A is for “Ashville” and “Arkansas-Little Rock”
UNC-Ashville and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock got the tournament started last night with a play-in game in Dayton. Both of these teams earned automatic bids by winning their conference tournaments and the journey was short lived for Little Rock. UNC-Ashville came back from a 10 point deficit to force overtime, and defeated Arkansas-Little Rock 81-77 in the extra period. UNC-Ashville will now have the pleasure of meeting the #1 seed Pitt Panthers on Thursday night. On the plus side, UNC-Ashville has a kid on their team named Matt Dickey. Not only does the man have a pretty sweet name, he is a baller too. He tied his teammate J.P. Primm with a game high 22 points in the win, and hit a three-pointer with 10 seconds left to force OT.
B is for “Butler Bulldogs”
That’s right, America’s Cinderella team is back in the dance yet again. Last year’s national runner-up struggled through the early part of the season, going 14-9, but reeled off nine straight victories to close the season and Horizon league tournament to earn their fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance. Since 1985 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, only four teams who made the NCAA Championship game the year before, failed to make the tournament. Butler was in serious danger heading down the stretch, but in typical Bulldog fashion, they found a way to win. This team returns several players from last year’s squad so the experience is there. The Bulldogs know what it takes and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make another deep run. If they get past Old Dominion in round one, a matchup with #1 seed Pitt awaits in round two.
C is for “Chandler”
SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons hopes to lead the Gators back to the promise land in 2011. The Gators, a surprising #2 seed, have not been seeded this high since the National Championship team of 2008. Parsons was selected as the AP Player of the Year in the SEC and was a unanimous selection to the All-SEC first team. Parsons was third in the conference in rebounding (7.8 rpg), seventh in assists (3.5 apg), ninth in field goal percentage (49.6%), 12th in 3-point percentage (38.1%), and 24th in scoring (11.5 ppg).
D is for “Donovan”
Florida coach Billy Donovan comes into this tournament as one of the best coaches in the Southeast Region. Donovan, the SEC Coach of the Year, ranks fourth among all active coaches in NCAA Tournament winning percentage at .733 (22-8). Only Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and Tom Izzo rank above Donovan. Donovan has been to three NCAA championship games, and won back-to-back titles in 2007-2008. Although his team this year isn’t as talented as his teams of the past, Donovan has the Gators in prime position to make a deep run in the 2011 tourney.
E is for “Easy”
Although no road to the Final Four can be considered easy, the road through the Southeast Region seems to have the fewest speed bumps. Of all four regions, this region seems to be the easiest one to get through. In my mind, Pitt is the worst of the #1 seeds and Florida is the worst of the # 2′s. A struggling BYU is the three seed in this region and an overrated Wisconsin comes in as the #4. That’s right, it’s the same Wisconsin that scored 33 points in their last game against Penn State. The top teams in this region don’t have the punch that the top teams in other regions have. This means that anything can happen, and look for some of the lower seeds to make Cinderella runs into the sweet 16 and elite eight.
F is for “Frank”
Kansas State coach Frank Martin might be the craziest, fiery coach I have ever seen. This man is just straight nuts. However, Martin’s coaching tactics have proven effective and his Wildcats come into the tourney as one of the hottest teams in the nation. At one point in the year, this preseason top 10 team found themselves on the bubble with a 13-7 record. Martin light a fire under his team down the stretch as the Wildcats closed out the season 9-3 over the past 12 games, including wins over #8 Texas and #1 Kansas. Since taking over the Wildcats in 2007, Martin has led K-State to three NCAA appearances in four years. The Wildcats were eliminated in the elite eight last year, and Martin has the ability to guide this talented team back to the round of eight and possibly the Final Four.
G is for “Gaucho”
The Gaucho’s of the University of California-Santa Barbara return to the big dance for the fifth time in program history and second year in a row. Last year, the Gaucho’s fell to Ohio State in the opening round. UCSB finished the year 18-13 (8-8) and won the automatic bid from Big West by winning the conference tournament. But the hell with how good the team is, what in the world is a Gaucho? Well my friends, a Gaucho is a South American Cowboy commonly found in the countries of Argentina, Uruguay, Southern Chile, and Southern Brazil. Why a native of another continent is the mascot of a North American team is anybody’s guess, but this guy straight up looks like a Spanish version of the Hamburgler.
