Behind them: Villanova, who ended the season with two consecutive losses (West Virginia and Marquette), yet despite their depth they do have issues to address if they’re to get to their second straight Final Four. Taylor King was out for personal reasons but did return for the Big East Tournament; he, Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou will all need to step up to go along with Antonio Peña in the frontcourt.
The guards, led by Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Reggie Redding, can play with anyone in America but something else the Wildcats must do in the NCAA Tournament is limit the number of points they give away at the foul line. They heard a lot of whistles in Big East play; whether the move to less familiar faces in stripes means more of the same or an increased ability to play physical remains to be seen.
Next in line is Baylor, a team that possesses both explosive guard play (LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter) and a deep frontcourt led by Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy. Scott Drew has more than enough talent at his fingertips to make a run deep into the tournament, with Indianapolis being a definite possibility. Duke also got a wounded Purdue squad, who has struggled offensively since Robbie Hummel went down with a torn ACL. Ja’Juan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have the ability to score but the Boilers are going to need Keaton Grant to step up if they’re to advance.
Matt Painter’s team isn’t even a guarantee to get out of the first round; Fran McCaffery’s Siena Saints have a talented core that’s more than experienced in the art of not just getting to the Big Dance but also being successful once they do. A lot of people will pick the Saints to win their opener but don’t expect that to get to their heads; point guard Ronald Moore leads the nation in assists and given the many offensive weapons from which to choose it’s no surprise that he does.
Another Big 12 team blessed with frontcourt depth is in the region in the form of Texas A&M. Brian Davis is just one of the bodies that Mark Turgeon can turn to, but he’s going to need his guards to knock down perimeter shots if the Aggies are to excel. And similar to Baylor their fans won’t have to leave the state should they get to the second weekend (Houston hosts the regional). Notre Dame rode a team transformation and change in philosophy to a six-seed, but in Old Dominion they’ll face a very good team that’s been tested in the non-conference as well as in the CAA. The matchup of Luke Harangody and Gerald Lee will be a good one to keep an eye on when these two meet.
Richmond and St. Mary's will get together in an intriguing matchup with the Spiders boasting an excellent backcourt tandem (Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez) and a style that’s tough to prepare for. Randy Bennett’s Gaels can counter with Omar Samhan and Ben Allen inside and Matthew Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell at the guard spots. This should be an entertaining matchup, as will California and Louisville.
The Cardinals have the edge in depth but they’ll have to find a way in which to bottle up point guard Jerome Randle; the Pac-10 Player of the Year has the speed to cause the Louisville pressure fits. But the key for the Golden Bears will be how their bigs deal with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings, both of whom can hurt you on the offensive boards if you aren’t careful.
And there’s also the matter of Utah St, a team that will make the Texas A&M assistant assigned to this scout earn his pay in the coming days. Stew Morrill’s team, led by Jared Quayle and Tai Wesley, had won 17 straight before losing to New Mexico State in the WAC final and runs enough offensive sets to rival that of an NFL playbook. The way this region sets up, the winner could either be the team that has the fortune of watching others fall or the one that wins a survival of the fittest. You may think Duke was given an easy road but there’s no such thing when you get a better picture.
Sweet 16: Duke, Texas A&M and Villanova
Best 1st Round Game: #10 Saint Mary’s vs. #7 Richmond
1st Round Upset Possibility: #13 Siena over #4 Purdue
Scary Underachiever: #9 Louisville
Sweet 16 “Crasher”: Louisville
Players who can shoot their team to an upset:
G Clarence Jackson (Siena), G Kevin Anderson (Richmond), G Jared Quayle (Utah State), G Jerome Randle (California)
South Region Team (one per team):
G Jon Scheyer (Duke), G LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor), G Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), F Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), C Ja’Juan Johnson (Purdue)