NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region
I've harped enough on just how difficult this Midwest Region is. But let's examine it even further, breaking it down all the way:
Why the No. 1 seed will make the Final Four:
Well, because it's Kansas. Because it's the best team in the whole damn thing. The Jayhawks are not only the top overall seed, they're the regular season and tournament champions in the best league in the country. All season, critics have looked for ways to doubt Kansas. All season, they've come up short. Admittedly, there's no way the Jayhawks should have lost to a very shorthanded Tennessee team. The Oklahoma State loss was more the product of Gallagher-Iba Arena and James Anderson than anything else. Overtime in Colorado? Maybe some jet lag and overconfidence. But this team is really a great team. You read that right: A great team. One of the all-time great teams, even. Last season's North Carolina bunch was one of the best teams of the decade. This team? Well, they've got one fewer loss in a more difficult conference. All that's left now for the Jayhawks is a show-stopping sweep through the NCAA Tournament. It's coming.
Why the No. 1 seed will fall short:
Still, could the road have been much tougher to get there? Lehigh is sort of a tough first-round opponent, and both UNLV and Northern Iowa have “giant killers” written all over them. Get to the Sweet 16 and you're likely to meet one of two teams boasting a coach with a ring: No. 4 seed Maryland or No. 5 seed Michigan State. All three teams have at least one star player, and the Spartans ended the Jayhawks' season last year at the Sweet 16. But should the Jayhawks hurdle the Spartans, they'll have any of No. 2 seed Ohio State and player of the year Evan Turner, hot-as-can-be No. 3 seed Georgetown, which has more than proven it can beat anyone, or No. 6 seed Tennessee or No. 7 seed Oklahoma State – you remember, the two teams to beat Kansas this season. The competition in this bracket may be fiercer than the final weekend, should the Jayhawks reach that level. That leaves just one question: Did Bill Self do something wrong? Is he being punished by the NCAA Tournament committee? And if so, why does Kentucky not have a first-round date with Mississippi State?
Best Non-No. 1 Seed:
My hunch is that Ohio State won't make the Elite Eight. I've got too many questions about their incredible lack of depth – Evan Turner, William Buford, David Lighty and Jon Diebler all often play all 40 minutes – and size. I don't like the possibility of them facing Tennessee, a team that keeps the pace fast and has two legitimate big men, in the Sweet 16. With that said, the Buckeyes may have the best starting lineup in the country. They're the second best team, and that's all there is to it. Evan Turner's junior season has only been rivaled by Jay Williams, Tyler Hansbrough and Adam Morrison in recent memory – most top players are gone before they get to a third year. Buford is busting out lately, and he's probably an even more gifted scorer than Turner, though he doesn't contribute as much in any other facet of the game. Ohio State could win the national championship. I'm just not sure they make it out of this region.
Final Four Sleeper:
I wouldn't normally call Michigan State a Final Four sleeper, because usually I have Tom Izzo penciled into the final weekend before I even look at the rest of the bracket. But the Spartans are in a position where they're buried beneath two other top teams in their region, so they've been all but forgotten. Rule No. 1 in NCAA Tournament viewership: Never forget Tom Izzo. Especially not when he's got a heady, veteran point guard like Kalin Lucas.
Sweet 16 Sleeper:
I'd be tempted to say there isn't one in this bracket, thanks to the immense strength of the higher seeds. But that would be a copout, and I'm not about that. San Diego State has a freshman who is peaking at the right time, Kawhi Leonard, who had 16 points and 21 rebounds in the Mountain West title game. This is a team that beat New Mexico and UNLV in Las Vegas in its last two games. They've got a bevy of good, versatile players who can handle and pass and score. They've also got a coach, Steve Fisher, who has led a team to a national title, albeit 21 years ago. It's a stretch to see this No. 11 seed outlasting both Tennessee and Georgetown, but it's a possibility, nonetheless.
Top First-Round Matchup:
This UNLV-Northern Iowa first round game is a real head-scratcher. On paper, the Panthers jump out at you for their slow tempo and efficiency. But they haven't beaten anyone, and UNLV has faced much stiffer competition. Sure, the Runnin' Rebels have taken some lumps, but they should bring out a good support base in Oklahoma City and guard Tre'Von Willis should be easily the game's best player. As I say that, Northern Iowa's 7-foot center, Jordan Eglseder, should present serious mismatches in the paint against a team that starts no one taller than 6-8. I've got UNLV runnin' past the Panthers. But it's one of the best first-round games in the entire field.
Top Potential Matchup:
I'm going to play it safe here, mostly because I think this matchup is a potential classic anyway. If Maryland and Michigan State both get past their first-round opponents, as both clearly should, they'll face off in a game featuring two Hall of Fame-caliber coaches and superstar veteran point guards. Greivis Vasquez might be the most outwardly passionate player in the country, and he's definitely one of its best point guards. Lucas, on the other hand, carried his team to a championship game last year. He's one of the smartest players in the country, essentially a coach's dream. I've got Michigan State winning this one, but either would be a serious threat to Kansas.
Top Potential One-on-One Matchup:
How can you not go with two first-team all-Americans meeting in the second round? I don't know whether James Anderson and Evan Turner will actually spend any time guarding each other, but they'll be going head-to-head either way. Anderson might be the nation's best scorer. Turner is its unquestioned best player. Turner's got the edge here because he can do so much more, but Anderson's got the ability to singlehandedly keep the Cowboys in any game. And if it comes down to a clutch shot, I'll take either of these juniors.
Tom Izzo is the answer here. I don't like being redundant, because I've already talked quite extensively about the Spartans' hopes. But there just isn't any way I'm not picking this guy in March. There were plenty of great options to choose from. Kansas' Bill Self is hardly a slouch, Gary Williams is one of the game's great minds and Bruce Pearl is due to break through one of these years after all his success in the regular season.
