Breaking Down the Brackets: West Regional Preview

Edit: The rest of the Breakdown has been entirely completed. Read it again, folks. Well, at least the part you've yet to read.

So, basically, this is how it's going to go. Me and Denver are splitting up the Brackets, each doing two. We'll be giving brief, profile-type information on each of the teams in the Regions, top-to-bottom. Then, we'll provide even briefer previews of each of the first round matchups, with potential glances towards future rounds. At the very end, we'll each give our personal predictions on how the region should break out. It should be a grand old time.

This is only the base of our NCAA Tournament Coverage here at RCT, though. We'll also (hopefully) be doing a Q&A with someone connected with North Dakota State, we'll be doing some interesting preview-type stuff, and, of course, there will be a KenPom preview of the Bison. Oh, shoot. I forgot they were the Bison. We're going to lose.

But that's neither here nor there. Currently, we're just focused on the West Region. No Bison involved, here.

So, we have the West Regional here. The bracket with the Two #1's, UConn and Memphis, as some people are calling it. Top-to-bottom, I've heard plenty of people saying it's the hardest bracket around. Not a consensus, by any stretch, as I've actually heard all four brackets the hardest of the bunch. But, it definitely has some argument as the most difficult. 

All other information in a wildly informative, incredibly awesome preview after the jump. Please click the link. Just do it...

 

General Information

Here, in the General Information section, we'll just be posting the basics of the Regional. Like, how many Conference Champions, how many at-larges, site of the Regional, pods within the Region, etc.

Regional Site: Glendale -- University of Phoenix Stadium

Conference Tournament Champions: 9

At-Large Teams: 7

Power Conference Teams: 11 (including Memphis)

Mid-Major Teams: 5 (1 at-large)

Pods: Philadelphia, Portland, Boise, Kansas City

Interesting Facts: 

  • The two most winningest teams in college basketball this year are both in this bracket (Memphis, 31 wins, and Utah State, 30 wins). 
  • The team with the worst record, Chattanooga, is in the West.

The Teams

This section is the real meat of the Breakdown, and it is self-explanatory enough. We'll just rundown each team, giving you a snippet of information about each.

#1 Seed - Connecticut Huskies

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4e/ConnecticutHuskies.png

Bid: At-Large - Big East

Location (Enrollment): Storrs, Connecticut (20,846)

Record: 27-4 (15-3)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 8/3/4

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 20th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 3rd

Key Offensive Stat: Off. Rebounding % (11th)

Key Defensive Stat: FTA/FGA (1st)

Player to Know: Hasheem Thabeet - C

 

When the season began, Connecticut was a preseason favorite to make the Final Four, and probably second-in-line to make a run at a National Title behind North Carolina. Now, even minus their best perimeter defender in Jerome Dyson, they are in about the same position. They are incredibly athletic, and can go 9-or-10 deep, if they want. However, they usually prefer to stick to a solid, 7-man rotation, tilted towards the big men. They pound you and pound you and pound you, and the only time they've been beaten in the past two months is: a) by Pittsburgh out-physicalling them and b) getting outlasted in 6 OT's. To beat them, you will have to out-tough them.

 

#2 Seed - Memphis Tigers

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Bid: Automatic Bid - Conference USA

Location: Memphis, Tennessee (15,000)

Record: 31-3 (16-0)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin:7/1/2

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 39th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 1st

Key Offensive Stat: 3-Point FG% (262nd)

Key Defensive Stat: eFG% (1st)

Player to Know: Tyreke Evans - G

 

Coming into the season, just like Kansas, they were a complete rebuilding project. And, just like Kansas, John Calipari has made lemonades out of lemons, albeit supremely talented and long lemons. That's the key to Memphis: length. They are the best defensive team in the country because every single player possess Jay Bilas' favorite attribute to the nth degree, and they know how to use it. It's nearly impossible to ever get a good shot up over all of those long-ass tree limbs. However, their offense will go through serious periods of mediocrity, so they are beatable. You just have to be money from the perimeter, as those will be the only open shots you get, quite often. If not, no matter how inept they are occasionally on offense, you're going to lose. They're that incredible on D.

