NCAA Bracket 2012: Power Ranking the Top 20 Players in the West Region
Draymond Green was the picture of excitement after his Michigan State Spartans polished off Ohio State to win the Big Ten tournament championship. The game may have had little or no bearing on Michigan State being awarded the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament's West Region, but now, Green and his teammates wear that bullseye.
Awaiting the Spartans in their quarter of the March Madness bracket are a host of teams with potent talent, some of it nationally known and some well under the radar.
While the All-American candidate Green must be on any list of this region's top 20 players, there are 19 others hoping to wear the same smile Green is sporting here.
20. Kyle O'Quinn, Norfolk State
2011-12 Numbers: 15.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 58.3 FG%
Kyle O'Quinn posted 18 double-doubles en route to the MEAC Player of the Year award. He did so with a physique 15 pounds lighter than the 250 that he was carrying around as a junior. His improved conditioning has made him more capable of enduring the workload that comes with being his team's primary offensive option.
The Spartans have faced a few of the teams in this year's NCAA Tournament field, with varying results for O'Quinn. He dominated LIU-Brooklyn to the tune of 22 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Chic tourney snub Drexel gave up 11 points, 12 boards and six blocks.
When NSU ran into Marquette twice, though, O'Quinn tended to struggle. He fouled out of the first meeting in 20 minutes, producing only four points and three boards. Marquette escaped the second matchup with a two-point win, primarily due to O'Quinn's 3-for-8 shooting night, although he did rip 13 rebounds.
O'Quinn has proven himself slightly foul-prone, committing four or five fouls 13 times this season. To his credit, he hasn't fouled out of a game since December and has only a pair of four-foul games in his last 11.
Still, Norfolk State faces Missouri in the first round, and Frank Haith will surely have his guards feeding Ricardo Ratliffe early. If O'Quinn can't stay on the floor, the Spartans' already-slim tournament chances will dry up and blow away.
19. Bradley Beal, Florida
2011-12 Numbers: 14.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.2 apg
Entering the season, Florida's backcourt was considered its strength, with two veteran stars being supported by two talented newcomers. While Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario's impact has been somewhat muted, freshman Bradley Beal has announced himself loudly and proudly.
Beal ranks third in the SEC in minutes per game and seventh in points per game. In just his second college game, he scored 17 points against Ohio State, the only downside being that he needed 16 shot attempts to do so.
The McDonald's All-American has a never-ending green light to shoot, and he can fall in love with the three-point shot. In the Gators' two losses to Tennessee, Beal shot 6-for-20 and an anemic 2-10 from deep.
His rebounding numbers, while highly impressive for a 6'3" guard, are a function of teams trying to outshoot the Gators. Virginia, led by the burly inside presence of Mike Scott, might not fall into that trap.
18. Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette
2011-12 Numbers: 18.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 45.1 FG%, 39.7 3-pt. FG%
Darius Johnson-Odom is a model of consistency for Marquette. He's recorded 13 games of more than 20 points this season, and the only one the Golden Eagles lost was the last one, to Louisville in the Big East tournament.
Conversely, he's been held to single digits only once, and it was no defender who could manage the trick. It was his own coach, Buzz Williams, who suspended Johnson-Odom and several teammates for the first half of the Feb. 24 game against West Virginia.
DJO hasn't quite recaptured the sniper's touch that led him to shoot better than 47 percent from deep as a sophomore, even though he's still a threat. However, he can fall in love with the deep ball, as Georgetown and Syracuse showed in Marquette's only back-to-back losses this season. Johnson-Odom took 20 of his 31 shots in those two games from downtown, only making six.
Johnson-Odom has shot only 36 percent from the floor in Marquette's losses this season, meaning that any team that faces the Eagles in the tournament will need to get a collar on him quickly and force bad shots. Marquette's Big East opponents wish it good luck with that.
17. Mike Glover, Iona
2011-12 Numbers: 18.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 64.4 FG%
The Iona Gaels lead the nation in scoring. While the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee pointed to things like non-conference strength of schedule to justify Iona's inclusion in the final play-in spot, the Gaels' crowd-pleasing style will help out the Tournament's broadcast partners, making college basketball fans find TruTV on their satellite and cable boxes in a hurry.
