Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:43 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 11:41 pm

Tiny Dancers: VCU

Shaka is back.

A year ago, Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams made the magical and improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four.

They could have another crack at it.

Smart and his more inexperienced Rams took care of George Mason in the semifinals and then held off top-seeded Drexel, which came in on a 19-game winning streak, to win the CAA tournament championship on Monday night.

This is obviously a different team from the one that shocked the nation a year ago.

Gone are Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell.

It's now senior Bradford Burgess and a bunch of youngsters who may not shoot it as well, but get after it on the defensive end - and are headed back to the NCAA tourney.

It's a different cast of characters, but Shaka Smart and VCU are back in the NCAA tournament. (US Presswire)

Player to know -- Bradford Burgess - He's not a big-time scorer (he averages a little more than 13 per game), but he finished with 20 points and knocked down a handful of 3's in the semifinal win over George Mason. Burgess struggled offensively against Drexel, but he's started an NCAA-record 144 consecutive games since he arrived at the school and can really get after it on the defensive end. He's also a guy who isn't afraid to take -- and make -- the big shot.

The Vitals:
Record: 28-6, 15-3 in the CAA
Most recent tournament appearance: 2011 (Final Four)
We’re thinking: 11 seed
KenPom ranking: 46
Sagarin ranking: 50
RPI: 49
Best wins: South Florida, Akron, Drexel
Worst losses: Georgia State, Georgia Tech
Notable stat: According to KenPom.com, VCU leads the nation in defensive turnover percentage at 27.3. I'm fairly certain that means that opponents turn the ball over 27.3 times per 100 possessions. That's pretty impressive.

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:38 pm

Tiny Dancers: Loyola Greyhounds

It's already a lovefest on Twitter for the Greyhounds and their coach, Jimmy Patsos. Patsos' story will become something you can recite instantly by the start of the Greyhounds' first tournament game, as the bartender-turned-basketball coach will receive as much love from the media as any other. The reason for that is his team's 48-44 MAAC championship win Monday night over No. 4 Fairfield. Loyola played itself to a No. 2 seed this season, and after Fairfield took care of top-seeded Iona in the semis, Loyola won the rubber match with the Stags.

Patsos won the league's Coach of the Year award this year as well.

It's the second NCAA tournament bid for the Greyhounds in program history. Their other one came 18 years ago, in 1994, when a young Skip Prosser guided the team there in his first and only season in Maryland.

This team is solid at rebounding on the offensive glass, good at getting to the foul line -- and miserable at defending 3-pointers. The team doesn't have the look of a Cinderella, but Patsos and the program's story more than makes up for that. There won't be many, if any, teams and coaches that cherish the first tournament weekend more than this one.

Jimmy Patsos, left, and the Greyhounds will be the loveable underdogs of this year's field. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Erik Etherly. Etherly is considered one of the five best players in the league by opposing coaches. He's extremely versatile, leading the team in scoring (13.6), rebounding (7.6) and second in assists (1.9). At 6-7, he can play inside to out, but he is definitely best in the paint, where he's a reliable shot-maker and one of the best glass hogs in the conference. Chances are the Greyounds will be overmatched at almost every position in their first game except for this one.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 24-8 overall, 13-5 in MAAC
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 1994, No. 15 seed, lost 81-55 to Arizona.
  • We’re thinking: 15 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 133
  • Sagarin ranking: 137
  • RPI: 86
  • Best wins: at Bucknell, vs. Iona
  • Worst losses: vs. Niagara, at Marist
  • Notable stat: This is nuts. For six years, from '99 to '05, Loyola was a mess. It won 29 games, total. That's just five more than what the Hounds did this season. 
-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 4, 2012 6:06 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 6:22 pm

Tiny Dancers: Creighton Bluejays

ST. LOUIS -- It would've been a shame to have an NCAA Tournament without Doug McDermott.

Now we know we won't.

