NY Daily News March Madness
East Region Preview
Coach: Jamie Dixon
Strengths: Levance Fields is an ultra-reliable point guard. Sam Young is a top jump-shooter and the best fast-break finisher in the Big East. And conference Co-Player of the Year DeJuan Blair is a relentless rebounder with an array of inside moves. Pitt rarely beats itself with miscues.
Weaknesses: There aren't many, but depth in the low post could be an issue. If Blair gets into foul trouble, Tyrell Biggs would take his place, a significant dropoff at center.
Player to watch: Keep an eye on Young because he can pile up the points and still somehow be under the radar. Blair's play in the paint is exciting and Fields is a great floor general, but Young gives the lethal injections.
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Strengths: Junior Gerald Henderson has elevated his game in the last month, combining with versatile 6-8 sophomore Kyle Singler and guard Jon Scheyer to give the Blue Devils three explosive scorers. Krzyzewski may have salvaged the season by moving Scheyer to the point and plugging athletic freshman Elliot Williams into the off-guard spot to upgrade the defense.
Weaknesses: The Blue Devils lack an effective low-post scorer now that 7-1 junior Brian Zoubek has seemingly regressed, forcing Krzyzewski to go to 6-8 junior Lance Thomas in a three-forward lineup.
Player to Watch: Henderson, whose father Gerald played in the NBA with the Celtics and Sixers, is arguably the most exciting player in the ACC. He has pro hops, the ability to put the ball on the floor, hit jumpers and take the ball to the hoop.
Coach: Jay Wright
Strengths: Lots of teams have great backcourts, but Villanova has enough good guards for two teams. Corey Stokes is a spot-up shooter who makes almost 45% of his three-pointers. Corey Fisher can break down any defender. Scottie Reynolds can drive or shoot equally well, but has opted to pass more this season. Add in that forward Dante Cunningham has blossomed into a leading scorer and the 'Cats are a tough out.
Weaknesses: The Wildcats have spent the season searching for a mid-range scoring option. Dwayne Anderson and Reggie Redding have only been fair in that capacity. Center Antonio Pena's offensive game isn't fully developed.
Player to watch: Cunningham was never a big scoring threat, but this season he became one. He's got inside moves, shoots a nice 15-foot jumper and runs the floor well. He was the Big East's most improved player.
Coach: Sean Miller
Strengths: The Musketeers, who reached the regional finals for the second time in five years last spring, are the class of the Atlantic 10. They are a well-balanced team that can score in a variety of ways with senior B.J. Raymond - a first-team all-league guard - making threes, 6-6 senior forward C.J. Anderson down low and versatile 6-8 junior Derrick Brown, a potential first-round NBA draft pick who has come up huge in the past two NCAA tournaments, shooting 75% in six career games.
Weaknesses: Xavier leads the A-10 in scoring margin, but when the X-Men get hit with the first punch like they did during a blowout loss to Duke on Dec. 20 at the Meadowlands, they have trouble bouncing back. Young backcourt, particularly freshman point guard Terrell Holloway, has been inconsistent.
Player to Watch: Brown is a 6-8 power forward with a freakish wing span who can score from the outside and also is rugged with explosive jumping ability to shoot a high percentage around the basket.
5. Florida State
Coach: Leonard Hamilton
Strengths: Senior point guard Toney Douglas is averaging over 23 points against ACC opponents and is the best defender in the league. He has a solid supporting cast with sophomore guard Derwin Kitchen, a St. John's transfer; forward Uche Echefu and 7-2 redshirt freshman center Solomon Alabi and defend like Hamilton's old Miami teams, holding teams to under 65 points a game.
Weaknesses: The Seminoles are young with six first-year players and have not been to an NCAA Tournament in a decade.
Player to Watch. Douglas. There is some sentiment to make Douglas - who transferred in from Auburn after his freshman year - ACC Player of the Year over Tyler Hansbrough.
Coach: Ben Howland
Strengths: Pick your poison when you're trying to stop the Bruins. Senior guard Darren Collison and senior G/F Josh Shipp both average over 14 points, 6-9 senior forward Alfred Aboya chips in with over 10 points and 6-9 junior Nikola Dragovic gives opposing coaches agita when he lets fly from behind the three-point line.
Weaknesses: The Bruins, like many brand-name programs, grabbed a fair share of their early wins against cupcakes. Then when it came time to face the bigger boys, they lost to Michigan and Texas in non-conference action then Arizona State twice in conference play. Memo to Bruins: There are no cupcakes after the first round in the tournament.
Player to watch: Shipp can get you points in a hurry. In a game against Oregon State at the end of the regular season, he scored 17 straight Bruins points in a span of four minutes.
Coach: Rick Barnes
Strengths: Texas has many key players back from a Big 12 team that reached the Elite Eight last year. Returnees include 6-7, 230 pound junior Damion James and 6-10, 330-pound junior center Dexter Pittman, who have combined to give the Horns the best rebounding margin in the Big 12. Guard A.J. Abrams, a 5-11 senior nicknamed “Cricket,” is the school's career record holder in three point goals (284) and provides a legitimate long range threat.
Weaknesses: The Longhorns, who finished in an uncharacteristic tie for fourth in the Big 12, have struggled to score at times, showing just how much they miss point guard D.J. Augustin, who was the best dribble penetrator in the league last season.
Player to Watch: James, a three-year starter, originally signed with Oklahoma. After Kelvin Sampson left for Indiana, OU released James from his letter of intent and he switched to Texas. He leads the Horns in rebounding and field goal percentage.
8. Oklahoma State
Coach: Travis Ford
Strengths: First-year coach Ford - a Rick Pitino disciple who coached UMass to the NIT championship game - inherited the nucleus of a good team that finished strong last year and has made the most of it. He uses a four-guard, transition-oriented offense to win games. Senior point guard Byron Eaton, 6-6 sophomore James Anderson and Terrel Harris have thrived in the system, proof that small ball can work in the Big 12.
Weaknesses: The Cowboys lost a potential starting center before the season when Ford kicked 6-9 Martavius Adams off the team, leaving the Cowboys short on front-court talent.
Player to Watch: Anderson has scored 20 or more points 11 times during the regular season and should be a first-round pick in the 2010 draft.
Coach: Bruce Pearl
Strengths: These aren't the Vols of the past in which the guards (think Chris Lofton) owned the keys to the Tennessee offense. Now the big numbers come from the up-front tandem of 6-7 Tyler Smith and 6-9 Wayne Chism. Smith leads the Vols in scoring (more than 17 ppg) and is second in rebounding. Chism chimes in with more than 13 points a game and leads the Vols in rebounding with more than eight a game.
Weaknesses: The Vols padded their win total this year with some lower-level competition and they still managed only 19 regular-season wins. When it came time to step up and play some quality opponents in their non-conference schedules, the Vols lost twice to Gonzaga, and once each to Temple and Kansas.
Player to watch: Smith, a junior forward, averaged 13 points last season, then decided to partake in the LeBron James Skills Camp last summer. Apparently, it worked. In addition to his scoring, Smith led the Vols in assists and is second in rebounding.
Coach: Tubby Smith
Strengths: Teams are going to have trouble matching the Golden Gophers' stamina. Smith is rotating 11 players, and each is averaging more than 10 minutes a game. It means there are always fresh legs to run a fast break and play his style of relentless defense. Minnesota, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years, is very tall in the low post with 6-11 freshman Ralph Sampson III and 6-10 freshman Colton Iverson. Junior forward Damian Johnson is a top defensive stopper.
Weaknesses: Sometimes a strength can also be a weakness and that's Minnesota's problem. Among the 11 players, there is no go-to guy. That issue has surfaced in some close games. The two freshman big men can get pushed around by more physical frontcourt players.
Player to watch: As junior guard Lawrence Westbrook goes, so go the Gophers. The 6-foot guard is the team's only double-figure scorer. He's athletic and likes to go to the basket, but he commits too many turnovers.
11. Va. Commonwealth
Coach: Anthony Grant
Strengths: The biggest threat comes from point guard Eric Maynor, the Eagles' all-time leading scorer and two-time CAA Player of the Year. Just one of three players in the country to average at least 22 points and six assists this season, senior paces an offense that led CAA in field-goal percentage (46.3), three-point percentage (36.9) and points per game (72).
Weaknesses: Maynor is just one of two upperclassmen in the starting lineup along with junior Kirill Pishchalnikov (5.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg), while underclassmen account for three-fourths of the roster.
Player to watch: Sophomore forward Larry Sanders, the CAA Defensive Player of the Year, had seven blocks in the conference title game; he also tied tournament record with 40 rebounds over three games.
Coach: Bo Ryan
Strengths: Wisconsin is extremely precise and as tough as iron, a typical Ryan-coached team. No one embodies that toughness like 6-7 banger Joe Krabbenhoft (even the name sounds tough). There is a lot of offense on the perimeter, with Queens product Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, and scoring from the small forward spot with Marcus Landry.
Weaknesses: The Badgers have a lot of tenacity in the low post, but don't get much scoring out of it. They don't have the punch they had with Brian Butch. Because of that, the Badgers sometimes struggle on offense, as they did during a six-game losing streak. Four players go 30 minutes or more, which might be a problem in a fast-paced game.