H is for “Hardy”
St. John’s standout guard Dwight Hardy is one of the most exciting players to watch in this region. Hardy, an All-Big East First team member and the conference’s Most Improved Player, has led a Red Storm resurgence in 2010-2011. Hardy finished fourth in the conference in scoring at 18.0 ppg. He is a very athletic and versatile player who can take it to the hole or spot up from the outside. With D.J. Kennedy out with a torn ACL, I look for Hardy to raise his game to another level and will be problems for any defense the Red Storm will encounter.
I is for “Izzo”
Even though his Spartans struggled through a down year, Tom Izzo has Michigan State back into the tournament for the 14th straight year. The Spartans were the preseason #2 team in the nation, but ended up a disappointing 19-14 (9-9) on the season. But don’t overlook Izzo and the Spartans. They return a ton of talent from the past two year’s Final Four teams. Izzo is the definition of a tournament coach as his .745 (35-12) NCAA tournament win percentage ranks third among active coaches. Izzo has been the head man in East Lansing for 15 years. In that time, he has guided the Spartans to an NCAA title in 2000, six Final Four’s (including each of the last two years), a 2009 NCAA runner-up finish, and six Big Ten Championships. In fact, Izzo is so good in March, that every player that he has recruited and stayed four years in a Spartan uniform has gone to a Final Four. That’s incredible!
J is for “Jimmer”
By now everyone has become familiar with BYU guard Jimmer Fredette. Fredette leads the nation in scoring at 28.5 ppg and is a frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors. Besides leading the nation in scoring, Jimmer was third in the Mountain West Conference in assists (4.2 apg), sixth in steals (1.38 spg), and seventh in 3-point percentage (40.4%). He has out of the gym range, but also seems to get to the bucket whenever he wants. As many people refer to him, he is just a “pure scorer”. This season, Fredette has scored 30+ points 13 different times. He has also had four games of 40+ points, and scored a season high 52 points on March 11 against New Mexico in a Mountain West tournament game.
K is for “Kalin”
Kalin Lucas will try to reach his third Final Four in the last three years as a leader of the Michigan State Spartans. The senior guard has had a sensational season, battling an achilles injury, in helping the Spartans reach the big dance once again. Lucas led the Spartans and finished seventh in the Big Ten conference in scoring at 17.2 ppg. He also finished 11th in the conference in assists (3.3 apg), 14th in steals (1.03 spg), and 16th in 3-point percentage (38.6 %). Lucas is the senior leader for this team and has the tournament experience to help the Spartans make a run. Michigan State will go as far as Kalin Lucas will take them.
L is for “Lavin”
Former UCLA head man and ESPN analyst Steve Lavin is at it again. Lavin is in his first year as the head coach of St. John’s and has turned in one of the best coaching jobs in the nation. He took over a 17-16 Red Storm team that finished with a 6-12 conference record and 13th in the Big East in ’09-’10 and turned them around completely. This year, the Red Storm finished 21-11 overall including a 12-6 conference record which was tied for third in the Big East. St. John’s is known as the giant killer with several big wins over the likes of #13 Georgetown, #11 Notre Dame, #3 Duke, #9 UCONN, #4 Pitt, and #14 Villanova. The Red Storm are in the tournament for the first time since 2002. Lavin is no stranger to the dance. He won the 1995 NCAA Championship as an assistant at UCLA and in 1997 was named National Rookie Coach of the Year when he became the head man of the Bruins. He guided UCLA to six consecutive tourney births from 1997-2002 including an elite eight appearance in 1997.
M is for “Mid-Majors”
The Southeast region is full of mid-major programs that can make a push towards Houston and the Final Four. Out of the four regions, this region is primed for the most upsets. The best chance for upsets come from the WAC Champion #12 seed Utah State Aggies (30-3) over #5 seed Kansas State. Also look for #13 seed Belmont (30-4), the winner’s of the Atlantic Sun conference, to upset #4 seed Wisconsin. If that’s not enough, #11 seed Gonzaga is back in the tournament and has a great chance to up-end #6 seed St. John’s.
There is one more mid-major to keep your eyes on and that’s # 14 seed Wofford. The winners of the Southern Conference take on a struggling BYU team without leading rebounder and third leading scorer Brandon Davies. Last season, the Wofford Terriers were a 13 seed and nearly pulled the upset of #4 seed Wisconsin, falling late 53-49. These four mid-major programs have all been to the dance before and know what it takes to be a Cinderella. I look for two of these programs to make it to the sweet 16 and we could see one program be the first mid-major since George Mason in 2006 to reach the Final Four.
