Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: Southwest Region

There are all kinds of interesting story lines in the San Antonio region.

What kind of performance are we going to see out of Kansas? Will this be the 2008 Jayhawks, that won the national title, or the 2010 team, that got bounced in the second round? If UNLV advances past Illinois, Rebel center Quintrell Thomas will be playing his old team, Kansas. Vanderbilt is once again paired with a quality mid-major opponent. Morehead State gets another chance at knocking off in-state opponent Louisville after losing in the 2009 tournament. Florida State and Georgetown look to refind the magic if/when they get Chris Singleton and Chris Wright back. Akron, who plays their best basketball at home and just won the MAC tournament in Cleveland, heads back there to try and upset second seed Notre Dame.

Its a good thing that there are all these story lines. Because they basketball that will be played in this region -- especially at the bottom -- will be pretty ugly.

Final Four Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas is arguably the most talented team in the country. They have a versatile, efficient, and potent front line with the Morrii and Thomas Robinson. They have a perimeter attack that goes six or seven deep, with some playing the role of experienced leader and others the talented youngsters. Put it all together, and Kansas is a team that always has five scorers on the floor. They run an inside-out attack and are at their best when they are crisply passing the ball around, creating driving lanes and open jumpers. Kansas is also a top 15 defensive team. When this team is clicking, they may be the best team in the country.

And if they lose?: Purdue Boilermakers

Yeesh. After Kansas, the Southwest region is pretty wide open. Notre Dame is an efficient and veteran team, but I don't know if they play enough defensive to make the Final Four. Purdue, on the other hand, is known for their work on the defensive end. The Boilermakers, led by E'Twaun Moore and Big Ten player of the year JaJuan Johnson, have also developed a nice offensive attack in the absence of Robbie Hummel. Lewis Jackson is a solid penetrator, Ryne Smith is a knock-down shooter, and Kelsey Barlow is filling the void left by Chris Kramer. After winning eight in a row late in the season, Purdue looked like a potential No. 1 seed. That went out the window, however, with a loss at Iowa and an ugly loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament.

Sweet 16 Sleeper (10 or lower): Richmond Spiders

The Spiders are a very good basketball team even though they ended up with a 12 seed despite winning the A-10 tournament. Kevin Anderson is one of the best point guards in the country, lightening quick with the ball and dangerous from beyond the arc. Then there is Justin Harper, a versatile and athletic 6'10" forward that has a deadly jump shot. The Spiders get Vanderbilt in the first round, a team the Spiders match up well with and one that has a tendency to get upset in the first round, and then, barring an upset, Louisville, a team Richmond has more potential NBA

Final Four Sleeper (5 or lower): Georgetown Hoyas

There was a while when the Hoyas actually looked like the best team in the Big East this season. That was, however, before Chris Wright broke his hand. Wright has been cleared to play by Georgetown, but until we actually see him on the court, there is not telling what kind of threat the Hoyas will be. Without Wright, they are winless and completely inept on the offensive end.

Player to Watch (8 and up): John Jenkins, Vanderbilt

The Commodores sophomore had a strong backing as SEC player of the year this season. Chandler Parsons ended up winning the award, but it wasn't because Jenkins had a bad season. Quite the opposite, actually. Jenkins became Vandy's go-to scorer, averaging 19.5 ppg on 40.3% shooting from deep. He is sensational coming off of screens, and when he gets into a rhythm shooting the ball, he not only doesn't miss, he doesn't hit the rim.

Player to Watch (9 and lower): Kenneth Faried, Morehead State

If you have never seed Faried play, make sure you tune into this game. The dreadlocked, 6'8" power forward is an animal on the glass, averaging over 14 rpg this season while becoming college basketball's all-time leader in board work. He's a potential first round pick coming out of the OVC -- how often does that happen -- and has even drawn comparisons to Dennis Rodman on the court. He averaged 17.5 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 3.5 spg, and 2.0 bpg in two games at Florida and at Ohio State. Faried has played Louisville before. He had 14 points and 11 boards as a sophomore when the Eagles gave the No. 1 seed Cardinals a scare.

Best Matchup -- 1st Round: No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Illinois

Illinois was one of the most disappointing teams in the country this season. Demetri McCamey, who everyone thought was going to compete to be an all-american, has regressed to the selfish jump shooter he was as a sophomore while neither Mike Davis not Mike Tisdale have developed to be a low post scoring threat. The latter is the bigger issue against UNLV, as the way to expose the Rebels is through quality interior play. UNLV has been fairly disappointing themselves, but they do have some terrific perimeter defenders. Illinois' key will be to make sure they keep the ball moving offensively.

Best Potential Matchup: No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Purdue

Notre Dame has a high-powered offense that is centered around the playmaking of Ben Hansbrough and the decision making of the rest of their veteran lineup. The Irish execute offensively, they don't make mistakes and turn the ball over, and they hit their open jumpers. Where the Irish can get exposed from time to time is in the paint, and while Purdue does have JaJuan Johnson on the roster, he's not exactly a powerful low-post presence as much as he is a face-up four with three point range.

Upset Alert!!!: Vanderbilt, Notre Dame

There are two areas where Vanderbilt will struggle on the defensive end of the floor -- quick points guards and face-up big men. Richmond has both in Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Throw in the fact that Vanderbilt and Kevin Stallings haven't exactly proven to be capable of winning a big game, this should be a popular pick.

I think Notre Dame can get picked off by either Texas A&M or Florida State in the second round. Both teams have big, strong front courts and both teams defend very well. Will Notre Dame be able to score like they did against Cincinnati in the Big East tournament, or like they did in the second half against Louisville a night later.

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