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Welcome to Bracketville 2010: South Region

South Region

By far the #1 seed with the least hardest path to the Final Four is Duke. How it is Mike Krzyzewski always manages to get these gift draws even in down years is beyond me; he must have made some kind of deal with the (Blue) Devil (ha-ha-ha). Not only that, why does Duke and not the #1 overall seed Kansas get the winner of the play-in game in the opening round? You could have made a case for West Virginia to get a 1-seed, but even though it was a down year in the ACC Duke played one of the best non-conference schedules in the country. Not seeing much on this side of the bracket to challenge Duke, so go ahead and pencil in their name in the regional final.

In a definite down year in the Pac Ten, so California should have won the regular season championship. This is probably the worst defensive team in the tournament, and there isn’t a lot of size, but the Bears do get after it on the offensive end. The key is they have to spread the floor and shoot lights out, but when the shooting goes out they are hard to watch. Louisville, on the other hand, is not a great shooting team, but man these guys can get in your grill on defense. The Cardinals are the only team to beat Syracuse TWICE. Still an experienced team that played a tough Big East schedule and made it all the way to last year’s regional final. As much as I hate to say it, Louisville wins this one but dies on the vine against Duke in the Round of 16.

Siena has won in the first round each of the last two years in the NCAA’s. They are a balanced and experienced team that has learned to expect to win even though they don’t have the world’s strongest schedule. Plus, they are catching Purdue at the right time. The Boilermakers were pounding it out for a #1 seed when they were hit with key injuries at the most inopportune time, then they subsequently were just ordinary down the stretch, so they come into the tournament not playing their best. Because of injuries points are going to be very hard to come by. Purdue was probably gifted a kind 4-seed and probably didn’t deserve it, but there is enough all around for them to finally put the kibosh on Siena.

Texas A&M-Utah State is a better 5-12 matchup than you might think. A&M is not especially big but everyone is tough on the defensive end – holding opponents to 40% shooting. Problem is they are one of the worst foul shooting teams in the country. UTU is in the top ten nationally in three point and free throw shooting. Their perimeter shooting allows them to beat most zones, but deep teams that can substitute for pressure or big teams can cause them all kinds of problems. Not knowing anything else I would pick this matchup as an Upset Special, but Utah State didn’t beat anybody of note, while Texas A&M came up big against big time opponents. I’m taking A&M.

I like Notre Dame’s chameleon-like tenacity. Playing a tough Big East schedule, the Fighting Irish had to morph from a high-scoring, good-shooting team, when they were beset by injuries, into a more patient team. So we know Mike Brey’s charges can adjust to ever-changing game conditions and become what they need to be at any given moment. Old Dominion is one of the bigger teams in the tournament that ruled the paint in a weak Colonial Athletic Association – and they needed every bit of that size just to shoot 40% from the field. That, coupled with the Monarchs’ inability to shoot free throws, indicates that Notre Dame will take this one in an entertaining 6-11 pairing.

Baylor! Wow! These guys are surprising good both inside and outside. Superb guard play coupled with the second best rebounding in a tough year in the Big XII. Stated simply, this team is dangerous; this is probably the one team in this field nobody wants to see. The Bears had some big wins against Kansas, Xavier, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M – and Texas TWICE. Sam Houston State was the best offensive team in the Southland Conference – which isn’t saying much; another team that didn’t play anybody. Baylor may be neophytes at this, but there’s enough wow here to overwhelm anybody. Baylor in a walk to set up a knock-down drag-out fight with Notre Dame in the next round.

Tough 7-10 matchup to call. Surprise Richmond cracked the Top 25 this year, with defense (holding teams to 39% shooting), depth (a solid rotation of nine players), and an experienced backcourt. This is by far the best Richmond side ever. St. Mary’s is nobody’s prison bitch, though. They had to vanquish Gonzaga convincingly to get to the tourney. Despite the loss of key starters in the backcourt in December and having to switch to a bigger lineup because of it, the Gaels hit the boards with abandon while still sinking 41% of their treys; all while sinking 76% of their free throws. Problem is the lineup is limited; they have no depth and rely almost solely on their starters. If Richmond can rotate players in and put pressure on St. Mary’s, this could be a very long game for the Gaels. I’m guessing the selection committee got this one right in giving the Spiders the higher seed.

Not the world’s most difficult subregion for Villanova. Arguably the deepest, most experienced team in the field returns their Final Four team virtually intact. The Wildcats run the floor well, play up-tempo and will run you off the court. There is scoring all up and down their lineup, and they shoot the ball well from all over the court and from the charity stripe. They get Robert Morris in the first round, whom I will give madd kudos to for a defense-first mentality and playing some tough regular season foes. But Villanova shouldn’t have too many problems with this subregion. It gets tougher after that, with Baylor (wow!) possibly waiting for them before having to deal with Duke in the regional final. If there is anybody in this region who can beat Duke it’s Villanova, who dispatched the Blue Devils in last year’s regional semis.

