Bracket Prep: Southeast RegionPosted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2011
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. He will analyze the Southeast 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
Favorite: #1 Pittsburgh (27-5, 15-3 Big East). The Panthers won the Big East regular season title and now have their best chance to finally advance to the Final Four under Jamie Dixon. Pitt has made just one Final Four in their history (1941).
Should They Falter: #2 Florida (26-7, 13-3 SEC). Billy Donovan’s club racked up 11 top 50 wins this season and won 10 of their last 12 games. The two seed was surprising, but not unreasonable when you look deeper into their resume.
Grossly Overseeded: #8 Butler (23-9, 13-5 Horizon). Could last year’s success have played a role in their seeding? The Bulldogs are a solid team and won the Diamond Head Classic in December but their best non-conference win was over Florida State, a team that could only manage a #10 seed in this tournament. Butler lost three times to sub-100 RPI opponents, including #289 Youngstown State. A #10 or #11 seed would have been more appropriate.
Grossly Underseeded: #9 Old Dominion (27-6, 14-4 CAA). ODU has won nine straight and 13 of their last 14 games. The Monarchs beat NCAA teams Xavier, Richmond, Clemson and St. Peter’s out of conference, split with George Mason and beat VCU twice on their way to the CAA tournament title. Blaine Taylor’s team arguably should have earned a #6 or #7 seed.
Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #12 Utah State (30-3, 15-1 WAC). The Aggies are actually ranked well ahead of their first round opponent, Kansas State, in the Pomeroy Ratings. Utah State plays at a slower tempo and can grind Kansas State to a halt. Stew Morrill’s team is also terrific on the defensive end, ranking sixth in efficiency and second in defensive rebounding percentage. If they can make K-State shoot jump shots all night, Utah State will have an excellent shot to pull the #12 over #5 upset. Should they get by the Wildcats, Utah State will face Wisconsin or Belmont. They’d be comfortable in the pace Wisconsin plays and can use their stellar defense to slow Belmont’s up-tempo pace and efficient offense.
Final Four Sleeper: #5 Kansas State (22-10, 10-6 Big 12). The Wildcats had won six in a row and eight of nine games before slipping up against Colorado for the third time this season in the Big 12 Quarterfinals. Kansas State has a talented senior in Jacob Pullen, a guy capable of willing this team all the way to Houston. This club can play with anyone when they’re hot and has the toughness to stand up to any team in this bracket, including Pittsburgh. A surprise trip to the Final Four would be sweet redemption for this team, one that was picked to advance there by many before the season started.
Carmelo Anthony Award: Jimmer Fredette, BYU. This one is easy. Fredette is the individual star of this region but it will be a tough haul to get to Houston without Brandon Davies. The Jimmer averages 28.5 PPG, can explode for 40 or 50 points on any given night and is able to score from anywhere on the floor. He relishes the spotlight and dropped 37 points on Florida in the first round last year.
Stephen Curry Award: Noah Dahlman, Wofford. The Terriers’ senior forward averages 20 PPG and has posted double figures in every game this season. The Minnesota native has put together an outstanding career at Wofford, shooting 59.9% from the floor over his four years in Spartanburg. Without Brandon Davies in the BYU lineup, Dahlman should be able to go to work inside in Wofford’s first round matchup with BYU.
Home Cooking: #2 Florida, 131 miles. Florida was very well-protected and will play in Tampa with their second round opponent coming all the way from either California or Michigan. Should the Gators advance to the regional round, they’ll only have to go a short way up the Gulf Coast to New Orleans. Old Dominion will play relatively close to home in Washington D.C., about three and a half hours from campus in Norfolk, Virginia. This region is kind to western teams. Gonzaga, BYU and Utah State won’t have to travel very far to get to their first round sites, the first two playing in Denver and the latter in Tucson.
