The West plays pretty straight forward. Duke was the fourth No. 1 seed, but they were blessed with BY FAR the easiest road to the Final Four. A major upset by Oakland knocks off Texas and the rest is pretty close to chalk.
The West may not be the strongest bracket or have the best name, but it shall provide the greatest upset of the 2011 tournament. Even if EVERYONE is calling it.
Duke over Hampton
Tennessee over Michigan
John Beilein (pronounced three-line) has assembled a tournament worthy team in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, that’s about where it ends for Michigan this year. They are well on their way to building a program, but the three-point shooters will have to get sharper, and they’ll need a more disciplined point guard to venture any further.
Tennessee on the other hand has many of the players that were only a couple of plays away from making the Final Four last year. With that said, one of their issues is nobody on the Volunteers' squad volunteers to take heed of clutch situations. That’s a problem in a tournament that thrives on pressure-cooking scenarios. They will have to control the tempo and (of course) keep an eye on the three-line.
Arizona over Memphis
This is a thrilling first-round pairing and I considered it for my 5/12 upset, but Memphis is just too erratic. They have remarkable depth and spread the wealth incredibly well with only one player averaging double digits and eight guys that play over 20 minutes a game. With that said, Arizona thrives off the star power of future NBA pick, sophomore Derrick Williams, arguably the most complete package in the nation. He’s the anchor of the frontcourt and is a load on the inside, but also isn’t afraid to shoot from the outside at an alarming efficiency.
Oakland over Texas
This I would call the “hipster” upset pick as many are climbing on the Oakland wagon, but sometimes the hipsters get it right. Vampire Weekend’s debut album made me want to find a vintage skin tight yellow shirt and wear “tuck-up” jeans, but anyway, back to the hardwood…
They beat Tennessee. They scared Michigan State. They played every top team in the Big 10, so they will not be surprised by, what is, a very talented Texas team. Oakland possesses a possession altering (on both ends of the floor) center in Keith Benson who is very similar to former Central Michigan star and current L.A. Clipper Chris Kaman. He’s going to clog up the middle and make Texas shoot from the outside.
Texas might counter by trying to run Oakland out of the gym, which they can do to most teams, but Oakland will also not be intimidated by this recourse, as they too, love to run. Oakland was the hot upset pick before they were slated against Texas, which at first seemed like a buzz kill, but in the end, destiny is calling and Oakland is faster to the phone.
Missouri over Cincinnati
I like the full court pressure of Mizzou to nag at Cincinnati’s weakness of taking too many uncalled-for three’s. Neither of these teams are playing like winners right now, and neither is quite the representation of the name on the jersey, but you can’t help but love the way Missouri plays. Turnovers and bad shots lead to a relatively unexpected upset here.
UConn over Bucknell
Everyone remembers Bucknell upending Kansas in a similar scenario years ago. This UConn team isn’t as good as that Kansas team, but then again, neither is this version of Bucknell. I believe UConn will be tired after playing five games in five nights last week and be ripe picking for an upset, but Kemba Walker alone will be enough to win this one. Good thing UConn missed Oakland or they’d be going home early. Right?
Penn State over Temple
Penn State senior Talor Battle will not go quietly! He joins three other seniors on the team that are not just “happy to be here”, but a team that feels it needs to make a statement. That statement will upset Temple fans and staff alike as they fail to advance, again.
San Diego State over Northern Colorado
Northern Colorado has shooting guard Devon Beitzel (21 ppg) a tough, tattooed and intelligent player with a coach’s mindset on the floor. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough for the depth and uptempo nature of San Diego State.
Duke over Tennessee
Too much firepower. Duke’s repeat bid will not be stopped here.
Arizona over Oakland
You might say, Ryan, if Oakland can beat Texas, why can’t they beat Arizona? I would agree with you, they certainly could. But, Arizona’s offense starts with Derrick Williams who is really going to keep Oakland’s star defender Keith Benson occupied. Benson will have to step out and play Williams on the perimeter as well, opening the lanes for drives and dishes. I like Arizona’s chances of being able to get open looks with EIGHT guys that can stroke it—in what should be a fast-paced game.
Oakland will put up a great effort, but eventually will realize there is no more gas in the tank. It will be too close for comfort, much like the Murray State-Butler game last year. Be aware of the scare, but don’t go stir crazy buying into the Detroit hype Eminem and Chrysler have been selling you in Round 2.
UConn over Missouri
All of my logic adds up to a Missouri upset here. They force you to play fast and pass the ball around, while UConn notoriously is one-dimensional, looking to find geometric space and angles for the one guy on their team that will hurt you, Kemba Walker. Add in the tired factor that I’m so adamant about—these conference tournaments really wear down players that are already tired from a long season—five games in five nights and the back half of a long weekend is a tall order. Not to mention Missouri’s goal is to wear you down.
I cannot in good conscience recommend or even pick myself that Missouri will win this game. I don’t see the depth and quality on the Tigers roster to justify what should be an easy upset of UConn. I guess, UConn will continue to defy odds and not let their one-dimensional offense catch up with them. On to the Sweet 16. If anything, I’m thankful for more Jim Calhoun pressers. Love that guy.
San Diego State over Penn State
Let’s be honest, it was a stretch picking PSU over Temple. That probably wasn’t a smart call. In the East I have No. 7 seeded Washington beating North Carolina. I know I shouldn’t turn the microscope back to 10x and lose focus, but I can’t help it. I don’t see the upset happening this time around. I think Penn State has the ability to make San Diego take a lot of bad shots, if you don’t believe, watch the film of their Big 10 Tournament victory over Wisconsin, 36-33. Yes, that’s a full 40 minute basketball score.
Still, the song remains the same, Penn State shouldn’t be a No. 10 seed, are borderline tournament worthy and way over their heads. Out in the second round.
Duke over Arizona
I guess it’s time to give SOME Duke analysis…they came into the season the best team in the country. When they lost their freshman sensation point guard Kyrie Irving, the season wasn’t lost, but it was severely hampered. In the end, it frees up more time for Seth Curry (did you know he was related to Dell and Stephen? Ha.) to shine. With the senior leadership of Singlar and Nolan Smith, Curry makes a dynamic third option, just where you’d want someone of his perimeter caliber.
Too much experience. Too much discipline. Too much Coach K. Arizona doesn’t even have a say here.
UConn and San Diego State
I really don’t think either of these teams should be in the Elite Eight. I kept looking at the bottom half of the West bracket for someone else to believe in—just for SPITE. I think they are all trash Elite Eight teams if you ask me. But, since this is the game, we must take a sigh, deep breath and pencil in UConn.
San Diego State coach Steve Fischer is still building his program. He’s done a wonderful job in a short amount of time, but he’s just not ready for this kind of challenge. UConn will come into this game killing off my “five games in five nights” tirade and easily knock off a San Diego State team that hasn’t beat anyone on the Big East level. Not to mention five. In a row. You’re out of your element, Aztecs. Put that in…Inca?
Road to the Final Four
Duke over Uconn
Really? What a joke road to the Final Four for Duke. Arizona will make them sweat a little bit, but they can stay pretty close to their warm-ups for most of it. Coack K won’t allow the team to do any major site seeing, but this is a vacation to Houston for the Blue Devils with a few pickup basketball games along the way.
The entire 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket breakdown can be found on my blog appropriately titled Ryan C. Zerfas. Report here for more top-notch bracket analysis: http://ryanczerfas.blogspot.com/2011/03/2011-ncaa-bracket-projections.html