My last preview for the Tournament, which starts Thursday afternoon, is a look at the West Region. Everything points to UConn coming out of the West at first glance. Taking a deeper look shows us it won’t be the cakewalk many expect for the Huskies.
First Round Upset(s) on Everyone’s Radar
No. 13 Mississippi State over No. 4 Washington and No. 11 Utah State over No. 6 Marquette.
Jarvis Varnado, who averages nearly five blocked shots per game, is a force to be reckoned with in the interior for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs like to chuck it from downtown, hitting over eight three-pointers per game.
Many people believe Mississippi State underachieved all season long and are now playing to their potential. I’m not buying it.
While Washington’s backcourt tandem of Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon are undersized, they are quick, they can score (30 PPG combined), and they make the Huskies go. Combined with Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter, the Huskies have four reliable scorers.
Plus, the Huskies hail from the underrated Pac-10, which has received a toughness makeover since Ben Howland established residence at UCLA.
Some folks may want to take Utah State over Marquette because the Golden Eagles lost five of their last six. The problem with that line of thinking is that the five games in question were UConn, at Louisville, at Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Villanova (on a buzzer beater at MSG).
Every team in the Tournament field would struggle to win one out of five against that rugged schedule.
I think there’s enough talent on Marquette for them to win their first round game, despite Utah State’s geographical advantage, and they could very well use that win as a springboard for a deep run.
First Round Upset on Nobody’s Radar
I believe this region was well-seeded. Besides the 8-9 game, which is a coin-flip special all the time, there aren’t any other standout “obvious” upsets to pick.
I’m not a fan of Maryland or Northern Iowa, two other upset possibilities. Neither team shoots well enough to pull off an upset in my view.
Overrated Concern: No Jerome Dyson for UConn
I acknowledge that the Huskies lack depth. They go seven deep now, with Dyson out for the year. But when it comes time for the Tournament, the teams with NBA-caliber talent rise to the challenge.
A.J. Price, Hasheem Thabeet, and Kemba Walker will all play at the next level for sure, and Jeff Adrien can certainly be a role player for an NBA team too. Stanley Robinson’s game has risen since the loss of Dyson, and he has the kind of length and ability to confound many teams. The talent is still here for UConn to run the table to Detroit.
Underrated Concern: Memphis’ winning streak
It sounds absurd, but the Tigers’ winning streak could work against them in the Tournament. Memphis hasn’t lost since December, and they haven’t played a true close game against a solid Tournament-caliber team since a January nail-biter against Tennessee.
Much has been written about how the Tigers have played better since Tyreke Evans took over at point guard. He’s a tremendous talent. However, the schedule that Memphis played in the last two months of the season doesn’t compare with many of the top teams in the Tournament.
They will be challenged. They will play tight games. How will they fare?
The California Golden Bears could be a sleeper, if for no other reason than Mike Montgomery, who always did a nice job with his teams when he was the coach at Stanford. They’ve got some great guard play, but don’t have any true size.
If Jerome Randle and Theo Robertson get good looks from beyond the three-point arc for Cal, they’ll knock down shots. They could take Memphis out in Round Two.
Round of 32 (Losers in Parentheses)
UConn (Chattanooga), Texas A&M (BYU), Purdue (Northern Iowa), Washington (Mississippi St.), Marquette (Utah St.), Missouri (Cornell), California (Maryland), Memphis (Cal St. Northridge)
Sweet 16 (Losers in Parentheses)
UConn (Texas A&M), Washington (Purdue), Marquette (Missouri), California (Memphis)
Elite Eight (Losers in Parentheses)
UConn (Washington), Marquette (California)
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