March Madness: Breaking Down the West Region

Welcome to the Madness, folks. To follow up on our preview of the South Region (Duke’s region) from yesterday, I’m here with a few thoughts on the West Region, which stars Michigan State as the #1 seed and a host of interesting players. Read on…

The West Region. (via ESPN.com's Bracket)

Best First Round Matchup: #8 Memphis vs. #9 Saint Louis

Obviously, the 8/9 game is intended to be between teams with parity; due to the closeness in seeding, victory in this game is less impressive than the potential of knocking off the #1 seed in the next round. I’m particularly intrigued  by this game, though, because of the coaching matchup. Memphis is led by Josh Pastner, a young ingenue/madman who succeeded John Calipari when he left for Kentucky. Saint Louis, on the other hand, is led by Rick Majerus, an old hand who has won 70% of his games, whose sweaters are the stuff of legend and whose Utah Utes took down UNC in the 1998 Final Four. It’s crazed fervor versus vintage stoicism, and the teams seem to be evenly matched. On paper, Memphis looks loads better: several 5 star recruits, including local legend Joe Jackson and star swing guard Will Barton. But the Tigers have struggled against big competition all year, losing early season matchups against Georgetown, Louisville and Murray State and dropping 3 games in the generally atrocious Conference USA. Saint Louis, though lacking the supposed star power of the Tigers, has balance and consistency–three players averaging in double figures–as well as defense, with the seventh best defensive rating in the NCAA allowing just 57.5 points per game. Ken Pomeroy has the Billikens at 15th in the country in his mathematically generated rankings (Memphis is 9th, though). Saint Louis finished second in the Atlantic 10, a vastly superior conference than the C-USA. It’s a clash of generations and a battle for Interstate 55 supremacy. Something tells me the youth and athleticism of Memphis will seize the day, but expect an exciting contest for the right to play (presumably) Michigan State.

Dark Horse: #6 Murray State

If I were Murray State, I’d be pissed with my seed. The Racers, one of four Kentucky universities to make the Dance (along with UK, Louisville and Western Kentucky), are 30-1 and beat tournament teams Memphis, St. Mary’s and the aforementioned WKU Hilltoppers during the season. Don’t fault their iffy strength of schedule, which is 239th out of 344 teams. Murray State’s top 5 scorers are upperclassmen with tournament experience, and they will come to the tourney with something to prove. We think they’re Sweet 16 bound and could present a problem for Missouri if they get there.

Player to Watch: Drew Gordon, #5 New Mexico

Gordon is a former big name recruit, somewhat pursued by Duke, who has had a strange journey to stardom for the Lobos and Coach Steve Alford. He transferred from UCLA after two seasons, apparently due to discipline problems and disagreements with Coach Ben Howland (who apparently has had many personnel problems in the past few years). Gordon has thrived at New Mexico, averaging a double-double for his final two seasons. He averaged 15.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in the Mountain West tournament and led the Lobos to the title with big victories over UNLV and San Diego State, both of whom are dancing. Gordon–mature, poised and 6’9” 245 lbs.–could provide a spark for the Lobos. If they get past Long Beach State, the potential matchup with big, physical Louisville is tantalizing.

Our Picks: Mizzou to the Final Four

I don’t foresee too many upsets in this region–in the first round, anyway. Some surprises might include Murray State to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Marquette and, if all goes well for Billy Donovan, Florida could ostensibly beat Mizzou. But it’s not likely–Missouri is primed to go to the Final Four. Having been snubbed by the selection committee after winning the Big XII title over Baylor, the Tigers got a favorable draw with this bracket. Michigan State is the weakest of the #1 seeds to me, although they are much better coached by Tom Izzo than Mizzou, who hired former Miami coach Frank Haith (how did he get that job?). The Tigers are loaded with seniors and physical guards. Ricardo Ratliffe matches up well with Spartan star forward Draymond Green. Kim English, a 6’6” guard who shoots nearly 50% from 3, is a matchup nightmare for anyone. The Tigers went 30-4; expect them to be 34-4 when the Final Four rolls around.

Below are our complete picks. Let us know what you think in the comment box!

Crazie-Talk's picks for the West Region. Don't hold us to 'em.