Player to watch: Landry has good blood lines - his brother Carl was a standout at Purdue - and a jump shot to go with them. When the 6-7 senior takes it outside and gets the stroke going, Wisconsin is hard to beat.
13. Portland State
Coach: Ken Bone
Strengths: The Vikings know what to expect after drawing eventual champ Kansas in first round last year in their first trip to the tournament. That experience, coupled with the momentum of a six-game winning streak, could give them an outside chance to hang around for a full 40 minutes.
Weaknesses: Portland State led the Big Sky in points (73.8) and steals (7.5) per game, but rank 71st and 84th nationally in those categories.
Player to watch: Senior guard Jeremiah Dominguez, the Big Sky tournament MVP, scored a game-high 22 points in the Vikings' 79-77 win over Montana State in the title game.
Coach: Jeff Jones
Strengths: The Eagles played 17 road games as opposed to just 13 home games and posted an impressive 11-6 mark away from home. They played at Oklahoma, Georgetown and Maryland, so don't expect them to be in awe of being here. They lost all three, but improved with each game.
Weaknesses: It's the second year in a row that American has reached the Big Dance, but it's also just the second time in school history. The Eagles had a rather difficult time dispatching of a weak Army team in the Patriot league semifinals and though they faced several top-shelf teams in the regular season, they have to hope the Army game was just a blip on the radar.
Player to watch: Garrison Carr, the Eagles' dynamic 5-10 senior guard, is an annoying gnat for opponents to try and defend. He's lightning quick and is effective from inside the three-point line (where he shoots 40%) and beyond it (over 100 threes this season).
Coach: Kevin Broadus
Strengths: Former Georgetown assistant Broadus, who recruited several members of the Hoyas' 2007 Final Four team, has breathed life into the program to bring Binghamton to its first NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats have won 11 straight.
Weaknesses: Binghamton didn't play much of a non-conference schedule, as Rutgers was its biggest-name opponent. Though the Bearcats beat the Scarlet Knights by 10 in Piscataway, this will be their first time on a national stage and nerves could be an issue.
Player to watch: Forward D.J. Rivera, a transfer from St.Joseph's and the late Hank Gathers' nephew, was the America East Tournament MVP.
16. East Tennessee St.
Coach: Murry Bartow
Strengths: The Buccaneers come into the tournament with their offense clicking - ETSU has scored over 80 points in each of its last five games, all wins. In between hoops, the Bucs find time to play rugged defense, with four players averaging a steal or more per game.
Weaknesses: The strength of competition leaves plenty to be desired - this is a team that has lost to Jacksonville, Stetson, Belmont, Lipscomb and Campbell in the last six weeks. ETSU is making its first NCAA trip since 2004, so the players aren't exactly battle-tested.
Player to watch: Kevin Tiggs has had five 30-point games this season, with an average of 21.5 to lead ETSU. The forward scored 79 over three Atlantic Sun Tournament games - without hitting a 3-pointer.
Dick Weiss breaks down the region
BEST FIRST ROUND MATCHUP: VCU (11) vs. UCLA (6) in Philadelphia. Rams are playing just 250 miles from campus and have a star in senior guard Eric Maynor, who beat Duke with a last-second shot in a first-round game two years ago. UCLA, which travels cross country, lost three of its final six Pac-10 games away from Pauley.
UPSET SPECIAL: Portland State (13) over Xavier (4) in Boise. Ken Bone’s Big Sky Vikings are entering the tournament with a 23-9 record and a six-game winning streak. Bone’s team, which beat Gonzaga, gets a Xavier team that limped to the finish in the Atlantic 10.
POTENTIAL SECOND-ROUND MATCHUP: Duke (2) vs. Texas (7) in Greensboro. Texas coach Rick Barnes, formerly of Clemson, will return to Tobacco Road to face his old ACC rival Mike Krzyzewski.
DARK HORSE: Villanova (3). Jay Wright’s Wildcats will have their tournament legs back, playing their first two games in Philadelphia, just 20 miles from their Main Line campus, and might catch a tired Duke.
LOCAL ANGLE: Pitt’s charismatic 6-0 senior point guard Levance Fields from Xaverian has always demonstrated a great will to win, is a four-year starter who has one of the best assist-turnover ratios in the country and is a player we all love to root for.
SURVIVOR: Pitt (1). Panthers appear to have the easiest road of any No. 1 seed in the tournament, playing first two sub-regional games in Dayton, then potentially playing Florida State - a team they already beat in Tallahassee - in the Sweet 16.