– DaveyDoug

Welcome to Bracketville 2010: East Region

East Region

Nobody in the tournament has as much talent as Kentucky, but let’s not kid ourselves; it is raw as all get out. If Kentucky is going to get out of this region, then youth had better be served because there are a lot of landmines in this region. DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall are the frontcourt-backcourt go-to guys, arguably the best duo in the country – but they are freshman. The pressure hasn’t caught up with them yet, and Wall is probably one-and-done. There isn’t anything this team can’t do. East Tennessee State represents no problem for the Wildcats, but waiting for them going forward is West Virginia, New Mexico, Temple, Marquette, Clemson, Texas, Wake Forest, or even an experienced and deep Cornell.

The best 8-9 matchup of the tournament: Texas-Wake Forest. Don’t sell Texas short: They spent most of the season in the Top 5 before losing 9 of 16 down the stretch, so clearly there is Top 5 ability here. Wake had their own issues, losing five of six down the stretch. This is a battle of two teams going south at the wrong time, so somebody’s going to be fix their problems if only for one game. I’ll take Texas to win here and give Kentucky all kinds of fits before folding like a cheap tent.

UPSET SPECIAL #3: Despite the seedings this is as even a matchup as they come. Both Temple and Cornell do the exact same things well. They both shoot the ball well, including from 3-point range, and they are among the best in the nation in scoring defense. What does it for me is (1) Cornell returns every starter from last year, and experience and depth do mean a lot at tourney time; and (2) Cornell is one of the best in the nation in turnover ratio (1.55). Plus, Cornell has some size in the paint, so even if their nationally ranked 3-point shooting (10+ 3pg) goes out, the Big Red know how to compensate. This is a much better Owls team than in recent years, but the Ivy League is well represented this time out. Cornell in an upset.

Wisconsin’s trademarks are a stifling defense and an efficient offense; plus they turn over the ball fewer times than any team in the nation. But the Badgers are not the bangers on the boards that they have been in recent years and they are having health issues going into the tourney. Fortunately they were gifted a motivated Wofford team that doesn’t do anything well but wins games with as weak a schedule as they had. Quite frankly I’m looking forward to the Wisconsin-Cornell matchup in the next round, where I think Cornell’s tenacity and experience takes apart an underwhelming Wisconsin side. Somebody has to be this year’s Davidson; I’m going with the Big Red. Cornell gets to the Sweet 16.

UPSET SPECIAL #4: Not a lot of size at Marquette, but they did rebound well from losing a lot of talent from last year’s squad. A good 3-point shooting team that is also good at the free-throw line, two things you want to do well at tourney time. But there is virtually no size inside so they don’t rebound well. A guard-oriented team like the Golden Eagles is tailor-made for Washington, who is also guard-oriented and were ninth in the nation in scoring. Despite the lack of size the Huskies are scrappy as hell and manage to actually hit the boards with some frequency. A down year in the Pac Ten, but this was a matchup I’m sure the schedulers made a mistake on. Washington wins this one.

It must be the record that got New Mexico a 3-seed. A 29-4 record in an unusually tough year in the Mountain West is what got them this high a seed. That said, this is a Steve Alford-led team, so I have no doubt he has them well prepared for the tournament. Montana ranks nationally among the best in shooting but they didn’t play anybody of note and practically backed into the tournament from a weak year in the Big Sky conference. This one is a no-brainer. A surprisingly easy subregion for a mid-major nets the Lobos a trip to the Sweet 16.

The trendy pick in this 7-10 matchup is Missouri. Their frantic, full-pressure defense is hard on teams that haven’t yet seen it. The Tigers led the nation in steals and force over 20 turnovers per game. But there just isn’t any size and the go through long stretches of cold shooting, especially from the perimeter. Clemson forces a lot of turnovers, also, but they are less effective in their halfcourt offensive sets (any team that is plays deliberately, uses the shot clock and takes care of the ball could frustrate them). That said, Clemson plays with a certain nastiness inside that matters at tourney time and can make up for cold offensive stretches. This has the possibility of being a very low-scoring game, but I’ll take Clemson.

Gawd I hate Bob Huggins, but man if he doesn’t have a team this year. How he convinced the best players from New York to come to Morgantown is beyond me. The team that had the toughest schedule in the country finished 27-6 and won the Big East for the first time ever. The Mountaineers aren’t a team; they are a force of nature. Not much they don’t do well but the one thing they do especially badly is shoot free throws and that matters. I like what Todd Bozeman has done at Morgan State, turning that team into a consistent league winner and getting them to score in bunches, but this game is a no-brainer. West Virginia beats up Morgan State, bangs it out against Clemson to reach the Sweet 16, and then easily dispatches New Mexico to set up a showdown with Kentucky in the regional final.

