In my view, the Midwest Region is the toughest. So much for Louisville gaining some measure of advantage for being the No. 1 overall seed.
First Round Upset(s) on Everyone’s Radar
No. 10 USC over No. 7 Boston College and No. 12 Arizona over No. 5 Utah. I could be mistaken, but when Ben Howland imported the Big East style of play (defense, rebounding, emphasis on reducing offensive turnovers) upon becoming the coach at UCLA, the rest of the Pac-10 took notice.
For a long time, high-seeded Pac-10 teams were considered easy pickings come Tournament time. Now? I think both USC and Arizona are under-seeded.
USC coach Tim Floyd is a master recruiter, able to cradle-rob for potential stars in middle school, but he can’t coach his way out of a paper bag. The USC roster is loaded with future pros, headlined by likely one-and-done star DeMar DeRozan. I usually don’t pick teams that win their conference tournaments, but USC seems to be peaking at the right time.
Arizona’s got Jordan Hill getting the job done inside, Nic Wise bombing from the outside, and Chase Budinger playing like Duke’s Kyle Singler, but without all the ACC/ESPN/Duke hype surrounding him. Budinger was a projected first round pick in the NBA Draft two years running; he is no slouch.
Plus, with all the negative attention the Arizona program has gotten this season (Lute Olsen’s resignation, the Kevin O’Neill saga, the ascension of Russ Pennell as coach, the “last team in the tournament” talk), it’s a perfect recipe for the Wildcats to band together and prove something.
First Round Upset on Nobody’s Radar
I know there are some brave souls out there picking North Dakota State over Kansas or Cleveland State over Wake Forest. I’m not a believer in either of the underdogs in those matchups. ND State can’t shoot. Cleveland State is a strong team, but Wake Forest is absolutely loaded. There are no “under the radar” upsets here in this region.
Overrated Concern: Wake Forest doesn’t shoot enough threes
The problem with this idea is the fact that Wake Forest averaged roughly four three-pointers a game, yet managed to score over 80 points per game on the season. They shoot a high percentage, they rebound well, and they get out on the break enough to compensate for their lack of three-point shooting.
A slow-down, half-court offense could be problematic for the Demon Deacons. A team that made a high percentage of threes early in a game could bury Wake, too. Cleveland State isn’t that team.
Underrated Concern: Louisville’s shooting woes
The Cardinals jack up over 20 threes a game and collectively hit just 36 percent. They hit just 64 percent of their free throws, and, most importantly, the player who has the ball in his hands most, “point forward” Terrence Williams, hit just 57 percent of his free throws. Free throws derailed Memphis last season, and poor shooting could be Louisville’s undoing as well.
The combination of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich is about as good an outside-inside combo in the nation for Kansas. After winning the national title last season, the Jayhawks were supposed to be rebuilding. Twenty-five wins and a No. 3 seed later, the rebuilding project seems to be over.
Ohio State gets to play in Dayton in the first two rounds, potentially? Strong “home” crowds could push them into the Sweet 16.
Round of 32 (Losers in Parentheses)
Louisville (Morehead), Ohio St. (Siena), Arizona (Utah), Wake Forest (Cleveland St.), West Virginia (Dayton), Kansas (North Dakota St.), USC (BC), Michigan St. (Robert Morris)
Sweet 16 (Losers in Parentheses)
Louisville (Ohio St.), Wake Forest (Arizona), West Virginia (Kansas), Michigan St. (USC)
Elite Eight (Losers in Parentheses)
Wake Forest (Louisville), West Virginia (Michigan St.)
Wake Forest (West Virginia)