Jimmer to the rescue
If you weren't already impressed with BYU guard Jimmer Fredette's play before the suspension of teammate Brandon Davies, perhaps you'll begin to admire his game if he can carry BYU in the postseason without Davies. Fredette does it all for BYU — scores, handles, distributes. Now, can he do it on the big stage of the NCAA Tournament?
Now that's progress
Belmont has never won a tournament game, and it's hardly a guarantee this will be the year. But the Bruins have gotten considerably closer in each of their three tournament appearances. In 2006, UCLA throttled them by 34. A year later, Georgetown only beat Belmont by 25. Then in 2008, the Bruins nearly shocked Duke, which went on to win 71-70.
Best first-round matchup
No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan State: This might be a 7 vs. 10 first-round matchup, but with these two brand-name programs colliding in tournament play, it'll probably feel more like games played a couple of weeks from now. The two have 26 Final Four appearances between them and are extremely well-coached. Yeah, Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Ben Howland (UCLA) know a little something about the NCAA Tournament. Both clubs have something to prove, too. Is Michigan State the team that beat Purdue by 18 or lost to it by 20? UCLA, meanwhile, needs to convince everyone that a 17-point drubbing against Oregon that bounced the Bruins from the Pac-10 tournament can be overcome.
Player to watch Jordan Taylor, G Wisconsin
If Wisconsin is going to make some noise in this tournament, it'll be Jordan Taylor setting the table. Taylor, below, will finish the season with one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in NCAA history. He enters the tournament with a 4.26-to-1 mark, impressive by any measurement. The Badgers could be headed for a weekend matchup with Kansas State and guard Jacob Pullen, but expect Taylor — a superb defender — to be up to the task.
No. 11 seed Gonzaga is always a team to watch this time of year, but the Bulldogs aren't perceived to have as much bite as a few years ago. Don't let that fool you in their matchup with No. 6 St. John's. Gonzaga has a balanced, veteran team that has plenty of experience in March. St. John's has shown susceptibility. The Red Storm finished strong, but don't forget that, not long ago, this club was 11-8 and 4-5 in the Big East.
By the numbers
.500 Season record of UC-Santa Barbara in the Big West Conference this season before upsetting Long Beach State in the conference championship. To say the Gauchos struggled at times is putting it mildly. Before winning the league title and being matched with No. 2 seed Florida, they lost four of five in league play coming down the stretch. Included were three straight losses to Boise State, Cal State-Northridge and Long Beach.
11 Years since St. John's won an NCAA Tournament game. The Red Storm defeated Northern Arizona in the first round in 2000 before going on to lose to Gonzaga — its opening opponent this year. St. John's has been gone a while, but it remains a household name among longtime college basketball fans. The Red Storm has enjoyed 27 tournament appearances and two Final Four berths.
10.4 Not only did Pittsburgh lead the Big East in rebounding, the Panthers outrebounded opponents by this margin. Led by center Gary McGhee, above (7.6 rpg), Pittsburgh has crashed the boards better than most teams in the country — a major reason for its status as a No. 1 seed.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer