Tu Holloway, PG, Xavier
The point guard formerly known as Terrell may have shortened his name, but his game has blown up. Holloway is not your traditional point. He averages over 20 points per game and the X-Men really lean on him for his scoring. He turns the ball over a bit too much (3.4 TO/game), but he’s excellent off the dribble and can take over games in a hurry. His excellent free throw shooting should be an asset down the stretch in tight tournament games.
Jared Sullinger, C, Ohio State
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? I don’t think he’s the best big man in the nation like many have said, that honor goes to Purdue center JaJuan Johnson, but he is a monster nonetheless. He’s very technically sound, using his wide body to carve out space in the lane, and when he gets the ball in deep, he finishes. He’s not a great shot blocker, but that’s really the only chink in the armor. He’s a double-double almost every time out.
Ohio State C Jared Sullinger does a great job of walling off defenders and taking up real estate in the paint.
Rick Jackson, PF, Syracuse
One of the most unheralded players in the nation this season (and last), Jackson has taken his game to another level. He almost doesn’t look like the same guy after shedding a ton of weight in the offseason. Arinze Onuaku got all of the attention last season, but this guy was clearly their best big. He’s a fantastic finisher around the rim and a great rebounder and shot blocker. Coach Jim Boeheim’s teams love to jack up threes, but if they want to play deep into March, they will get the ball to Jackson down low.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Washington
No, not that Isaiah Thomas, though this kid does have a similar game. Thomas is small (listed at 5’9’’, 185 lbs), but his game is not. He’s a terror off the dribble and his improved assist to turnover ratio (2:1 this season) makes him a reliable distributor to go along with his ability as a scorer. He falls in love with the jump shot sometimes, but he showed in the PAC-10 tournament that when he asserts himself, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Others to watch:
Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina; Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky; Jimmy Butler, F, Marquette; Trey Thompkins, PF, Georgia
Potential Sleeper (11+ seed that could make some noise): Marquette (11)
Most bracketologists have had 11 Big East teams in the tournament most of the season, but Marquette was on the bubble as recently as last week. They played well in the Big East tournament though, crushing Providence and then beating a solid West Virginia team (the five seed in the region). They got whipped by Louisville, but rest was probably an issue there. Overall, I like their team. They have two very nice pieces in senior F Jimmy Butler, an inside-outside threat, and junior G Darius Johnson-Odom. They are very athletic and can get the ball up and down the court. The question is, can someone take the reins in the half-court offense and get their scorers good shots?
Roy Williams needs freshman PG Kendall Marshall to be a coach on the floor if his Tar Heels are going to make it to the second weekend of the tournament.
Potential Early Exit (1-3 seed that could go down early): North Carolina (2)
The Tar Heels have had an excellent season, there’s no debating that. Early on, they looked as if they were headed to a second straight NIT appearance, but Head Coach Roy Williams kept the faith and turned this team around. However, they got a tough draw here. Yes, they will be playing the first two rounds in Charlotte, but they drew easily the toughest seven seed in the field (Washington). They’ve lost numerous contributors (they are down to eight scholarship players) and had a lot of trouble with slow starts in the ACC Tournament. You know what you are going to get from junior C Tyler Zeller, but the two freshmen, PG Kendall Marshall and SF Harrison Barnes, are going to need to play like upperclassmen for this team to advance to the second weekend.
Best Potential Matchup: Ohio State vs. Kentucky (Elite Eight)
This region is gushing with potential blockbusters, but this one takes the cake. It’s a perfect contrast of styles and a game loaded with talent. Ohio State is your typical deliberate Big Ten team (ranked 229thin the nation in tempo) and Kentucky is young, athletic and likes to get up and down the floor. Both teams have great freshmen and there’s probably more than a handful of future pros here when you combine the two rosters. Assuming these teams survive to the Elite Eight, the question will be who can impose their will and force the tempo? That’s a lot of pressure on two freshmen point guards, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight.
Best Mascot: UT San Antonio Road Runners
There were some solid contenders here, but to knock off a Looney Toons character, you have to bring a heck of a fight. I mean seriously, think of the possibilities for signs! There are so many Wile E. Coyote references I could make its ridiculous! If I were a UTSA student, I would be holding up one of those giant ACME rockets in the crowd. UT San Antonio will be lucky if they can make it out of their play-in game and avoid a thrashing at the hands of Ohio State. But even if they do bow out to Alabama State or take a savage beating from the Buckeyes, they can take solace in their awesome mascot. I only hope he’s as good in person as I’ve imagined him in my head.