This week the 64-team NCAA basketball tourney begins a wild run that won’t end until Monday, March 4 in St. Louis for the national championship. Here’s a peak at some of the heavy hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.
Illinois: Hard to believe it was just over a week ago that the Illini lost their first game! Illinois has a strong defense (62 ppg, second in the Big 10) with a terrific frontcourt of 6-foot-10 junior James Augustine and 6-6 senior Roger Powell. They own a deep backcourt behind senior Luther Head (16 ppg) along with juniors Deron Williams and Dee Brown (14 ppg). Illinois outscored the opposition by 10 points per contest. Bruce Weber’s squad manhandled Gonzaga, Wake Forest and Cincinnati, winning by 17, 18 and 22 points.
Okla St: The Cowboys have an up-tempo attack behind guard John Lucas III (18.3 ppg) that is second in the Big 12 in scoring (79 ppg) and first in shooting from the field (50.9 percent) and three-point land (43 percent). State is a strong 8-4 SU, 7-3 ATS on the road. Despite a run-and-gun reputation, notice the Cowboys are 7-4 "under" the total away from Stillwater.
Duke: Coach Mike Krzyzewski has another deep, talented roster, with ACC scoring leader J.J. Redick (22.8 ppg) and senior Daniel Ewing in the backcourt. Up front, 6-9 Shelden Williams (15.8 ppg, 11.4 rpg) leads the ACC in rebounding. It’s not often you see public teams do well against the spread, but Duke is an impressive 18-10 and 3-0 as a dog.
UNC: Second-year coach Roy Williams has a blistering offensive foursome with 6-9 junior Sean May (16.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg) and 6-8 senior Jawad Williams up front. Juniors Ray Felton and Rashad McCants (15.8 ppg) run one of top fast breaks in the nation. Felton leads the ACC with 7.3 assists per game. North Carolina topped the league in shooting (50.8 percent) and points (89.8 pg), shooting nearly 41 percent from three-point land. The Tar Heels were a solid 18-12 ATS.
UConn: The defending national champs are young, big and talented. Sophomores Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone each get 13 points and eight rebounds per game. Junior guard Rashad Anderson leads the Huskies in scoring, despite missing some time with a leg injury. Anderson played 20 minutes in a 67-63 loss to Syracuse in the Big East tourney. The Huskies carry a 10-2 SU/ATS run into this week.
Louisville: The Cardinals have a quick team behind Francisco Garcia and Tarquan Dean that led C-USA in scoring (82 ppg), three-point shooting (39 percent) and field goals (46.5 percent). Defensively, they’re ranked second in points allowed (62.8) and shooting (37.5 percent). U of L ended the regular season on a 15-1 run.
Kentucky: The Wildcats allow 40.4 percent shooting and just 61.3 ppg — both tops in the SEC. The Wildcats have a physical front line led by 6-7 senior Chuck Hayes, 6-5 Kelenna Azubuike and 6-11 freshman Randolph Morris. Kentucky is 6-4 ATS on the road, 3-1 as a dog.
Florida: The SEC league champs like the up-tempo game. The Gators led the SEC in scoring (79.4 ppg), field goals (50 percent) and three-point shooting (39.6 percent). They have a talented trio in 6-8 senior David Lee (13 ppg, 8.8 rpg), 6-6 junior Matt Walsh and sparkplug junior guard Anthony Roberson (18.6 ppg). Roberson led the SEC in scoring.
Syracuse: The Big East tourney champs have outstanding balance, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field (No. 1 in the Big East), while allowing just 39 percent shooting by opponents (second best). Senior Hakim Warrick (21 ppg, 8 rpg) is a strong low post player at both ends. The Orangemen seemed to play possum, going 4-5 SU to end the regular season, and carried a 2-10 ATS run into the Big East tourney. Then they exploded, starting 3-0 SU/ATS, which included an upset of UConn.
Arizona: Senior guard Salim Stoudamire (18.2 ppg) runs the break and leads in scoring, while 7-foot Channing Frye (15.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Hassan Adams pound the glass. Arizona is second in scoring in the Pac 10 (79.6 ppg), and first in three-point shooting (40 percent). Arizona is 13-8 "over" in the Pac 10, but 9-3 "under" in non-conference games.