Truth is, the Bluejays did enough in the regular season to secure an at-large bid. So nobody was sweating Sunday's MVC Tournament title game. But Creighton earned the league's automatic bid with an 83-79 victory over Illinois State and thus positioned itself to receive the type of seed that should give Greg McDermott's team a real shot to advance in the Field of 68.

The Bluejays are now 28-5 with a Top 25 RPI.

They could get a five seed but will probably get a six or seven.

Either way, the good news is this: Creighton's performance here in St. Louis will allow it to avoid the eight-nine game and, by extension, avoid a game against a No. 1 seed in the Round of 32. So the folks in Omaha can dream big. These Bluejays have the star power (Doug McDermott) and shooting ability (42.6 percent as a team from 3-point range) to cause problems. A Sweet 16 is a reasonable goal, a Final Four is a realistic dream. Sure, they'll need to guard a little better in spots to chase those things. But if you can score in March you can win in March, and there's no denying the Bluejays can score. They have one of the nation's best offenses. When they make shots, they're a tough out.

Player to know -- Doug McDermott. Remember what Steph Curry did for Davidson a few years back? This sophomore forward could do the same for Creighton. McDermott is averaging 23 points and eight rebounds this season, and he had 33 points in the MVC title game. He's a big-time talent at the right kind of school to be a big-time player, and there's no perfect way to guard him at the collegiate level. McDermott can beat you on the perimeter or in the post. He's not just a coach's son. He's a coach's dream (and an opposing coach's nightmare).

The Vitals:
  • Record: 28-5, 14-4 in the MVC
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2007
  • We’re thinking: Six seed
  • KenPom ranking: 35
  • Sagarin ranking: 25
  • RPI: 23
  • Best wins: Wichita State, San Diego State, Long Beach State, Northwestern
  • Worst losses: Missouri State, Evansville
  • Notable stat: Creighton has an effective field goal percentage of 58.5 percent. That ranks first nationally.
-- Gary Parrish

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 3, 2012 9:35 pm

Tiny Dancers: Belmont Bruins

For the fifth time in seven years, Belmont will play in the NCAA tournament on behalf of the Atlantic Sun. Rick Byrd's had 20 wins with this team in seven of the past nine years, and get this, only Kansas and Belmont have had 12 league wins or more every year for 10 years. The Bruins are leaving the Atlantic Sun on top.

Yep, that's right. After establishing itself as the premier program in the conference, Belmont will head off to join Murray State in the Ohio Valley in 2012-13. Bruin fans chanted "OVC! OVC! OVC!" upon Belmont's bid-clinching 83-69 win over Florida Gulf Coast Saturday, which amounts to the most unlikely chant this weekend we will have this weekend. It's also the saddest. It should be interesting to see how the OVC shapes itself in the coming years. It's possible, even likely, Belmont won't find this success again soon. Prior to 2006, the program had never been to the NCAAs.

Let's get our focus back to this year. Does Belmont stand its best chance at March success? That's arguable. The team's really fun, and terrific on offense -- but not so much on defense. I think last year's 30-5 Bruins team was a better one, but this group has three seniors and three juniors who get significant playing time, so that could accrue to tangible growth. It's all a matter of matchups. What you should know: Belmont is dangerous and likely to be a chic upset pick. Despite being a weak rebounding team, they don't turn the ball over and are fairly staunch in their man-to-man defense.

Byrd is a good tactician as a coach, and they'll no doubt have wrinkles ready for whatever team they face. It's hard to see Belmont getting blown out in its first game.

Player to know: Kerron Johnson. Johnson is the speedy guard who takes on the biggest load for the Bruins. He scores more than 1.2 points per possesion -- only 5-11 Drew Hanlen equals that for Belmont -- and with a 63-percent true shooting percentage, he's in the top one percent of college basketball shooters. He led the team with 14.1 points and 5.2 assists per game. Not a lot of guys can check his ability, although he does have a few unforced turnovers each game.

