Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: Southeast Region

Pitt is in exactly the same position that Duke was a season ago. They are not the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they may very well have the easiest road to the Final Four.

Florida is overrated as a two seed, I think most of the pundits have agreed on that. BYU, the three seed, is missing Brandon Davies. St. John's will be playing without DJ Kennedy, who tore his acl in the Big East Tournament. Pitt's two toughest games could very well end up being in the third round against the Old Dominion-Butler winner (ODU is better) and in the Sweet 16 against whoever is able to make it out of the pod of death.

Some may cry foul, but not me. Jamie Dixon deserves a Final Four.

Final Four Favorite: Pitt Panthers

Like I said earlier, the Panthers may have the easiest path to the Final Four, as a number of the teams in their bracket have injuries or are overseeded. Regardless of catching a break in terms of matchups, this Pitt team would be a Final Four favorite regardless. They execute to perfection offensively, they attack the glass as hard as any team in the country, and they make it very difficult to get a good shot off defensively. As an added bonus, it looks like Talib Zanna could be back for the Sweet 16.

And if they lose?: Florida Gators

I'm torn on the Gators. On the one hand, this is a team that, on paper, looks like a title threat. They have a matchup nightmare at the small forward in Chandler Parsons, who, at 6'10", can shoot the three, can drive to the rim, can find assists, and rebounds very well. In the back court, Erving Walker was better this season in terms of shot selection and protecting the ball while Kenny Boynton has found his jump shot the last month. Vernon Macklin has become a solid post scoring threat while Alex Tyus and Patric Young are both athletic and aggressive. That said, do you trust this team? They won the SEC East by three games but got waxed in the tournament final and lost to Jacksonville and Central Florida.

Sweet 16 Sleeper (10 or lower): Any of them?

Remember how I saw this bracket was wide open? Any of the teams sitting in the 10-14 range I can see winning two games in the tournament.

  • Michigan State is the 10 seed, and do you want to bet against Tom Izzo in March? Yeah, me neither.
  • Gonzaga is the 11 seed. The Zags have hit their stride since David Stockton has taken over the point guard duties. They will be playing St. John's, who is without DJ Kennedy, in their first and will get Brandon Davies-less BYU or Wofford in the next round.
  • Do I think 14th seed Wofford will beat BYU? No, they don't play enough defense (192nd in efficiency). Can they do it? Absolutely. They were a possession away from knocking of Wisconsin last season and essentially returned the same team.
  • 12 seed Utah State (playing Kansas State) and 13 seed Belmont (playing Wisconsin) are in the pod of death. Every single one of those four teams is good enough to be in the Sweet 16. If I had to bet, I would bet against Utah State -- they are 0-9 in the NCAA Tournament under Stew Morrill and have yet to beat anyone this season. I like Belmont, however. They press, they are balanced, they are deep, and they play the opposite style that the Badgers do.

Final Four Sleeper (5 or lower): Kansas State Wildcats

I was tempted to take Old Dominion here, but I am going to go with the Wildcats of Kansas State. I know they just lost to Colorado (they lost to the Buffs three times, that was a fluky matchup, apparently), but the Wildcats closed the season as hot as anyone in the country. Jacob Pullen is playing great basketball, Frank Martin's front line is defending and rebounding, and K-State as a team has begun to work harder and become more blue collar. Don't discount the bitter taste in the Wildcat's mouths after last year's exit at the hands of Butler.

Player to Watch (8 and up): Dwight Hardy, St. John's

Jimmer Fredette and Jordan Taylor were too easy and too obvious. Hardy, on the other hand, is a guy you rarely heard about outside the Big East. His nickname is the "Baddest Man on the Planet". He's got deep range on his three, but Hardy is at his best when he is slashing to the rim. His floater, which damn near brings rain, is a thing of beauty.

Player to Watch (9 and lower): Kent Bazemore and Frank Hassell, Old Dominion

The Monarchs are a very similar team to Pitt in that they pride themselves on being a gritty, physical team. ODU is actually the only team in the country that is better at getting to the offensive glass than Pitt is. The Monarchs don't execute as well offensively as Pitt does, but they have similar principles defensively. With the exception of Bazemore, who like to jump passing lanes, the Monarchs generally pack in their defense and dare you to try and get an open look.

Bazemore is a 6'5" athlete that has three point range, can put the ball on the floor and finish above the rim, and also is a good passer and one of the best defenders in the country. Hassell is a 6'9" bruiser that gets a lot of boards, blocks some shots, and can score around the rim.

Best Matchup -- 1st Round: No. 4 Wisconsin vs. N0. 13 Belmont

As much fun as some of the first round matchups in the Southeast are, Wisconsin and Belmont hold all kinds of intrigue for me. Wisconsin is the slowest team in the country. Belmont loves to press and push the pace. Wisconsin never turns the ball over, leading the country in turnover percentage. Belmont is second in the nation in defensive turnover percentage. Wisconsin is top 15 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage while Belmont is top 15 in offensive rebounding percentage. Talk about a contrast of styles. That said, slowing the game down is always easier than speeding the game up.

Best Potential Matchup: No. 1 Pitt vs. No. 9 Old Dominion

Florida will be involved in a national title rematch regardless of who wins the UCLA-Michigan State first round game. The winners in the pod of death will almost certainly be a must watch game. BYU-Gonzaga could be a preview of the WCC title game next season. But personally, I am hoping to see Pitt and Old Dominion play. Both teams are physical. Both teams attack the glass. Both teams plays the game as hard as anyone. They made need to bring facemasks and shoulder pads.

Upset Alert!!!: Anyone?

I touched on this earlier, but this is going to be the region that either destroys your bracket or wins your pool. With the exception of Pitt, Florida, and possibly BYU, anyone can be beaten in the second round. I could see a scenario where two different double digits seeds make it to the Sweet 16. Refer to the Sweet 16 sleeper section above.

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