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March Madness Second Round: Winners and Losers

 

Ted Turner finally found a way to make people care about truTV. (Photo via Creative Commons)
The technical terms may have changed, but you get the gist of it: the NCAA “Second Round” is the real first two days of March Madness. Some people take these days off from work, citing “late-winter cough” or “early summer Avian Flu.” Jim Rome decries this annual ritual of the American workforce. Hooter’s celebrates it, offering coupons to those who come in with a desire for boobs Basketball Fever. It’s become an American tradition, like Andy Griffith, apple pie and Reverend Lovejoy.
What matters more than the bracket standings is the teams and players that make their mark on March. Here are some of the major winners and losers from the opening two days.
 
WINNERS!
 
VCU, George Mason, and the CAA
 
VCU showed that they deserved their controversial spot in the First Four, downing Nikola Vucevic and USC 59-46 before stomping the lights out of a convalescent Georgetown team last night. The last time VCU reached the round of 32, it was at our expense, as Eric Maynor dropped a dagger and was immortalized in March Madness lore. Luckily, those wounds were healed by last year’s national championship, and I’m ready to cheer for VCU against a powerful Purdue squad on Sunday.
George Mason lived up to their awesome shirts by downing Villanova with some late game heroics that thrilled Gus Johnson to no end. Their reward is a date with Ohio State–who looked pretty dominating in their win over UTSA–but the George Mason program has some experience shocking the world, having knocked off prohibitive favorite UConn en route to the 2006 Final Four. There are no players left over from that team, and Coach Jim Larranaga has earned his salt, proving ’06 was no fluke. With a combined record of 3-1 in the Tournament (with Old Dominion falling to Butler in the final seconds) the Colonial Athletic Association is setting itself up for more attention from the Selection Committee in coming years. They are definitely winners.
 
The ACC
 
Our beloved east coast conference has been a punching bag for the national media this year. Who’s laughing now? HUH, PUNKS?! Duke, UNC and Florida State all advanced to the round of 32, with the Seminoles being the biggest surprise in a 57-50 win over previously top-20 Texas A&M. Our Blue Devils and the Heels were expected to advance, of course. But it’s heartening to see Leonard Hamilton (probably the ACC’s fourth best coach) break through to the next round. They’ll face off with Notre Dame, and I think with their length and athleticism they stand a chance at beating the Irish, a team that depends on craftiness and finesse.
 
Morehead State’s national recognition
 
Giggle all you want at the irony of Rick Pitino’s vanquishers, Morehead State is for real. DeMonte Harper’s last second three was as pure as glacial melt, and Kenneth Faried probably raised his NBA draft stock by leading his team over the Big East finalist Cardinals. It’s always particularly meaningful when a little known school defeats a in-state powerhouse. Morehead State has the opportunity to advance even further today against Richmond…methinks the Eagles can body up the Spiders and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
 
LOSERS…
 
Tennessee and Bruce Pearl
 
Blue Devil fans had a particular interest in yesterday’s Tennessee-Michigan game, but after halftime, the game wasn’t all that interesting. Michigan thoroughly blasted the Volunteers, winning by 30 in what must be a record for an 8-9 game. Michigan was a bubble team before the Tournament, and now coach John Beilein looks like some kind of mad genius heading in to the Wolverines matchup against Duke. On the otherhand, Bruce Pearl has the NCAA breathing down his neck for repeated recruiting violations, and is probably going to lose his job in the offseason. Sad…I was hoping to see if he ever douse himself in orange paint again.
 
Kalin Lucas and Michigan State
 
UCLA finally mercy-killed Michigan State’s disappointing season, holding on 78-76 after giving up most of a 23 point lead. The Spartans never really coalesced this year, completely disappointing the predictions of many analysts that they would challenge for the NCAA title. Tom Izzo was snakebitten by the defections of lead guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious, and Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green struggled to take the reins as senior stars. Lucas’ storied career ended on a Langdon-esque note, traveling as he tried to race up the court for a final shot. I always liked Lucas, even if the comparisons to Kyrie were always a little generous on his side…
 
St. John’s
 
Steve Lavin brought St. John’s back from the brink of obscurity this year, defeating a number of top teams in Madison Square Garden including top seeds Duke and Pittsburgh. But the Red Storm and its 9 (?!) seniors struggled all year away from home. Cue Thursday night’s 86-71 defeat at the hands of Gonzaga, far from midtown Manhattan in Denver. The Zags stumbled out of the gate this year, hardly impressing anyone after Len Elmore infamously picked them to win the national championship. But the Bulldogs owned the boards and dished out 20 assists to put this one out of reach. I was pretty impressed with the Big East’s performance in the first round, but St. John’s proved it still has some work to do to rejoin the elite of its monstrous conference.
 
