Breaking Down the Brackets

Marco RomanellCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2009

Selection Sunday has come and gone, and everyone is pondering over who will be in the Final Four, who will be this year’s Cinderella, and what first-round upsets will happen. I will break down the brackets region by region, and I hope my analysis helps you to win your office pool.


West Region


Most intriguing matchups:

No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Utah St.

Both teams are littered with talent at the guard position, and we all know that good guard play takes you far in the tournament.  Jarel McNeal is one of the most-talented players in the country, and he will have to shoulder the scoring load, if the Golden Eagles are to make a deep run in the tournament.

Utah St. has an average age of 25, making them, by far, the most mature team in the tournament. The Aggies can shoot the three and play tremendous defense, both of which will make them hard to beat. With 30 wins on the year, Utah St. cannot be taken lightly.


No. 7 California vs. No. 10 Maryland:

There is joy in “Garyland,” as my beloved Terps return to the big dance. This matchup puts the best three-point shooting team in Cal, against the 222nd best three-point percentage defense in Maryland.

Cal point guard Jerome Randle possesses explosive quickness and a three-point percentage of 48 percent on the year. Maryland has been impressive on the defensive end, since they switched to the 1-2-2 zone and will likely use that against Cal.

Whoever wins the matchup between Randle and Greivis Vasquez will likely lead their team to victory.


Likely upset

No. 11 Utah St over No. 6 Marquette:

As mentioned earlier, this is the most likely first-round upset. Utah St. has the experience to beat Marquette, and they will likely make someone other than McNeal beat them.


Lower seed likely to make a run

No. 5 Purdue

The fifth-seeded Boilermakers are finally healthy and living up to their preseason top 10 ranking. Purdue is coming off a Big Ten championship in which they dominated the competition.

They will likely match up with Washington in the second round, but that is a game I think Purdue can win. If they get past the Huskies, they will play top seeded UConn in the Sweet 16, and I would not be surprised if they upset the Huskies.


Best Game

No. 3 Missouri vs. No. 2 Memphis; Sweet 16:

If the seeds hold, these two teams will meet in the Sweet 16 in what should be the game of the tournament.  Missouri coach Mike Anderson is a disciple of Nolan Richardson and employs the “40 minutes of hell” style that was so successful for Richardson.

The old adage is that teams that press do not like to get pressed, and both of these teams will likely press the other one.

I think Memphis will escape, but Missouri is a definite Final Four contender, and they have a great shot of winning this game.


Regional Final

No. 2 Memphis over No. 1 Connecticut

I almost picked Purdue to upset UConn, but I think Memphis will beat whoever they play in the Elite Eight.  Memphis is mad that they did not get a one seed.  Couple that with their talent, and they are a dangerous team.


East Region


Most Intriguing Matchup

No. 8 Oklahoma St. vs. No. 9 Tennessee

If you like offense, then this is the game for you. Both of these teams are three-point happy and will be chucking up the rock every time they touch it. Tennessee has underachieved this season, and their tournament experience could help them win this game.

Oklahoma St. played in a much tougher conference, and they are a balanced, well-coached team. Expect this score to be in the mid to high 80s and I think Oklahoma St will prevail.

The winner of this game will match up with Pittsburgh, so their tournament run will likely end there.


Likely upsets

No. 11 VCU over No. 6 UCLA

This is not the same UCLA team that has made the Final Four the last three years. The Bruins struggle to score and rely too much on Darren Collison. VCU point guard Eric Maynor hit the game winning shot two seasons ago to beat Duke in the first round of the tournament and will likely have a big game against UCLA.

The Rams have a great inside outside combo with Maynor and Larry Sanders. Sanders is a double-double machine, and the Bruins will have no answer for him. Ben Howland will have his team ready to play, but I just don’t like this match up for the Bruins.


No. 13 Portland St. over No. 4 Xavier

Of these two teams, it is Portland St. who has the biggest win on the year, knocking off Gonzaga in their home gym. Portland St. is making their second consecutive tournament appearance, and they will not be intimidated playing on the big stage.

Jeremiah Dominguez was the Big Sky player of the year and can flat out score. This Xavier team struggled down the stretch and does not have the signature win that Portland St. has.

Xavier got bounced out of the A-10 tourney early, and they will have to travel to the west coast to play this game. Not many people are talking about this game, but I really like this match up for the 13th seeded Vikings.


