NCAA Tournament Betting: West Region Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/18/2009
Underrated. That's the theme of the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. But while Memphis is the team that most bobbleheads are declaring the most "slighted", I think that you could make a case that they are, in fact, the least slighted team in this conference.
Connecticut was No. 1 at various points in the season and it seems like they are a distant fourth or fifth as a favorite to cut down the nets. Purdue and Washington, while each won either their conference's regular season or tournament title, are the object of a lot of first-round upset predictions. Marquette has been completely written off. Cal and BYU are two of the best shooting teams in the country and were real players in their respective conference races, yet they are afterthoughts.
The only thing that might supercede the talent in this region is the motivation. Here's one man's look at the West (Glendale) Region:
No. 1 Seed: Connecticut
Don't sleep on the Huskies, boys and girls. This team might be the most disrespected No. 1 seed in the Big Dance this year. But in 30 games this year the Huskies have won 27, lost twice to fellow No. 1 seed Pitt, and lost in six overtimes to Syracuse. Not too shabby. This team absolutely dominates the post and is perhaps the best rebounding team in the country. Hasheem Thabeet changes games, Jeff Adrien is one of the most underrated players in the country, and A.J. Price is one of the best clutch guards in the country. I think a critical player for the Huskies is freshman Kemba Walker. The kid has shown flashes. But he'll need to perform in March if this team wants to overcome Jerome Dyson's injury and make a serious run.
No. 2 Seed: Memphis
I wrote an article on the homepage this week about how I felt Memphis was one of the more overrated teams in the country right now. This team has just one win - at Gonzaga, a West Coast Conference team - against teams in the Top 40. They lost to Xavier, Georgetown and Syracuse in their only other three opportunities. This team has virtually no perimeter threats and is one of the worst shooting teams in the country. But they are tremendously physical and athletic in the post and they simply pound teams that don't have an inside presence. This team will try to make a move on the back of its defense. But eventually I think they will run into a team with equal athletes. When that happens, the Tigers are toast.
No. 3 Seed: Missouri
Missouri has emerged as one of the true dark horse teams in the NCAA Tournament and are a sexy pick to make the Final Four after their sweet run to the Big 12 title. This team presses and has the best perimeter defense in the nation, hands down. If teams don't take care of the ball and can't handle the Tigers pressure then games can get ugly in a hurry. This team hasn't been great on the road and they did lose to their two best nonconference opponents (Illinois, Xavier) on neutral courts. Also, pressing teams haven't stuck around very long in recent tournaments. But there is no denying that this team playing great right now and is a force to be reckoned with.
No. 4 Seed: Washington
Very quietly the Huskies dominated an underrated Pac-10 this season. They have four double-digit scorers, one of the top forwards in the country (Jon Brockman) and one of the best freshman in the country (Isaiah Thomas). This team likes to get things going to the basket and get virtually all of their points in the lane or at the free throw line. An issue though is that this club has virtually no nonconference resume and that they have played only 14 games away from home this year, losing half of them. However, I do think that this club is being underestimated at the moment.
No. 5 Seed: Purdue
The Boilermakers have had a star-crossed season this year. They began the season as the Big Ten favorite and a national title contender. Then came a tough overtime loss to Oklahoma in New York followed by a blowout loss at home to Duke. After that, Robbie Hummel's injury lingered throughout conference play and this team slid to just 11-7 in league play. But now Hummel is back and healthy and the Boilers just ripped through the conference tournament to give them a load of momentum heading into this weekend.
Best first-round match up: No. 7 California vs. No. 10 Maryland
Cal is the top three-point shooting team in the entire country and has three of the best perimeter players you can find west of the Mississippi. Maryland has been playing really focused, skilled basketball now for three weeks to squeeze into the tournament field. Greivis Vasquez is one of the top all-around players in the country and if the Terps are good enough to beat UNC and Wake Forest they are good enough to make a run. But Mike Montgomery has this Golden Bears team believing in his system and believing in themselves. This is a tough one to call, but I think the winner has a great shot at upsetting Memphis in the second round.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 Purdue
These are two of the most underrated clubs in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament and this would be a rare, but interesting, Pac-10 vs. Big Ten matchup. Each club boasts its superstar (Brockman vs. Hummel) and both clubs have a lot of versatility and skill on the wings and in the backcourt. I simply think that these teams match up very well and, because of their proven track records, would give us a great game.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 4 Washington vs. No. 13 Mississippi State
The Huskies are a team that gets most of its offense driving to the basket and tossing in floaters in the lane. But they are facing the premier shot-blocker in the country in Jarvis Varnardo. That's bad news for the Huskies. Mississippi State is a team riding a lot of momentum right now, having won their tournament berth with four straight wins in the SEC Tournament. They surround the perimeter with shooters and they could ride their wave to a first round upset. Also, Washington's two best players - Brockman and Thomas - are two of their worst free throw shooters.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 2 Memphis vs. No. 7 California
This will be a matchup between one of the best perimeter scoring teams in the nation against one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation. Cal is a team that has won at Utah, lost by just three to Florida State, and swept Washington. All three of those teams have comparable size and strength underneath to the Tigers. Again, if Cal is hitting from deep then they can take down any club in the country.
Dark Horse team: No. 5 Purdue
I really like the focus and the mojo that this team has going for it right now. And if they can get to a matchup with Connecticut in the Sweet 16 and win, I don't see anything that can slow this team from a march to the Final Four. This is yet another team whose success simply boils down to its ability to make shots from the perimeter. If Hummel, Keaton Grant, and E-Moore are knocking down threes then this team defends and rebounds well enough to beat anyone.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 6 Marquette
There is no doubt that the loss of Dominic James has weakened this team. They were a Final Four sleeper before he was lost for the year and now they are being picked by a lot of bobbleheads to potentially lose in the first round. And that's what gets me: everyone has already written this veteran team off. They did close the year with five losses in six games. But three of those losses were to No. 1 seeds (Pitt, Louisville, UConn) and the other two were to No. 3 seeds (Syracuse, Villanova) in overtime and by one point.