Wednesday, March 14, 2012

West Preview


I never know if the Committee does stuff like this on purpose, but the West region this year is absolutely loaded with teams that are dominated by excellent perimeter play. (Iona's shocking loss to BYU in the play-in game Tuesday night robbed the region of more guard talent in NBA prospect Scott Machado and Arizona transfer Lamont "Momo" Jones.) I love good guard play, and my two "adopted" teams this year, Missouri and Long Beach State, are in the region, so it's safe to say I'll be tuning in to almost every game. Let's get on with the preview.

First-round upset
#12 Long Beach State over #5 New Mexico -- During the Selection Show, New Mexico was one of the many schools that CBS had a camera at during the unveiling of the brackets. When New Mexico's name was slotted as the #5 seed in the West, the characteristic cheer went up. But what many didn't notice was that when Long Beach State was revealed to be the Lobos' first-round opponent, Steve Alford, UNM's head coach, shook his fist in an "aw, shucks!" manner. And he has reason for concern: the 49ers are going to be a tough out. My love for LBSU is well-documented on this blog. They are long and versatile, and Casper Ware is as good as anyone at filling it up from the point guard position -- with a flair for playmaking, to boot. They play a tricky 1-2-2 half court trap with the spidery James Ennis at the point, an unfamiliar defense to most teams. They played a brutal non-conference schedule, easily the toughest in the country, and finally broke through against Orlando Johnson and UCSB in the Big West tourney after losing the two previous seasons. I have a strong feeling that the 49ers aren't satiated with the automatic bid.

Other interesting first-round game
#4 Louisville vs. #13 Davidson -- From what I've read, this is a popular upset pick. Davidson was the darling of a tournament in the recent past, and did beat Kansas in Kansas City earlier in the year. Louisville, meanwhile, has been decimated by injuries and isn't an intimidating offensive team. But Davidson kicked away all of a late 12-point lead against Western Carolina in the SoCon championship (they eventually won in double overtime) due to Western's full-court pressure, and full-court pressure is where the Cardinals hang their hat (and how they captured the Big East title). Junior Jake Cohen has the ability to get shotblocker Gorgui Dieng in foul trouble, but the Wildcats don't have a lot of slashers to take advantage of that potential absence. And Cohen, himself an accomplished shotblocker, will need to stay out of foul trouble when lightning-quick point guard Peyton Siva, the Big East Tournament MVP, slashes into the lane. I'm not convinced that Louisville is good enough for a 4-seed; I just think this is a bad matchup for Davidson. I expect a close game, but a Louisville win.

#7 Florida -- A lot of people are really high on #9 Memphis, but to me, they are too undisciplined to beat a team like Michigan State -- I think they'll have trouble with Saint Louis in the first round. On paper, I think Florida is the more dangerous team. In Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal, Scottie Wilbekin, and Mike Rosario, the Gators have the horses in the backcourt to run with Missouri's guards. The problem is that the veterans -- Walker, Boynton, and Wilebkin -- are all varying degrees of terrible when it comes to shot selection and decision-making, and Beal, the best of the bunch, is just a freshman. How are they going to respond in an up-tempo game? I think they'll spend too much time trying to one up their opposition instead of establishing Patric Young in the post, and so I don't have Florida winning more than one game. But on paper, it looks like a possibility.

The challengers
#1 Michigan State -- Along with New Mexico, the Spartans are the only top team in the region with a big presence in the post, and Draymond Green, Adreian Payne, and Derrick Nix are going to be a handful for the lilliputian lineups MSU will face, particularly on the glass. The Spartans are shakier in the backcourt, though, and down a body thanks to freshman Branden Dawson's season-ending ACL injury, and for those reasons, I'm really tempted to take Long Beach State in an upset in the Sweet 16. But LBSU's Eugene Phelps and Edis Dervisevic have like no chance of keeping Green, Payne, and Nix under wraps, and with nearly a week to prepare, I'd take Tom Izzo over just about anyone. Missouri's a different story: Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore are more formidable in the post, and the Tigers' perimeter players are just vastly superior to Michigan State's. Plus, the Spartans will be tired after going up and down with LBSU.

#3 Marquette and #6 Murray State -- These teams belong here; I just haven't seen either play a full game this season. Marquette seemed to have a lot of games where they either coughed up big leads or came back from big deficits, which isn't the kind of team I want to count on in March. Murray State's a good team, but they get it done from the perimeter, and there are just too many good guards in this region.

The winner
#2 Missouri -- Man, I love these guys. Phil Pressey is my favorite player in all of college basketball right now; as long as he sticks around for his junior season, he'll probably end up in GIL territory. 6-6 Kim English starts at power forward and handles the defensive end more than adequately considering the matchup problems he creates on the other end. Marcus Denmon leads the team in scoring and takes nearly seven threes per game, hitting them at a 41 percent clip. Matt Pressey, Phil's older brother (the two are the sons of former NBA player Paul Pressey), is a solid veteran role player who, like the rest of his teammates, defends extremely well. And Ratliffe and Moore, though undersized, handle the interior duties effectively. (Ratliffe, in particular, is remarkably good on the offensive glass despite his height disadvantage.) The Tigers are efficient on offense and tenacious on defense, and that's why they are the pick in the West.

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