 

#3 Seed - Missouri Tigers

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Bid: Automatic Bid - Big 12

Location (Enrollment): Columbia, Missouri (30,200)

Record:28-6 (12-4)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 11/10/10

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 18th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 8th

Key Offensive Stat: Turnover % (12th)

Key Defensive Stat: Turnover % (8th)

Player to Know: Demarre Carroll - F

 

As the Key Stats section says, Missouri's game is all about the turnover. There's no wonder that The Boy over at Rock M Nation is so infatuated with his Ball Control Index: it is the key stat in every Missouri game. They turn you over, and rarely commit the same mistakes on their own end. It's what makes their 40 minutes of controlled chaos so freakin' hard to beat. When Mike Anderson gets "his players", code for oodles of athletes, he is one of the better coaches in the country. It all starts with Demarre Carroll, though, whose incredible athleticism allow his 6'8" frame to be at the top of their 2-2-1 press. He just may be the best player most of the country couldn't pick out of a police lineup, and that should change in March. He's my early, odds-on favorite to become the name people can't stop talking about. Not in the Stephen Curry kind of way, but in the Chris Douglas-Roberts sort of way.

 

#4 Seed - Washington Huskies

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Bid: At-Large - Pac 10

Location (Enrollment): Seattle, Washington (30,790)

Record: 25-8 (14-4)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin:16/14/14

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 35th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 11th

Key Offensive Stat: Off. Rebounding % (3rd)

Key Defensive Stat: Tempo (6th)

Player to Know: Isaiah Thomas - G

 

Washington's odd, statistically. Their defense is incredible, as a whole, but none of the Four Factors are above 77th. They aren't really good at anything, they just aren't bad at anything, either. So, I put the always-significant tempo up there. It may not seem accurate, if you've seen anything of the Huskies this year, but they do push it up-and-down. That has a lot to do with quite possibly the best freshman in the country, 5'8" point guard Isaiah Thomas. He can squeak into the lane at will, and that's pretty much Washington's entire offense. Work your way into the lane, and either get off a decent shot, dish it down low to the West Coast's Tyler Hansbrough, in Jon Brockman (without all of the fluff and twice the toughness, of course) or get fouled. They usually end up at the free throw line.

 

#5 Seed - Purdue Boilermakers

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Bid: Automatic Bid - Big 10/11

Location (Enrollment): West Lafayette, Indiana (39, 228)

Record: 26-9 (11-7)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 20/14/16

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 48th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 5th

Key Offensive Stat: Turnover % (23rd)

Key Defensive Stat: eFG% (9th)

Player to Know: Robbie Hummel - F

 

Geez. Catch a drift, in this bracket? The West Region is absolutely loaded up with strong defensive teams, and the Boilers are no different. No longer the Baby Boilers, Purdue is scary. Very scary. They had plenty of rough patches, but most of that had to do with injuries, most notably Robbie Hummel missing a trio of games due to a head injury. However, they're all healthy now, and ready to rock. Pro prospects abound, with E'Twaun Moore the best perimeter player, JaJuan Johnson the best interior and Robbie Hummel the all-everything outside-and-inside. But, they also have one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball in Chris Kramer, who shouldn't be overlooked. In short, Purdue is a team that I have poised to make a deep, deep run in the Tournament. They're good, folks.

#6 Seed - Marquette Golden Eagles

http://www.bradleycentersports.com/images/design/logo-marquette.jpg

Bid: At-Large - Big East

Location (Enrollment): Milwaukee, Wisconsin (7,955)

Record: 25-9 (12-6)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin:35/20/22

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 9th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 56th

Key Offensive Stat: Turnover % (10th)

Key Defensive Stat: eFG% (253rd)

Player to Know: Jerel McNeal - G

 

When the Golden Eagles had the trio of awesomeness out on the perimeter (McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Dominc James), it was one thing. You could overlook their mostly shoddy defense, or lack of a true interior scoring threat, because that trio was so good. The best perimeter combination in the country, I think. But the second that James went down for the year with his broken foot, Marquette's chances in the NCAA Tournament went with it. They still have the talent to win the first game, but they just don't have nearly the depth to hang with Missouri, for example, in the second round. McNeal and Matthews are both still special, and Lazar Hayward is a wondrous third option, but that's all. And, as mentioned before, it's a piece of cake to score on them close to the basket. Feed it in to the big men, folks, and the Golden Eagles will be on their way home real quick.