If point guard Scott Machado is the engine of the high-performance machine, Mike Glover could be considered the plow blade, running over opponents on his way to tremendous scoring games.
Glover has cracked the 25-point barrier six times this season, including back-to-back wins over St. Joseph's and LIU-Brooklyn in November. He alone accounted for 62 points and 29 rebounds in those two games.
BYU will have to deny Glover the ball altogether, because he's only been held below 50 percent from the floor three times this season, including a 2-for-7 effort against Purdue in Puerto Rico to open the season.
If the Cougars aren't ready to rumble, Glover may enter wearing the above surly look, but will surely leave sporting a smile.
16. Drew Gordon, New Mexico
2011-12 Numbers: 13.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.2 spg, 53.7 FG%
Like UNLV's Chace Stanback and Mike Moser, Drew Gordon is yet another UCLA transfer finding success with a new team in the Mountain West.
His 2011-12 stats are almost identical to the line he recorded last season, the difference being that the Lobos were able to reach the NCAA Tournament rather than the NIT this year.
Unlike many of the region's other top players, Gordon has shown that he can be taken out of the game. Witness his eight-point, five-rebound, 3-for-11 shooting night against Missouri State, a game that the Lobos still won.
Of course, he can also explode like few others in this region. Exhibit A: 27 points and 20 rebounds in a 20-point thrashing of UNLV in February.
Coach Steve Alford will need a lot more of the latter Gordon, because first-round opponent Long Beach State has been hardened by a murderous non-conference schedule and enters the tournament fearing no one.
15. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
2011-12 Numbers: 9.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg, 54.6 FG%
One of the nation's top shot blockers, Gorgui Dieng is still very raw offensively.
He can also be taken out of the game against major opposition. The Cardinals played 19 games against NCAA Tournament opposition this season, and Dieng only broke double-figure scoring in seven of those outings.
So why is he this high on a list of top players in the West Region? Because there may be no player in this region whose success will be as tied to his team's.
When Dieng was forced to leave the Cards' game against Cincinnati on Feb. 23 due to foul trouble, Louisville had taken the lead on the strength of a dominant defensive run. Without Dieng, the Bearcats were free to feed their star big man, Yancy Gates, whose 260-pound frame dominated 215-pound Jared Swopshire. Cincinnati ended up winning, 60-56.
The Cardinals face off with a Davidson squad that gave North Carolina fits this season, one that also boasts a 6'10" inside presence in junior Jake Cohen. If Dieng can't keep his hands to himself (four-plus fouls in 18 games this season), the Cats may be able to feed Cohen just as much as Cincinnati fed Gates.
14. Pierce Hornung, Colorado State
2011-12 Numbers: 8.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.9 spg, 64.3 FG%
Despite the fact that Colorado State guards Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green get most of the pub (and most of the points), forward Pierce Hornung may be the team's true driving force.
Hornung led the Mountain West in field-goal percentage, steals and offensive rebounds while also finishing third in total rebounding. That skill on the offensive glass will need to be on full display against athletic Murray State forwards Ed Daniel and Ivan Aska.
Hornung has shown he can handle NCAA Tournament-caliber opposition this season. He recorded double-doubles against Montana and New Mexico, keeping Lobos glass-eater Drew Gordon to only six boards in the process.
The Rams aren't a high-tempo team, and if Hornung can grant them extra possessions by cleaning the offensive glass, it will go a long way toward slowing down the 30-1 Racers.
13. Erving Walker, Florida
2011-12 Numbers: 12.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.7 apg, 81.2 FT%
Listed at what might be a generous 5'8", Erving Walker isn't going to shoot over many people. As seen here, he often prefers to go around them.
In the pictured game against Arkansas, Walker shot 9-for-12, including 5-of-6 from downtown, on his way to a season-high 31 points.
The rest of his conference games weren't so rosy, but Walker's primary value to the Gators is as a catalyst for talented teammates Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal and Patric Young. Walker may not possess the most reliable shot in the game, but he certainly can take care of the ball.
