COACH: Murry Bartow, seven years at East Tennessee State, three years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Atlantic Sun) MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: While the Buccaneers own a win at an SEC opponent (Arkansas) and nearly upset another one (Tennessee), Kentucky is an entirely different proposition. It is strong in a spot where ETSU has worries — inside — and could play volleyball under the glass with much more height and heft in its favor. Three musts for the Bucs: Play solid defense, be strong with the basketball and hit at least eight 3-pointers. Even all three might not be enough, although ETSU does have a history of scaring top seeds such as last year’s Pittsburgh squad.
Article continues below ...
GO-TO GUYS: Junior Tommy Hubbard perfectly epitomizes how the Buccaneers have changed course this year after losing three starters to graduation and a fourth (Mike Smith) to a season-ending stress fracture. An undersized forward at 6-foot-4, Hubbard leads the team in scoring (14.1), rebounds (8.3) and steals (54) and is the top individual defender. G Micah Williams (12.5 ppg) averaged 21.7 points per game in the conference tournament and earned Most Valuable Player honors. Alabama transfer Justin Tubbs (12.0) is a streaky shooter who can win a game when he’s on or lose one when he’s off.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: They keep opponents in the 60s while generating a bit of offense. ETSU has played solid defense all year except for a handful of games, switching between trapping zones and a man-to-man scheme. Despite being undersized, the Bucs have outrebounded the opposition for the season by about one per game and will have to work really hard on the glass against the "TV league" power they’ll likely draw in the first round. STRENGTHS: With good athletes who play hard on the defensive end, the Bucs hold opponents to 41.5-percent field-goal shooting, 32.7-percent 3-point shooting and 66.5 points per game. While they don’t have a true go-to scorer, the Bucs got double-figure games from 10 different players this season, an indication of their depth. ETSU owns 11 road or neutral-court wins this year, an indication it has mental and physical toughness.
WEAKNESSES: Because its post-up offense (namely C Isiah Brown, who alternates between brilliant or invisible) comes and goes, the Bucs are subject to long scoring droughts against a good defensive team. They lack a true point guard — only two players in Bartow’s present nine-man rotation have more assists than turnovers — and aren’t a good-shooting team. ETSU made just 43.5 percent of its shots from the field, 31 percent on 3-pointers and 66.3 percent at the foul line.