Tuesday, March 13, 2007

NCAA Tourney Preview – West Region

Speaking of weak regions...

1 Kansas
16 FAMU/Niagara

The only drama here is who wins the play-in game. I say Niagara.

Needless to say, if Kansas loses this year in the First Round, then Billy Self needs to find himself a different profession. I’d feel a bit more comfortable considering picking KU to win the whole thing if they’d had a slip up some time recently. They had a couple near-slipups against OU and Texas (twice), but they came back and won. I think a loss down the stretch is always good for shoring up everybody’s motivations, but it’s obviously not a complete necessity. As I’ve said before, Sherron Collins has made such a tremendous difference on this team. You have a bunch of talent at every position, but guys like Julian Wright and Brandon Rush don’t necessarily have the killer intinct—they’re great as team players, but sometimes you have to have a guy willing to go balls-to-the-wall to get to the basket. Even though Collins isn’t usually their leading scorer, he’s a crunch time guy who makes everybody else’s (Wright, Rush, Chalmers, etc.) jobs easier.

Prediction: Kansas

8 Kentucky
9 Villanova

If I’m a KU fan (and lord knows I certainly am not), I’m rooting for Kentucky to win this game. Kansas should be able to handle either team, but I think Villanova would present much more of a threat due to their faster guards and more varied offensive weapons. Kentucky’s extremely bland, and KU’s defense is good enough to shut down Randolph Morris pretty easily. However, at the same time I don’t think Villanova matches up very well with Kentucky. Kentucky is big, strong, and plodding, and they would be able to create lots of mismatches with the faster, lighter ‘Nova. However, if Mike Nardi is healthy, I say ‘Nova takes this one.

Prediction: Villanova

5 Virginia Tech
12 Illinois

You never know what you’re going to get with Virginia Tech. They went 3-0 versus North Carolina and Duke and 0-3 versus N.C. State, not to mention 0-2 versus Marshall and Western Michigan. They faltered down the stretch, finishing the season 3-3. Illinois, on the other hand, is quite consistent. They’re not great, mind you, but they’re consistent and solid, and they’ll win if Tech’s not ready. Since the Hokies seem to have peaked about a month ago, we’ll take another 12 over a 5.

Prediction: Illinois

4 Southern Illinois
13 Holy Cross

Hmm. HC is always a tough out in the tourney (just ask Kansas), and SIU isn’t strong or athletic enough to run away with any tourney game. SIU is, however, more battle-tested. They’ve played Arkansas, Virginia Tech, Indiana, Butler, and Creighton (3 times) and ran away with a 15-3 conference record in a tough Missouri Valley. The Crusaders, on the other hand, went 0-1 versus NCAA tourney teams, losing at Duke. They lost at Syracuse and Hofstra as well. They’re solid, but SIU’s a much better bet.

Prediction: Southern Illinois

6 Duke
11 VCU

I sooooooo want to pick VCU in this game. I really really do. Duke’s beyond vulnerable, and VCU is both the Colonial champ and the Colonial Tournament champ. But too many people are picking this, and I think Coach K will have his team playing hard. I see Duke peaking at the Sweet 16 at best, but I’m afraid they’ll win this one. I’d be happy to be wrong, though.

Prediction: Duke

3 Pittsburgh
14 Wright State

I think Pitt’s vulnerable. I’m not saying that simply because they got rolled up by Georgetown—Georgetown’s damn good; I just think that Pitt’s strengths (Gray, tough guards) are too sporadic for them to make a run deep into the tourney. They’re taking on a Wright State team that has come on strong. Ever since they lost by 31 at Butler in early January, something clicked—they’ve won 14 of 16, including two revenge wins over Butler. They’re obviously a different team than the one who lost to Bradley by 39 over three months ago, but the biggest guy they can throw up against Aaron Gray is 6’8, 220. In fact, they only have two guys bigger than 215 on their roster. Pitt might be vulnerable, but they’re too strong and physical to lose to Wright State.

Prediction: Pittsburgh

7 Indiana
10 Gonzaga

I think it’s kind of a joke that Gonzaga got a 10 seed. Yes, they played a tough schedule, and yes, they had some lovely early-season wins against UNC, Texas, and Washington. However, they’re not the same team as they were then. They lost Josh Heytvelt to psychedelic shrooms, and their best win since November was against an extremely overrated Stanford team (more on them later). Their getting a 10-seed shows me they probably would have gotten an at-large bid had they lost to Santa Clara in the WCC Finals, and that would have made me almost as unhappy as Stanford and Arkansas getting bids (again, more on them later). They’ve got quick guards, and really, they match up pretty well with Indiana. However, I think D.J. White is the difference here—the Zags don’t have a guy who can keep up with him in the post. Indiana’s been pretty up-and-down all season, but they should be good enough to knock out Gonzaga.

Prediction: Indiana

15 Weber State

A couple of weeks ago, UCLA was my pick for NCAA champ. Now, I’m not so sure. First, there’s the whole thing about how no team has ever lost in the first round of their conference tourney and come back to win the NCAA tournament. That’s a big red flag. Plus, I’m just not sure how good the Pac 10 really is. However, I absolutely love Darren Collison, and Aaron Afflalo will be playing with a purpose after his wretched performance against Cal last week. And I’m pretty sure that Collison, Afflalo and three players from an intramural team could beat Weber State.

Prediction: UCLA

Looking ahead

Here’s the early look at future rounds:

1 Kansas > 8 Villanova
12 Illinois > 4 Southern Illinois
6 Duke > 3 Pittsburgh
2 UCLA > 7 Indiana


1 Kansas > 12 Illinois
2 UCLA > 6 Duke


2 UCLA > 1 Kansas

(You didn’t think I could actually pick Kansas to win the whole thing, did you?)