His 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks third in the SEC, and Walker has yet to commit five turnovers in a game this season. Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor occasionally has that many by the second media timeout.
Against a Virginia team that practices stiff defense, Florida will need to be as efficient as possible with their possessions.
12. Larry Anderson, Long Beach State
2011-12 Numbers: 14 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.9 spg
Larry Anderson was named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, but his toughest opponent right now may be his own body. He missed the Big West tournament with a sprained MCL, but fully expects to suit up against New Mexico.
If he's near 100 percent, the Lobos may get a first-hand look at what the toughest non-conference schedule in America can do for a team's confidence. The 49ers didn't win over opponents like North Carolina, Louisville and Kansas, but nor were they blown out.
Anderson, for his part, was solid in those big games. He notched 17 points and six rebounds against Louisville. Fourteen points, seven assists and three steals against Kansas. Seventeen points and five rebounds against UNC. Twenty-five points and eight rebounds against San Diego State.
After all that, the Big West schedule was a cakewalk for Long Beach.
One thing that will demonstrate the condition of both Anderson's knee and Long Beach's chances to advance will be how much he tries to drive the lane. After a three-game stretch in late January, where he shot 31 free throws, Anderson only took eight trips to the foul line in his next six games.
If Anderson's standing at the line a lot on Thursday, the Lobos could be standing in line at the airport on Friday.
11. Donte Poole, Murray State
2011-12 Numbers: 14.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2 spg, 45.0 FG%, 86.4 FT%
The Murray State Racers have hit nearly all the right notes this season, and Donte Poole has been front and center as a capable Paul McCartney to Isaiah Canaan's John Lennon.
It was Poole, not Canaan, who led the Racers in scoring in their first signature win of the season, dropping 20 on Memphis. When Canaan struggled to a nine-point night against Southeast Missouri State in February, Poole picked him up with 25. It was Poole, not Canaan, who was named MVP of the OVC Tournament.
Four times this season, Poole and Canaan have both scored over 16 in the same game. While more than half of Poole's shots have come from outside the arc, his 45 percent average from the floor indicates that Poole is no remorseless gunner.
First-round opponent Colorado State will have a difficult enough time containing the All-America candidate Canaan. If it forgets about Donte Poole in the process, Murray may have an easy time racing into the second round.
10. Michael Dixon, Missouri
2011-12 Numbers: 13.3 ppg, 3.3 apg, 48.0 FG%, 88.4 FT%
In a three-game stretch in late January, Mike Dixon was held to 19 total points on 5-of-15 shooting. He hasn't been kept below 10 points in any game since.
Dixon has shot better than 56 percent over his last 13 games despite attempting 4.5 three-point shots per game in that span. Missouri's offense, the most efficient in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, gets him open looks, and he converts them. Sometimes, it's just that simple.
Dixon's three biggest conference games came against the best competition. He dropped 21 each on Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State, all NCAA Tournament teams. In those three games, he shot a combined 22-of-33.
In addition to his scoring touch, Dixon owns an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 2 to 1. The Tigers' tournament opponents will need solid defense from both guard positions, because Dixon and Phil Pressey are both capable of carving them up.
9. Kenny Boynton, Florida
2011-12 Numbers: 16.3 ppg, 2.5 apg, 44.8 FG%, 42.7 3-pt FG%
That field-goal percentage might not seem impressive, but in Kenny Boynton's case, it's a major improvement.
Boynton shot under 40 percent in his first two seasons, leading to noisy criticism of his shot selection. The addition of fellow McDonald's All-American Bradley Beal has granted Boynton substantially better perimeter looks, leading to improvements not just in his overall shooting percentage, but also his three-point percentage.
Boynton is almost 10 percent more accurate from deep than he was last season. Just as important is the reduction in turnovers from his freshman year to now. Boynton's turnover percentage has dropped, his assist-to-turnover ratio has risen and Florida's offensive efficiency is tops in America as a result.
If any team can keep a body on Boynton and a hand in his face, it's the Virginia Cavaliers. If they can't, though, we may see a tremendous offensive display in the second round between the Gators and Missouri.
