Warning: I will not be responsible if you copy these brackets and are out of your NCAA Tournament pool by Sunday. However, if you do listen to my college basketball wisdom and win some money, I want 20% of the pot or at least a shout-out on your twitter or facebook page. In my opinion, the West Regional is the deepest and has the most exciting possible match-ups of the four regionals as it features ten teams who won their conference tournaments and enter the Big Dance playing a high level of basketball.
Without a doubt, the West Regional is incredibly top heavy with Michigan State, Missouri, and Marquette being the first three seeds and all capable of making a run to the NCAA Tournament. (I am drooling at the opportunity to see a Marquette/Missouri Sweet 16 game; that would high-flying and a ton of fun to watch.) Add in Louisville, New Mexico, Murray State, and Memphis who all won their conference tournaments; and this regional is filled with teams playing some really good basketball down the stretch.
I thought Memphis and Florida were under-seeded a couple of spots. The Tigers won the C-USA regular season and conference tournament but only earned an 8. The Gators just took Kentucky to the wire yet dropped to a seven seed. I don’t get it. Long Beach State and Davidson are mid-major schools who have played big-time opponents and held their own, adding depth to this regional. The topic of the most controversial move in the entire tournament; Iona earning an at-large bid and meeting BYU in a play-in game for a 14 seed. Strange.
Most Intriguing First Round Game: #5 New Mexico vs. #12 Long Beach State
The 49ers are an experienced, battled tested team having picked up wins at Pitt and versus Xavier, and holding their own in losses against North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville, San Diego State, and Kansas State. The Lobos used a deep nine or ten man rotation and have shooters, athletes, and size. Long Beach State has been a potential sleeper pick for me since the beginning of the season but the Lobos are capable of making a deep run if they get past this first game. LBSU was without their most versatile player, Larry Anderson for the Big West Tournament and it could be a huge blow for them if he is not healthy enough to return for this opening round game.
Early Exit: #4 Louisville
The Cardinals are not a good offensive team but have relied on their pressure defense and forcing turnovers to maintain a level of success. They have a tough opening round match-up against thirteen seed Davidson who knocked off Kansas this season and has plenty of shooters on the perimeter. Louisville has lost in the first round the past two seasons and even if they are able to get past the opening game, they await either Long Beach State or New Mexico which will be another tough opponent.
Sleeper: #8 Memphis
Albeit playing in Conference USA, the Tigers have won 19 of their last 22 games with the three losses in that span coming by a mere six points. They clearly carrying some momentum heading into the tourney. I think they handle St. Louis in the opening round and then would face top seed Michigan State in the round of 32. If the Tigers are able to neutralize Sparty’s toughness and physicality, they could make a run to the Elite 8 where they would likely meet either Missouri or Marquette. Memphis has the athletes to run with those uptempo squads.
Five Impact Players to Watch:
Darius Johnson-Odom & Jae Crowder, Marquette
Okay, I know I’m cheating by picking two guys but they are each so valuable to the Golden Eagles. DJO can score in bunches whether it is stroking it from three, attacking the tin, or getting out in transition. Crowder is the emotional leader for Marquette and has to stay out of foul trouble since MU is so thin up-front. Crowder’s inside/outside game makes him a difficult match-up and these two guys will have to carry Marquette if they are going to make a run like many think they are capable of doing.
Bradley Beal, Florida
Playing alongside ball dominant guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, Beal has served his role as a complimentary player for the Gators. With that being said, he is a great talent who will likely be a mid-lottery pick and will have to elevate his play if Florida is going to make a run as a seven seed.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
Canaan has been the catalyst for the Racers this season and one of the more under-appreciated point guards in the nation. He has made some big plays for Murray State this season faces potential opponents in Marquette and possibly Mizzou who both loves pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers, and getting transition buckets. He will be the key for the Racers who hope to prove the regular season was not a fluke.
Scott Machado, Iona
Perhaps the best pure point guard in college basketball, Machado led the nation in assists and powers the Gaels high scoring offensive attack. The Gaels are the top scoring team in the country and playing alongside MoMo Jones has helped take some of the pressure off Machado. If Iona gets past BYU in the play-in game, they will meet Marquette in what will certainly be a track meet.
Mike Scott, Virginia
Having lost six of their last ten, the Cavaliers are limping into the NCAA Tournament. The depth of this team has been decimated by injuries and transfers, but Scott has been the one constant throughout the season. He will certainly shoulder the load for Tony Bennett and must put up some monster numbers if UVA is going to make any noise in the tourney.
Regional Final: #2 Missouri over #1 Michigan State
Whoever wins that Missouri/Marquette Sweet 16 team will knock off the Spartans. Michigan State relies on their strength and hard-nosed play but I am not sure they can handle the quickness and speed of a team like Missouri or Marquette. I give the Tigers the advantage because of their ability to shoot the ball at a high level. My one concern in a Michigan State/Missouri match-up would be the Tigers lack of depth inside and any foul trouble would be costly. Plus, Tom Izzo knows how work his magic in March.
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.