 

#7 Seed - California Golden Bears

http://shop.calgear.ihoststores.com/images/misc/cal_logo.jpg

Bid: At-Large - Pac 10

Location (Enrollment): Berkeley, California (24,636)

Record: 22-10 (11-7)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 39/29/29

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 11th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 86th

Key Offensive Stat: 3-Point FG% (1st)

Key Defensive Stat: Turnover % (287th)

Player to Know: Jerome Randle - G

 

Cal, like Marquette, is another offense-first team, leaving defense for later. More specifically, they prefer the long ball, and are the best three-point shooting team in the country. By. Far. They don't shoot it non-stop, which is why their percentage can be so high (an ungodly 44%). But, when they do, odds are it's going in. Particularly if it is coming from their point guard, Jerome Randle, who is shooting 47%, or Theo Robertson, who is shooting an incredible 50%. So, cover the three-point line. But, don't hold your breath, because they can sneak into the lane at will, too. Oh, oh, and Patrick Christopher is super-duper cool, too. On defense, though, have at it.

 

#8 Seed - Brigham Young Cougars

http://ucla.freedomblogging.com/files/2008/07/byu.jpg

Bid: At-Large - Mountain West

Location (Enrollment): Provo, Utah (34,067)

Record: 26-7 (12-4)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin:29/18/18

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 22nd

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 23rd

Key Offensive Stat: eFG% (7th)

Key Defensive Stat: Off. Rebounding & (3rd)

Player to Know: Lee Cummard - F

 

Balance, balance, balance. That's the Brigham Young way. Really good offense, really good defense, not a single offensive go-to-guy. Just a whole helluva lot of really good players. Cummard is the best, though, and is a virtual guarantee within 10 feet of the basket who can also slide out to three-point range. They are very, very good at not turning the ball over and getting really good looks at the basket. Making most of them. They rarely get more than one chance, though, so if they have a poor shooting day they're toast. Of course, they allow practically zero second-chance points themselves, so that's fine.

#9 Seed - Texas A&M Aggies

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Bid: At-Large - Big 12

Location (Enrollment): College Station, Texas (38,430)

Record: 23-9 (9-7)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 36/52/55

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 36th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 78th

Key Offensive Stat: FTA/FGA (4th)

Key Defensive Stat: Turnover % (296th)

Player to Know: Josh Carter - G

 

They are really good at getting to the free throw line, and terrible at turning you over. At everything else, they are pretty much pretty-good-to-average. They beat BYU last season, but this year, it is a statistical mismatch. They just aren't that good of a basketball team. They have some decent balance, just like the Cougars, but both offense and defense are worse. They have interior depth, and they have plenty of good perimeter players, just aren't good enough as a team. They got hot at the end of the season, though, and have the potential to make plenty of noise.

 

#10 Seed - Maryland Terrapins

http://images.dailyradar.com/media/uploads/ballhype/story_large/2008/12/14/maryland_terrapins.gif

Bid: At-Large - ACC

Location (Enrollment): College Park, Maryland (37,000)

Record: 20-14 (7-9)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 54/54/53

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 73rd

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 47th

Key Offensive Stat: FTA/FGA (334th)

Key Defensive Stat: Off. Rebounding % (307th)

Player to Know: Greivis Vasquez - G

 

They don't deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament. They just don't. Look at those rankings above. 54/54/53? Not an at-large berth, to me. But, whatever. They're in. And they are capable of making some noise. Greivis Vasquez is an incredible player, and he alone could sneak them past Cal. Beyond him, though, yikes. It's basically just a host of role players combined with a star. Yeah, not exactly an NCAA team to me. But, whatever. They never get to the free throw line, because no one is explosive enough to head towards the bucket, save Vasquez. Other than that, it's a couple of three-point shooters (Eric Hayes, Dave Neal) and Landon Milbourne, who is actually pretty good. So, he really isn't a role player. But that's it. Enjoy the trip to Kansas City, Terp fans.

 

#11 Seed - Utah State Aggies

http://www.campusexplorer.com/media/376x262/Utah-State-University-E06CCA08.png

Bid: Automatic Bid - WAC

Location (Enrollment): Logan, Utah (13,179)

Record: 30-4 (14-2)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 24/56/50

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 13th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency:169th

Key Offensive Stat: eFG% (4th)

Key Defensive Stat: Turnover % (325th)

Player to Know: Gary Wilkinson - F/C

 

You wanna play D, there, Utah State? No? Well, complain all you want about how you would have gotten left out with 29 wins, but just blame your D. Yikes. They can score with the best of them, though, making their Round One matchup with Marquette a came that should be absolutely fascinating. Seriously. Offense abound! Gary Wilkinson is a really fundamentally sound big guy who should destroy Milwaukee's rather weak frontline. Of course, Wilkinson is 26, so whatever. Oh, and watch out for Jared Quayle from three. He can hit it from out there. Anyone else scoring, you can live with. Just shut down Wilkinson and Quayle.

 

#12 Seed - Northern Iowa Panthers

http://northerniowapanthersfans.com/files/2008/09/northern-iowa-panthers-logo-300x217.jpg

Bid: Automatic Bid - Missouri Valley

Location (Enrollment): Cedar Falls, Iowa (12,067)

Record: 23-10 (14-4)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 56/82/85

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 57th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 127th

Key Offensive Stat: FT% (14th)

Key Defensive Stat: Off. Rebounding % (8th)

Player to Know: Adam Koch - F

 

Northern Iowa is a good team. They really, really limit your second-chance points, and can hit free throws with the best of them. They get to the free throw line a lot, too, so that's good. And they make a lot of shots, and don't really turn the ball over that much, and they are incredibly experienced. But they just aren't on too many team's level. To me, they're a team that is going to get rocked. But hey, like I said, they have plenty of things going for them. And if Purdue can't keep them off the free throw line, they could just upset them using free throws. Lamest. Upset. Ever.

 

#13 Seed - Mississippi State Bulldogs

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Bid: Automatic Bid - SEC

Location (Enrollment): Starkville, Mississippi (17,824)

Record: 23-12 (9-7)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 60/60/66

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 74th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 59th

Key Offensive Stat: 3-Point FG% (84th)

Key Defensive Stat: Block% (4th)

Player to Know: Jarvis Varnado - C

 

Mississippi State, as a whole, isn't all that good. They have potential, and have NIT written all over them, and lost way too many bad games in the non-conference to be seriously considered for the NCAA Tournament. But Jarvis Varnado is, easily, the best center no one pays attention to. Having watched both of them play, I don't see a huge difference between Varnado and Thabeet. Of course, Thabeet is 7'3", and Varnado is only 6'9", and I'm sure that makes up a large amount of the difference. But still. Varnado is awesome. Watch him in the NCAA Tournament. Watch him. Everyone else, not named Varnado, is pretty much a three-point shooter, headlined by Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson and Barry Stewart. They bring back everyone next year, so keep that in mind. This year, though, Varnado is going to have to Superman their way past Washington.

 

#14 Seed - Cornell Big Red

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Bid: Automatic Bid - Ivy

Location (Enrollment): Ithaca, New York (19,800)

Record: 21-9 (11-3)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 115/100/104

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 81st

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 146th

Key Offensive Stat: 3-Point FG% (6th)

Key Defensive Stat: 3-Point FG% (26th)

Player to Know: Ryan Wittman - G/F

 

Yes, Ryan Wittman is Randy Wittman's son. And yes, Ryan Wittman is a BCS-level athlete. Dude can hit the three with the best of them, representative of the rest of their team. They shoot threes. And they make it just about all of the time. Wittman is shooting 42%, Geoff Reeves is shooting 42% and Chris Wroblewski is shooting 45%. No matter how many solid defenders you have, one of those guys is going to be open and ready to cock-and-fire. And, don't forget about Louis Dale, their best player. He was hurt for the beginning of the year, but is now healthy and back in action. Watch out. No matter what mpfische says, I think the Big Red are dangerous. They scare me. I'm glad we ain't playing them.

