Tuesday, March 13, 2007

NCAA Tourney Preview – Midwest Region

Apologies to those Sanity posters who, ahem, don't care much for basketball. For those who do, here's a little reading material in preparation for Thursday/Friday...

1 Florida
16 Jackson State

Despite a 2-week funk at the end of the season, I think Florida was worthy of a 1-seed, and honestly, I think they’re the only team capable of winning the national title in the whole bracket. I don’t entirely trust them, though, because no matter how good their big men are, they won’t win if their guards (Green, Humphrey) aren’t playing well and making shots. Meanwhile, while Jackson State looked pretty good winning their conference tournament on Saturday, it’s pretty easy to look good playing against similar competition. This one should be a walk.

Prediction: Florida

(Meanwhile, Billy Donovan is the perfect example of how inches decide reputations. If Georgetown makes one more play in the Sweet 16, then Florida’s run ends there and Donovan is still seen as a coach who peaked early and has been at the helm of nothing but underachievers since then. Just thought I’d throw that out there.)

8 Arizona
9 Purdue

Arizona definitely has a higher ceiling, but Purdue is exactly the kind of team that could beat them. This is probably Lute Olsen’s most talented team in a while, and if they beat Purdue, they could give Florida a pretty good game. However, I think they’re in for a dogfight here. There’s no doubt that Purdue (who I thought deserved inclusion in the tournament, by the way) is a ‘lunch pail’ type of team who has just enough skill to go with its strong hustle, and playing a team that makes a lot of brainfarts fits them perfectly. This game will either be a 6-point win for Purdue or a 17-point win for Arizona. Just to be different from a lot of folks, I’ll say...

Prediction: Purdue

5 Butler
12 Old Dominion

This is one of the weaker quadrants in the tournament. I think a lot of people could be picking a 12 vs 13 second round matchup.

Butler began to lose its edge a few weeks ago, but the committee obviously still had to give them a high seed because of their work earlier in the season. They’re obviously very fundamentally sound, but against a physical team (like SIU a few weeks ago), they can be knocked off of their rhythm. Is Old Dominion that team? I’m not sure. Is the real Old Dominion the one who whooped Georgetown or the one who got whooped at James Madison? All I know for sure is, ODU had only given up more than 70 points once in their last 12 games (all of them wins) before their breakdown against George Mason in the conference tourney. They have two guys who can rebound pretty well, and they’re very battle tested. They’ve also played better than Butler for most of the last month or so. Works for me.

Prediction: Old Dominion

4 Maryland
13 Davidson

I’m very torn here. Maryland coast to the Sweet Sixteen and give Florida a brutal battle, or they could bow out quietly to a pretty good Davidson team. As with ODU, Maryland was an extremely hot team until a brutal showing in their conference tournament. They have good athleticism, but they really don’t have an identity or a marquee player. D.J. Strawberry, James Gist, and Mike Jones are all very good, but I’m not sure who you turn to when you need a big shot in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, since losing to Duke by 28 in December, Davidson has won 25 of 26 games and absolutely plowed through the Southern Conference tournament. You can’t get much hotter than that. They have a go-to guy in Stephen Curry (20.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG at 6’0) and a very solid point guard in Jason Richards (13.6 PPG, 7.3 APG). This is probably Davidson’s best team yet, and as Mizzou fans can attest, they’ve had some really good teams recently. They could very easily make the Sweet 16, but I really can’t justify picking both the 12 and the 13 to win. We’ll say Maryland’s athleticism comes through in the end.

Prediction: Maryland

I’m already regretting that pick. Please come through for me, Terps.

6 Notre Dame
11 Winthrop

Notre Dame is a pretty underrated team who has quietly put together a decent resume with wins over teams like Marquette and Maryland. They have five guys who score average double figures in PPG, and they’re decent across the board. However, Winthrop is one of two mid-major teams I vowed to take in the first round no matter what. Their only losses have come at North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin and Texas A&M. They’ve pretty much blown everybody else out of the water. Their road win at SMS a couple of weeks ago probably knocked SMS out of the tourney. They go 9-10 deep, and they’ve proven they can win playing a lot of different styles. I assume this will be a pretty popular upset pick, and that usually means that the upset won’t happen, but...

Prediction: Winthrop

3 Oregon
14 Miami-OH

I don’t usually trust teams that peak in the conference tournament, and there’s absolutely no way Oregon can play any better than they did Saturday against USC. However, there’s also no way Miami-OH can play any better (or get luckier) than they did against Akron on Saturday. Miami will try to grind it out and hope that Oregon gets cold from the outside, but even if Oregon does get cold, I don’t see the Redhawks having much of a chance.

Prediction: Oregon

10 Georgia Tech

I’ve had to think long and hard about this one. UNLV is rugged, strong, and damn good, as they proved at the Thomas & Mack Center this weekend, and Georgia Tech is completely and totally unpredictable. They’re young, they’re good at home, and they’re not-so-good on the road, but so was Mizzou during the Quin Snyder era, and (back when they made the tourney, anyway), they pretty consistently performed quite well in the NCAA’s. Because of that alone (and because I’ve already picked one ‘hardnosed > high upside’ game in this region), I’m going with Tech.

Prediction: Georgia Tech

2 Wisconsin
15 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Of all the 1/16 and 2/15 games, I think this will be the closest. Wisconsin is too strong and physical to lose this game, but don’t underestimate A&M-CC. They’ve been steadily building a solid program down there over the last few years, and I thought they kind of got gypped with a 15 seed. They are solid and competitive, but they’re just not quite good enough to beat a team that was at one point #1 in the country.

Prediction: Wisconsin

Looking ahead

Here’s the early look at future rounds:

1 Florida > 9 Purdue
4 Maryland > 12 Old Dominion
3 Oregon > 11 Winthrop (barely)
10 Georgia Tech > 2 Wisconsin


1 Florida > 4 Maryland
3 Oregon > 10 Georgia Tech


1 Florida > 3 Oregon

I believe Georgia Tech and Winthrop are the wildcards here. Tech could win or lose any game by 20. Winthrop has made mince-meat of most mid-major opposition, but you just never know if that will translate to tourney success. I’m not totally sold on Florida, but they’re still the best bet in this weak region.