This probably isn't the most flattering photo of Ohio coach John Groce.
One of the best things about the NCAA Tournament is the way that teams can come from relative unknowns to household names. Gonzaga, George Mason, Davidson, Butler, VCU; all of them burst onto the national scene in March after little attention as obscure programs. March Madness allows fans to be exposed to heroes, Cinderellas, and teams that aren't well-known around the country. It's fascinating that all kinds of schools -- big, small, private, public, whatever the case may be -- are placed together and play each other. After months of seeing our Big Ten companions in every game, it's really exciting to play teams that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. I'm guessing Michigan fans have differing levels of familiarity with our possible opponents in the first weekend -- Ohio is close geographically but plays in the MAC, Temple plays out east in another non-BCS conference, Cal plays in the lowly PAC-Twelve, and USF has largely flown under the radar and snuck into the dance. Hopefully this brief guide will give a little bit of insight into these teams. The number in parentheses next to each team's name is Ken Pomeroy's computer ranking.
#13 Ohio (72)
- Record: 27-7 (11-5, 3rd place MAC)
- Adjusted Offense (national rank from KenPom): 114
- Adjusted Defense: 50
- Was selected as the MAC's automatic bid after beating Toledo and Buffalo and winning the MAC Championship game against Akron, 64-63.
- Best wins (KenPom rank): Marshall (74), Akron twice (79), Northern Iowa (95)
- Worst Losses: Eastern Michigan (279), Toledo (200), Robert Morris (141)
- DJ Cooper -- The junior point guard is small at 5'11" 165 lbs, but he's extremely quick, very athletic, and is a very high usage player for the Bobcats. He's relatively inefficient shooting the ball (31% from three, 39% from two) but gets to the line often and contributes with a high assist rate. People are hyping up the Burke vs. Cooper matchup, and for good reason: Cooper is really good.
#5 Temple (36)
- Record: 24-7 (13-3, 1st place Atlantic 10)
- Adjusted Offense: 20
- Adjusted Defense: 98
- Wasn't ever on the bubble and received bid as an at-large after losing in first round of A-10 Tournament to Massachusetts, 77-71.
- Best wins: Wichita State (10), Saint Louis (15), Duke (17)
- Worst Losses: Bowling Green (123), Richmond (105), Massachusetts (90)
- Juan Fernandez -- Another point guard, Fernandez is a very valuable senior leader on a veteran Owls squad. He's not a traditional point guard; he's a crafty scorer with a good outside shot. Defensively, he's above average because of his size, but he's not elite. Think Darius Morris with a little bit less athleticism, not nearly as much passing ability, but a significantly better shot.
#12 Cal (28)
- Record: 24-9 (13-5, tied for 2nd place PAC-12)
- Adjusted offense: 50
- Adjusted defense: 21
- Managed to gain an at-large bid after being upset in the PAC-12 Tournament, even though regular season champion Washington did not receive an at-large.
- Best wins: UCLA twice (48), Stanford (53), Oregon twice (62)
- Worst losses: Washington State (129), Oregon State (97), Colorado twice (75)
Player to watch:
- Jorge Gutierrez -- The PAC-12 Player of the Year was the senior guard for the Golden Bears. Gutierrez is a solid offensive option with a decent mid-range game and good size and strength (plus he can play both guard positions as he's big enough for a two and a good enough passer for a one), but his best asset is his tenacious and very physical defense.
#12 South Florida (66)
- Record: 20-13 (12-6, tied for 4th place Big East)
- Adjusted offense: 178
- Adjusted defense: 16
- The Bulls received an at-large for the first time in my lifetime with a strong 6-2 stretch to close the regular season.
- Best wins: Louisville (20), Cincinnati (31), Seton Hall (47)
- Worst losses: Auburn (154), Penn State (125), Old Dominion (93)
Player to watch:
Augustus Gilchrist -- I finally didn't choose a guard! The 6'10" senior is South Florida's tallest player and has the second-highest offensive rebounding rate on the team. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Gilchrist has been somewhat of a disappointment and has his lowest points per game total of his career. If there's any hope to resurrect the stagnant USF offense, it might need to come from better shooting from Gilchrist.