 

#15 Seed - Cal State Northridge Matadors

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Bid: Automatic Bid - Big West

Location (Enrollment): Los Angeles, California (26,854)

Record: 17-13 (11-5)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin:127/104/105

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 179th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 61st

Key Offensive Stat: Turnover % (324th)

Key Defensive Stat: Turnover % (24th)

Player to Know: Josh Jenkins - G

 

The first team in this bracket I really know nothing about. I did watch their Big West Championship, and they are deep more than anything. They have a bunch of players, all of which can break out and be stars for a day. And, finally, we've got a defensive-first team beyond the top 5 seeds. Combined with Memphis' sketchy offense, and this game figures to be hella low-scoring. Although, I highly doubt that Northridge can even get over 50 points. Honestly. They'll have to be draining from long range, or no way.

 

#16 Seed - Chattanooga Mocs

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Bid: Automatic Bid - Southern

Location (Enrollment): Chattanooga, Tennessee (9,002)

Record: 18-16 (11-9)

RPI/KenPom/Sagarin: 174/213/223

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 132nd

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 288th

Key Offensive Stat: FTA/FGA (5th)

Key Defensive Stat: eFG% (307th)

Player to Know: Stephen McDowell -- G

 

Enjoy the moment, Terrell Owens. Your alma mater's stay in the NCAA Tournament will be, without a doubt, the shortest stay of all. Honestly, I'm absolutely shocked they aren't in the play-in game. But, alas, they aren't. So, enjoy knowing the opponent who will beat you down for awhile. They don't really know what defense is, and while their offense has some solid players, it ain't pretty. McDowell, actually, is awesome. Really good player who can both drive consistently and hit the three. Impressive. And Nicchaeus Doaks draws fouls with the best of 'em. But, that's it. And, like I said, don't get me started on the defense.

 

The Matchups, Etc. -- Upcoming

This will just provide a cursory preview of each of the first round games. Time-dependent, I may preview every round before it happens. That's the goal, but who knows just how much time I'll have.

#1 Connecticut Huskies vs. #16 Chattanooga Mocs

What To Watch: Second-Chance Points -- UConn's defense is far too incredible for the Mocs to do much of anything straight up. So, for them to stand a chance, they are going to need to get 2, 3, 4 opportunities every time down. UConn's defensive rebounding capabilities, despite the immense height they posses, is a relative weakness compared to other parts, so it isn't impossible. And, on the flip side, if Hasheem Thabeet gets much of anything second-chance-related, game over.

Chattanooga Will Win If: They can't miss -- That's about what it's going to take. They aren't particularly impressive at anything, and probably deserved the Play-In game. They are going to all have career days, particularly from three, or they'll get run out of the gym.

Connecticut Will Win If: They show up. -- All UConn has to do is show up to the game, give a C+ effort for the first half and start looking ahead to the winner of BYU and Texas A&M on Saturday.

Player to Watch: Hasheem Thabeet (C, UConn) -- The tallest player that sees action for the Mocs is 6'8" Khalil Hartwell. However, they do have a 7'1" player, Jeremy Saffore, and he should see some time if only to match Thabeet's height. But, even when Jeremy Saffore is out on the floor, dude isn't quite at the same level as Thabeet. Thabeet should be able to draw fouls by the dozens and pick up countless dunks. If UConn told the Moc defenders they were planning on checking it down low to Hasheem, they still might score enough to win.

KenPom's Prediction: Uconn 87 Chattanooga 52 (98% probability UConn wins)

 

#8 Brigham Young Cougars vs. #9 Texas A&M Aggies

What to Watch: Texas A&M's Offensive Rebounds -- The Aggies aren't incredible at the offensive glass, but they need at least some production there to be successful. They don't have enough explosiveness out on the perimeter to be capable of living without it. However, BYU protects the defensive glass as well as anyone in the country. If A&M can't get anything going, they are going to have to be on fire from their other favorite place to score: the free throw line. And, get the necessary calls to get the trips. Otherwise, they'll be held under 60.