Lower seed likely to make a run

No. 5 Florida St.

The fifth-seeded Seminoles have a great shot of going to the Elite Eight. Toney Douglas, the runner up for ACC player of the year, averages over 20 points a game and can score on anyone.

Florida State's lack of tournament experience could be their only flaw. They should handle Wisconsin and Portland St. leading to a match up with top ranked Pittsburgh in the Sweet 16.

The Seminoles have the big bodies inside to bang with Pitt and could get DeJuan Blair into foul trouble. If they can get a good performance from Echefu to complement Douglas, then this will likely be an Elite Eight run for the 'Noles.


No. 11 VCU

The Rams have the experience and talent to make it to the Sweet 16 this year. I think they match up well with Villanova, and I believe they would win if the game was not in Philadelphia.

VCU will not be intimidated, and there is no team in this region that wants to face them in any round.


Best Game

No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 2 Duke; Sweet 16:

The Wildcats play their first two games on their homecourt and should have little trouble advancing to the Sweet 16.  Duke comes into this game hot, after winning the ACC tournament, but I think they will struggle to beat Texas in the second round.

The Blue Devils have the guard play, but they will struggle to match up with Donte Cunningham inside. Cunningham’s scoring inside will open up the perimeter for Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fischer.

I like Villanova in this game and as a dark horse Final Four candidate.


Regional Final

No. 1 Pitt over No. 3 Villanova

Villanova did beat Pittsburgh earlier this year, so they will not be intimidated when they face them in the regional final. Pittsburgh’s one weakness this year has been when DeJuan Blair has gotten into foul trouble and if this happens then they could lose to FSU in the Sweet 16.

This game will be back and forth, and it would not surprise me to see the Wildcats come out of this region as champions.


South Region


Most Intriguing Matchup

No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Michigan, First round

Clemson is one of the most talented teams in the country, but they have struggled down the stretch and fell to a No. 7 seed. Trevor Booker is at his best inside and should touch the ball on every possession.

The Tigers will have to be patient and can't settle for three-point jump shots. Michigan will slow the game down and run a very patient offense. The Wolverines cannot compete athletically or match up inside with the Tigers, but they have a coach who has gone deep in the tournament before.

When Clemson plays their best, they can beat anybody, and I think they will win this game but, it will be close.

No. 6 Arizona St vs No. 3 Syracuse, Second round

I was high on the Sun Devils all season, and I think they have one of the best players in this tournament in James Harden. Arizona St. can shoot the three and has a great inside presence in Jeff Pendergraph.

Syracuse has shown the propensity to lose some games this season, and it would not surprise me to see them lose here. The winner of this game will go to the regional final.


Likely upsets

No. 12 Western Kentucky over No. 5 Illinois; First round

The Hilltoppers were one of the darlings of the tournament last year, when they made a run as the 12 seed to the Sweet 16. While Courtney Lee is gone, there are still some experienced and talented players on this Western Kentucky team.

Illinois has flown under the radar this year, and to be honest with you, I think they have over-achieved. The Illinois will be without point guard Chester Frazier, and that will likely seal their fate as another victim of the dreaded 12/5 upset.


No. 7 Clemson over No. 2 Oklahoma; Second round

While I did not like their matchup against Michigan, I love Clemson’s matchup against Oklahoma. The Tigers have the talent and big bodies to play with Blake Griffin inside, and they have better guard play then the Sooners.

Clemson shows up in big games, and I think, aside from Griffin, they might have more talent than the Sooners. Both teams backed into the tournament, but I think Clemson’s balance and ability to shoot the three-pointer will weigh out and lead them to the Sweet 16.


Best Game

No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 UNC

Whichever Zags team shows up in this tournament will go a long way in determining how far they go. With Pargo, Daye, and Heytvelt, Gonzaga has the talent and balance to compete with any team in the country.

North Carolina is the highest scoring team in the tournament, but they play no defense, and that could hurt them in this region. When the game is on the line, I am unsure if Carolina can make the big stop to seal the victory.

North Carolina will be playing teams that can score on them, and if Ty Lawson is not at full strength from his injury, then they will struggle offensively. UNC is easily the most talented team in the tournament, but they will need to find some defense if they want to make a run to the championship.


