March Madness is here! Coming up over the next two days, the staff here at tBBC will get you ready to fill out your brackets by evaluating each region in the field of 68. Coming up later today, Eric will take a look at the East bracket that features Ohio State as a #2 seed. WVaBuckeye will follow tomorrow with the South bracket with Kentucky and MaliBuckeye will wrap things up with a review of the Midwest bracket. Today, we take a look at what I believe is the most interesting region of the 2012 tournament. The West features 5 of the top 20 top scoring offenses, including three teams that average over 80 points per game. From top seeds, to cinderellas, to teams that could get upset in the first round — We have it all as we get ready for the best two weeks in sports all year long. Here’s a look at this year’s West Region.
Favorites:Unlike other regions this season, what makes this bracket so tough is the talent in the middle and lower seeds. Of course, this might have the best one-two punch in the tournament with Missouri and Michigan State, but all-around — the West could be won by a whole bunch of different Cowboys. Two teams to watch in the middle of the bracket are Florida and Memphis. The transition game of the Tigers has carried this team to an insane 20-3 record to end the season. The trio of Will Barton, Joe Jackson and Adonis Thomas could be dangerous against any team in the bracket. If they can get past St. Louis, they really have a chance against some of the top seeds in the West. The one thing that separates the Tigers from any team in this region is their ability to run until their opponent’s legs fall off. Jackson is a solid facilitator, and Barton is arguably one of the best scorers in college basketball. Everyone on the floor can and isn’t afraid to score.
The same can be said for the Florida Gators. Sure, they come into the tourney losing four of five, but when you have shooters like Brad Beal and Kenny Boynton anything can happen. Losing to Vandy and Kentucky twice at the end of the season might just lit a fire under this squad. Should they come in playing their best ball, they would match up with Missouri in the round of 32, who have to be an instant favorite to win this region.
What makes that game so interesting, like most match-ups in the second round, is that those teams are so similar. The West is chucked full with perimeter up tempo teams that rely on the jumper to win. Nobody in the nation does that better than Missouri, who made history by being the first power conference team to win 30 games and not be named a number one seed. Frank Haith’s team shoots a phenominal 50% from the floor and averages 80 points per game. Kim English and Marcus Denmon create serious mismatches all across the board. The fact of the matter is that Mizzou is averaging over 120 points ever 100 possessions, the best total in the country since 2000. They will be a hard out, but as witnessed in their four losses this season, anyone with a big front line can give them trouble.
Luckily for the Tigers, that won’t come unless they meet up with the number one seeded Michigan State Spartans. Derrick Nix and Adrieane Payne add a whole new element to the region, as witnessed by Buckeye fans all year long. If they can use that to there advantage, they will be right in the mix to head to the final four. Draymond Green is the X factor. The Big Ten Player of the Year and Tournament MVP heads into the tournament after averaging 16 points 12 rebounds and 4 assists a game this weekend. Branden Dawson might be out with an ACL tear, but 5th year senior Brandon Wood is turning it up at just the right time.
If the first two seeds in this one do not end up playing, it will make things really interesting considering the roads they both have. Missouri and Michigan State might be the favorite, but there is no doubt the West region is full of Cinderella teams that could make this bracket rather interesting.
Cinderellas: This region is packed full of potential upset favorites, including the top scoring team in the nation. Iona barely sneaked in this tournament and will meet BYU in the play in, but they are certaintly worthy of consideration for making a run to the sweet sixteen and beyond. When you think of teams that have been able to put together Cinderella runs, it starts with a premiere scorer. The Gaels have two in Mike Glover, who averages over 18 points per game in the post and former Arizona Wildcat Lamont “MoMo” Jones. Both can not only light it up from the field, but they can drive to the hoop and get to the free throw line. Of course, a lot of that has to do with point guard Scott Machado, who averages 10 assists per game. He is by far considered the top prospect on the team, and the offense starts with him. You will see him in an NBA jersey next year, because of his ability to see the floor so well. There is no doubt that this team can score 80+ games in an NCAA tournament game. The Gaels have had four different players nail 7 or more three pointers in a game. If Iona can get past BYU, they’ll take on a Marquette team that they match-up with because both teams lack size and run the floor looking for the three. If they can get past the Golden Eagles (and we know the history of the Big East), they will take on a very favorable match-up to get in the sweet sixteen with either Colorado State or Murray State.