8. Scott Machado, Iona
2011-12 Numbers: 13.6 ppg, 5 rpg, 9.9 apg, 1.6 spg, 49.0 FG%
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Iona Gaels led the nation in scoring. Scott Machado, the nation's assist leader, is the primary reason why.
Machado is no flash in the pan, either. Second in the nation in assists last season, Machado has added to his own offensive game this season.
His percentages from the floor, long range and the foul line all saw substantial improvement over last season, meaning that whether his teammates were converting his passes or not, Machado could get his own points and keep the offense humming.
The biggest sign of his improvement was Iona's double-overtime win over St. Joseph's in November. Machado dished 10 assists, but also struck for 33 points himself, knocking down 10-of-18 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the foul line.
Machado hasn't had to score 20 all that often, with Mike Glover, Sean Armand and Arizona transfer MoMo Jones there to pick up any slack. Still, BYU will need to keep a body on Machado at all times and not become content to merely get the ball out of his hands.
7. Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri
2011-12 Numbers: 13.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 69.3 FG%
What we see Ricardo Ratliffe doing in this picture is what he will need to do repeatedly to get Missouri to its first Final Four. The paint is almost exclusively Ratliffe's house when the Tigers take the court, and he must protect it.
Offensively, Mizzou's Road Runner tempo is hard for most big men to keep up with, but Ratliffe keeps himself involved very well. He's been held below 10 points only seven times in the Tigers' 34 games, and when he gets the ball, that gaudy field-goal percentage indicates that the outcome is predictable.
Ratliffe's best game this season may have come in a Missouri loss, when he battled his way to 22 points and 12 rebounds against Kansas' post duo of Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson.
First-round opponent Norfolk State may try to test Ratliffe with their star center, Kyle O'Quinn. Following that, it's either a battle with Virginia big man Mike Scott or keeping eyes peeled for Florida's slashing guards.
One way or another, Ratliffe will have many opportunities to teach other players the same lesson he's teaching Pierre Jackson above.
6. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
2011-12 Numbers: 19.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 48.4 FG%, 47.3 3-pt FG%
The Ohio Valley Conference simply doesn't produce many All-Americans. Nor does it produce a lot of teams capable of starting a season 23-0 or finishing it 30-1. So, the skepticism that still exists around the Murray State Racers is understandable.
Isaiah Canaan wants to disprove all of it. Four times, Canaan has erupted for 30 points in a game, and it won't be much of a surprise if he does it again in the tournament.
Play tight on him outside, and he'll drive the lane with impunity. Sag off of him, and he'll drop threes on your head all night. Only three of Murray's games this season ended with Canaan failing to hit a shot from deep. Eight times, he hit five or more.
Canaan also finished second in the OVC in assists, meaning he's perfectly willing to get everyone else involved. Colorado State faces a stiff challenge in the first round, and despite the shaky schedule the Racers played this season, no foe should dare take them lightly.
5. Marcus Denmon, Missouri
2011-12 Numbers: 17.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 spg, 89.8 FT%
Marcus Denmon may be the Missouri Tiger most likely to score 30 points in a game. He's certainly come close against the big opposition.
In the Tigers' two meetings with Kansas, Denmon produced 57 points on 20-of-31 shooting, 12-of-19 from downtown. While Kansas is a middle-of-the-pack team in perimeter defense, they're simply not used to being abused in that fashion.
Denmon finished third in the Big 12 in scoring, but there's something even more impressive to note about him this season.
Like the Tigers as a whole, Denmon is not prone to turnovers. Only four times this season has he turned the ball over more than twice in a game. He only coughs the ball up on 9.3 percent of his possessions.
To knock Missouri out of this tournament, some team is going to have to play the game of its life. We've yet to see many examples of the Tigers beating themselves.
4. Mike Scott, Virginia
2011-12 Numbers: 18.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 56.2 FG%, 81.0 FT%
There are two things that make Mike Scott's stat line truly remarkable.
One is the soul-suckingly slow offense favored by Virginia coach Tony Bennett. Ken Pomeroy's adjusted tempo rankings place the Cavs as the seventh-slowest team in America.
The second is the fact that Scott is double-teamed from the moment he steps off the bus. Joe Harris is the only other Cavalier averaging in double figures this season, and he is nowhere near as efficient with his work as Scott.
