in 2005 is still considered one of the great tournament upsets of the past decade. The following year they upset Arkansas. But can they be giant killers this season?

Record: 25-8, 13-1 in the Patriot leauge

RPI: 79

Key win: Jan. 2 over Richmond 62-61; Bucknell went on the road to 24 win A-10 squad Richmond and won as Mike Muscala hit a turnaround 16 foot buzzer beater. Jan. 12 over American University, 75-60; American lost only three Patriot League games all year and two were to Bucknell. The Bison went on the road and crushed American in a major signal of intent Mike Muscala had 33 Pts, 10 Reb and 5 blocks.

Key loss: Jan. 29 vs. Army 90-70. Bucknell lost only once since the start of January and that was in a blowout away to the worst team in the Patriot leauge.

Player(s) to watch: Sophomore big man Mike Muscala was name Patriot League Player Of the Year. He's just the third sophomore in league history to win the honor. Muscala averaged 14.8 ppg and 7.5 rebounds per game, he leads the team in both categories. 6-4 guard Bryan Cohen is also a player to watch after winning his second straight Patriot League defensive player of the year award.

Bucknell Bison profile by Jason Brewer of SB Nation Philly. For more on the Bison, please visit Mid-Major Madness.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Northern Colorado Bears Tournament Primer

The No. 15 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament is the Northern Colorado Bears, who will take on the second-seeded San Diego State Aztecs in the first round in Tuscon. Northern Colorado will be making the first NCAA Tournament bracket appearance in the school's fifth year of postseason eligibility since moving to Division I. The Bears are led by first-year head coach B.J. Hill, who rose to the job after his former boss, Tad Boyle, took the head coaching job at the University of Colorado.

Northern Colorado is an outstanding shooting team, both at the charity stripe and from beyond the arc. The Bears shoot just under 39 percent from three-point range as a team and have five players at 38 percent or better. Northern Colorado shoots 77 percent from the free-throw line as a team. The Bears were 4-24 and ranked last in RPI just five years ago in 2006-07.

Record: 21-10, 13-3 Big Sky Conference

RPI: 99

Key wins: Feb. 19, 2011 at New Mexico State, 82-80: After going 1-4 in games decided by three points or less, the Bears held on late to beat a quality team from the WAC.

Feb. 28, 2011 at Idaho State, 77-74: Northern Colorado held off a pesky conference foe on the road to maintain its grip on the regular-season conference title.

March 9, 2011 vs. Montana, 65-60: The Bears came from behind to clinch their first NCAA Tournament berth.

Key losses: Dec. 12, 2010 at Illinois, 86-76: After falling behind by 19 at halftime, Northern Colorado rallied in the second half and made the Illini uneasy late at Assembly Hall.

Jan. 29, 2011, at Weber State, 72-71: Weber State guard Scott Bamforth hit a 40-foot buzzer beater to hand the Bears their first conference loss. Lessons learned from the loss helped the Bears to win their next four games decided by three or less.

Player(s) to watch: Devon Beitzel, a senior guard who was named the Big Sky MVP this season and is averaging 21.4 points per game. His game has been compared to BYU star Jimmer Fredette. Beitzel shoots better than 38 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line, a place he's been 216 times this season.

Northern Colorado profile by Jordan Freemyer of SB Nation Denver.

For more NCAA Tournament coverage on the Northern Colorado Bears, please visit SB Nation Denver.

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NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Hampton Pirates Tournament Primer

The No. 16 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament is the Hampton Pirates, who are back in the NCAA Tournament bracket for the first time since 2006 after outlasting two-time MEAC defending champion Morgan State in the 2011 MEAC Tournament championship game. Hampton actually has a relatively accomplished resume for a team in the MEAC, with a 24-8 record and three top-150 RPI wins (Colorado State, Boston University and at George Washington).

This isn't to say the Pirates are going to shock the world and win a first-round game like they did in the 2001 NCAA Tournament, but they aren't as much a pushover as people think. Hampton finished second in the MEAC regular season, behind Bethune-Cookman, and had to win a really tough MEAC final against a Morgan State team that hadn't lost a MEAC Tournament game since 2008.

Junior guards Darrion Pellum and Kwame Morgan lead the way, averaging 17.7 and 16.5 points, respectively. Big man Brandon Tunnell lords the paint, averaging a team-high 7.8 rebounds. The Pirates are a tough defensive club as well, leading the MEAC in fewest points allowed per 100 possessions. Head coach Edward Joyner has improved Hampton tremendously in his two years on the job, going from 14-18 last season to 24-8 this year.

Record: 24-8, 11-5 in the MEAC

RPI: 153

Key win: 77-75 vs. Colorado State on Jan. 1. Morgan's game-winning three-pointer with 0.8 seconds left carried Hampton to the upset win in the first round of the Hilltop Challenge.

Key loss: 58-55 to Florida A&M on February 21: This was one of two losses to the Rattlers, the No. 329 team in the RPI. Hampton led by nine in the second half, but Florida A&M rallied to win at Hampton's place. 

Player to watch: Morgan is the second-leading scorer, but he's also the big-shot maker for Hampton. If the Pirates are somehow involved in an upset, it'll be because Morgan has a huge game.

Hampton Pirates preview by Mike Prada of SB Nation DC. For more on the Pirates, be sure to check out Mid-Major Madness.

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NCAA Bracket 2011 Preview: Duke Seeded First In West Region

Duke was awarded the No. 1 seed in the West Region for the NCAA Tournament during the Selection Sunday show. The Blue Devils are coming off another ACC Championship but were slotted as the fourth-rated No. 1 seed in the tournament; should they advance to the Final Four, they'll play Ohio State, which locked up the No. 1 seed in the East Region and the top overall spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Duke will face Hampton, the No. 16 seed, in the first round of the tournament in Charlotte, N.C. The No. 2 seed in the region is a team that got strong No. 1 seed consideration: San Diego State, which will play Northern Colorado in the first round in Tuscon.

Duke topped North Carolina to earn its spot on the NCAA 2011 Bracket with in the championship game of the ACC tournament on Sunday; the Blue Devils led comfortably throughout on the way to a 75-58 win.

The story line to watch this week with the Blue Devils is whether or not top freshman Kyrie Irving will return this week as Duke heads west. Some thought he might suit up for the ACC title game, but he didn't, though he has been cleared for all basketball activities. Duke certainly didn't miss him on Sunday.

Here are the 16 teams playing in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, starting with Duke and ending with Hampton.


1. Duke Blue Devils
2. San Diego State
3. Connecticut Huskies
4. Texas Longhorns
5. Arizona Wildcats
6. Cincinnati Bearcats
7. Temple Owls
8. Michigan Wolverines
9. Tennessee Volunteers
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
11. Missouri Tigers
12. Memphis Tigers
13. Oakland
14. Bucknell
15. Northern Colorado
16. Hampton Pirates

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