That’s all for now, folks. Enjoy the second round, and follow us on Twitter for the latest jokes about John Calipari’s hair gel and stuff like that. Thanks to many of our tweeps for suggesting winners and losers! Here’s your moment of zen…remember the days when we were still worried about Kyrie coming to Duke?
 
 
 
 

Previewing the South Region

I was on tenterhooks watching the CBS Selection Show Sunday evening. Several questions ran through my head: will we even get a one seed? will West Virginia or Kansas State loom as our 2 seed? will we have to travel across the country?

Duke does have the easiest path to the Final Four. Will the Devils take advantage?

When Duke was placed in the extremely weak South bracket, I kind of sat back in shock. Well, that was easy. Duke has a great opportunity to make a deep run this year—but will we take advantage and make Indianapolis for Coach K’s eleventh Final Four? Let’s find out, with Crazie-Talk’s preview of the “historically weak” South bracket.

Jacksonville, Fl. Pairing

First Round

#1 Duke v. #16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff: OK…Duke will win this one. Moving on.

#8 California v. #9 Louisville: This could be an interesting game. California won the Pac-10 regular season, but that doesn’t mean anything, as there were no elite teams playing anywhere on the West Coast, regardless of conference. But the Bears are no pushover, with several star players, including guard Jerome Randle and big man Patrick Christopher, plus former Duke forward Jamal Boykin contributing 12 points and 7 rebounds per game. Louisville has been an enigma this year, beating top seed Syracuse twice but losing by 20 to St. John’s and Marquette, as well as dropping early season games to Charlotte and Western Carolina. Louisville is a tough draw for the Bears, who just lost forward Omondi Amoke to suspension. Louisville forward Samardo Samuels will be able to take care of business down low, and the Cardinal guards will do enough to slow down Randle. I take Louisville in this game, although I desperately hope I’m wrong.

Second Round

#1 Duke v. #9 Louisville: This is a really scary early round matchup for the Blue Devils. Rick Pitino, adultery aside, is a fantastic motivator, and will get his boys up for a face-off with us. But when it comes down to it, our guard play is better than the Ville’s. Scheyer and Singler will have to take care of business, as the Cards have several quick guards to throw at Nolan. I think our bigs can contain the 6’9” Samuels, who gets frustrated if he can’t get push people around for easy layups. PG Edgar Sosa is very inconsistent, and Duke’s hard on ball pressure should get under his skin. K will win this battle of Hall-of-Fame coaches and Duke will advance to Houston.

Spokane, Wash. Pairing

First Round

#5 Texas A&M v. #12 Utah State: This battle of two Aggie squads could be very interesting. Texas A&M got a difficult draw in the first round after a solid Big

12 season. Utah State play great defense, just like A&M, and score few points, just like A&M. They also won 27 games, including a victory over seventh seeded BYU. They probably would have had a 10 or 9 seed had they not lost to New Mexico St. in the WAC tournament. Moreover,  Texas A&M has been riding the play of star guard Donald Sloan all year, and since Derrick Roland was injured in the fall, haven’t had too much offensive firepower. Still, Crazie-Talk favors playing in good major conferences, and the Big 12 is probably the second best conference in the country. Texas A&M wins a low-scoring game and advances out of this tough first round game.

#4 Purdue v. #13 Siena: Everyone has been railing on Purdue since Robbie Hummel went out with a season-ending ACL injury. But I’m not buying all the Siena hype here. The stars of the Saints’ near ’09 near Sweet 16 run, Kenny Hasbrouck, is gone. Edwin Ubiles and Clarence Jackson are a solid backcourt, but still don’t match up well with Purdue’s Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer, and E’Twaun Moore. Contrary to popular assumption, Purdue has just enough to win this game without Hummel.

Second Round

#5 Texas A&M v. #4 Purdue: Like I said—Purdue will have just enough to beat Siena in the first round. The Boiler gas will run out against A&M, who will stifle Purdue defensively. The Boilers scored just 11 points in the first half of a pitiful Big 10 tournament loss to Minnesota. Look for the same kind of stunted offensive output, and a double digit A&M victory.

New Orleans, La. Pairing

First Round

#6 Notre Dame v. #11 Old Dominion: First of all, the Fighting Irish are grossly overseeded. Although they played well without big man Luke Harangody, Notre Dame doesn’t deserve this position, in the weakest region no less. The Irish have been peaking without star player Luke Harangody, playing better defense and getting more players involved, such as Ben Hansbrough the Younger and veteran PG Tory Jackson. However, the committee didn’t do them any favors by matching them up with Old Dominion. The Monarchs took out Georgetown earlier this year at McDonough, proving their ability to play with tough Big East squads. Old Dominion will beat another Big East team in this game, and Notre Dame (and former Duke assistant Coach Mike Brey) goes home early.