Texas A&M Will Win If: The refs call a close game -- ATM's offense is disproportionally dependent on the freebies. If the refs are blowing whistles like it's going out of style, and Texas A&M's better free throw shooters are receiving repeated trips to the line (Josh Carter, B.J. Holmes and Donald Sloan), then the Aggies have a pretty decent shot. If the refs are letting them play, and the Ags are actually required to finish at the bucket, watch out.

BYU Will Win If: They don't turn it over -- They are just about as efficient as they get on offense. They find open shots, they take open shots, they make open shots. Simple as that. And, they rarely, if ever, turn the ball over. But if you take that element out of the equation, it's an entirely different ball game. They are just about required to hit those open looks, because they don't have the excess turnover-free possessions in reserve to back them up. So, take control of the ball, against an absolutely brutal A&M defense at forcing you to turn it over, and you should be fine.

Player to Watch: Josh Carter (G/F, Texas A&M) -- If the Ags are going to pull off the miniest of upsets, Carter is going to have to show up in a huge way. Not only must he be 'on' from long range, providing them some semblance of an offense from way out there, he must also play really good D on Jonathan Tavernari, a 6'6" sharpshooter for the Cougs. Carter needs to win his battle, by a lot most likely, against Tavernari for Turgeon's squad to advance.

KenPom Prediction: BYU 75 Texas A&M 69 (71% probability BYU wins)

 

#5 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #12 Northern Iowa Panthers

What to Watch: Chris Kramer's Defense -- UNI has two really awesome perimeter players. Chris Kramer, the Big 10's Defensive Player of the Year, can only guard one of them. Whoever is left over, whether it be (wait for these names) Kwadzo Ahelegbe or Ali Farokhmanesh, absolutely must take advantage. If Kramer can effectively shut down one of them, as I expect, the other one needs to be on fire. He, most likely Farokmanesh, must be hitting from three, driving and dishing, leading his team. Because when Kramer sticks on you, watch the hell out.

Northern Iowa Will Win If: It can slow it down -- Northern Iowa, in typical Big 10/11 fashion, loves to slow you down. They are one of the slowest teams in the country, and move beyond their general lack of talent and athleticism by simply limiting the number of possessions in a game, then capitalizing with sound judgement on these limited possessions. And yes, I understand that Purdue is in the Big 10, and that means they had to sign a contract promising never to run a fast break. Still, they are one of the faster teams in the Big 10, and would probably prefer to get out and run and display their athleticism. So, if the Panthers can slow it down, it might actually hurt the Big 10 team. You don't hear that everyday.

Purdue Will Win If: Shut Down the Interior -- Also like your typical Big 10 team, Northern Iowa works inside-out. They like pounding it into their 7'1" center, Jordan Eglseder (more on him in a second), and having him work the ball out. Or, they like giving it to Adam Koch even more, and letting him either drive or dish it out or shoot. In some ways, Koch is like Robbie Hummel, except he can't shoot threes. But we're getting off track. The key is, Northern Iowa shoots quite a few threes, but they aren't all that good at them. Particularly if their name isn't Farokhmanesh. So, make them beat you from long distance. If it happens, whatever. They still might play well enough offensively to win.

Player to Watch: Jorden Eglseder (Northern Iowa, C) -- I watched the Missouri Valley Championship game, one of the best games I've seen all year. And, the color commentator, Bob Wenzel I believe, continued to mention the difference between Eglseder, the Panthers' 7'1" starting center, and Lucas O'Rear, their 6'6" backup center. Eglseder has bad knees, and can really only go about 20 minutes a pop. But, when he's in there, he is a legitimate offensive threat. He can score. He can pass out to open shooters. He can draw contact. O'Rear, on the other hand, is a prototypical mid-major guy; high on heart and hustle and intelligence, but low on height and physical ability. So, if Northern Iowa is to stand a chance, it will need Eglseder to dominate the smaller Purdue bigs. If not, and even if most likely, Purdue's athleticism will simply take over.

KenPom Prediction: Purdue 67 Northern Iowa 59 (83% possibility Purdue wins)

 

#4 Washington Huskies vs. #13 Mississippi State Bulldogs

What to Watch: Jarvis Varnado's Foul Trouble -- Mississippi State, lead obviously by Varnardo, is one of the best teams in the country at blocking your shot. Washington, undoubtedly because they get fouled whenever close to the basket, are one of the best teams in the country at not getting their shots rejected. Something is going to have to give, folks. If Varnardo gets in foul trouble, though, the Staters are toast.

