NCAA Bracket 2012: 8 Most Intriguing Opening-Round Matchups

Ron PasceriCorrespondent IIMarch 12, 2012

NCAA Bracket 2012: 8 Most Intriguing Opening-Round Matchups

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    Once the selections are in and the brackets go public, all the anticipation goes toward the actual games. Well, after we dissect every matchup, pick our upsets and fill out our own brackets.

    In every region there are bound to be at least a couple games that stand out above the rest as the games to watch. There are quite a few good ones this year, and we're going to go over the best of this year's first-round games.

    This isn't going to be a ranking, but a rundown of the two most intriguing games in each region.  If you have a particular game in mind that wasn't listed, don't hesitate to mention it in the comments.  There is no shortage of fun matchups in this year's tournament.

South Region: Iowa State vs. Connecticut

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    This is one of the best No. 8 vs. No. 9 games in the bracket—big conference teams with a lot of talent matching up for the right to face a No. 1 seed.

    Connecticut is loaded with weapons, but hasn't played up to its potential. Even still, the Huskies have beaten Florida State, Harvard and West Virginia twice. They also played Syracuse tough in both of their matchups.   

    Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier form a great offensive duo, with Lamb scoring 17.7 points per game and Napier adding 12.7 points and 5.8 assists per contest. 

    Iowa State is led by Royce White, a player who leads his team in every major statistical category. He is aided by Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen, three-point sharpshooters who score in double figures.

    The Cyclones have beaten Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State twice. They shoot 38 percent on threes and hold opponents to 29.8 percent.

    The Huskies don't shoot the ball especially well, but they hold opponents to 40.5 percent shooting from inside the arc and are 22nd in the nation in offensive rebounding.

    These are two talented teams capable of brilliant performances with different styles of play. Whoever wins this game will make Kentucky earn a trip to the Sweet 16.

South Region: Wichita State vs. Virginia Commonwealth

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    VCU was a Final Four participant last year, but Wichita State could be the best team in a good mid-major crop. 

    The Rams surged late in the season and stole the Colonial bid from Drexel. They went 6-4 against the top 100 in the RPI and have a great coach with a wealth of experience.

    The Commodores are a smart team that is very careful with the ball. On the other side, they are the nation's top team in forcing turnovers. The extra possessions they create help make up for their shaky shooting.

    Bradford Burgess is their leading scorer at 13.3 points per game, shooting 36.6 percent on threes.

    Wichita State is a very well-rounded team that played a tough schedule and beat UNLV, Creighton, Colorado and Davidson.

    They shoot the lights out on offense, led by Joe Ragland's 50 percent three-point shooting. They also hold opponents to 31.4 percent on threes and are sixth in the nation in defensive rebounding.

    This game could be the battle for the mid-major crown, and either team could come away with the win.

West Region: Memphis vs. Saint Louis

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    Memphis and Saint Louis is a battle of two severely undervalued teams. Both could have earned significantly higher seeds than eighth and ninth, respectively.  

    Memphis is ranked ninth by both KenPom.com and in ESPN's BPI. Saint Louis is ranked 15th in both metrics. Both are higher than the selection committee considered them.

    Memphis is a fast-paced team with a highly efficient offense. The Tigers shoot 36.9 percent on three's and 54 percent inside the arc. Defensively they hold opponents to just 31 percent shooting on threes and 41.8 percent on twos. They also rank in the top 35 in both steals and blocks.

    Saint Louis likes to slow the game down, but the Billikens have very similar percentages. They also shoot 36.9 on threes and 50.2 percent from inside the arc. Defensively, they rank in the top 50 in defensive rebounding and forcing turnovers.

    If Memphis can get out and run, the Tigers will move on to face Michigan State. On the other side, Saint Louis is perfectly capable of forcing its tempo, which could spell doom for Memphis.

West Region: New Mexico vs. Long Beach State

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    These teams are both capable of winning multiple games, but one will have to go home before the weekend starts.

    New Mexico romped through the Mountain West Conference, winning the regular season and conference tournament titles, and beating UNLV and San Diego State twice each in the past month.

    The Lobos have a double-double player in Drew Gordon and two other players scoring in double figures. They shoot 38.5 percent from three-point range.

