2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament logo2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

NCAA Bracket 2012: Breaking Down the West Region

Eric HampfordContributor IIIMarch 12, 2012

NCAA Bracket 2012: Breaking Down the West Region

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    The West region of the 2012 NCAA tournament has many compelling storylines to watch out for as March Madness unfolds.

    The Missouri Tigers are trying to prove to the nation that they can win a title playing with a four-guard lineup, running-and-gunning their way through the bracket.

    Meanwhile, the Murray State Racers are looking to keep their Cinderella season going as a six seed, playing the Colorado State Rams in their first round game.

    The Michigan State Spartans, on the other hand, will be out to prove that they are well deserving of the No.1 seed given to them by the selection committee.

    Don't be surprised to see the West region full of intense games, dramatic finishes and nail-biting drama from the opening tip of the first game of tournament. 

    Here are a few more stoylines to look for. 

King of the Region: Missouri Tigers

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    The Tigers are a downright scary team, especially in the backcourt. Headlined by Marcus Denmon, Missouri's 6'3" shooting guard, the 2012 Big 12 tournament champions have the feel of a special team.

    His 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds set the tone for Mizzou. He can get hot at any minute, and loves taking the biggest shots in close games. 

    Many critics say that the Tigers can't win a title because they only have one true post threat in Ricardo Ratliffe. However, this could be the team that finally wins a championship with a foursome of talented guards leading the charge.

Sleeper Team: Memphis Tigers

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    The Memphis Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the NCAA field. They are 26-8 while riding a seven-game winning streak. 

    Will Barton is one of the most prolific shooting guards in the country, and is capable of taking over a game when he is in rhythm. 

    What has turned the season around for the Tigers has been the reemergence of Joe Jackson, their sophomore, hometown point guard. He has rediscovered his scoring prowess while contributing to the game by distributing the ball to the right people at the right time.

    This year's Memphis team could be a sleeping giant coming out of the West region.

Best First Round Matchup: New Mexico vs. Long Beach State

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    In an unfortunate pairing, two potential Cinderella teams will be squaring off and one will be sent home by the end of the first weekend of the tournament.

    Long Beach State is well prepared for tournament action, having played one of the best non-conference schedules in the country. Early season matchups against North Carolina, Louisville, San Diego State and Xavier have them well equipped to play the Lobos.

    New Mexico enters the game with a 27-6 record under head coach Steve Alford. Along their roller coaster Mountain West Conference season, they beat both San Diego State and UNLV twice. Drew Gordon, their 6'9" power forward, averages a double-double for the Lobos with 13.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. 

The Underdog America Will Be Rooting For: Iona Gaels

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    The most controversial team in the tournament field this season is the Iona Gaels. There is no doubting the fact that they are one of the 68 most talented teams in the country. What is debatable, however, is their body of work that got them in.

    They don't have any quality wins, but their roster is stacked with offensive firepower. Guards Scott Machado, Lamont "MoMo" Jones and forward Michael Glover are all NBA-level players and the Gaels offense is one of the most explosive in the nation.

    The Iona Gaels could be in store for a magical run, fueled by the media's perception that they weren't an NCAA tournament-worthy team.

Player to Watch: Scott Machado, Iona

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    The leading assist man in the country for the 2011-2012 season is Iona's point guard, Scott Machado. The 6'1" senior racked up an amazing 317 assists to date, for an average of 9.9 per game.

    Much like West Virginia's Kevin Jones, we should all be happy to see one of the brightest stars in America showcasing his skills in the NCAAs instead of the NIT. 

Final Four Pick: Missouri Tigers

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    The Missouri Tigers are just too talented to falter before reaching the Final Four. While a frontcourt-laden team such as Kentucky or North Carolina could make Mizzou vulnerable, the Tigers lucked out in their respective region.

    The Michigan State Spartans, Marquette Golden Eagles, Florida Gators and Memphis Tigers are all teams that lack powerful frontcourt tandems.

    This is what will help this team make it to New Orleans, where they will be tested by a team with superior frontcourt depth. Then we will see how special this team really is.

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