Scott comes into the tournament on a bit of a hot streak, scoring over 20 points in five of his final six games, including three straight double-doubles.
Sandwiched in between, though, is a 3-for-13, six-point dud against North Carolina. Florida's Patric Young is no Tyler Zeller or John Henson, so the Gators keeping Scott in that kind of check is unlikely. Still, it'll be on Scott to keep the Cavs in the game, and all of Wahoo Nation will be praying that Harris or Sammy Zeglinski or the ghost of Bryant Stith or somebody will do enough scoring to help them move on.
(No, Bryant Stith's not dead. It's just his eligibility that expired.)
3. Will Barton, Memphis
2011-12 Numbers: 18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3 apg, 51.1 FG%
The last time a guard led the Memphis Tigers in rebounding, it was a guy named Penny Hardaway. No word on whether the campus bookstore is selling "Lil' Willy" puppets, but Will Barton is just as capable as Penny was of excelling against big-time competition.
He hit the ground running with 23 points against Belmont and has rarely been stopped since. In Maui, he struck for 25 against Tennessee and 22 against Georgetown. One three-game stretch saw Barton drop 27 each on Miami and Murray State, then follow with 28 against Louisville.
Despite a frame so skinny you could fax him to the arena for the game, Barton is also one of America's most fearless rebounders. He pulled 14 against Miami, 16 against Louisville and 13 in the Conference USA final against Marshall.
Barton does average over two turnovers per game, but even this isn't a terribly high figure for a guy who uses over 25 percent of his team's possessions.
First-round opponent Saint Louis will try to slow the game down, but if Barton is allowed to lead the Tigers in an up-tempo playground game, Rick Majerus's return to the big dance will be a short one.
2. Draymond Green, Michigan State
2011-12 Numbers: 16.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 39.5 3-pt FG%
If you wanted to go to Vegas and put a Benjamin down on the player most likely to record a triple-double in the NCAA Tournament, you could make very few better picks than Draymond Green.
Green can sometimes play like a point guard in a fullback's body, as evidenced by the two times he dropped seven assists on Purdue this season.
Good luck keeping him off the boards, too. Even when the Spartans were struggling to adapt to each other (and playing on an aircraft carrier) in the season opener against North Carolina, Green was vicious in tearing down a season-high 18 rebounds.
Getting a hand in his face and making him take bad shots can be difficult. Gonzaga couldn't stop him from anywhere on Dec. 10, watching him score 34 points on 11-of-13 shooting, 8-for-9 from the line and 4-of-5 from deep.
If Green's teammates aren't feeling the same intensity he is, he'll make sure they do. Spartans coach Tom Izzo has compared his leadership skills to green-and-white greats Mateen Cleaves and Magic Johnson.
The odds of someone beating Sparty in this bracket may be just slightly shorter than the odds on Green getting that triple-double. And no, this article should in no way be taken as condoning gambling. It is for entertainment purposes only.
1. Jae Crowder, Marquette
2011-12 Numbers: 17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.4 spg, 50.5 FG%
Unlike some of his teammates, Jae Crowder was not suspended for the first half of last month's game against West Virginia. He was right there front and center for the 11-point halftime deficit. When the cavalry arrived at halftime, the Golden Eagles simply channeled their inner Jay Bilas and said, "We gotta go to work."
That kind of work is commonplace for Marquette this season. It is a team that has come back from six double-digit halftime deficits to win. It's never out of the game as long as Crowder is crashing the glass and forcing turnovers.
He ranked second in the Big East in steals and ninth in rebounding. That would dictate that he would need to be shadowed by a power forward, but then, Crowder steps out and starts stroking threes. He's gone without a deep basket in only six games this season.
In five of Marquette's last seven games, Crowder's strapped the team to his back and poured in over 20 points. Twenty-nine points and 12 rebounds against UConn may have been the high point.
If the Golden Eagles are matched up with Iona in the second round, it could provide one of the most entertaining matchups of the entire three weeks. Crowder matching up with Gaels forward Mike Glover would carry the air of a heavyweight title fight. Both are men who simply love to go to work.
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