    Long Beach State tested itself like no other team in college basketball with away games against Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina, Xavier, Kansas State and Creighton.  

    Casper Ware is the leader of their attack, scoring 17.4 points per game and playing a relentless style on offense and defense. T.J. Robinson averages 10.8 rebounds per game and Larry Anderson scores 14 points per game while shooting 41.9 percent on threes.

    This should be an exciting game that goes down to the wire. Both teams score and defend, and both have players who can hit the big shot.

East Region: Wisconsin vs. Montana

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    Wisconsin is a team that has a great coach, point guard and a winning style of play.

    The Badgers grind it out and show great discipline on offense, which is enhanced by their 36.1 percent three-point shooting and 74.1 clip from the charity stripe. They have been tested in the non-conference and in the Big Ten.

    The Badgers are capable of making a deep run with Jordan Taylor leading the way. He scores 14.7 points and adding 4.0 assists per game. He takes great care of the ball and has lifted his play late in the season.

    On the other end is little-known Montana, led by little-known point guard Will Cherry. The Grizzlies weren't expected to be here, but they knocked off Weber State twice in the last week.

    The Grizzlies shoot the ball incredibly well as a team and have a balanced scoring attack. Cherry can carry the offense for stretches, and he is a menace on the defensive end.

    Wisconsin can go far in the tournament, but Montana is fully capable of raining on its parade.

East Region: Gonzaga vs. West Virginia

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    There's no doubt that Gonzaga is the poster boy as the tournament Cinderella. But with wins in each of the last three years, the Zags have grown into more than that.

    They can score with anyone and can do it both inside and out. They are a very good shooting team, have playmaking threats and can rebound.

    Their top two scorers, Kevin Pangos and Elias Harris, are each shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range. They have a true center in Robert Sacre who scores, rebounds and defends the basket.

    West Virginia is a puzzling team. The Mountaineers started out 15-5, but they've dropped eight of their last 12 games. They hold wins over Kansas State, Georgetown and Cincinnati.  While they have played poorly, they do have one incredibly important skill.

    That skill is rebounding, particularly offensive rebounding, where they rank sixth in the nation. They do most of their scoring from inside, and they defend the arc better than most.

    Kevin Jones is a dominant inside player, averaging 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. They also have Darryl Bryant, who has mediocre shooting numbers but can get hot at anytime.

    Gonzaga should be the favorite, but nobody knows which West Virginia team will show up. If the real Mountaineers show up, they may prove to be too tough for Gonzaga. If they don't, Gonzaga will shoot their way to the next round. 

Midwest Region: Michigan vs. Ohio

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    Aside from being a great potential upset, Michigan vs. Ohio should just be a great game.

    The Wolverines don't do a lot of things well statistically, but they can score and know how to win. 

    Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke are a dynamite backcourt tandem that combined for 29.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game in the regular season. 

    Ohio is led by point guard D.J. Cooper, who averages 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. He isn't a great shooter, but he finds a way to get it done.  

    Ohio is a very good offensive rebounding team, and the Bobcats are second in the nation in creating turnovers.

    Michigan has a huge talent advantage, but Cooper and Burke facing off will be quite a show. 

    Upset or not, it will be one of the most entertaining opening-round games.

Midwest Region: Kansas vs. Detroit

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    This is by no means an upset special, but it has a chance to be one a great game. 

    Kansas is a very good team with arguably the player of the year in Thomas Robinson. Robinson is a beast who may want to win more than any other player in college basketball. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor has also come a long way and is an impact player. Underneath, Jeff Withey can score, rebound and is an incredible shot-blocker.

    There's no doubt that Kansas has a legitimate chance to win the whole thing.

    And then there is Detroit. Not many people know much about the Titans, but they have a pretty balanced offense with six players scoring over nine points per game.  

    They don't shoot the ball well and they aren't that great defensively, but they do hit the offensive glass and take care of the basketball.

    But what really makes this game interesting is Detroit point guard and the coach's son, Ray McCallum.  

    McCallum is smart, a leader and a great athlete, especially for a small-school player. He can get in the lane and wreak havoc by scoring, dishing and getting to the line. His skill set makes him a legitimate NBA prospect.

    If McCallum can step up and play the game of his life come Friday, basketball fans may be remembering the Titans.