Another team to watch is the Long Beach State 49ers. All it takes to be an upset team is a good supporting class and a star shooter. The Big West champions have that in Casper Ware, who averaged 17 points on the season and put himself on the map early in the year with top performances. If there is a mid-major that is ready for tournament play, it’s Long Beach State. Their non-conference schedule included games against Kansas, Louisville, Pitt (who they beat), Xavier (who they beat), North Carolina, Kansas State, and Creighton. Plus, they are the 12th seed in the west. All the reason to think they could at least advance to the round of 32. At that point they would take on the winner of Louisville and Davidson, another team that could make it to the sweet sixteen. Larry Anderson, the teams best defensive guard and second leading scorer also returns just in time for the tournament.
Most Likely To Be Upset: As impressive as a one loss season is, I’m not that impressed with the Murray State Racers. They beat a Memphis team that was struggling early in the season, defeated a Saint Mary’s squad that struggled at the end of the year, and won against a USM team that has consistently lost to teams they should beat this season. Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole could be the best guard combination in the bracket, but still not sold. Remember, this is the same school (and some of the same athletes) that upset Vanderbilt in 2010. I hope I’m wrong and the only team in Division I to go undefeated on the road in 2012 can make it to the sweet sixteen. Canaan, who’s 2010 team lost to eventual champion Butler by two points, could swing either way. I just got a feeling Iona could get the best of them if they Beat Marquette.
A more likely team to get upset in the first round is New Mexico. Steve Alford has done an excellent job in his fifth year in Albuquerque. Long Beach State though has all the weapons to take down the Moutain West Tournament Champions. My least favorite top four seed in the tournament is Louisville. Davidson could easily run and gun over Rick Pitino’s Cardinals. I am a huge Gael fan, and believe they have what it takes to give third seed Marquette a true run for their money. This bracket is going to be fun to watch, because what makes it so interesting is all the upset possibilities throughout every round.
Players to Watch: You know about the gang in Michigan State, but what about some other names to watch in the West Region? Will Barton out of Memphis is put together such an impressive campaign, that he might already be considered the best player in the school’s history. The Conference USA player of the year had 18 points and 13 rebounds in the conference championship, and continues to be the key cog in the Tigers offensive game plan. Like Memphis, Missouri has a handful of players that could go off for big games. Starting with Marcus Denmon, who scored nearly 18 points per game during the season. The crazy thing is this team has five players that could take over a ballgame. Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom is a top level scorer who can take over ballgames. He has averaged 18 points in his last five times out, and has scored 20+ points on 12 different occasions. We talked about Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan a bit, but there is no doubt he is a top level player. He has shot 40% or better for the third straight season, and is averaging 19 points on the season. He had one of the best performances of the season against Austin Peay, where he had the team’s first 16 points, shot 7/7 from the three point line, and scored a total of 25 points…in the first half. He ended up with 35 on the game. The junior has scored 20+ points 13 times this season.
Unheralded Player: Fans of the NCAA tournament should remember the name of Julian Boyd. The 6’7″ junior had 18 points and 12 rebound as he and current junior C.J. Garner gave second seeded North Carolina a run for their money in last year’s NCAA tournament. Boyd, the NEC player of the year, definitely can get to the hoop. Long Island’s leading rebounder and scorer has a knack for getting up and down the floor and throwing it down. The crazy thing is he does it all while battling a rather unique heart condition. Despite only playing 27 points per game, Boyd averaged over 17 points per game on the year, and put together 14 double doubles. It’s too bad his squad was given the 16th seed and have to face a very tough Michigan State squad. If anything, he can make this game interesting for at least the first half.
Team From Obscurity: The Davidson Wildcats really came out of nowhere to pull back into the national picture after a close victory over Kansas early in the season. No this team doesn’t ave Seth Curry on their side, but they are a top 20 squad in both rebounding and scoring. What makes them so dangerous is there willingness to jack up shots from all over the court, and their three point shooting. None of their numbers stick out, but the fact of the matter is they attempt 23 three pointers a game. Combine that with the fact that they are one of the best teams in the nation to get the line, and you have a medicine for disaster. If this team emerges out of the round of 64 with a win, there is no doubt it would be obscure, because this team’s best defense is draining shots on the offensive side, while holding onto the basketball for as long as they can. Another reason why this team could come out of nowhere and go for a long run in the tournament is the fact that they focus on team basketball. At any time, all five starters can take over ballgames. From Southern Conference player of the year De’Mon Brooks to Nik Cochran and big man Jake Cohen, this team is deep and ready to make a run.
Elite 8 Picks: No matter what way I chalk it up, I’d be very surprised if the top two teams don’t make it to the Regional Championship. The Spartans will have a tough test against Memphis, but if they can get past them, they have a clear road to a match-up with Missouri. For the Tigers, it might be the easiest road for a two seed this season. Their toughest test could come in the sweet sixteen against Murray State or Marquette. Florida could perhaps give Mizzou a challenge, but i’d predict clear sailing to the final game before the final four.