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East Region: Team by team breakdown

March 18, 2009

PITTSBURGH- The Panthers failed to reach the Big East tournament championship game for the first time in four years when they were upset by West Virginia in the quarterfinals. Still, the Panthers put together an impressive season coming into the NCAA tournament. Pittsburgh has become a more offensive team this season in going 28-4, including 9-3 on the road. The Panthers have quality wins against Siena, Florida State, Syracuse and twice against UConn.  Not advancing to the big east finals could be a blessing in disguise, as point guard Levance Fields needed the extra rest for his back and groin.  The Panthers have a great shot at winning the national championship.

Players to watch:

DeJuan Blair- Big East co-player of the year, Blair put up 15.6 ppg and 12.2 rebounds a game.  He was a major factor of why the Panthers beat #1 Uconn twice during the regular season.  He is a beast around the basket on both sides of the ball, and at both ends of the court.

Sam Young- Young leads the team averaging 18.7 ppg.  He is an oustanding shooter, and is versatile enough to drive to the hoop at ease.

Levance Fields- Runs the show at point guard.  Battling through injuries much of the season, Fields still managed to average 10.7 ppg and 7.6 assists.  A healthy and rested Fields means a deep run for the Panthers.

Role Players- 

Jermaine Dixon- The junior guard is good for 9 ppg, and 2 assists.  He adds depth at the guard position, and will be very valuable if Fields is too injured to play at times.  Dixon’s most valuable part of his game is his defense.  He averages 1.5 steals a game, and if he continues that during the tourney, it might give the Panthers a few extra points that they need to win a couple games.

Tyrell Biggs- The senior 6-8 forward shoots 40% from downtown.  He provides matchup problems for opponents, because teams cannot double team Young, or Blair and leave Biggs with a wide open outside shot.  Hopefully he can add to his 7ppg come tourney time.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE- The Bucks are going to back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 after routing Jacksonville 85-68 for the Atlantic Sun championship. It’s the eighth appearance in school history for East Tennessee State, but first as a member of the Atlantic Sun. The last time they were in the tournament was on the heels of back-to-back championships in the Southern Conference.

Players to watch:

Courtney Pigram- The senior guard averaged 17.6 pppg, and 4.15 apg.  He will have the daunting task of matching up with Levance Fields in the first round

Kevin Tiggs- The senior forward is the leading scorer for the Bucs.  He put up 21.5 ppg, and nearly 5 rebounds a game.  He will have to put up 30 if they stand a chance at staying close with Pittsburgh.

Mike Smith- The junior guard makes up the last of “the big three”.  He averages 15.5 ppg, and 7.7 rebounds a game, and will have to be more than the third wheel to pull off a miraculous upset.

Role Player

Greg Hamlin- good for 5 points and 5 rebounds a game

Isiah Brown- The 6-8 freshmen eats up minutes, and is good for 4.7 ppg, and 4.5 boards.

OKLAHOMA STATE- The Cowboys were one of the nation’s highest scoring teams in 2008-09, averaging 81.8 points (fifth). They were also lethal from 3-point range, averaging 9.5 conversions (fifth). Oklahoma State had four players average more than 12 points per game — James Anderson (18.6), Byron Eaton (14.1), Terrel Harris (13.8) and Obi Muonelo (12.6) — and they can all light it up from downtown. Oklahoma State took an at-large bid after falling to Missouri in Big 12 semifinals following a quarterfinal win over Oklahoma.

Players to watch-

James Anderson- Leading scorer for the Cowboys, can easily put up 30 on any given night. He can also snatch down boards, as he averaged 5.8 rebounds a game this season.  Go to guy when the game is on the line

Byron Eaton- The senior guard from Dallas, TX brings a lot of experience to the table.  He is also a great floor general, and has great court vision.  He is good for 14 points a game and 5.5 assists.  3.8 boards a game ain’t too shabby either.  

Terrel Harris-  Another senior guard, is a great on the ball defender.  He averages nearly 2 steals a game.  He quietly puts up 13.8 ppg as well.

