March Madness: West Regional Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/19/2008
Here's a breakdown of the West Regional, which will culminate in Phoenix, and some March Madness predictions:
No. 1 Seed: UCLA (31-3 SU, 19-12 ATS)
Twice denied by the eventual-champion Florida Gators, the Bruins are primed to end the frustration. UCLA was the best team in the best conference in the country, overcoming injuries along the way to posting one of the most impressive resumes in the nation. I believe that the main thing UCLA brings to the table is experience, even though their best player, forward Kevin Love, is a freshman. The Bruins are No. 10 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 26 in the country in field goal offense. That's a winning combo. They are just 6-5 ATS in the past two tournaments so there isn't a ton of value there. But if you're looking for a futures bet, they have one of the easiest roads to the Final Four you will find.
No. 2 Seed: Duke (27-5 SU, 16-13 ATS)
Yet again, the Blue Devils are seeded higher than they should be. And yet again, we have a Duke team that I feel has little chance of reaching the Final Four. The Blue Devils are a guard-oriented, chuck-and-duck team. They happen to be exceptional at it, but their over-reliance on the three-pointer is their greatest weakness and makes them susceptible to upset. Further, you won't be able to find good numbers on the Dukies because they are such a public team. All in all, as skillful as Duke is (and they are very talented), they simply are not a strong wager - as a side or a futures play - in this Dance.
No. 3 Seed: Xavier (27-6 SU, 13-16 ATS)
This version of the X-Men is a throwback to the James Posey Musketeers, with both teams' depth and balance as the common denominator. Xavier has six players averaging double-digits in points and has four regulars hitting 40 percent or more of their three-pointers. They are 12-6 against the RPI 100 and have several impressive neutral court wins (Indiana by 15 and Kansas State by 26) and I think that losing early in the A-10 Tournament actually will be a boon for this club. Stanley Burrell is a lockdown defender and the guy I love is C.J. Anderson off the bench. Drew Lavender missed time late in the year with an ankle issue but he's played 30 minutes or more in their last three games so he should be good to go. One issue of concern: the X-Men are 0-4 ATS in their last four games and are 3-7 ATS in their last 10. They are cold. But if they make it to the Sweet 16 they could be a great dog play.
No. 4 Seed: Connecticut (24-8 SU, 13-14 ATS)
I believe that the Huskies peaked back in late January. But that still doesn't mean that they aren't a legit contender to come out of this region. They have one of the best point guards in the tournament (A.J. Price), a legit center (Hasheem Thabeet), a great glue guy (Jeff Adrien), and a trio of shooters to dot the perimeter. The problem is that UConn has not proven that it can beat the elite teams in the country. They started the year 1-6 ATS and have finished the year 3-5 ATS, but played well in the middle of the season. We can't be sure which Huskies team will show, but we do know that their best could be good enough.
No. 5 Seed: Drake (28-4 SU, 20-7 ATS)
Fear the Bulldogs. Last year it was the Butler Bulldogs that took up the flag for mid-major mania. This year it is Drake. They take charges. They make free throws. They keep their composure. They have a point guard that's taken four 3-pointers in his four-year career. This is a cerebral team, and one that has shooters all over the court. They are small, but they are quick and confident in what they do. The Missouri Valley has performed very well in the Big Dance over the past six seasons. But the league was down this year. It's difficult to know exactly how good this club is, but I do know that while bettors have been doubting them their backers have been cleaning up.
Best First-Round Matchup: No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Baylor
Baylor will throw waves of talented, quick-triggered guards at opponents and they want to run, run, run. Purdue has a group of young, talented, specialized performers that want to grind, grind, grind. How the tempo goes in this one will have a lot to do with who wins. The Bears are playing with house money and are extremely dangerous. The Boilers have been undervalued most of the year. This is what the tourney is all about.
Best Potential Second-Round Matchup: No. 7 West Virginia vs. No. 2 Duke
Both teams love to hang out on the perimeter and jack up three-pointers. What's not to love? West Virginia has been the No. 1 bet in nonconference games over the past four years (42-20-1 ATS) in the country. If they can find a way to take down Arizona in the first round that could set up an exciting matchup with a Blue Devils club that can defend them on the perimeter. Joe Alexander vs. DeMarcus Nelson. Bob Huggins vs. Coach K. Big East vs. ACC. This one would have it all.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 12 Western Kentucky over No. 5 Drake
Much like the Davidson-Gonzaga matchup in the Midwest, this game pits two of the best mid-major teams in the field against one another and takes some of the fun out of The Madness. But Courtney Lee and Co. gives the Hilltoppers experience and versatility. They are not unlike the quality of opponent that Drake faces in the Valley. And on a neutral court, certainly, anything can happen.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 10 Arizona over No. 2 Duke
This is a contingency if West Virginia doesn't beat Arizona! If the Wildcats beat West Virginia they are going to beat Duke. There is no doubt in my mind. Arizona is incredibly young, but is battle-tested having slugged its way through the brutal Pac-10. I think Jarrod Bayless and Chase Buddinger can keep up with Nelson, Paulus, etc., and I believe that Jordan Hill's presence on the inside would give the Wildcats the edge.
Dark Horse Team: No. 6 Purdue
I like this team. I like them a lot. I feel like they've been impressive and overachieving all year, and I actually thought they got shafted a little bit with their seed and with not being put in the Midwest. That said, they can defend, they have a go-to guy in Robbie Hummel, and they have one of the best glue guys in the country (Chris Kramer). The Big Ten has not performed well in The Dance recently. But if the Boilers can beat the Bears in Round 1 I think they could really snowball.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 11 Baylor
As I mentioned, they are playing with house money. This team took a 17-point lead in Texas then nearly hung 100 on Kansas, and they only lost by three to Washington State. This team has been close all year, but hasn't gotten over the hump. The tournament is about guard play. And they have four or five guards that could start on a lot of teams in the tournament. If they get out of the first round and build some momentum, watch out. Or they could flame out in the first round.