NCAA Regional Reset: West RegionPosted by AMurawa on March 20th, 2012
Andrew Murawa is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent.
The West Regional begins Thursday night in Phoenix with Michigan State vs. Louisville followed by Marquette vs. Florida. Our East Regional Reset published earlier today, while our South and Midwest Regional Resets will publish Wednesday. Make sure to follow RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Phoenix throughout the weekend.
New Favorite: Michigan State, #1, 28-7. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Nothing has changed in the past week that would make the Spartans any less the favorite in the West, and in fact, the upset of Missouri in the round of 64 only further strengthens Tom Izzo’s odds of making it four-for-four in Final Four trips as a #1 seed. While Draymond Green has been excellent all year, if anything he has stepped his game up even more in the first two rounds of the tournament, and point guard Keith Appling has shown a toughness and an ability to make plays when they’re needed. The Spartans still have a very tough slate ahead of them, but of the teams remaining here, they are the slight favorite to advance to New Orleans.
Horse of Darkness: Florida, #7, 24-10. They’re the lowest remaining seed in this region, and they haven’t really beaten anybody of great importance in their first two games, but they’ve beaten those teams with conviction. Their wins over Virginia and Norfolk State have come by an average of 30 points. And while all of their players deserve credit, freshman guard Bradley Beal may be the hottest of them all, not only scoring 14 in each of his games (with three threes mixed in there), but helping out the front line by averaging 10 boards. The Gators are still the underdogs in this region, but they match up well with a Marquette team that doesn’t do a great job of defending the three-point line, and, of course, Billy Donovan has a little bit of experience this deep in the tourney.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84. This was really the only upset of even major proportions in the first weekend, and boy, was it a doozy. While the Lehigh upset of Duke may have earned more press among casual basketball fans just because of the Blue Devils’ reputation, the Spartan victory over Missouri was even more stunning. Not only was Mizzou a strong two-seed with an argument for a one-seed, Duke was generally considered a pretty weak two-seed. And Lehigh had a strong argument that they deserved a higher seed, while Norfolk State was plenty happy to avoid a 16-seed. In short, not only is the Kyle O’Quinn-led upset of the Tigers the most surprising result in the first weekend of the West region, it is one of the more surprising results in the history of the NCAAA Tournament.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Michigan State to the Sweet Sixteen. Tom Izzo just doesn’t lose a lot of games to lesser teams in March. While a very good Saint Louis team gave the Spartans a good push on Sunday, you could pencil the Spartans this far when the bracket was announced. From here on out, however, they’ll need to earn it against nothing but solid teams.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: While Murray State playing in front of a highly pro-Racer squad looked to be a tough matchup, I saw through that and called Marquette a lock to reach the Sweet Sixteen largely on the strength of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Each had 17 points, while Crowder added 13 boards as the Golden Eagles pulled away late.
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: It’s not just that I called Missouri a “solid 1-A” to Michigan State in the region, but I also called them the most grossly underseeded team in the region, while noting that it was “exceedingly unlikely that Norfolk State” could push them. Now, I certainly wasn’t the only one who never saw that coming, but, wow, was that ever a whiff.
First Weekend MVP: Draymond Green, 40 points, 25 rebounds, 16 assists, 64.3 eFG%. On Friday, Green became only the third player in NCAA history to register a second triple-double in NCAA Tournament play, and joined some pretty great company (Oscar Robertson and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the other two) in doing so.
Breakout Star: Kyle O’Quinn, 30 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks. While O’Quinn’s dream game on Friday against Missouri (26 points, 14 boards, two blocks) turned into a nightmare on Sunday, he’ll go down as a memorable name in the history of the NCAA Tournament. While his performance in helping his team score the big upset was one amazing thing, his reaction afterward turned him into an overnight celebrity.
More Home Cooking: Nobody. With no team west of Baylor having advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, nobody has a claim on the home court advantage in Phoenix. Maybe Michigan State will have slightly more fans in the stands this weekend, but everybody will have to truck it quite a distance to this regional and there’s a very good chance that there will be many empty seats at the US Airways Center.
Best Regional Semifinal Game: #3 Marquette vs. #7 Florida, 3/22. Marquette plays at the 15th fastest tempo in the nation, and while Florida is in the bottom 40% of the nation in tempo, they’re a team that could probably be sped up. More than just that, they were the third most efficient offensive team in the land this season. The Gators have been excellent this season in taking care of the basketball and knocking down their shots at a high rate, but the Golden Eagles’ stout defense has been largely based on forcing turnovers and limiting their opponents’ good looks. And then there are the individual matchups, with Florida’s guards matched up against Marquette’s athletic backcourt and the potential of plenty of Jae Crowder on Patric Young throughout the game. This should be a wildly entertaining game.
Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Michigan State vs. #3 Marquette. There are all sorts of interesting possibilities, including a rematch of the 2000 National Championship game (Michigan State vs. Florida) and a Conference USA reunion (Marquette vs. Louisville), but the prospect of watching a Draymond Green/Jae Crowder matchup as the Spartans and Golden Eagles battle for a trip to New Orleans is too good to pass up.
Top Storyline: Tom Izzo is looking for his seventh Final Four appearance, a number that would potentially tie Roy Williams for fourth place all-time (assuming UNC doesn’t make another one this year), behind John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith.
Top Storyline for Contrarians: Rick Pitino has made five Final Fours in his illustrious career, but if he is somehow able to win a couple more games, he’ll accomplish perhaps his best coaching job. While other Pitino Final Four teams have had guys like Billy Donovan, Jamal Mashburn, Tony Delk and Francisco Garcia (to name a few), this would be his least impressive Final Four roster.
Revised Vegas Odds to Win Region: