The 2010 Bracket Bible: West Region
As the Wahoo Wire Bracketologist, I feel that I may have let some folks down by failing to foresee Virginia Tech’s NCAA Tournament snub – my only miss in the field of 65 this year (I had Florida out in the Hokies’ stead). I suppose 33 out of 34 at-large teams isn’t bad, but I’d still like to make it up… by nailing the West Region. Here’s a rundown of that 16-team bracket in the lower-left corner of your computer screen, and yeah, it’ll probably be wrong, too.
While many griped about the favorable road awarded Duke, few observers noted an even easier path to Indianapolis placed before Syracuse. The advancement to the Final Four of any team besides the top two seeds will be a huge upset.
Syracuse – The prohibitive favorite in this region, ‘Cuse is poised for a deep run. They have size, length, athleticism, and shooting touch, and forward Wesley Johnson will be a top pick in this year’s NBA Draft if he declares. The only teams that give the Orange fits have versatile big men that can play out of the high post and beat Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone from the inside out. Only Vanderbilt seems to fit that mold, and the Commodores might not even make it to that would-be Sweet Sixteen match-up.
Kansas State – Arguably the toughest team in the West, Wildcat players have to develop thick skin with Frank Martin shooting murderous glares and shouting obscenities in their direction for 40 minutes. Much has been made of the backcourt duo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, who are both tough as nails – neither shies away from the bright lights. But the frontcourt is deep and efficient; forwards Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly both average at least 11 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and shoot over 56% from the floor. The ‘Cats’ weakness is outside shooting (combined, Pullen and Clemente shoot an unimpressive 36% from deep), and they are susceptible to teams that shoot the three-ball well (see losses to Ole Miss, Missouri, and Oklahoma State). Syracuse is a nightmare match-up for this team.
The popular four-syllable chant describes almost the entire region. Don’t be surprised if many of the top seeds take an early stumble.
Pitt – How many times to we have to watch this movie? A scrappy, physical, overachieving Pitt team outworks opponents on a nightly basis during the regular season on its way to a 24-win season, only to fall to a team with superior talent in the Big Dance. Since 2002, when the Panthers began to make the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis under Ben Howland, they have not once beaten a team with a better seed. With no discernable next-level talent on this roster, it’s nearly impossible to foresee the Panthers putting together an extended run.
Vanderbilt – The Commodores are worthy of a four seed – little argument there. But their sub-regional consists of three feisty mid-majors: Butler, Texas El-Paso, and their first-round opponent Murray State. Vandy posted some terrific wins this season, including sweeps of Tennessee and Florida, and came close to knocking off Kentucky (then again, doesn’t everyone?). However, VU is also prone to some lapses in focus, as demonstrated by losses against Western Kentucky, at Georgia, and on their home court against South Carolina and Mississippi State late in the season. It’s hard to envision the ‘Dores playing in the Elite Eight, especially considering the extent to which they rely on free throws.
Gonzaga – Since shedding their Cinderella label in 2002, the Zags have made the Sweet Sixteen only twice: as a four seed last year and a three seed in 2006. In that same span, they have lost their first tournament game three times: as a seven in 2008, as a 10 in 2007, and in 2002, as a six seed. Since 2002, they are only 6-4 against teams with a worse seed, and are 7-8 overall. If you were thinking about picking them to beat Syracuse in the second round, think again.
Xavier – X went 14-2 in a surprisingly brutal A-10 this year and have played two teams in this region in ’09-’10: Florida (a 12-point win on the road) and Kansas State (a 15-point loss, also on the road). But the Musketeers lack their signature depth and oftentimes rely too much on sophomore forward Jordan Crawford, a.k.a. the kid who dunked on LeBron. The Musketeers are only 2-7 against teams that made the tournament this year, but they might be more talented than the first three teams they face (unless of course they run into KSU in the third round). Major-conference teams never like seeing “Xavier” across from them in the bracket, and X has a winning pedigree, having won five tournament games the past two seasons.
Brigham Young – The Cougars are experienced and shoot the ball incredibly well: their triple-slash line (for those unfamiliar, FG%/FT%/3FG%) as a team is a ridiculous 49/79/42. BYU will put pressure on every team they play with the nation’s 12th-most efficient offensive unit, according to Ken Pomeroy, and they have the ability to ice close games at the line. Future pro Jimmer Fredette has torched opponents to the tune of 21.7 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game this season and is a sleeper candidate for regional Most Outstanding Player. The worry here is eight consecutive losses in the NCAA Tournament for this program, including ousters the last three seasons as an eight seed.
Players to Watch
It’s virtually impossible to pick an all-region team before the tournament even begins, but hey, it won’t stop me from trying.
Andy Rautins, G, Syracuse – The son of one of Syracuse’s all-time greats, Leo Rautins, Andy has more than defended his father’s legacy. The senior has become an excellent college point guard, averaging 5.0 assists per game on the year and shooting almost 40% from deep. While he has a sweet stroke, Rautins can affect the game even if he’s not scoring.
Wesley Johnson, F, Syracuse – An out-of-nowhere transfer from Iowa State, Johnson is a defensive force, averaging 1.7 steals and 1.9 blocks for the season. At 16.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and putting up a triple-slash of 49/78/39, he’s not slouch on the other end, either.
Jimmer Fredette, G, BYU – Not just a shooter, Fredette has a sweet crossover and excellent passing skills to complete a very polished offensive repertoire. He is explosive, having scored 25 points or more in 11 different games this year, and his 45% three-point clip at five attempts per game is a nightmare for opposing coaches.
A.J. Ogilvy, C, Vanderbilt – Arguably the best big man in the region, Ogilvy’s best asset is his ability to get to the foul line – and make his shots once he does; he owns a 73% FT clip in over six trips to the charity stripe per game. He handles the ball less than he did his first two seasons at VU, but that’s due to the other weapons surrounding him. At 6’11″, he will be a tough match-up for the other teams in this region.
Jacob Pullen, G, Kansas State – While he and Clemente are almost always spoken of in tandem, Pullen is the key to the Wildcats’ success (32% from the floor in his team’s seven losses). He isn’t a great shooter, but at 42/81/38 is the best on KSU. The Wildcats will need to rely on his strength and ability to finish at the rim for long stretches in this tournament, and he’s certainly up to the task.
Honorable Mention: Marqus Blakely, F, Vermont; Matt Bouldin, G, Gonzaga; Denis Clemente, G, Kansas State; Jordan Crawford, F, Xavier; Randy Culpepper, G, Texas-El Paso; Elias Harris, F, Gonzaga; Gordon Hayward, F, Butler; Chris Singleton, F, Florida State
Now, what you’ve all been waiting for. For me, this is a shot at redemption, or, the more likely scenario, one more example why I should be the last person telling you which teams to pick.
1 Syracuse over 16 Vermont
I love that kid Blakely, but this is no repeat of 2005. Where’s Taylor Coppenwrath when you need him (again)? Syracuse, 88-66
8 Gonzaga over 9 Florida State
The Seminoles have an excellent defensive team, especially on the interior; Singleton will be able to lock down on Harris and Solomon Alabi will defend the rim with his life. One problem: Bouldin, shooting over everybody, with range. OK, a second problem: Leonard Hamilton. Gonzaga, 60-55
12 Texas-El Paso over 5 Butler
UTEP’s ironically-named Derrick Caracter, once the biggest head case in college basketball, has the physical tools to manhandle Butler’s scrawny front line. UTEP, 75-69
4 Vanderbilt over 13 Murray State
The last time Vandy ran into a balanced, up-tempo team in the tournament, it was embarrassed by Siena. It won’t happen again; freshman John Jenkins is the best shooter in this bracket, and that’s saying something. Vanderbilt, 80-69
3 Pittsburgh over 14 Oakland
The Panthers play in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, while the opposing Golden Grizzlies are actually from Michigan. That’s not a bad thing, though; the less there is of Al Davis, the better. Pitt, 68-59
6 Xavier over 11 Minnesota
This has always been a cardinal rule of mine for selecting tournament games: never pick a team that played its way into the Big Dance with its conference tournament performance. Xavier, 70-62
7 Brigham Young over 10 Florida
Will Billy Donovan’s club be satisfied that they simply made the tournament, or will they show up to defend Fredette? This will be the best game of round one. BYU, 73-71
2 Kansas State over 15 North Texas
UNT is the Mean Green, but they’ve never seen anyone as freakishly intense as Martin. Just watching him prowl the sidelines makes me feel afraid for myself and everyone in the room. KSU, 75-51
1 Syracuse over 8 Gonzaga
If Gonzaga’s threes fall, the game will be relatively close. But who guards Rick Jackson for the Bulldogs? Who guards Wesley Johnson? Mark it down: this will wind up the most lopsided 1/8 or 1/9 match-up of the tournament. Syracuse, 73-53
12 UTEP over 4 Vanderbilt
The Miners lost Saturday’s C-USA championship against Houston, their first L in their last 17 contests. UTEP isn’t the strongest team defensively – they have problems handling explosive scorers – but if Caracter plays big and keeps Ogilvy off the foul line, it could be a very frustrating day for Kevin Stallings and company. UTEP, 71-67
6 Xavier over 3 Pittsburgh
Probably the least exciting second-round game of the region, these teams are dead last in the West in terms of visual appeal. I’ll stick with my theory that Pitt is always tough enough to handle the rigors of the day-in, day-out regular season, but never talented enough to beat a tournament team with above-average athleticism. Xavier, 64-60
7 Brigham Young over 2 Kansas State
Kansas State has had an unusually high number of losses this year to teams that simply caught fire from three, and no team is better equipped to repeat that result than BYU. Imagine this scenario: down by three with a minute left, BYU takes advantage of a defensive breakdown and guard Jackson Emery drains an open three. Martin stares daggers through his star guards as his face turns Ohio State scarlet, and in the ensuing timeout huddle he screams a stream of profanities that would make Bob Saget blush. Feel confident picking KSU? Me neither. BYU, 77-74
1 Syracuse over 12 Texas-El Paso
It would be a great story if UTEP, one of the last at-large teams in the field, put up a fight against mighty Syracuse. But ‘Cuse has all the tools to defend UTEP which, between Culpepper and Caracter, is essentially a two-man team. Syracuse, 84-67
7 Brigham Young over 6 Xavier
As I mentioned earlier, Xavier doesn’t seem to have that “X” factor it normally carries into March. The Musketeers are manageable for BYU from an athleticism standpoint, and Fredette could legitimately carry his team through three games a la Steph Curry. BYU, 68-63
1 Syracuse over 7 Brigham Young
Although BYU has the players that could theoretically shoot ‘Cuse out of its zone, that approach failed for Cal, Cornell, and all the other three-heavy teams the Orange pounded in 2009-2010. The way to attack SU is to relentlessly pound them inside, a capability the Cougars sorely lack. The Orange are, pure and simple, the best of the West, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they fail to reach Indianapolis. Syracuse, 81-70
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- The 2010 Bracket Bible: Midwest Region | Wahoo Wire
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