March Madness: Midwest Regional Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/19/2008
Here is a breakdown and analysis of the Midwest Regional, which will be played in Detroit:
No. 1 Seed: Kansas (31-3 SU, 18-14 ATS)
They are the Jessica Simpson of the NCAA Tournament: they have a $1 million body and a 10-cent head. The Jayhawks are a complete team, getting balanced scoring from a group of players stacked with talented upperclassmen. The core is back from an Elite Eight team from 2007 and they were the preseason favorite to cut down the nets. I think a lot of this falls back on Bill Self. He has proven time and time again that he cannot win the big game, and if he can't at least make the Final Four with this squad I bet the rumors will start swirling. My knock on KU is that I don't believe that Brandon Rush is a solid go-to guy. And I don't trust that if the Jayhawks find themselves in a one-possession game that they'll be able to generate enough offense in the last two minutes. However, they are one of the top five or six teams and, despite their flaws, I would not be stunned if they cut down the nets. I just don't see it happening.
No. 2 Seed: Georgetown (27-5 SU, 13-16 ATS)
Last year's Final Four participant has found its way back into the driver's seat. The Big East champions are still among the elite teams in the country. They pound the glass and control the paint, and offensively their sets are run crisply. The dirty secret about the Hoyas this year, however, is that they didn't play anyone. Their nonconference schedule was incredibly weak and their conference schedule wasn't daunting either. Also, they shot out of their minds in NYC last week. I wonder if they can repeat the feat in this tournament.
No. 3 Seed: Wisconsin (29-4 SU, 17-13 ATS)
Defense. Defense. Defense. The Badgers are the No. 1 team in the country in points allowed and No. 4 in field goal defense. They brought back the core of a team that was a No. 2 seed last season. The difference is that this year they head into The Dance with a healthy and effective Brian Butch. Bo Ryan is a crafty coach that squeezes every ounce of talent out of his team. But will it be enough? They were hammered by Duke, but they also beat Texas in the Lone Star State. They still have some value left, in my opinion, and are flying a bit under the radar for a team with only four losses, all against tourney teams, and a club that dominated a marquee conference.
No. 4 Seed: Vanderbilt (26-7 ATS, 16-16 ATS)
What I love about the Commodores is that they execute on the offensive end as well as any team in the country. They consistently put the right people in the right place for the right shot and that allows them to get crucial buckets down the stretch. They have a really nice nonconference resume, and they are 7-1 ATS in their last eight neutral site games. Subtract Derrick Byars and add Andrew Ogilvy and this team is comprised of the same core that beat GW and Washington State last year before getting robbed against Georgetown.
No. 5 Seed: Clemson (24-9 SU, 19-11 ATS)
Clemson has four solid guards, including veterans in Cliff Hammonds and K.C. Rivers, and they have size for days up front. They can play fast, they execute exquisitely in the half-court, and they can match up with a variety of opponents. I think their toughest game will be the first, as Big East teams always play ACC teams tough as underdogs. Also, they are in the dreaded 5-12 slot.
Best First-Round Matchup: Gonzaga vs. Davidson
These are two teams I would have bet blindly no matter whom they were matched up with in the first round. And they are matched up with one another. Go figure. Gonzaga is pinnacle of mid-major success and the archetype of what small schools aspire for. But Davidson is simply hungry. They played tough in the first round last year and have gone toe-to-toe with three of the best eight teams in the nation. I don't think the Zags have anyone to match up with Steve Curry, but I also don't think the Wildcats can stop Jeremy Pargo.
Best Potential Second-Round Matchup: Gonzaga vs. Georgetown
This could just as easily be Davidson, but I'm going with the Zags. Gonzaga has a host of tourney experience and performed well with a daunting schedule this year. They've traded blows with Tennessee and Memphis and have beaten UConn and St. Joseph's. They won't scare at the sight of the Hoyas.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 12 Villanova vs. No. 5 Clemson
The Tigers are one of three or four clubs that I think have an emotional hurdle to get over in order to win their first round game. Their close loss to UNC in the ACC championship could be a springboard, or it could linger. Villanova is playing with house money. They are a schizophrenic club that shoots well enough from the outside to make this one interesting.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 6 USC vs. No. 3 Wisconsin
There were a lot of potential directions this could have gone, and Georgetown will be on Alert no matter whom they play. But I think USC will be comfortable playing a game in the 50s and 60s. They've done exactly that in wins over San Diego and Oklahoma, and losses to Kansas and Memphis. In fact, I think it suits them. So if the Trojans are involved in a one-possession game I will go with their ability to improvise on offense. Further, if they can handle Stanford they should be able to take on the size of the Badgers.
Dark Horse Team: Clemson
The Tigers are my Final Four dark horse. One-third of their losses came to North Carolina this year and they were leading in every single one of those games. If UNC is the chalk pick to win it all, then what does that say about the Tigers? I love their depth, their attitude, and their adaptability. I think if they can get out of the first round they will be a tough, tough out.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: Vanderbilt
The good news: they can score in bunches, on anyone. The bad news: they can't stop people and they struggle on the road. Vandy has excelled against decent or good competition, but aside from a home win over Tennessee they haven't taken the court with any elite teams. I think that puts a ceiling on how far they can go. If Foster has an off night I don't know if they have enough firepower to roll on. Yet, they are an appealing sleeper precisely because of their explosiveness.