Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.  He will analyze the West Region throughout the NCAA Tournament.

Throughout Monday, we’ll be releasing our Bracket Prep analyses of each of the four NCAA Tournament regions.  The order will be as follows — please check back throughout the day for all four (all times eastern).

  • West – 9 am
  • Southeast – 11 am
  • Southwest – 1 pm
  • East – 3 pm

Region:  WEST

Favorite: #1 Duke (29-4, 13-3 ACC). They shouldn’t be regarded as a big favorite here, but given that the school that is the #2 seed here has never won an NCAA Tournament game, and the #3 seed if coming off five games in five days, the ACC Champion should again be a favorite to reach the Final Four.

Should They Falter: #2 San Diego State (32-2, 14-2 MWC). Provided the Aztecs can notch their first ever Tournament victory, things set up pretty nicely for them. Their experience with Jimmer Fredette should give them confidence in a potential matchup with Kemba Walker and Connecticut in the Sweet 16 round, and if they see Duke in the regional final, they’ll be the most  athletic team on the court.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Michigan (20-13, 9-9 Big Ten). The Wolverines bounced back from a six-game losing streak in January to win nine of their last 13, but for a team that figured to be on the bubble going into the Selection Show, an eight seed is shocking.

Grossly Underseeded: #4 Texas (27-7, 13-3 Big 12). Saying Texas is “grossly underseeded” is grossly overstating it, but I’m having a hard time seeing anybody else in this region that is underseeded, and Texas at least has an argument for getting a #3 over a team like BYU. However, a 4-4 record down the stretch turned a team that was in the conversation for a #1 seed in late February into a #4 seed with a tough road ahead.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #13 Oakland (25-9, 17-1 Summit). The Grizzlies feature future NBA big man Keith Benson on a veteran team that is playing in its second straight NCAA Tournament. And Oakland won’t be fazed by playing a major conference team like Texas, as they played the 4th toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, and even knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville in mid-December.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): #5 Arizona, 27-7. Wildcat forward Derrick Williams is on the very short list of the best players in the nation, and if Sean Miller can get production from a couple of other players on his roster, guys like Momo Jones, Solomon Hill or Kevin Parrom, this Wildcat team could be a tough out. However, if they’re going to get to the Final Four, they’d potentially have to go through Memphis, Texas, Duke and San Diego State or UConn to get there – in other words, they’ll have to earn it.

Carmelo Anthony Award: Derrick Williams, Arizona (19.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 61.5% FG%, 60.3% 3FG%) – Not only can Williams put the Wildcats on his back, he’ll probably need to. With no other player on the roster that averages more than ten points per game, Williams is the only consistently reliable scorer on the team. He is most effective when he is getting to the line often, and when he shoots ten or more free throws in a game, the Wildcats are 13-2.

Stephen Curry Award: Talor Battle, Penn State (20.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 4.5 RPG) – Throw out the Nittany Lions 36-33 win over Wisconsin on Friday (no, really, throw it out) and Battle has scored in double figures in 28 straight games. Only twice on the season has he been held below ten, and in both of those games he scored nine points. He’s almost never going to come out of the game, he’s going to have the ball in his hands a ton, and if he heats up, he’s capable of dragging Penn State across the finish line.

Home Cooking: (#1 Duke, 121 miles) – The Blue Devils have to travel just 121 miles to play in Charlotte, but once there they’ll possibly see Tennessee in the second round, just 182 miles away from the Volunteers’ home base. In the bottom part of the bracket, Bucknell is just 144 miles away from Washington D.C., while San Diego State has 363 miles to go to get to Tucson, but just 86 miles up Interstate 5 to get to Anaheim, provided they’re invited.

Can’t Miss First Round Game: Arizona vs. Memphis, 3/18. Just the names on the front of the jerseys alone should make this an intriguing game, but there will be an awful lot of talent on the floor as well. The Tigers are loaded with young talent, but they’ve been wildly inconsistent all year and need to prove they can handle the bright lights of the Big Dance. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll need to find some way to slow the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams without sending him to the line.

Don’t Miss This One Either: Texas vs. Oakland, 3/18. – The Grizzlies are a fashionable upset pick early, given Texas’ slip-ups down the stretch, and if senior Keith Benson can teach Texas’ Tristan Thompson a thing or two about playing in March, the Longhorns could have a fight on their hands. However, Oakland will not only need to show that they’ve improved since December (when they lost to Ohio State by 29, Michigan by 18, Illinois by 11 and Michigan State by one), they need to prove that their defense (ranked 200th in the nation by Ken Pomeroy) is capable of slowing Jordan Hamilton, J’Covan Brown, Cory Joseph and the oft-explosive Texas offense.

Lock of the Year: San Diego State will win an NCAA Tournament game. Okay, given that they’re the #2 seed and they’re facing 21-10 Northern Colorado, that might not be bold enough, so let’s up the ante and say that the Aztecs will not only win their first ever game in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll win at least three. After their first round game, they match up very well with either Temple or Penn State. And then in the Sweet 16, if UConn has recovered enough from the Big East Tournament grind to have made it this far, the Aztecs’ athleticism and defense will push them past the Huskies.

Juiciest Potential Matchup – purists: Duke vs. San Diego State, regional final – If seeding holds to form, the regional final would be a terrific matchup of vastly different programs. Not only would we have a battle between a SDSU team with just about zero NCAA Tournament history and one of the bluebloods of the sport in Duke, we’d also get to see Duke’s uptempo approach (their games average about 70 possessions, the 44th fastest tempo in the nation) against the Aztecs’ half-court style (roughly 64 possession games, 288th in the nation). The Blue Devils are a great shooting team that can have trouble keeping opposing teams off the offensive glass, while SDSU pounds the glass with abandon but can struggle knocking down shots. In short, this matchup would be a great snapshot of contrasting basketball philosophies.

Juiciest Potential Matchup – media: Duke vs. Connecticut, regional final. A rematch of the 1999 championship game and the 2004 national semifinal. Kryzewski vs. Calhoun. Nolan Smith vs. Kemba Walker. Duke’s senior leaders vs. Connecticut’s freshman flash. You can bet this one would be the primetime game on the Saturday night of the Elite Eight.

We Got Screwed: #4 Texas. – Not only did the Longhorns go from being a team in the discussion for a #1 seed a few short weeks ago, now they’ve got this possible run to the Final Four: Oakland, Arizona, Duke, San Diego State/Connecticut. Of course, they can’t really blame the selection committee after losing four games in the last three weeks.

Strongest Pod: Tulsa.  Arizona/Memphis, Texas/Oakland. While Arizona and Texas are big national programs featuring talented rosters that can play with just about anybody in the country, you can bet Sean Miller and Rick Barnes aren’t looking past their first round games. Memphis has been up-and-down all season, but Josh Pastner has plenty of young talent there. And Oakland not only features Benson, but two players in the top ten in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency ratings, senior forward Will Hudson and freshman bomber Travis Bader.

Wildcard, Bitches: One major positive in this region: the top three seeds here all won their conference tournaments, and all in quite impressive fashion. Throw in five other conference tournament winners and Arizona, who won the regular season title in the Pac-10, and this is quite the accomplished bracket.

So-Called Experts: Duke’s the favorite. No one buys SDSU as legitimate, and UConn is too tired after this week’s run. Oh. And Duke’s pretty darn good too.

Vegas Odds to Win Region:

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