– DaveyDoug

Welcome to Bracketville 2010: West Region

West Region

This is arguably the best regular season Syracuse side ever, these guys score are among the best in the nation in scoring (81+ ppg) and shooting (52%), and they hold opponents to 40% shooting. Problem is this is not a particularly deep side, foul shooting is an issue, and they don’t crash the boards especially well. So the things you need to do at tourney time they don’t do, and that is going to matter in a not-so-easy region. Hard to argue with their seeding, but no team has ever won an NCAA Tournament after having been eliminated from their conference tournament in the quarters. Vermont’s last visit to the tournament they won their first-round game against – wait for it – SYRACUSE. Plus, they know how to win on the road. As much as I would like to see an upset, Vermont isn’t that lucky this time. But when the shooting goes out – and mark my words, it will – better rebounding teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Xavier, Brigham Young, and Florida State are likely to be waiting.

Don’t be fooled by the seedings: Gonzaga and Florida State is not the matchup you think it is. Kudos to Mark Few for building an Top 20 program in Spokane, but this team has not been able to get out of the Sweet 16 since 1998 and I’m tired of waiting on them to do so. One of the best shooting teams in the nation at 50% but very susceptible to physical, inside play, Few has good athletes but no elite ones. Florida State has an inside presence that can carry them far, which explains why they never rely on 3-point shooting. Plus, the starters all average more than 10 ppg, so if one goes cold there’s somebody else to step up. Add to that Few’s bitching and moaning about having to go to Buffalo to play a subregional and you have the makings of a Seminole uprising.

UPSET SPECIAL #2: One of the harder subregions to call, because Butler is hot right now, winning 20 in a row. The Bulldogs average 46% shooting and does mostly everything well, but they can’t shoot treys (34%), so they might want to keep in basic if they want to go far. UTEP is probably the wrong kind of opponent for Butler in the first round, just the kind of turnover-inducing, defense-intensive team (39% opposition shooting, 32% opposition 3-pointers) Butler loses to early. Judging by the number of NBA scouts that have been attending Butler games this year there may be some NBA talent in Indianapolis, but outside of last year there usually is a 5-12 upset or two in every NCAA Tournament. I’m betting this is one of them.

Vanderbilt doesn’t do anything especially well, they just do everything consistently, plus they don’t beat themselves. They do shoot 48% from the field and 73% from the charity stripe, so they don’t take bad shots and they perform the simplest tasks. 30-4 Murray State does way, way, way too many things really well. There isn’t a deeper, more balanced team in the field. The Racers (I love that nickname) are third in the country in shooting (50%), one of the best in the country in crashing the boards (plus-6), and they bring the defensive heat (11 steals). Problem is, Murray State had one of the weakest schedules in the NCAA. Let’s not kid ourselves, even at 30-4 if they hadn’t won their conference tournament the Racers would have gotten nowhere near the NCAA’s. Murray State’s last tournament win was in 1988; don’t count on this one being their next.

Anybody who knows me knows I’m never sold on Xavier. Not the world’s toughest schedule but they do score points (80 ppg) and hold teams to below 30% from 3-point range. Despite their run in the Big Ten tournament the only thing remarkable about Minnesota’s run to the tourney were their personal losses. Sure they beat Purdue but the Boilermakers have had injury crises down the stretch. Not the world’s best matchup but look for the Musketeers to at least win this one…

…Because Pittsburgh is nobody’s bitch. Sure they lost a ton of talent from the team that went to the Elite 8 last year but Jamie Dixon knows how to find tough, physical and athletic grinders who will also create opportunities on the offensive end. The Panthers don’t do anything especially well but they are a young team that isn’t afraid to take people on. It isn’t pretty but it is very effective. Oakland of Michigan turns the ball over way too much, panic when they fall behind, and are pathetic shooters from outside. Given their strength of schedule – or lack thereof – a 14-seed is being kind. Pittsburgh in a walk to the Sweet 16. They aren’t back yet, but the Panthers will be sometime in the next year or two.

Gawd I hate Billy Donovan! Exactly who the hell did he fuck to even get into the tournament and get gifted a 10-seed? Florida shouldn’t be anywhere near this tournament. Brigham Young – the best team in the country in scoring margin (19) and free throw percentage (79%), and third in scoring (84) — is going to wipe up the floor with the Gators. Quite frankly, I would ordinarily take BYU to go to the Sweet 16…

…If Kansas State wasn’t going to be waiting for them in the Round of 32. Not the world’s most talented squad but these guys play with a ferocity that I just love. Even against the best teams in the country the Wildcats may not have won but they sure kept it close and made their opponents realize they were in a street fight. Two things that kill them, though; they get turnover-prone, and they are horrid at the free throw line – and those are two things that can kill you. Not much to impress you about North Texas State, but they are scrappy and they find ways to win close games. Just like any underdog they stress ball security and three-point shooting. One of the more interesting 2-15 matchups this year, K-State is going to have to bury them early; you don’t want to let a team this scrappy hang around. That said, the K-State/BYU matchup in the second round will be entertaining as hell. Take K-State to get to the Sweet 16.

– DaveyDoug