2011 NCAA First Four Preview

The madness begins today as are two games are being played today on Tuesday to open the 2011 NCAA Tournament and two more will be played on Wednesday.

The Big South champions from North Carolina-Asheville and the Sun Belt champion Arkansas-Little Rock meet today in the Southeast bracket for the right to be the #16 seed that will play against #1 seed Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The second matchup is between two at-large teams from the ACC and Conference USA. They will meet for the right to be the #12 seed in the East region and play #5 seed West Virginia in the first round.

North Carolina-Ashville vs. Arkansas-Little Rock

Pro prospects to watch:

D,J. Cunningham – UNC-Ashville 6’10 Forward/Center (Sophomore)

Solomon Bozeman – Arkansas-Little Rock 6’0 Guard (Senior)

UNC-Ashville played a few ranked teams this year getting destroyed by Ohio State and playing Georgetown well. Seven players played above 20minutes/game and 9 players were in double digit minutes played so they have depth. Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm are both 6’1 junior guards with similar rebounding and assist stats. They also have 6’10 sophomore D.J. Cunningham who is a good shot blocker down low. All three perimeter leaders in minutes played average nearly 2 steals per game.

Arkansas-Little Rock didn’t play a ranked team his year and they had a losing record against their own conference. A large number of players averaged double digit minutes per game but there is very little size. They shoot a high percentage from three-point range but a low percentage from the floor which leads me to believe that they live and die by the three. Leading the way from behind the arc is 6’0 senior guard Solomon Bozeman who averaged almost twice the number points as any other player on the team – so as he goes the team is sure to follow.

Clemson vs. Alabama-Birmingham

Pro prospects to watch:

Jerai Grant – Clemson 6’8 Power Forward (Senior)

Demontez Stitt – Clemson 6’2 Point Guard (Senior)

JaMarr Sanders – UAB 6’5 Guard (Senior)

Cameron Moore – UAB 6’10 Center (Junior)

Clemson has decent size and uses 6 players more than 20m/g. Stitt is a good solid point guard (a/to ratio 1.63) and Grant is a solid rebounder and shot blocker. Clemson as a team is not a good shooting team and they didn’t beat any ranked teams. They did play North Carolina tough in their last two meetings although they finished 5th in a weak ACC.

UAB is led by Sanders on the outside and Moore on the inside but 5’8 senior point guard Aaron Johnson (a/to ratio >2.0) runs the show. UAB has average size and average depth in their rotation. The pundits ripped their selection in the tournament but they did win Conference USA outright (despite losing to Memphis twice). They got killed by Duke early on but played Georgia tough in a losing effort.

The madness continues Wednesday as the second two games from the “First Four” are scheduled. The Southland champions from Alabama State and the SWAC champion Texas-San Antonio meet in the East bracket for the right to be the #16 seed that will play against #1 seed Ohio State on Friday.

The last game pits two more at-large teams when USC (PAC-10) meets Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial) for the right to be the #11 seed that will play Southwest #6 seed Georgetown in the first round.

Texas-San Antonio vs. Alabama State

Pro prospects to watch:

Devon Gibson – Texas-San Antonio 6’0 Point Guard (Senior)

Jeromie Hill – Texas-San Antonio 6’8 Forward (Freshman)

UTSA is a very small team. They only really go 7 players deep and only one is over 6’7 so there is no real shot blocking threat. As a team they average 7 steals per game and 3 of those are by Gibson. Also of note is forward Jeromie Hill is a 6’8 freshman from Australia who has a pretty good all-round game. They did not play a ranked team this year.

Alabama State also did not play a ranked team this year. Statistically this is a bad team. They shoot a horrible percentage from the line, from the field, and from behind the arc. They also have no size, no true point guard, and they turn the ball over much too much.

USC vs. Virginia Commonwealth

Pro prospects to watch:

Jamie Skeen – Virginia Commonwealth 6’9 Forward (Senior)

Nikola Vucevic – USC 6’10 Power Forward (Junior)

Alex Steveson – USC 6’10 Center (Senior)

USC relies heavily on their 5 top players so wearing down in a close game could be an issue as could foul trouble since their top two players are big men. They are a solid shooting team that doesn’t do anything exceptionally well or poorly. They do have two great rebounders and good size up front.

Virginia Commonwealth beat George Mason and UCLA this year but lost to Richmond and went 1-2 against Old Dominion. VCU’s 5 starters play the majority of the minutes but 4 players do come off of the bench so depth is good. 5’10 Senior PG Joey Rodriguez (a/to ratio >2.0) and 6’9 Senior Forward Jamie Skeen provide leadership. There are several good three-point shooters in the starting lineup including their tallest player Skeen, although size is a major concern