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South Region: Team by team breakdown

March 18, 2009

NORTH CAROLINA- . They head to the NCAA tournament for a 41st time in school history. They have been to the Final Four 17 times, the last coming in 2008 before losing to eventual champion Kansas in the national semifinal. Lawson, the ACC Player of the Year, is one of the quickest players in the county and an electrifying point guard, but the face of this team is Tyler Hansbrough, the 2008 ACC Player of the Year and perennial All-American. Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Deon Thompson are also key figures for the Tar Heels (28-4), but if Lawson isn’t healthy a championship run is very unlikely.

RADFORD- Coach Brad Greenberg performed one of the best turnaround efforts of 2008-09. The Highlanders were a pathetic 10-20 last season in Greenburg’s first season as head coach. This year they did a complete 180. A 21-11 record and 15-3 mark in conference, while winning the Big South Conference championship for just the second time in school history and first since 1998. The Highlanders, making their second tournament appearance, used experience to propel themselves in ’08-09 as they returned five starters and 10 lettermen. However, it was junior college transfer Artsiom Parakhouski that sparked the turn around. The 6-11 big man from Belarus averaged a team-high 16.3 points and 11.2 rebounds while being named Big South Player of the Year. Radford was able to survive the loss of last season’s leading scorer, senior guard Martell McDuffy — who was kicked off the team after 13 games — and won 17 of their last 19 games.

LSU-  This year’s Tigers, a defensive team that at times struggles shooting the basketball, are led by SEC Player of the Year senior guard Marcus Thornton, who averaged almost 21 points and six boards. Thornton teams with junior power forward Tasmin Mitchell, who was an integral part of LSU’s ’06 Final Four run. 

BUTLER- Butler (26-5) was a staple in the Top 25 while winning a third straight regular-season Horizon title. They fell in their quest for a second straight tournament championship, losing to Cleveland State 57-54 in the title game. Still, Butler earned a ninth NCAA tournament appearance. In their last four outings, Butler has recorded a first-round victory. The ’08-09 Bulldogs are led by sophomore Matt Howard, who replaced Mike Green as Horizon League Player of the Year. He averaged 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds. Freshman Gordon Hayward won the Newcomer of the Year, averaging 13.2 points and 6.5 rebounds.

ILLINOIS- llinois had four players average 9.8 points or better this season led by sophomore guard Demetri McCamey’s 11.5. The team only has three seniors in Trent Meacham, Calvin Brock and Chester Frazier and of that group, only Meacham is a big-time contributor. Instead, Weber uses the super sophomore trio of McCamey, 6-foot-9 forward Mike Davis and 7-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale as the team.s go-to players.  Chester Frazier is most likely sitting out in the first round game vs Western Kentucky which could very likely lead to a first round exit.

WESTERN KENTUCKY-  Coach Ken McDonald will be looking to lead his team on another deep tournament run after Western Kentucky (24-8) made it to the Sweet 16 in ’08. WKU was able to clinch a second straight tournament berth despite the loss of three starters from last year’s squad — Rogers, Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton. McDonald relied heavily this season on A.J. Slaughter (15.8 ppg), Sun Belt Player of the Year Orlando Mendez-Valdez (14.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.0 apg), Steffphon Pettigrew (12.7 ppg) and Sergio Kerusch (11.2 ppg).

GONZAGA- Gonzaga is led by senior Josh Heytvelt, junior Matt Bouldin and sophomore Austin Daye, but also receive quality production from Jeremy Pargo, Steven Gray and Micah Downs. Gonzaga is certainly battle tested by playing out-of-conference opponents such as UConn, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Maryland, Tennessee (twice) and Memphis. Gonzaga rolls into the tournament winners in 18 of their last 19 games.  Mark Few has created a powerhouse in the northwest, as Gonzaga has become a shoe in during the tourney, year in and year out.

AKRON- Playing in their third straight MAC tournament championship game, the fifth-seeded Zips won their first-ever title with a 65-53 defeat of Buffalo. This marks just the second time in school history that Akron (23-12, 10-6) has gained automatic entry into the Big Dance. Akron finished the regular season as the second-best offense in the MAC and were led by sophomore forward Brett McKnight. McKnight, who’s older brother Chris is also a big contributor for the Zips, led the team with 11.4 points per game despite coming off the bench for much of the year. MAC tourney MVP senior forward Nate Linhart provides the inside punch as he averaged 10 points and six boards.

ARIZONA STATE- Coach Herb Sendek is making his first appearance in the NCAAs with ASU after leading them to their first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1979-81. Pac-10 Player of the Year James Harden is as good of an overall player as you are going to find. He averages 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Harden’s high school teammate Derek Glasser nearly averages five assists from the point guard position, while four-year starter Jeff Pendergraph is scoring at a career pace (14.5 ppg). Sophomore swingman Rihards Kuksiks has nearly doubled his scoring output (10.0 ppg) in his second year on campus. Arizona State (24-9) is reeling a bit having lost four of their last seven games. The 15 point lead that ASU gave up to allow USC win the pac 10 tournament might be in the back of their minds as they play a tough Temple team.

