Best SECOND-round matchup
Fifth-seeded West Virginia won’t learn of its opponent until UAB and Clemson meet in an elimination game Tuesday. Look for Clemson to win that game and carry a lot of momentum into the matchup with the Mountaineers and possibly score an upset.
Best potential THIRD-round matchup
If West Virginia survives its first game, it could find itself in an attractive contest with No. 4 Kentucky.
How, exactly, did Villanova get a No. 9 seed? The Washington Generals seemingly won more games down the stretch than the fading Wildcats.
Player to watch
North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes got off to a slow start this season, and some folks wrote him off as all hype. But the versatile forward finished strong and had 40 points Saturday in a win over Clemson and could be primed for an impressive run.
Ohio State’s Thad Matta. His record speaks for itself.
If Xavier gets past Marquette in its first game, the Musketeers figure to have a second-round date with No. 3 Syracuse. The tournament is all about matchups, and Xavier matches up well against a Syracuse team that played its best ball in the first half of the season.
This is probably the tournament’s toughest region, but I still don’t see anyone beating an Ohio State team that has a great combination of raw talent and veteran experience.
1. OHIO STATE
Coach: Thad Matta.
Bid: Big Ten champs.
Key players: F Jared Sullinger (17.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg), G William Buford (14.2 ppg), G-F David Lighty (11.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Jon Diebler (12.4 ppg, 116 three-pointers).
Outlook: Deep and talented, Buckeyes loom as Final Four favorites and beyond.
No. 16 ALABAMA STATE
Coach: Lewis Jackson.
Bid: SWAC champs.
Key players: F Tramayne Moorer (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), G Tramaine Butler, F Ivory White.
No. 16 UT-SAN ANTONIO
Coach: Brooks Thompson.
Bid: Southland champs.
Key players: G Devin Gibson (17.0 ppg, 5.6 apg), Melvin Johnson III (14.8 ppg).
No. 8 GEORGE MASON
Coach: Jim Larranaga.
Key players: G Cam Long (15.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 42.6 pct. on three-pointers), F Ryan Pearson (14.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg), F Luke Hancock (10.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.3 apg).
Outlook: While not likely to repeat their miraculous run of ’06, the well-schooled, disciplined Patriots (19th in nation with 47.4 FG pct.) could be good for a win or two.
No. 9 VILLANOVA
Coach: Jay Wright.
Key players: G Corey Fisher (15.4 ppg, 4.8 apg), F Antonio Pena (10 ppg, 7.3 rpg), G Corey Stokes (15 ppg, 257 career three-pointers).
Outlook: After racing to 16-1 start, Wildcats sputtered to 5-10 finish. So there’s no reason to expect much here.
No. 5 WEST VIRGINIA
Coach: Bob Huggins.
Key players: F Kevin Jones (13.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg), G Casey Mitchell (14.1 ppg, 3 rpg), G Darryl Bryant (10.9 ppg, 3.1 apg).
Outlook: If the Big East is really as good as its proponents say, then the Mountaineers, who finished 7th in the 16-team standings, will make some noise in the NCAAs. But if WVU is simply talented but inconsistent, a loss in the opener may loom.
No. 12 UAB
Coach: Mike Davis.
Bid: C-USA champs.
Key players: G Jamarr Sanders (17.7 ppg), F Cameron Moore (14.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg), G Aaron Johnson (12 ppg, leads nation at 7.7 apg).
No. 12 CLEMSON
Coach: Brad Brownell.
Key players: G Demontez Stitt (14.7 ppg, 3.7 apg), F Jerai Grant (12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg).
No. 4 KENTUCKY
Coach: John Calipari.
Bid: SEC champs.
Key players: G Brandon Knight (17.5 ppg, 4.8 apg), F Terrence Jones (16.5 ppg, 9 rpg), G DeAndre Liggins (8.6 ppg).
Outlook: Having gone 12 years without making the Final Four (longest streak in school history), Wildcats fans expect that drought to end — and Calipari has his team peaking at the right time behind gifted Knight.
No. 6 XAVIER
Coach: Chris Mack.
Key players: G Tu Holloway (20.1 ppg, 5.5 apg), G Mark Lyons (13.8 ppg, 3.1 apg), F Jamel McLean (10.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg).
Outlook: Muskies fly under radar every year and just win games. Wondrous Holloway gives XU a real shot at extending Sweet 16 run.
No. 11 MARQUETTE
Coach: Buzz Williams.
Key players: G Darius Johnson-Odom (15.9 ppg, 137 career 3-pointers), G-F Jimmy Butler (16 ppg, 6.1 rpg), F Jae Crowder (11.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
Outlook: Eagles finished 11th in Big East yet made the field. What else needs to be said about their conference’s strength — or the mediocrity of this year’s 68-team bracket?
No. 3 SYRACUSE
Coach: Jim Boeheim.
Key players: F Kris Joseph (14.4 ppg, 5 rpg), F Rick Jackson (13.6 ppg, 10 rpg), G Scoop Jardine (12.8 ppg, 5.8 apg).
Outlook: Orange used a 6-1 finish to move up to the 3 seed. Jardine and Joseph are tough to handle in open court, while Boeheim’s matchup zone is tough to figure out in tournament play.
No. 14 INDIANA STATE
Coach: Greg Lansing.
Bid: Missouri Valley champs.
Key players: G Dwayne Latham (11 ppg), G-F Carl Richard (9.8 ppg, 6 rpg), G Jake Odom (9.4 ppg, 4 apg).
Outlook: Gritty Sycamores lack scoring punch (245th in nation in scoring, 66.4 ppg) to pull an upset.
No. 7 WASHINGTON
Coach: Lorenzo Romar.
Key players: G Isaiah Thomas (16.8 ppg, 6 apg), F Matthew Bryan-Amaning (15.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg), F Justin Holiday (10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
Outlook: Huskies have talent, but 1-3 mark against ranked teams makes you wonder how long UW will last.
No. 10 GEORGIA
Coach: Mark Fox.
Key players: F Trey Thompkins (16 ppg, 7.7 rpg), G Travis Leslie (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg), G Gerald Robinson (12.4n ppg, 3.9 apg).
Outlook: Inconsistent Bulldogs were really lucky to just get in. Grabbing their first NCAA win since 2002 would make the season a success.
No. 2 NORTH CAROLINA
Coach: Roy Williams.
Key players: C Tyler Zeller (14.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg), F John Henson (11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg), F Harrison Barnes (15.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg), G Kendall Marshall (6.0 ppg, 5.8 apg).
Outlook: Williams’ perfect first-round record (13-0 with Kansas, 6-0 with North Carolina) will be put to the test. UNC’s backcourt lacks experience, though Zeller-Henson-Barnes trio is exceptional up front.
No. 15 LONG ISLAND
Coach: Jim Ferry.
Bid: Northeast champs.
Key players: F Julian Boyd (12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg), F Jamal Olasewere (12.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Outlook: Considering their home ‘‘arena’’ seats all of 1,700, stage fright figures to cost Blackbirds.
Scripps Howard News Service