Can’t Miss First Round Game: #6 St. John’s vs. #11 Gonzaga (Thursday, March 17 at 9:45 pm ET). The Red Storm is back in the field for the first time since 2002 while Gonzaga is making its 13th consecutive appearance. These teams met in the 2000 NCAA Tournament with the 10th-seeded Bulldogs knocking off second-seeded St. John’s to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. St. John’s relies quite a bit on dribble penetration but that will be tough against Gonzaga’s tall front line. However, Gonzaga is prone to turnovers at times which could fuel the St. John’s fast break, one aspect of their game that has been key in defeating numerous good teams this year. The Johnnies will need a great game out of point guard Dwight Hardy in order to advance.
Don’t Miss This One Either: #8 Butler vs. #9 Old Dominion (Thursday, March 17 at 12:40 pm ET). The first game of the “real” tournament rounds features two teams with terrific coaches that depend on defense to succeed. Old Dominion is probably better offensively but neither team will wow you when they have the ball. Butler’s defense carried them to last year’s title game but it escaped them earlier this year. The Bulldogs seem to have found their defensive groove again and will likely be a tough out. The battle in the paint between Matt Howard and Frank Hassell is worth the price of admission.
Lock of the Year: Pittsburgh will not make the Final Four. The initial reaction of most observers was to say Pitt had an easy road to Houston in this region. I beg to differ. The second round matchup against either Butler or Old Dominion will be no walk in the park for the Panthers, especially if it’s the Monarchs. Should they advance, Pitt faces obstacles in the form of Kansas State or Wisconsin, or maybe even Utah State. If they do get to the Elite Eight, they will meet their match in the form of Florida, St. John’s or BYU.
Juciest Potential Matchup – purists: #1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen. There won’t be many points scored in this one but folks who appreciate the fundamentals of basketball will go bonkers for this matchup. Both teams are incredibly well coached by two of the most underrated men in the business, Jamie Dixon and Bo Ryan. Each team runs an offense ranked in the top ten in efficiency and has a roster laden with cerebral players like Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer, Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker among others. Both teams protect the ball well and utilize disciplined offensive sets with lots of screening, cutting and exceptional passing ability.
Juciest Potential Matchup – media: #6 St. John’s vs. #7 UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen. These teams met in Westwood earlier in the season as Steve Lavin made his return to Pauley Pavilion. This game obviously would mean a lot more with Lavin having the chance to advance to the Elite Eight and stick it to the Bruins fans who thought he underachieved and couldn’t coach during his time with UCLA.
We Got Screwed: #6 St. John’s (21-11, 12-6 Big East). I’ve talked quite a bit about the Red Storm in this piece but if you had to pick one team that got screwed over, they’d have to be the one. St. John’s was punished seeding wise for D.J. Kennedy’s injury and got shipped out west to Denver in the first round where they’ll take on a Gonzaga team playing its best basketball of the year. St. John’s is no stranger to long trips this year (they’ve played twice in California as well as up in Alaska) but the Zags are not a good matchup for the Red Storm. Their height and defense could force St. John’s into settling for jump shots, something they don’t do very well. Should the Red Storm get by the Bulldogs, they’ll face Jimmer and BYU in the second round, one state away from Utah with what is sure to be a strong fan contingent behind them.
Strongest Pod: Tucson, with #5 Kansas State, #12 Utah State, #4 Wisconsin and #13 Belmont. Kansas State is playing very well (minus the Big 12 tournament loss to Colorado), Utah State is underseeded and features a star player in Tai Wesley, Wisconsin is always solid and Belmont may be the best mid-major in this tournament seeded 10 or below.
Upset City: Could this be the bracket that goes haywire? Pittsburgh has been close to the Final Four but has never broken through. With a capable team waiting in their second game, Pitt may be shocked by Butler or Old Dominion. Further down the bracket, Kansas State and Wisconsin won’t have easy games while Gonzaga and Wofford could very well sneak by their higher seeded foes. If UCLA can put all their talent together, they can be a real dark horse in this region while Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, seeded #10 and playing UCLA, are always a tough out in March regardless of the circumstances surrounding the team.
So-Called Experts: Most will go with Pitt but Florida is getting some love from the likes of Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis, Digger Phelps and Mark Schlabach over at ESPN.com. Pat Forde went rogue with Kansas State but I could honestly see that if they stay hot.
Vegas Odds to Win Region: