BYU guard Jimmer Fredette put up 45 and 30 points in his past two games. The seventh-seeded Cougars could threaten No. 2 Kansas State in the second round.
After a season in which seemingly every NCAA bubble team tried to play itself out of the NCAA tournament, this year’s bracket is expected to produce fewer upsets than usually expected from March Madness.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Goliaths are without chinks in their armor.
No. 1 Kentucky
Make no bones about it, Kentucky wins with its power defense. The Wildcats rank eighth in the nation in opposing field goal percentage (38.3), and are fourth in blocked shots per game (7.4). With DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton coming off the bench, the Wildcats are an elite rebounding team with one of the nation's most ferocious interior defenses.
The teams that gave Kentucky the most trouble this year had guard-oriented offenses that could hold their own on the glass. Also, Kentucky’s offense is not as accomplished as its defense, so tough defensive teams may have an edge against the Wildcats in a slugfest. Potential Sweet 16 opponent Wisconsin plays basketball at a molasses pace, is a defensive power and relies on three guards (Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon and Jordan Taylor) for more than half of the team’s points. That may mean the Badgers have the tools to win a streetfight with the Wildcats.
No. 2 West Virginia
The Mountaineers are the second-best team in the country in terms of offensive rebounding margin, a trend that turns a good offense into an efficient one. Da’Sean Butler is a star who can create his own offense, rebound and perform with the game on the line.
If West Virginia is vulnerable, it is against the 3-pointer, which they were only middle of the pack in defending. Marquette ranked No. 5 in the nation in shooting the three and took West Virginia to the buzzer early in the season, losing on Butler’s jumper with seconds remaining. Marquette, which could meet the Mountaineers in the Elite Eight, has the firepower to avenge their earlier loss.
No. 1 Duke
Duke steamrolled the ACC in typical Blue Devil fashion. As always, they execute their offense diligently, with an affinity towards off-ball curls leading to 3s, which they shoot at 38.3 percent (No. 23). They win the turnover battle — No. 16 in turnover margin (+3.9) and, finally, play terrific defense (No. 12 in effective field goal percentage against).
To beat Duke, a team needs to be a good passing team that doesn’t turn the ball over and plays good half-court defense. Louisville and California are both excellent in assist-turnover ratio (though Cal struggled outside of the Pac-10), and even 12th-seeded Utah State was second in the nation in assist-turnover ratio.
No. 2 Villanova
As usual, Villanova’s strength is its tremendous guard play, highlighted by senior star Scottie Reynolds (18.5 ppg). And Villanova’s biggest weakness is typical: a lack of size that often forces coach Jay Wright to send out four-guard lineups. Teams that can score inside can have success against ‘Nova.
Should St. Mary’s (Calif.) face the Wildcats in the second round, center Omar Samhan (with averages of 20.9 points and 11 rebounds) will tower over Villanova’s smaller defenders.
No. 1 Syracuse
Syracuse, an offensive powerhouse, sports the best field goal percentage of any team in the nation (51.6). Florida State owns the best defensive field goal percentage against in the nation. For those that believe that a great defense always beats a great offense, the Seminoles are an attractive pick for a potential second-round upset — especially with a strained quad putting Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku’s health in question.
No. 2 Kansas State
Kansas State gets tremendous mileage out of two point guards, Jacob Pullen (18.9 ppg), and Denis Clemente (16.2 ppg). The two-guard lineup leads to a fast, loose and tempo-pushing style.
This could play to the benefit of BYU in the second round. The Cougars are also a fast team, led by star point guard Jimmer Fredette, a 21.7-point scorer who put up 45 and 30 points in his past two games.
No. 1 Kansas
The Jayhawks have the second-best field goal percentage defense in the nation, are 10th in opposing field goal percentage and romped through a strong Big 12. Sometimes, Cole Aldrich (11.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg) doesn’t assert himself in games, but the Jayhawks have enough talent across their roster to compensate.
If any team can beat Kansas, it will be a giant slayer like potential Elite Eight opponent Tennessee. The Volunteers held Aldrich to five points in their regular-season meeting, a 76-68 victory, and also beat another No.1 seed, Kentucky. If the Tennessee defense disrupts Aldrich again, an upset could be afoot.
No. 2 Ohio State
The Buckeyes have the sixth-best field goal percentage in the country with superstar wing Evan Turner (19.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 5.9 apg, 53 FG%) to thank. However, the Buckeyes don’t defend the 3-point line particularly well, allowing 34 percent of opponents’ 3-pointers to drop.
Tennessee is always a candidate to knock off upper echelon teams, but Georgetown shoots threes at 39 percent and has a star of its own in hyperathletic center Greg Monroe (16.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 52.1 FG%) drawing doubles and opening up perimeter shooters.