TEMPLE- Senior guard, Dionte Christmas was instrumental in leading Temple (22-11) to their second straight NCAA tournament (27th overall) after running the table in the Atlantic 10 tournament for a second successive season. It’s the first time an A-10 team has defended its tournament crown since Temple did it in 2001. Christmas is lights out when it comes to shooting the ball and has been averaging 19-plus points for the last three seasons. While he is Temple’s all star, a few other players contribute to the Owls success. Sophomore Lavoy Allen (10.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg) gets the job done in the paint for Temple, and junior Ryan Brooks (10.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg) is a perfect compliment in the backcourt to the A-10 first teamer Christmas.

SYRACUSE- The Orange, led by diminutive sophomore guard Johnny Flynn’s 17.5 points and seven dimes per game, are ready for their 33rd NCAA Tournament. Flynn teams with juniors Eric Devendorf and leading rebounder Paul Harris to form a youthful trio ready to help legendary coach Jim Boeheim make another championship run.

S.F. AUSTIN- The Lumberjacks look to gain respect on the court as they head to their first NCAA tournament following a 68-57 victory over Texas-San Antonio in the Southland Conference title game.  Stephen F. Austin lost to Northwestern State in the conference semifinals and was sent packing to the NIT. This year, the Lumberjacks carry an eight-game win streak into the tournament and look to a pair of seniors — center Matt Kingsley and forward Josh Alexander to lead the way.

CLEMSON- The Tigers are playing inconsistent basketball for the second season in a row at the wrong time of year. Clemson (23-8) was one of the hottest teams to open the season, winning their first 16 games. They didn’t finish up strong by losing eight of their last 15 games. Included in that run was a first-round exit in the ACC tournament to Georgia Tech, who won just two ACC games in the regular season. Clemson won 12 of their first 13 games in 2007-08 before losing nine of their last 18, which included a first-round NCAA tournament upset at the hands of Villanova. Coach Oliver Purnell is hoping the Tigers’ ninth tournament appearance lasts a little longer. Junior Trevor Booker (15.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg) really stepped up in the frontcourt this season after losing running mate James Mays to graduation. Senior K.C. Rivers (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg), sophomore Terrence Oglesby (13.6 ppg) and sophomore Demontez Stitt (8.8 ppg, 3.7 apg) were the stars of the backcourt.  Rivers will be the go to guy to get Clemson out of this rut.  He must heat up from downtown if they want to make a run.

MICHIGAN- Coach John Beilein did what Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker failed to do before him — get Michigan into the NCAA tournament. Michigan (20-13) is back in the Big Dance for the first time in 11 years as an at-large team.  All-Big 10 first-team honoree Manny Harris (16.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.4 apg) is one of the most exciting players in college basketball you’ve likely never heard of. Teammate DeShawn Sims (15.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is also heavily involved at both ends of the court. Like Beilein’s teams at West Virginia, the Wolverines live and die by the three-pointer, averaging 8.6 conversions per game (15th in the NCAA). A top 50 RPI ranking helped Michigan sneak into the field of 65.

OKLAHOMA- After winning 25 of their first 26 games, Oklahoma has gone 2-4 in its final six games. The latest loss was a heartbreaking defeat against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. The good news for the Sooners is it appears standout forward and Big 12 Player of the Year Blake Griffin is back to form after dealing with a concussion at Texas on Feb. 21. Griffin (21.9 points and 14.3 rebounds) leads the NCAA with 26 double-doubles, his latest coming against the Cowboys with 17 points and 19 rebounds. Griffin gets help from Willie Warren (14.7 points and 3.0 assists), Tony Crocker (9.6 points) and Taylor Griffin (9.6 points and 6.0 rebounds), but they will have to step up for the Sooners to be successful.

MORGAN STATE- Todd Bozeman finally did it. The two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year led the Bears (23-11) to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance after knocking off Norfolk State in the MEAC title game. The former California coach is also headed back to his first Big Dance since leading the Golden Bears to the tournament three times in the mid-1990s. He accomplished the feat following the loss of three starters from last year’s squad, including MEAC Player of the Year Jamar Smith, and incorporating nine newcomers to the picture. Returning starters Reggie Holmes, the MEAC’s leading scorer (16.9 ppg), and second-team conference honoree Marquise Kately (11.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) were able to guide the young Bears in 2008-09. Senior point guard Jermaine Bolden (9.2 ppg, 4.9 apg) and redshirt freshman Kevin Thompson (9.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg) were also influential with their breakout campaigns. Morgan State has lost just once in their last 14 games, and posted nonconference victories over Maryland and DePaul.



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