Mississippi State Will Win If: The Threes are Falling -- Mississippi State has a fantastic center in the middle, the second-best shot-blocker in the country after Thabeet, in Jarvis Varnado. Beyond that, it's live-and-die by the three, homes. So, if they are living it up from out there, then sure, they've got a chance. Otherwise, it was a fun trip. Build on it for next year.

Washington Will Win If: Washington's Gets to the Free Throw Line -- Much of Washington's offense resolves around cutting towards the basket, throwing up shots or kicking it down low to the always-waiting Jon Brockman, and getting hacked. Now, if you can make the shot too, fabulous. But, if not, no bigs. Just hit your free throws. However, the Bulldogs are one of the better teams in the country at playing defense without fouling. So, if Mississippi State can effectively stay away from U-Dub and avoid ref's whistles, Washington's offense isn't nearly as good. And, it allows the Bulldogs' sub-standard offense a shot.

Player to Watch: Jon Brockman (Washington, F) -- Beyond Varnardo, the player who can have the most impact is Brockman. And that's on the offensive glass. Despite Varnardo, Missisippi State is actually quite poor at limiting second-chance opportunities (I'd surmise it's because Varnardo is always trying to block shots, and no one else can consistently grab rebounds), and Brockman is one of the best in the country. Have at it, big guy.

KenPom Prediction: Washington 80 Mississippi State 72 (76% probability Washington wins)

 

#6 Marquette Golden Eagles vs. #11 Utah State Aggies

What to Watch: Utah State's 3-point Shooting -- Utah State can drain the three. Very. Consistently. Marquette doesn't play much D at all, even out on the perimeter where there are athletes galore. Unless the Ags are uncharacteristically cold from three, they should be able to score bundles from out there. Of course, 'Quette isn't much better inside, either (actually, their worse), so they might decide to pound it in to Gary Wilkinson, the 6'9" 26-year old, instead. That should work, as well.

Utah State Will Win If: They Slow it Down -- Marquette isn't all that efficient on O. They are incredible, and the duo of Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews is fantastic, but unless both are spot-on, the Golden Eagles use up a lot of possessions. If the Aggies can limit the possessions, even though the Eags aren't as run-and-gun as you might think, that make every contested 16-footer Jerel McNeal hoists up a tad bit more painful. And since everyone on Utah State already is 25 and is married (kidding, of course...only half), they should be more mature.

Marquette Will Win If: They Are Under Control -- I joke around about Utah State's age, but Marquette is the veteran one here. They are the 7th oldest team in the country, and just about every key contributor has been here before. They know what to do, they know the routine, etc. That is often incredibly overrated by most, but it is important. As long as they can limit the stupid plays, and can run their offense and commit to defense, if only for spurts, they should have enough talent to run away. No matter how well Utah State shoots it, or whatever, it will take some stupid Marquette plays, as well, or they should still have enough in the cannon to pull away with a victory. Key word: should.

Player to Watch: Lazar Hayward (Marquette, F) -- Everyone always talks about the perimeter players on 'Quette, and for good reason. It's one of the best units in all of college basketball. But Hayward is frequently overlooked, and he shouldn't be. If he can hold is own with Gary Wilkinson, then Marquette's immense perimeter advantage should take hold. However, if he can't stay out of foul trouble or provides nothing offensively or lets Wilkinson tear him to pieces, then Utah State, in my mind, becomes the favorite. As it always seems to work out, the game is really on Lazar's shoulders, no the attention-grabbig perimeter players.

KenPom Prediction: Marquette 75 Utah State 69 (72% probability Marquette wins)

 

#3 Missouri Tigers vs. #14 Cornell Big Red

What to Watch: Turnovers -- Cornell isn't good at not turning the ball over, and isn't good at turning you over. Missouri is the exact opposite, with their entire Top 10 machine built around winning the turnover battle. Now, obviously, the Tigers are going to come out on top. But if it's just a narrow difference, or if the Big Red can at least keep their number low, they've got a shot. If it's as astronomical a gap as the statistics say it should be, good night Irene.