Obi Muonelo- The junior guard puts up 12.6 ppg, 7.3 boards, 0.9 steals, and shoots 40% from 3 range.  At 6-5 he is very versatile and plays a lot bigger by the basket

Role Players-

Keiton Page- The freshmen guard has matured a lot this year, and averages 8.9 ppg and shoots over 40% from downtown

Ibrahima Thomas- The 6-11 F/C sophomore still is a project in the works.  He averaged 8.3 ppg this season, but only 3.9 rebounds.  At that size he must learn to be more ferocious around the basket. He could be a double double guy somewhere down the road

TENNESSEE- The Volunteers have made it to the Sweet 16 the last two years, but a third straight appearance will not be an easy feat.  Tennessee lost three starters from last season’s team — including three-time All-American Chris Lofton. The Vols only returned more than 50 percent of last season’s rebounding and blocked shots. Six letterwinners returned in 2008-09 and seven players were set to play in their first D-I game. Yet, somehow Pearl managed to weather the storm.

Players to watch

Tyler Smith (17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.4 apg), the leading scorer on the Vols, is there go to guy in clutch situations.  

Wayne Chism (13.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) can do just about everything.  Take it to the hoop, hit a jump shot, drain a 3.  His energy lifts the team in a big way

Role Players

J.P. Prince- He is a solid all around player, putting up 10.1 ppg, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists.  His long arms make him a valuable defender and is why he averages 1.5 steals a game.  

Scott Hopson- The freshmen guard has fit in nicely in Tennessee.  9.2 ppg, and adds depth to the guard position

Bobby Maze- The junior guard is most valuable on the defensive end of the ball, averaging 1 steal per game.  He also adds an offensive touch with 8.3 ppg.

FLORIDA STATE- Finishing fourth in the ACC standings with a 10-6 conference record wasn’t good enough for Florida State (25-9). The Seminoles, ranked almost all season in the polls, wanted more and put together a run in the ACC tournament that saw them defeat Georgia Tech and then-top-ranked North Carolina before falling in the championship game to Duke. FSU is led by one of the school’s greatest players in senior guard Toney Douglas, who was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Douglas also finished second in the league in scoring (21.1 ppg). He’s the consummate point guard and the type of player coach Leonard Hamilton can rely upon to lead the team in the Big Dance.

Players to watch

Toney Douglas-  One of the best guards in the nation, Douglas not only won the ACC defensive player of the year award, but he also put up 21.1 ppg.  If the Noles are going to make a run, he will definitely be leading the charge.

Role players

Solomon Alabi- The 7-1 freshmen from Nigeria is a raw talent.  Although a work in progress, Alabi has stepped it up down the stretch for the Seminoles.  He averages 8.5 ppg, as well as 5.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks.  This guy is a future NBA player for sure

Uche Echefu- The senior forward is a great contributor in points, 8.3 ppg, rebounds (5.3 a game), and shooting nearly 35% for a 6-9 forward isn’t bad.

Derwin Kitchen- The sophomore guard adds much needed depth, and puts up 8 points a game, and shoots nearly 38% from 3 point range

WISCONSIN- Wisconsin lost two premier players — Brian Butch and Michael Flowers — from last year’s team, but two of their top three scorers returned to lead the offensive effort in ’08-09. They were senior Marcus Landry (12.6 ppg) and junior Trevon Hughes (12.0 ppg). Jason Bohannon and Jon Leuer both had breakout seasons to pair with senior Joe Krabbenhoft as solid role players for coach Bo Ryan. Wisconsin’s biggest issue is they aren’t an elite offensive team (64.6 ppg), but they definitely play smothering defense, allowing just 58.9 points per game (11th in the NCAA).

XAVIER-  They made the trip last season on the heels of the school’s first ever 30-win season, but were denied a spot in the Final Four losing to perennial power UCLA. Xavier then lost senior starters Stanley Burrell, Josh Duncan and Drew Lavender. Coach Sean Miller and his coaching staff were left to pick up the pieces. Luckily, starters C.J. Anderson and Derrick Brown were returning to help mentor a new set of Musketeers. But the player that really made the difference in 2008-09 was junior guard B.J. Raymond, who was the lone Xavier player to be named to the A-10’s first-team roster. Xavier (25-7) had to punch their ticket to Big Dance with an at-large bid after falling to Temple in the semifinal of the A-10 tournament. It’s the 20th NCAA bid in school history, fourth straight and eighth in nine years.

PORTLAND STATE- The Vikings made their tournament debut in 2008, but drew eventual national champion Kansas in the first round. The Vikings (23-9) hope to change their fate in 2009 as they return three starters and six letter winners from last season’s tournament team. Jeremiah Dominguez, the 2007-08 Big Sky Player of the Year, is still the backbone of this team. Fellow backcourt mates, Dominic Waters and Andre Murray, help provide Portland State with a dangerous trio of guards. All three players average 11.0 or more points. In the frontcourt, sophomore Phil Nelson is a dangerous swingman that can play inside but also step outside and hit the three. Portland State is riding a six-game win streak, but is 8-8 on the road.

