A is for “Anderson”
Mike Anderson, that is. The coach of third seeded Missouri has quickly turned around a Tigers program that has been mediocre recently, winning the Big XII tourney title this past weekend (yeah, I picked that). UK fans will remember his helter-skelter style of play from UAB’s second round defeat of the number one overall seed Wildcats back in 2004.
B is for “Blocks”
The West Region is home to not only the two best shot blocking teams in the country, UConn and Mississippi State, but also the two best shot blocking players in the country, Hasheem Thabeet of UConn and Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State. The Huskies and Bulldogs together have 513 blocks, while Thabeet and Varnado have 307. Venture into the paint in the West at your own risk.
C is for “Cal State Northridge”
The Big West champion Matadors win with defense, and they will face a team that also thrives on locking you down in second seeded Memphis. However, they are 324th nationally in offensive turnover percentage, so Memphis length and athleticism should terrorize them.
D is for “Dentmon”
The Washington Huskies two guard has seen his scoring average jump from 9.8 to 15.0 from his junior to his senior year, and he can fill it up from deep, shooting 42.2% on the season.
E is for “Experience”
Marquette, Cal State Northridge, and Chattanooga all rank in the top 20 nationally in experience according to Ken Pomeroy. While CS Northridge and Chattanooga’s experience likely won’t make a difference against much more talented opponents, Marquette’s experience could help them overcome the loss of Dominic James to advance.
F is for “Favorite”
I think it’s a pretty even split between UConn and Memphis when it comes to people picking the champ of this region, and I agree. These two teams are both really solid, but keep an eye out for my choice later in my ABC’s.
G is for “Gary Wilkinson”
Wilkinson is the leading scorer and rebounder for the 11 seed Utah State Aggies. Wilkinson is a big bodied JUCO transfer who has scored in double figures every game this year but four. He also has six double-doubles, and could give some trouble to perimeter-oriented Marquette in Round 1.
H is for “Hayward”
Lazar Hayward is one of Marquette’s star players being called on to help fill the void left by Dominic James. He’s only the third leader scorer for the Golden Eagles, but he still averages over 16 points per game. He is also Marquette’s leading rebounder at 8.6 a contest.
I is for “Ivy League”
The Ivy League champion Cornell Big Red make their second consecutive Tourney trip as a 14 seed. They lost last year by 24 to Stanford and the Lopez brothers. This year they will undoubtedly look to make noise against Missouri. Cornell earns its living shooting the three ball, hitting on over 40% for the year, good for sixth nationally.
J is for “JaJuan Johnson”
Purdue’s sophomore forward has been a key contributor all year, but he averaged 18 points in the Boilermaker’s semifinal and final wins on the way to their Big 10 Tournament title. He also joins the West’s block party, averaging 2.1 per game.
K is for “Kemba Walker”
Walker is a freshman guard for UConn who is a big time talent who is being called on to replace much of what UConn lost when Jerome Dyson was lost for the season. He had two 20 point games in his first three outings as a Huskie, but since has scored in double figures only four times. His role is much more important to what UConn does now, and if they are going to make a serious run at the national title, his play has to improve and even out.
L is for “Laugher”
A laugher is exactly what the game between UConn and Chattanooga is going to be in the first round. The Mocs were the surprise champs of the Southern Conference, aka the conference that Davidson has ruled in recent years, but don’t expect them to be as competitive as Stephen Curry’s club last year.
M is for “Mormon”
The West bracket features two teams from the great (white) state of Utah: 8 seed BYU and 11 seed Utah State. The two teams are 55-11 together, and neither will be pleased with just showing up. BYU faces Texas A&M as the higher seed, and Utah State faces a Marquette team that has struggled without guard Dominic James.
N is for “Northern Iowa”
The champion of the Missouri Valley Conference always scares their first round opponent, and this time the Purdue Boilermakers are going have to deal with 12th seeded Northern Iowa. The Panthers play a slow pace (318th nationally), which a Big 10 team never minds, so this matchup may be a boring one.
O is for “O’Rear”
Northern Iowa sophomore forward Lucas O’Rear is not only the player with my favorite name in the West bracket, but he is the most appropriately named played in the region. He’s a bruiser and he’s 6-6 255 pounds. The name sounds like it was coined by Bill Raftery or something. He plays 23 minutes a game, averaging 5.4 points and 5.4 rebounds.
P is for “Pick”
As in my pick to win the region. I’m going with third seeded Missouri. They have built up momentum by winning the Big XII Tournament, they play a style that can give a lot of teams fits, and their leading scorer and rebounder is my boy, Vandy transfer DeMarre Carroll. UConn and Memphis are both good, and UConn would have been a no brainer if Jerome Dyson were playing, but I’m not sold on either.
Q is for “Quality”
Not only does the West Region sport two teams that are probably qualified enough to be one seeds (UConn and Memphis), but also the Big 12 Tournament champ and the regular season Pac 10 champ. Mix that in with quality teams like Purdue, Utah State, and BYU, and you have a lot of teams who know how to win ball games.
R is for “Robert Dozier”
Senior forward Robert Dozier is Memphis second leading rebounder and scorer, and he can do a little bit of everything. He adds 1.2 steals per game and 1.7 blocks per game, and has even expanded his range past the three point line, shooting 38.9% on the year. He’s contributed since his freshman year, but he’s really improved and has a rounded into a very solid player.
S is for “Strait Pinkie Bracket Challenge”
Don’t forget to sign up for the Strait Pinkie Bracket Challenge on Yahoo!!!
T is for “Theo Robertson”
The junior forward for Cal is absolutely deadly from deep, shooting an astounding 49.1% from three and averaging 12.8 points per game.
U is for “Ugly”
I’m going to be in Indiana during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, so I’m going to be stuck watching Purdue-Northern Iowa while there are other good games going on. These are two teams that play a slow pace and pride themselves on defense. They aren’t afraid to foul you and make it painful to watch their games.
V is for “Varnado”
Jarvis Varnado has always been a terror on the defensive end, but the Mississippi State center has really developed into a player who can score in the low post and be a part of a solid offense. His matchup with Jon Brockman will be very interesting in round one. The two could not have more different body types and styles (Varnado blocks 4.7 shots a game, Brockman has blocked 3 on the season), but they are both highly effective.
W is for “Washingon”
Coach Lorenzo Romar led the fourth seeded Washington Huskies to their first regular season Pac-10 title this year. They suffered a loss to Arizona State in the conference tournament, but finished the regular season with 6 straight victories. They are led by freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas (no, not that Isiah Thomas) and interior player Jon Brockman, who is a bruiser.
X is for “X-factor”
Greivis Vasquez is Maryland’s best player, but he can also be their worst. His triple-double in Maryland’s overtime comeback win over UNC is one of the most memorable games of the season. When Greivis plays well, Maryland wins; when Greivis plays poorly, Maryland loses, and often badly. He has 3 single digit scoring games on the season, and the Terps have lost each game by a total of 71 points.
Y is for “You better watch”
If you’re not excited about the NCAA Tournament, I don’t understand you, and I probably don’t want to be around you. This is the best time of the year, even if your team is not playing. To give you an idea, I am taking vacation days from work Thursday and Friday. In my mind, it’s a holiday.
Z is for “ZZZZ”
This is what I might be doing if I’m forced to watch Memphis play Cal State Northridge. Memphis has allowed under 50 points each of their last four games, and they just get after you on defense. Cal State Northridge plays pretty solid D, but not good enough to even come close to staying in this game. Look for a final of 70-40 or thereabouts in this game.