Cornell Will Win If: Three-Point Parade -- Cornell shoots a lot of threes. That's good. In my mind, you have to do at least one thing amazingly well, as a 14-16 seed, to beat an upper tier team. It isn't a requirement, but if you were to look back in the archives at the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, nearly all of them would involve a team that was particularly great at something. And, in that one 2-hour moment of everlasting glory, they were able to capitalize and capitalize and capitalize on that strength to beat the higher-ranked team. Yeah, that's pretty much what has to happen here with the long ball. Big Red, I salute you.

Missouri Will Win If: They Force Turnovers -- Not to beat a dead horse, but it's all that matters. If Cornell can keep it manageable, and get hot from three, this game should be close late. If either of those things doesn't happen, game over. And, since Missouri has a lot more control over forcing turnovers, I chose that one.

Player to Watch: Ryan Wittman (Cornell, G) -- When I was talking about hitting threes, this was the main guy I was talking about. Dude is their best shooter from three, by far, and is the kind of star that March has made into heroes. I know, I know, mpfische, they're like 1-5 against the RPI Top 150. All I'm saying is that it could happen.

KenPom Prediction: Missouri 81 Cornell 67 (90% probability Missouri wins)

 

#7 California Golden Bears vs. #10 Maryland Terrapins

What to Watch: Rebounding -- Neither team has a real masher down low, preferring to hang out with 4-5 players surrounding the perimeter. However, Cal is clearly ahead in that regard with Jamal Boykin and Jordan Wilkes down low, and they should dominate the rebounds. If they don't, though, this game is entirely different.

Maryland Will Win If: They Force Turnovers -- It ain't easy against the Golden Bears, but the Terps absolutely must win the turnover battle. They're just entirely too mediocre-to-awful at shooting the ball to survive any shortage of possessions. An absolute must. With the Bears' likely advantage in rebounding, and an obvious shot-making advantage, the Terrapins can't afford to give away any possessions at all. And, while they need to force turnovers to make up ground, they certainly can't afford to lose ground by turning it over. Take control of the ball, and you've got a chance.

California Will Win If: They Get Open Threes -- Cal is pure cash money from three, yo, when they take them. Of course, it's so high because they don't shoot it all that often. Maryland needs to come out and guard the Bears, or yowza. Open looks plus awesome shooters equal game over.

Player to Watch: Greivis Vasquez (Maryland, G) -- Dude is the Terrapin's only really good player. If they win, he has to explode. If he doesn't explode, the Terps lose. You get it?

KenPom Prediction: California 74 Maryland 71 (62% probability California wins)

 

#2 Memphis Tigers vs. #15 CS-Northridge Matadors

What to Watch: Memphis' Pulse -- If they show up, game is over. If they don't, and want to waltz on through without trying hard, it might be a game. Of course, only until they do show up.

CS-Northridge Will Win If: See Above -- Again, if Memphis just doesn't decide to show up. That's their only hope. Is that too harsh?

Memphis Will Win If: See Above (x2) -- Again, again. I hope you all get it, by now.

Player to Watch: Tyreke Evans (Memphis, G) -- Just to see the dude play. He's incredible.

KenPom Prediction: Memphis 76 CS-Northridge 58 (96% probability Memphis wins)

 

RCT Predictions

Now, no RCT secrets will be unveiled, here. I do want to win the still-to-be-decided prize in the RCT Bracket Pool. But, here are just some things to think about when filling out your bracket.

Most LIkely to Pull an Upset: Utah State (11-seed)

Final Four Sleeper: Purdue (5-seed)

Final Four Favorite: Memphis (2-seed)

Best Team No One Knows About: Cornell (14-seed)

Most Underseeded Team: California (7-seed)

Most Overseeded Team: Maryland (10-seed)

 

That's all I'll do, for now. If I can think of any others, I'll make sure and tack them on for my next preview.

And, just to give you a brief of our schedule. Denver will break down the East and the South sometime tomorrow and Wednesday, and I'll come in with the Midwest preview Wednesday afternoon-to-night. Also, of course, there will be assorted North Dakota State-related preview things.

Come back!

 

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