UCLA- The Bruins lost in the national semifinal last season to Memphis. They lost three starters from that team, including NBA lottery picks Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, but returned seniors Darren Collison and Josh Shipp. The duo was UCLA’s only two players to average double figures in scoring. UCLA owns the nation’s best field-goal percentage (50.3) and continue to play stout defense under Howland. They head into the tournament coming off a shocking loss to USC in the Pac-10 semifinals.

VCU- Duke knows all too well about Eric Maynor and the VCU Rams (24-9). The Blue Devils couldn’t avoid a first-round upset at the hands of the Rams in the 2007 NCAA tournament — the last time VCU wore their dancing slippers. After a one-year absence, VCU is headed back to the Big Dance and looking to shock the world again. Maynor, two-time reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, is still as lethal as he was in ’07. He is one of three players in the nation averaging 22 points and six assists. But he isn’t the only shining star. Sophomore Larry Sanders was the first VCU player to earn CAA Defensive Player of the Year honors. He averaged a league-best 2.6 blocks while also contributing 11.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Freshman forward Bradford Burgess is a star in the making and is the first VCU frosh to start all 30 games since Maynor did it in 2005. VCU is headed for their ninth tournament appearance and third since 2004, but the Rams have never made it past the second round (5-8).

VILLANOVA-  Villanova went to the Sweet 16 last season before losing to eventual champion Kansas. Villanova (26-7) finished fourth in the Big East before losing to regular-season champion Louisville in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Senior forward Dante Cunningham was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player, while sophomore guard Corey Fisher was the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. But the backbone of the team is junior point guard Scottie Reynolds.

AMERICAN- American returned three starters from last year’s tournament team and is a veteran squad with seven seniors. They struggled to begin the season by posting an 8-6 record, but dominated as soon as Patriot League play began (16-1 including their conference tournament wins). Patriot League Player of the Year Derrick Mercer (11.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.4 apg) and first-teamer Garrison Carr (17.8 ppg) were unstoppable in the backcourt, while senior Brian Gilmore’s breakout year (12.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) paced the effort in the frontcourt.

TEXAS-  The Longhorns lost just one starter — albeit an important one in D.J. Augustin — from last year’s squad that went 31-7. Behind the veteran leadership of upperclassmen A.J. Abrams (16.3 ppg) and Damion James (15.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Texas scraped their way to a 22-11 record. The Longhorns also received breakout seasons from sophomore Gary Johnson (10.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and junior Dexter Pittman (10.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg). 

MINNESOTA-  Minnesota (22-10) lost seven of their last 11 games, including a quarterfinal exit to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament, but still managed to secure the school’s seventh NCAA bid.  Smith has really turned Minnesota into a winner in his short time on campus (posting a 42-24 record) and got the job done in 2008-09 thanks to an overall team effort. Only one player — Lawrence Westbrook — is averaging 10 or more points and 11 players appeared in 27 or more games.

DUKE- After running the table in the ACC tournament and defeating Florida State in the title game, coach Mike Krzyzewski has Duke in the Big Dance for the 33rd time and the 24th time in the last 25 years.  Duke hasn’t gotten out of the first two rounds of the tournament in the last two seasons. If this year is going to be different, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson will be counted on to lead Duke. Singler, a sophomore forward, leads the team with almost 17 points and eight rebounds per game, and the junior guard Henderson comes in at 16 and five. Add in an excellent supporting cast of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, a savvy senior point guard in Greg Paulus and a 7-footer in Brian Zoubek and the Devils are primed for a deep run.

BINGHAMTON- When Binghamton hits the court in the 2009 NCAA tournament, it will be making history since its Binghamton’s first trip to the tournament. The top-seeded Bearcats (23-8) clinched their first America East title since moving to Division I for the 2001-02 season and have won 11 straight games heading into the NCAA tournament. America East Coach of the Year Kevin Broadus led Binghamton to their first regular-season title in 63 years of basketball and in just his second year at the helm. The 23 wins are also a school record and they accomplished it thanks to four transfers — D.J. Rivera (St. Joe’s, Pa.), Emanuel Mayben (Massachusetts), Malik Alvin (UTEP) and Reggie Fuller (Texas). Although, Binghamton heads into the tournament without guard Dwayne Jackson (11.7 ppg), whose been suspended since January for violation of team rules.



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