Sure, the men's basketball team is the No. 5 seed in the East and UNLV is the No. 12 seed, but what about the other 14 teams in the Tigers' bracket? Here is a closer look at the East Regional.
No. 1 North Carolina (30-3 overall): The Tar Heels haven't missed a beat since former head coach Dean Smith retired, as Bill Guthridge has utilized a six-player rotation in UNC's starting lineup. Those six Tar Heels, led by All-American junior forward Antawn Jamison, are among the best in the country – UNC led Division I in field-goal percentage, shooting over 53 percent from the floor.
The Tar Heel backcourt – sophomore Ed Cota and senior Shammond Williams – is another strength, both in passing and outside shooting. Depth, however, is a concern for UNC, and a physical game could spell trouble. If 6-10 center Makhtar Ndiaye continues his recent foul problems, Guthridge will have to work with a short bench. But as Princeton found out earlier this season, accurate three-point shooting is required to knock off the Heels.
No. 2 Connecticut (29-4): After winning the Big East tournament, the Huskies are entering NCAAs on a roll, ready to use their quick team and deep bench to tire out their opponents. Big East Player of the Year sophomore forward Richard Hamilton leads UConn with 21.4 points per game, but the Huskies need solid play from freshman point guard Khalid El-Amin to advance far.
Head coach Jim Calhoun employs a pressing defense and a fast-paced style, which could present problems for a team that relies on a disciplined style of play. A good rebounding team could give UConn fits, and the Huskies' inexperience – three sophomores and a freshman start – could come back to hurt them.
No. 3 South Carolina (23-7): Recent tournament history has not been kind to the Gamecocks. Last year in the NCAAs, head coach Eddie Fogler's team was the highest-seeded first-round casualty, suffering a 13-point loss to No. 15-seed Coppin State. In the SEC tournament last week, South Carolina lost by 30 points to Kentucky.
In order for the Gamecocks to succeed, senior guard Melvin Watson and junior guard BJ McKie must use experience to their advantage. Both players are effective at driving down the lane and are offensive weapons at all times. Opposing defenses need to focus on Watson and McKie to have a chance of shutting South Carolina down.
No. 4 Michigan State (20-7): Picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten, the Spartans had a surprising season, sharing the regular-season conference title with Purdue. Head coach Tom Izzo knows where his team's production comes from – Mateen Cleaves. The 6-2 sophomore point guard is equally adept on offense and defense, and led the Spartans in both scoring (15.5 ppg) and assists (7.6 apg).
But Izzo does not have many other guards on his bench, which is why he needs strong play from Cleaves. The Spartans can rebound well, but they have no goto player inside, a weakness that can be exploited.
No. 6 Xavier (22-7): If you're looking for a surprise team that can advance deep into the tourney, you might want to consider the Musketeers. This veteran-loaded team forces 21.6 turnovers per game with its fullcourt pressure defense, and its starting lineup has remained intact for two seasons. Add junior forward James Posey to the mix off the bench, and you get an experienced core.
Slowing the tempo of the game could negate Xavier's advantage, and a strong physical team with good rebounders would also create havoc.
No. 7 Indiana (19-11): Head coach Bob Knight will be on the bench tomorrow, but his Hoosiers are looking to break a string of three straight first-round losses in NCAAs. Indiana limps into the tournament with four losses in five games, and senior center Andrae Patterson, undersized at 6-8, is in the midst of a slump.
Led by sophomore guard A.J. Guyton and freshman forward Luke Recker, the Hoosiers shoot well, but also allow their opponents to shoot well. Defense, depth and rebounding are all liabilities for this team.
No. 8 UNC Charlotte (19-10): Veteran leadership is the key for the 49ers, who have overcome injuries this season in making their fifth tournament appearance. UNCC is led by senior forward DeMarco Johnson, a definite NBA prospect who averages 20.7 ppg. Senior point guard Sean Colson is dangerous from outside, and often provides the spark for the 49ers. Foul trouble on the UNCC big men would expose the lack of depth on head coach Melvin Watkins' bench.
No. 9 Illinois-Chicago (22-5): The Flames will be firing, again and again, from beyond the arc in order to compensate for their thin low-post game. The three-point shooting of this team, however, is deadly when it is on – led by senior guards Anthony Coomes and Mark Miller, the Flames shot better than 42 percent on threes.
No. 10 Oklahoma (22-10): Look for the Sooners to play a fast-paced, high-scoring game – if they don't, look for them to have an early spring break. Oklahoma's most potent offensive threat is senior guard Corey Brewer, while senior center Evan Wiley will be a key in the lane. A tough defensive team would pose problems for the Sooners, but Oklahoma lucked out in the draw – Indiana is soft on "D."
No. 11 Washington (18-9): Looking for twin towers? Look no further than the Huskies' pair of seven-footers, junior forward Patrick Femerling and junior center Todd MacCullough. MacCullough is Washington's primary offensive force, and he will enjoy a considerable height advantage against Xavier. But if Xavier's defense can stop junior guard Donald Watts and sophomore guard Deon Luton, the Huskies' NCAA trip might be a short one.
No. 13 Eastern Michigan (20-9): If Washington's strength is height, the Eagles' strength is the lack thereof – 5-5 senior guard Earl Boykins, whose talents are striking despite his stature. Junior guard Derrick Dial and Boykins combine for 46 points per game, making Eastern Michigan's backcourt is obviously its strength. Weaknesses for the Eagles include so-so front line and spells of defensive carelessness.
No. 14 Richmond (20-7): The Spiders are a lot like Princeton teams of several years ago in their preference for halfcourt games and a deliberate pace. Richmond, led on offense by senior forward Jarod Stevenson, puts up over 70 points per game, but its lack of size could be costly. The Spiders' poor rebounding and interior defense are liabilities, but their experience should help them give any opponent trouble.
No. 15 Fairleigh Dickinson (23-5): In the Northeast Conference championship game, the Knights scored 68 second-half points against high-octane Long Island. That says a lot about FDU, which loves to push the pace and crash the boards. Due to this style, however, the Knights also commit a ton of turnovers – 19.5 per game. It will be live by the sword, die by the sword for FDU against UConn.
No. 16 Navy (19-10): The Midshipmen, winners of the Patriot League, are tough for a 16 seed, but that doesn't say much. Navy employs a frenetic man-to-man defense, but aside from 6-1 junior center Josh Williams, the team is very undersized and will have to rely on perimeter shooting. That, however, is the worst part of Navy's game, as the team hits for just 29.7 percent from beyond the arc.