Lon Kruger has led four programs to the NCAA Tournament. He's taken one, Florida in 1994, to the Final Four. He also lifted UNLV to the Sweet 16 just three years ago. Kruger has 455 wins in his career, but he seems to be shorted on every list of good coaches. Tom Penders will draw more attention as far as journeyman coaches go, and even Steve Fisher may see more respect come his way. But Kruger has stayed relevant. His time in the NBA was ill-fated, but he's a great, great college coach. And at 57, he's not too old to be scooped up by a major conference program, again. Kruger's coaching for that chance, and if he can get his players to rally and knock off Kansas, I'd be surprised if he didn't get it.
Top 5 NBA Prospects:
1. Evan Turner, Ohio State: I don't like talking so much about one person when I do these things. I like to spread out the compliments. But Turner has made that impossible. He's simply the best player in college basketball. He's the only player averaging 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game. And he's averaging almost double that many assists. He's a point guard who can play power forward if you need him to. With that said, he's got some flaws that could be exposed in the pros. The Buckeye junior still doesn't shoot very well, and he also doesn't blow by defenders on a consistent basis. He uses his craftiness, but NBA defenders are more alert and experienced. Still, he should be a very good player, and likely a future all-star, even if he's not the kind of guy you build a champion around.
2. Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech: I have yet to mention the No. 10 seed Yellow Jackets in this preview, and for good reason. They're the most inconsistent team in the tournament, and I just don't see them advancing past Oklahoma State in the first round. But if they do, it will be thanks to Favors. The supremely athletic big man may very well be the third pick in this year's draft, behind just Kentucky point guard John Wall and Turner. He's nearly a lock for the top five and has finished the season strong. Favors compares with Al Horford, but he has even more upside than the Florida product, and he could potentially be Amare Stoudemire with defense.
3. Xavier Henry, Kansas: The Jayhawks are loaded at every position, with as many as seven or eight future potential NBA players on their roster. But Henry is the stud amongst studs. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has explosive leaping ability and a knack for scoring, be it on a drive or a jump shot from anywhere on the court. He's reminded many of Vince Carter, but he's not Air Canada. He's more of a New Jersey Nets-era Vinsanity, a player uniquely gifted with a great jump shot, strong legs and an understanding of how best to get his shot off at any give time, quickly. He seems like a lock to be a future 20 ppg scorer in the NBA.
4. Greg Monroe, Georgetown: It's not every day that a center comes along with fully developed guard skills. Monroe is that guy. He lacks in athleticism, but he is a brilliant passer and great ball-handler for a player of his size. Monroe is the center of everything Georgetown does on offense, and that's good because's perhaps the most consistent player in the entire country. He can turn it over a little too much, but he's so valuable on offense and so smart on defense that he can make up for it in many other ways.
5. Cole Aldrich, Kansas: The best true center in college shocked everyone when he came back for his junior year last year. Aldrich has taken a lot of flak for not dominating as many thought he would. But he has dominated – just on defense. The Jayhawks don't need much from Aldrich on the offensive end, so he has taken to assuring that he contests – and often blocks – every shot in the paint and pulls down 10 rebounds per game. The verdict on Aldrich is that he won't be a star in the NBA, but he should be a solid starting center for many years. Those players don't come around every year.
Should my “Best Potential Matchup” not end up a reality, Jahmar Young may be to blame. The New Mexico State junior is one of the top scoring guards in the country, but unlike Houston's Audrey Coleman, the top scorer who is also in this bracket, Young does it without forcing the issue. The 6-foot-5 guard is a Baltimore native, and playing against the Terrapins in the second round would be a treat, I'm sure. He's also shown quite a bit of swagger entering the tournament, giving reporters this brilliant quote: "What's his name? Kalin Lucas? I've really never heard of him. But if he's that good, he's got to show it. We've got Hernst Laroche, Jahmar Young, Wendell McKines, Troy Gillenwater." Well, we'll have to see.
Best Player with Limited NBA Potential:
Adam Koch will likely never make it to the NBA. But the 6-foot-8, 255-pound Northern Iowa power forward is a superstar in his own right. Koch was named Missouri Valley player of the year this season, averaging 11.8 points per game for a team that keeps the tempo as slow as any in Division I. His numbers don't jump out at you. His abilities don't jump out at you. But the senior is a hard-working, blue-collar leader of a team loaded with toughness.
Other Midwest Region Notes:
It's great to see Austin Freeman's success for Georgetown after he was diagnosed with diabetes in February. Freeman could be an NBA guy, though he's best off waiting til next year. … Lehigh's got a player to watch: freshman C.J. McCollum. He's got some Juan Dixon to his game … Ohio was a big surprise as a No. 14 seed after a stunning run in the MAC Tournament. Don't dismiss this team against Georgetown. … Paul Hewitt's job is safe this year, but if he doesn't get a first-round win and his team, as projected struggles next year, he may be fired by Georgia Tech. … Houston hadn't made an NCAA Tournament in 18 years before stunning UTEP in the Conference USA final. … If Ohio State wins the tournament, it will be a big day for the Trillion Man March, player/blogger Mark Titus' followers.
NCAA Tournament Preview: East Region
NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region
Like always, the biggest NBA tournament is the NCAA tournament and the NIT tournament. But the NCAA tournament preview is simply awesome. It is the tournament which has begun recently in this season with an incredible hype. The game was started on the Midwest region. The preview is just easy to understand. It is advisable if the preview was depicted on block diagrams with the names and players of the team and who advances further in the tournament. Super Bowl Tickets