#3 Baylor v. #14 Sam Houston State: Each of these teams would love to play in the Houston regional, but Baylor has too much talent. Baylor guards  Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn complement forwards Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh. The Bears play high-octane offense, averaging nearly 80 points per game. Baylor advances here.

Second Round

#3 Baylor v. #11 Old Dominion: The Monarchs do not have the offensive potency to match up with the Bears. Forwards Gerald Lee and Frank Hassell meet the towering, athletic Udoh and Acy and are dominated on the blocks. Look for this to be a blowout, with Baylor advancing past ODU to the Sweet 16.

Providence, R.I. Pairing

First Round

#7 Richmond v. #10 St. Mary’s: Oh, we love the Richmond Spiders! St. Mary’s has to travel all the way across the country for this one, and no Patty Mills means no containing Spider guard Kevin Anderson, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Omar Samhan is a good player for the Gaels, but again, no respect for West Coast teams (as if beating Gonzaga is an accomplishment!). Richmond wins by 10 and moves on.

#2 Villanova v. #15 Robert Morris: The Wildcats haven’t been at their best of late, but Scottie Reynolds and Co. take care of business against Robert Morris and advance to face Richmond. ‘Nova by double digits.

Second Round

#2 Villanova v. #7 Richmond: Here’s the first big upset! Anderson and David Gonzalvez are good enough to match up with the ‘Nova guards Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, and the aforementioned Reynolds. Villanova has tanked of late, and Richmond barely lost to fifth seeded Temple in the A-10 championship game. Richmond may be the Cinderella of the Tournament, and their first big victim will be Villanova. So long, Taylor King! Have fun chain-smoking all the way back to Philly. Richmond heads to Houston.

Houston Regional

#1 Duke v. #5 Texas A&M: The Aggies are close to home for this game, and their fans (and thousands of Duke haters) will be out in force rooting for an A&M victory. Donald Sloan is a star, and the strength of the Aggies lie on the defensive end. We have struggled against powerful and athletic teams like Georgia Tech and Georgetown this season, and the less-than-stellar run through the ACC Tournament does not inspire too much confidence for this type of opponent. I think Zoubek, LT, and the Plumtrees come up big. A&M doesn’t have too many bigs other than Bryan Davis, and if they can’t shoot the ball, they won’t be getting too many offensive boards over Zoubs. Duke takes this one by 5-10 points.

#3 Baylor v. #7 Richmond: It’s tantalizing to send Richmond to the Elite 8, but that’d be overdoing it. The Cinderella run ends here. Dunn and Carter are too quick and explosive for Richmond’s guards, and Udoh will take all comers on the glass. Anderson has a Steph Curry-like performance, but the Spiders fall short against Baylor in the Bears’ home state,  setting up…

The Regional Final: #1 Duke v. #3 Baylor

OK. Here we are, on the brink of our first Final Four (in six years). Baylor—a team with tremendous speed and athleticism—stands in our way. The Bears have all the elements of team we have sucked against: athletic guards in Dunn and Carter, a powerful 6’10” big man in Udoh, and an upstart young coach in Scott Drew. Sounds like Villanova circa last year? Just replace Dunn and Carter with Reynolds/Fisher/Stokes, and Udoh with Dante Cunningham.

This game will take every last ounce of Duke’s energy, but I believe we can win. And it will have to come on the defensive end. Baylor scores a lot of points, but their guards do not have tremendous size: Carter is 5’11” and Dunn 6’4”. If Nolan Smith can slow down Carter and Scheyer can neutralize Dunn’s scoring, we can win the battle on the perimeter. Duke will have to go deep in its bench—expect the quickness of Baylor to force a lot of early fouls. Dawkins must play and contribute positive minutes. Zoubek will have to play without fouling, as the Plumlees can’t control their hands of late and keep picking up silly touch fouls. Lance Thomas has to keep the ball in his hands and be able to finish on offensive putbacks.

Truth be told, Duke will have to play its best game of the season to get past Baylor. But I’m confident because of the man in the dark suit on the sideline. Coach K is 10-1 in Elite 8 games. Scott Drew coaches at a program that has never won an NCAA Tournament game, period. Advantage, Duke. We will squeak out a win, probably in the high 70s or low 80s.

Coach K will cut down the nets again, leading Duke to the Final Four for the eleventh time in his career. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

See you in Indy.

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