Published on March 14th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist0
NCAA Tournament Madness Analysis: The West Region
Who is ready for the annual descent into Madness? In a four-day long series, I’ll break down every region top to bottom and give some immediate thoughts and analysis before the games truly kick off on Thursday.
As mentioned by ESPN on Selection Sunday, the West region is going to be a fun one if you love fast paced basketball. Six of the top twelve teams in terms of tempo are in the West… or at least it was six, until Iona ran themselves out of the tournament. Still, with Michigan State, Missouri, Marquette, Murray State and Memphis, this is a bracket of super speedy teams that start with the letter M.
Is Michigan State really the best team in the region? Can Missouri march to the Final Four without any size? Let’s take a look at the West region.
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Long Island
By now, you’ve probably heard that Tom Izzo is pretty pretty good at getting his team to the Final Four. This is the fourth time the Spartans have been a top seed, and in the past three (1999, 2000, and 2001), they got to the Final Four. They won it all in 2000.
And while I think Michigan is certainly beatable (Missouri is my favorite to come out of the West), I think they are probably the most comfortable #1 for the first round. Draymond Green is a beast with an incredibly huge skill set, and Long Island doesn’t have the size, speed or athleticism to keep up with Michigan State.
But the Spartans won’t have an easy time at getting out of their bracket. Memphis/Saint Louis in the second round? A potential matchup with Louisville? Dangerous waters for the Spartans.
No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Saint Louis
Saint Louis gets to go into this contest with the biggest chip on their shoulder of anyone in the 8 vs. 9 matchups. Everyone and their mothers have written Memphis as a winner, and of anyone below eight, the Tigers are probably the favorite sleeper in the tournament.
Interesting statistic from kenpom.com, dug up by Eamonn Brennan from ESPN -
Per KenPom.com — which tracks and projects (among other things) how many points per possession teams score and allow against an average team — Memphis and Saint Louis rank No. 9 and No. 15 overall as of Sunday night.
And yet everyone is picking Memphis!… So am I picking Saint Louis? Of course not!… Have you seen the Tigers? Talk about under seeded! Guard Will Barton (18.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on 51% shooting) has become a legitimate NCAA star, and their complete athletic package will give anyone fits.
No. 5 New Mexico vs. No. 12 Long Beach State
Long Beach State is a sexy selection that many seem to pick as a sleeper. Let’s list off the reasons why the 49ers won’t make it out of the first round –
- New Mexico has momentum, and crashed through the MWC tournament
- The Lobos have size in Drew Gordon that the 49ers can’t match
- Long Beach State has a nice 25-8 record but only have two exceptionally decent wins (Xavier, Pittsburgh)
- Did I mention the Lobos just rolled through the MWC?
- Long Beach State is a good offensive team, but as New Mexico showed last week (when they won the MWC Tournament), the Lobos are a really, really good defensive team.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Davidson
I always prefer to pick teams with momentum. On one end, we have Davidson, who have won ten of their last twelve, beat Western Carolina in overtime for the conference championship, and have five players who score 10 points or more.
And then we get to Louisville. After back to back losses to USF and Syracuse, the Cardinals ran through the Big East Championship, stomping Seaton Hall, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati on their way to the title.
The closest game for the Cardinals in the tournament was Seaton Hall, whom they only beat 61-55. They beat Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati each by an average of 13.6 points.
In other words… yeah, Davidson is pretty good. But Louisville proved themselves big time last week, and lets remember what happened last time a team from the Big East rolled through the championship before getting into March Madness. (Hint – it was UConn. Last year.)
No. 6 Murray State vs. No. 11 Colorado State
You want to talk about short ball? Murray State has won all year with guard play, led by Isaiah Cannan, who averages 19.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest. Meanwhile, Colorado State doesn’t have a player taller than 6’6’’, and yet still won the PAC-12 conference championship. Whoever rebounds better (I’m betting on Murrary) will then get the right to get dominated by Marquette.
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 BYU
BYU pulled out the biggest comeback in NCAA history yesterday when they rolled past Iona 78-72. While the Cougars have some good players (Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies), they can’t be expected to keep up with Marquette.
I know the Golden Eagles got stomped by Louisville in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, but aside from Missouri, there isn’t a team with a bigger drive to win. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, both seniors, lead a very motivated team that won’t be stopped by BYU. I expect Marquette in the Elite Eight.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia
Florida has been a bit disappointing considering their early season expectations, but they are ranked #7 in the nation in offensive efficiency. With Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton, and Erving Walker, the Gators have some serious offensive firepower and room to prove they’re under seeded.
Meanwhile, Virginia is ranked #5 in defensive efficiency and do a great job with perimeter defense. The Cavaliers do struggle to score, getting just 63.2 points a game, but their defense is going to give Florida fits. Mike Scott (18.1 points, 8.4 rebounds for Virginia) against Patric Young (10.3 points 6.3 rebound) should have scouts salivating.
No. 2 Missouri vs. No. 15 Norfolk State
So apparently, Missouri was the fourth seeded #2 squad? Really? Behind Duke? I can see Kansas being ranked higher, and after some arm twisting I can see Ohio State as well… but Duke? No way. Missouri should have been in contention for a #1 seed, not stuck at eighth.
Every time Missouri was doubted (except against Kansas, of course) the Tigers came up bigger and bigger. Of course, not literally bigger. The Tigers have just two players on their roster over 6’6’’, and while I think that lack of size will hurt them in the long run, this isn’t a region that will give them trouble. No one in the West has he size to bother Missouri, and most of the teams play into the Tigers fast paced offense. That will be key for a Tigers squad I feel has the best shot at winning the region.