N is for “New Orleans”
The 16 teams in the southeast region will all be competing this weekend for the four coveted spots in New Orleans for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. New Orleans is the host of the southeast region semi-finals and finals on March 24th and 26th. The four teams I expect to make it to New Orleans are Pitt, Utah State, Gonzaga, and Michigan State. The team I expect to escape New Orleans and move on to the Final Four in Houston is the Pittsburgh Panthers.
O is for “Old Dominon”
The Monarchs enter the tournament as the #9 seed in the Southeast region after earning the automatic bid from the Colonial Athletic Association. Old Dominion finished the year 27-6, including 14-4 in the CAA which was good for second place behind fellow NCAA tourney participant George Mason. The Monarchs earned the automatic bid by winning three games in three days in the CAA conference tournament. The Monarchs have a real chance to do some damage in this tournament as they have proven they can play with the big boys. This season they have scored victories over multiple NCAA tournament teams including Clemson, Xavier, Richmond, George Mason, and Virginia Commonwealth. They have a tough matchup in round one against last year’s runner-up Butler and if they get past the Bulldogs, #1 seed Pittsburgh awaits.
P is for “Pittsburgh Panthers”
Pitt enters the 2011 tourney as the #1 seed in the southeast region. The Panthers won the Big East regular season championship with an overall record of 27-5 and 15-3 in conference. Pitt has had multiple big wins this year over tournament teams such as Texas, Tennessee, UCONN, Marquette, Georgetown, Syracuse, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Villanova. This is the second time in three years that Pitt has earned a #1 seed. In 2009 Pitt was a #1 and ultimately fell to Villanova in the elite eight. The big dance has not been kind to Pitt in their program history. The Panthers have made only one Final Four which came way back in 1941. They have made only three elite eight appearances and just seven sweet 16′s. Head coach Jamie Dixon is just 10-7 in seven NCAA appearances and the Panthers have been eliminated by teams with lower seeds in each of the past three years. Last year, the third seeded Panthers were eliminated by sixth seeded Xavier in round two.
Q is for “Quiz”
It’s time for a little pop quiz.
The question: Which player in the Southeast region shoots 61% from the field, averages 20 points per game, and 5.5 rebounds? If you’re answer is any of the following: Brad Wanamaker, Ashton Gibbs, Chandler Parsons, Jimmer Fredette, Jordan Taylor, Jacob Pullen, Dwight Hardy, Shelvin Mack, or Kalin Lucas, you would be wrong.
The correct answer is Noah Dahlman from Wofford. He’s a 6’6 forward who is the best player you’ve never heard of in this region. His 61.2% field goal percentage is 17th in the nation and he will be a tough matchup for BYU and any team that may encounter him and the Terriers.
R is for “Ready”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for the Big Dance ever since Duke cut down the nets last April. The regular season is over, the conference tournaments are over, enough with the analysis and crying over who got snubbed or screwed out of a certain seed, let’s tip this thing off! This is the greatest event in all of sports! Everyone has permission to skip school, call into work, ignore you’re wife and kids, grab a cold one, and park your butt in front of a T.V. and watch the madness unfold!
S is for “Southeast?”
I know the name of the region is the southeast region, but there is only one team actually from the southeast part of the country that is in this region. In fact, you might as well make this the west region. There are five teams in this region that would be making the long journey from the west to New Orleans if they are lucky enough to reach the sweet 16. UC-Santa Barbara, UCLA, BYU, Gonzaga, and Utah State all call the western United States home. Pittsburgh and St. John’s hail from the northeast, while Kansas State, Indiana, Michigan State, Butler, and Wisconsin all hail from the mid-west.
The only team really from the southeast region is Florida and you can throw in Arkansas-Little Rock into that category as well but they weren’t around long. If Florida is fortunate enough to make it to New Orleans, they should have a substantial advantage in terms of the most fans.
T is for “Terriers”
The Wofford Terriers are making their second consecutive tournament appearance and the second appearance in program history. In their first ever appearance last year, the Terriers nearly pulled an upset as the #13 seed when they fell to #4 Wisconsin late in the game 53-49. The Terriers finished the regular season 21-12 including 14-4 in the Southern Conference. Wofford won three games in three days to capture the Southern Conference Tournament championship and earn the automatic NCAA berth.