Regional Final

No. 1 North Carolina over No. 3 Syracuse

I am not as high on UNC as everyone else is, and I would not be surprised to see them lose in the Sweet 16 or or in the Elite Eight against Syracuse. The Orange had an amazing Big East tournament and has the talent of a Final Four team.

Syracuse’s matchup zone will give the Tarheels some problems, but I think UNC has enough talent to come out of this region; although,  I do not think they have an easy road.

Carolina better show up.  If not, they could struggle in the second round against LSU and in the Sweet 16 against Gonzaga.


Midwest region


Most intriguing matchup

No. 14 North Dakota St. vs. No. 3 Kansas

I am a Bison believer and think they can spring an upset on the defending champions. Kansas relies too much on Sharon Collins and if he does not score then they struggle. North Dakota St. has no tournament experience, but lucky for them, Kansas does not have much outside of Collins and  Cole Aldrich.

The Bison have nothing to lose and have a great perimeter shooting star in Ben Woodside, who scored 60 points in a game this year. This Jayhawks team is an anomaly to me. They can either lose this game or go all the way to the Final Four.

I think this game will be close, and NDSU could pull the upset.


Likely upsets

No. 12 Arizona over No. 5 Utah, First round

By all accounts, Arizona was the last team in the tournament field earning them a 12 seed. The Wildcats have the talent and a good draw that could allow them to make some noise.

They have more talent than the UTES, and I think it will be an upset, if Arizona does not win. Chase Buddinger and Nic Wise are two of the best players in the country, and when they are on their game, Arizona can beat anybody.


No. 10 USC over No. 2 Michigan St, Second round

I have wavered back and forth on who wins the BC-USC game, but I think it will be USC, and they can beat Michigan St. in the second round. It seems likes a No. 2 seed loses in the second round every year, and I am not sold on the Spartans.

Michigan St. has shown some vulnerability this year, and will meet up with a hot USC team in the second round. The Trojans have the athletic ability and talent to make it past the Spartans


No. 14. North Dakota St. over No. 3 Kansas

I am not sure if this will happen but I could see it. For the reasons I mentioned above, I think NDSU could shock the world and be the darlings of this tournament. Remember the names Ben Woodside and Brett Winkleman.


Lower seeded teams that could make a deep run

No. 12 Arizona

I expect the Wildcats to get through their first game with ease, and I like their matchup against Wake Forest in the second round. Arizona plays a matchup zone, and Wake has shown the propensity to struggle scoring against the zone. 

Twelve seeds are often reserved for smaller conference schools, so you better believe the higher seeds do not like seeing a power conference team in this spot. Arizona has some big time wins, and they will not be intimidated when they matchup with Wake in the second round.


No. 6 West Virginia

Say what you want to about Bob Huggins, but the guy can flat out coach, and this might be his most talented team in recent memory. Alex Ruoff, Devin Ebanks, and Da’Sean Butler provide balanced scoring for the Mountaineers.

I expect to see West Virginia make a run to the Elite Eight, and their familiarity with Louisville will make that a great game.


Best game

No. 9 Siena vs. No. 8 Ohio St.; First round

This Siena team is for real, and they have talent to win a game in this tournament. They do not match up well with Ohio St, but Kenny Hasbrouck can score on anybody and will keep the Saints in the game.

I think it would have been better for Siena, if they were an 11 or 10 seed and did not have to match up with Louisville in the second. The draw is bad for the Saints, and I can’t see how they stop B.J Mullins or Evan Turner, but they will definitely make a game out  of it.

I think this game goes either way, but I do not see either team getting past Louisville in the second round.


Regional Final

No. 1 Louisville over No. 6 West Virginia

This will be an amazing game between two teams that know each other well. There is no doubt in my mind that Louisville does not want to see West Virginia in the Elite Eight, and I believe West Virginia could beat them.

The Cardinals are rolling, but they are not a great free-throw shooting team, and that could be their Achilles heel. The Mountaineers will not be intimidated by the Cardinals and have the confidence and talent to beat them.


National Championship

Pittsburgh over Memphis

Despite having three No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, I think this is the most wide open field in recent memory.

I would not be surprised to see the National Champion come from a three, four, five, or even a six seed. This tournament will provide more intrigue and bigger upsets than last year’s tournament.

One thing is for sure, people will be left ripping up their brackets come Sunday night.


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