We’ll break down one region of the NCAA tournament per day until they get this damn thing started. Today: the West.
Despite seven national championships among its participating coaches, the West is clearly the weakest of the four regionals. This is a bunch of bi-polar, middle-of-the-pack power conference squads, a few over-achieving mid-major champs, and Duke. But seriously, without Duke, this looks like an NIT regional.
The West is also the only bracket without one of those silly “First Four” play-in games. The fact that the NCAA now refers to these games as “Round One” games doesn’t make them part of the actual tournament experience, and the fact that most online tournament pools (including ours) are taking entries until Thursday at noon exemplifies that.
Senior leadership matters, people. Why? I have no idea.
Here are the number of seniors in starting lineup for each West region team:
1. Duke – 2
2. SDSU – 3
3. UConn – 1
4. Texas – 2
5. Arizona – 0
6. Cincy – 2
7. Temple – 1
8. Mich – 0
9. Tenn – 2
10. Penn St – 4
11. Mizzou – 0
12. Memphis – 0
13. Oakland – 2
14. Bucknell – 1
15. No Colo – 4
16. Hampton – 2
Potential First-Round Upsets and Non-Upsets. Rated from “Most Batsh:t to Least Batsh:t.”
(13) Oakland over (4) Texas. Texas starts two freshmen who helped propel the Longhorns to a second-place regular season finish in the Big 12, trailing only Southwest 1-seed Kansas. I’ve heard some bitching that the Big 12 got a raw deal in seeding; Texas will have a chance to prove it so against a balanced Oakland team.
The Golden Grizzlies can shoot it; C Keith Benson and G Reggie Hamilton both average over 17 ppg. The Summit League champs played a tough schedule with a handful of tournament teams early in the year but, with the exception of Tennessee, didn’t beat any.
(10) Penn State over (7) Temple. Temple won 11 of its last 12 to close out the regular season, but was standing on the tracks as Richmond rolled to its Atlantic 10 tournament title. By the way, do you know how many teams are in the Atlantic 10 Conference? FOURTEEN. And yet the Big Ten gets all the grief.
Anyway, Penn State got hot in their league tournament, reaching the final and mounting a nice late charge against Ohio State. Penn State’s Talor Battle (20 ppg) and senior leadership should be enough to push Fran Dunphy to his 12th first-round tournament loss. That’s so Fran.
(8) Michigan over (9) Tennessee. No, this is technically not an upset, but a 9 beating an 8 isn’t really an upset either, now is it?
These teams are almost polar opposites of each other. Michigan loves to shoot the three; Tennessee can’t. Tennessee started out 7-0, Michigan 1-6. Neither team posted a winning record in its conference, but the Vols have hit a serious skid, losing seven of their last 11.
It belies the growing popular wisdom to favor a team with no prominent seniors, but this would be the time to break that convention.
(14) Bucknell over (3) Connecticut. If you happen to be on meth today or just in a hurry on Thursday, you have my permission to send Bucknell to the round of 32. Yes, UConn played in the tough-as-balls Big East, and yes, they have Kemba Walker and his 23 ppg. But the Huskies only went 9-9 in their league, whereas Bucknell set the Patriot League on fire with a 13-1 reoord. But Bucknell only has one senior in their starting five, and unless he’s wearing a utility belt and cape, you can forget about the mighty Bison getting out of the first round.
(12) Memphis over (5) Arizona. Sure, Memphis is starting four freshmen, but Arizona didn’t beat a ranked team all year. It could happen.
Same As It Ever Was. Picks that shouldn’t surprise anybody.
(1) Duke over (16) Hampton. Coach K is bringing back the bulk of his team from last year. I personally am having a hard time hating Seth Curry while Kyle Singler is still on that team.
(2) San Diego State over (15) Northern Colorado. I tried to come up with an anagram for “Northern Colorado.” The farthest I got was OR NO! RED EARTH COLON! Hey, it’s Monday.
(6) Cincinnati over (11) Missouri. Here’s another chance for the Big 12 to make a statement, but they’ll have to work for it. Mizzou has lost four of their last five, and Cincinnati has been stingier than your grandma on defense. It’s not her fault though; she grew up during the Depression.
Played Out. My picks for the rest of the bracket.
Sweet Sixteen: Duke, Oakland, UConn, SDSU.
Elite Eight: Duke, UConn.
Final Four: Duke.
Some information for this preview was provided by USA Today.