The Bruins are back again. Will this be their breakthrough year in the NCAAs? (AP)

The Vitals:
  • Record: 26-7 overall, 16-2 in Atlantic Sun
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2011, No. 10 seed, lost 72-58 to Wisconsin.
  • We’re thinking: 13 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 25
  • Sagarin ranking: 33
  • RPI: 60
  • Best wins: at Middle Tennessee State, vs. Marshall
  • Worst losses: Home against Lipscomb, at Miami (OH)
  • Notable stat: Belmont shoots 55.8 percent from the field in effective field goal percentage, which weights 3-point shots correctly. That percentage is the fifth-best in the country. The Bruins can score from everywhere.
-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 3, 2012 4:39 pm

Tiny Dancers: Murray State

Bubble teams everywhere rejoiced on Saturday afternoon, as Murray State came from behind in the second half to beat Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley championship game. With the Racers already set for an at-large slot if they lost, the win prevented the OVC from getting two bids.

Murray State lost only one game all season, a close game to Tennessee State in early February. The Racers started 23-0 and were the last team to lose in college basketball this year. They are very efficient at both ends of the floor, with the ability to score in different ways offensively and also forcing turnovers and contesting shots at the other end.

Despite their gaudy record, there are some people who don’t believe in Murray State’s NCAA tournament potential. However, with multiple scoring options and an All-American in Isaiah Canaan, it’s tough to count them out in any game. First-year head coach Steve Prohm has done a tremendous job since taking over the program, and is a candidate for Coach of the Year.

Player to know: Isaiah Canaan. The explosive scoring guard is an All-American and capable of carrying the Racers on the offensive end. He’s difficult to stop due to his ability to drive and his deep range. Canaan is averaging better than 19 points per game and shooting 48.2 percent on 3-pointers.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-1 overall, 15-1 in Ohio Valley
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2010, No. 13 seed, beat Vanderbilt 66-65 in the first round, followed by a 54-52 loss to Butler in the second round.
  • We’re thinking: 5
  • KenPom ranking: 47
  • Sagarin ranking: 41
  • RPI: 24
  • Best wins: Memphis, Saint Mary’s
  • Worst losses: Tennessee State
  • Notable stat: Murray State is one of the best shooting teams in the country, knocking down 41.4 of its long-range attempts.

-- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: March 3, 2012 2:29 pm

Tiny Dancers: UNC-Asheville

We have our first official dance participant, as UNC-Asheville knocked off VMI in the Big South championship game, 80-64. Five players scored in double figures for the Bulldogs, who dominated the second half en route to the victory.

Asheville dominated the Big South regular season for much of the campaign, losing just two games and winning the league by four games. The Bulldogs have one of the nation’s most underrated backcourts in Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm, two experienced players who have been to the NCAA tournament before. Five guys average in double-figures and they really get up and down the floor.

Located in Asheville, N.C., the Bulldogs have been to the NCAA tournament twice in the past decade, going 2-0 in “play-in” games. Eddie Biedenbach’s group is going to be a pain for whichever No. 1 seed it faces. This year’s group is better than last season’s squad, which finished third in the conference but won the automatic bid.

Player to know: Matt Dickey. The 6-foot-1 senior guard is coming off a 15-point, six-assist, five-steal performance in the title game against VMI. He’s the team’s best scorer and has topped 20 points eight times this season. Dickey averaged 21.5 points last season in Asheville’s two NCAA tournament games. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 24-9 overall, 16-2 in the Big South
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2011, No. 16, beat Arkansas-Little Rock 81-77 in the opening round before losing 74-51 to Pittsburgh.
  • We’re thinking: 16
  • KenPom ranking: 123
  • Sagarin ranking: 128
  • RPI: 115
  • Best wins: USC-Upstate, Charleston Southern
  • Worst losses: Western Carolina, Coastal Carolina
  • Notable stat: UNC-Asheville ranks fourth nationally in free-throw percentage and fourth in free-throw rate.

-- Jeff Borzello

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com