The Terriers have won 11 of their past 13 games, but their only quality win came against George Mason back in November. The Terriers have played several tournament teams close, but have not been able to get over the hump. They have a wave of momentum now and they take on a BYU team that has struggled a little bit in the last few weeks. Wofford is a popular upset pick in the round of 64, but I just don’t see them defeating Jimmer and the Cougars.
U is for “UCLA”
The Bruins are back! After a one-year hiatus, UCLA is back in the big dance. The Bruins finished the season 22-10, including 13-5 in the Pac 10. They finished second behind Arizona in the conference standings. Historically, the Bruins have had the most success in the NCAA tournament. They have won an NCAA record 11 national championships, including 10 championships in a 12 year span from 1964-1975 under John Wooden. Current coach Ben Howland led the Bruins to three straight final four appearances from 2006-2008 including a runner-up finish in 2006. The Bruins have been to 18 Final Four’s in their history and made 13 title game appearances. The Bruins are making their 45th tournament appearance, but I don’t look for them to get too far.
V is for “Voices”
Many of you may be wondering which play-by-play/color analyst duo’s you will be hearing while watching the Southeast Region games. Well, the Pinkie has you covered. Here are the television voices of the Southeast region.
Thursday afternoon: 12:40 p.m. on Tru T.V. Butler vs. Old Dominion (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)
3:10 p.m. on Tru T.V. Pitt vs. UNC-Ashville (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)
Thursday night: 6:50 p.m. on TBS Florida vs. UC-Santa Barbara (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)
7:15 p.m. on CBS BYU vs. Wofford (Vern Lundquist/Bill Raftery)
7:27 p.m. on Tru T.V. Wisconsin vs. Belmont (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner)
9:20 p.m. on TBS UCLA vs. Michigan State (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)
9:45 p.m. on CBS St. John’s vs. Gonzaga (Vern Lundquist/Bill Raftery)
9:57 p.m. on Tru T.V. Kansas State vs. Utah State (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner)
W is for “Wisconsin”
The Wisconsin Badgers are making their 13th straight tournament appearance which ties them for the fourth longest current streak. The Badgers finished the year 23-8, including 13-5 in the Big Ten. The 13-5 conference record earned them a third place finish behind Ohio State and Purdue. Wisconsin has several marquee wins over other tournament teams such as Marquette, Michigan, #16 Illinois, #10 Purdue, Michigan State, #1 Ohio State, and Penn State.
The Badgers are one of only two teams to defeat the tournament’s overall #1 seed Ohio State. However, Wisconsin comes into the dance on a bit of a sour note. They lost by almost 30 in their last regular season game at Ohio State, and were eliminated in their first game of the Big Ten tournament by Penn State. In that loss to the Nittany Lions, the Badgers were only able to muster 33 points for the entire game. I can tell you this much, if you score 33 points in this tournament, you will be blown out. Wisconsin better find a way to get out of the funk, or they will fall victim to the upset minded Belmont Bruins.
X is for “Xavier”
That’s right the Musketeers. I know Xavier isn’t in the southeast region as they belong to the east side of the bracket. But the Musketeers have come up so often in my research of this article that they may as well be in the southeast. In fact, Xavier is a common opponent of five of the teams in the Southeast region. Butler, Old Dominion, Gonzaga, Wofford, and Florida have all taken on the Musketeers at some point in the season. The southeast region teams are 3-2 against Xavier with Old Dominion, Gonzaga, and Florida earning victories. Butler and Wofford both fell in close defeat.
Y is for “Youtube”
If there is any information that I didn’t cover on the southeast region, be sure to check out youtube for video clips on pretty much every team in the region. And while you’re there, type in Utah State student section. You will be blown away with some of the things these 8,000 plus students do. Pretty cool stuff. Also, if you aren’t as pumped as you should be about March Madness, go ahead and type in “One Shinning Moment” and watch the memorable moments from tournaments past. This will get your mind right for the three weeks of madness that are to come.
Z is for “‘Zags”
America’s Cinderella is back once again. It looked bleak for the Gonzaga Bulldogs as the season wound down, but they defeated St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference championship to earn the automatic berth. The ‘Zags are making their 13th consecutive tournament appearance which ties them for the fourth longest active streak. The little school from Spokane, WA has captured the attention of basketball fans for years, ever since their improbable run to the elite eight in 1999. Gonzaga has advanced to the sweet 16 five times and are looking to reach the final four for the first time in program history. I believe they have a great chance of making the elite eight, and if they can get past Pitt, we very well may see them in Houston.