NCAA Tournament: Teams, players to watch, bracket busters
By John Harris
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
FIVE TEAMS THAT COULD WIN it all
Ranked No. 1 until star forward Ryan Kelly suffered a foot injury, the Blue Devils pounded North Carolina in Kelly's first game back. A few years ago, coach Mike Krzyzewski attempted to work star guard Kyrie Irving back in the lineup following an injury but fell short in the NCAA Tournament. Kelly's return, paired with an already talented roster, makes the Blue Devils particularly dangerous.
The preseason choice of many pundits to win it all. Coach Rick Pitino's team can be outstanding when the pressure is on — witness last year's unexpected trip to the Final Four. There's a reason why guard Russ Smith is known as Russdiculous. Smith can play the Cards in or out of a game in a hurry.
The Jayhawks are rock-solid They reached the title game in two of the last five years, winning it all in 2008. Five regulars from last year's national runner-up return, including intimidating shot-blocker Jeff Withey. Freshman Ben McLemore leads the team in scoring.
Ranked No. 1 entering the tournament, the Zags feature one of the best frontcourts in college basketball. Coach Mark Few will be taking his 15th consecutive team to the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga is 7-1 against opponents from the Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten this season.
The Panthers rank No. 3 nationally in assist-turnover ratio, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 7 in scoring margin, No. 8 in assists, No. 13 in rebounding margin, No. 14 in fewest turnovers and No. 15 in field goal percentage. They entered the Big East Tournament having won 11 of 14 games. What's not to like?
FIVE BRACKET BUSTERS
Top seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament was 3-0 against VCU and Butler during the regular season, defeating both teams when they were ranked in the Top 25. Also routed No. 20 New Mexico. Featuring 11- and nine-game winning streaks this season.
Handily defeated Nebraska, Akron and California while winning the underrated Missouri Valley Conference. Ranks among Top 10 teams nationally in field goal percentage and assists.
Pressure defense leads the nation in steals and ignites the No. 11 scoring offense in the country. Shaka Smart guided VCU to the Final Four two years ago and has few peers in the coaching profession.
Signature wins this season include Wisconsin, Georgetown, Syracuse and Pitt twice. Balanced lineup featuring seven players averaging at least 5.0 points. Not flashy, but a team that doesn't beat itself.
Sun Belt champions won four games in four days to clinch fourth NCAA Tournament berth since 2008. Hilltoppers have four NCAA Tournament wins in last three appearances with at least one win in each of the last three appearances.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Creighton, Jr., F
Post-up player with the ability to shoot from distance, McDermott averages 23.1 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 56.1 percent from the floor. Plays like a power forward, shoots like a guard.
Kansas, Fr., G
Selective scorer averaging more than 16 points while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Good rebounder, too. Most importantly, McLemore has emerged as the go-to offensive player on a team with the ability to make a deep tournament run.
Indiana, Jr., G
National Player of the Year candidate does it all. Ranks fourth nationally in shooting percentage at over 60 percent, shoots better than 45 percent from 3-point range and averages more than two steals per game. Is second on the team in scoring and third in rebounding.
Gonzaga, Jr., F
Playing as well as any big man in the country. Shoots from inside and outside and takes only good shots (65.5 percent from the floor). Best player on the top-ranked team entering the NCAA Tournament.
Georgetown, So., F
Big East Player of the Year leads Hoyas in scoring and rebounding and makes a high percentage of his shots. A marked man by opponents, Porter has as much pressure on him as any player in the NCAA Tournament.
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