West Regional Preview
Michigan State gets shipped out West as the final number one seed after their Big Ten Championship win over Ohio State, which for all their tournament success is just their first #1 seed since 2001. Tom Izzo is known for over-achieving in March. This year he has an interesting challenge; can he navigate a team that isn’t supremely talented for a #1 seed to a Final Four when they are favored to do so?
Well, not if Missouri has anything to say about it. The Tigers have quietly been one of the three or four best teams in the country all season long, and despite a 31-4 record and winning the tough Big 12 tournament, were still apparently not even considered for a #1 seed (someone tell me how their profile is significantly worse than Michigan State’s? I’d argue it is actually better). At least they weren’t punished twice by being sent up against the overall #1 Kentucky; which if they truly were 8th on the committee’s board as they claim, they should have been… I think that gives the Tigers a little extra edge and that healthy dose of “no one respects us” that so many teams have ridden to a championship.
In the three and four slots you get a pair of Big East teams, Marquette and Louisville and the middle spots give a few interesting teams, Murray State, New Mexico, Florida, St Louis… a lot of good and fairly even teams, though no one I can see mounting a serious Final Four run, with one exception which I will get to later…
So who cuts down the nets and heads to New Orleans?
In the top half, obviously Michigan State advances to the second round, where they will meet my dark horse sleeper Memphis. I like the Tigers to continue their blistering play and knock off an athletically-challenged St. Louis team. Rick Majerus is a great March coach, but the Billikens just don’t have the athletes to corral Memphis for forty minutes. I like Long Beach State and Casper Ware to upset New Mexico in the opener, and advance to play a Louisville team that gets the heck scared out of the by Davidson (who beat Kansas this season) but advances.
From there, I like things to get real interesting. My biggest upset of the opening weekend is Memphis taking advantage of a tough shooting game by Sparty and making Michigan State the first #1 seed to depart. Memphis defends the arc exceptionally well, and has not just been winning lately but has been absolutely decimating teams. Don’t forget this is a team that was ranked as high as 9th this season and has some NBA talent on their roster. I like Louisville to end Long Beach State’s nice upset bid and advance to the Sweet 16.
In the bottom half of the bracket, Missouri rolls with ease in their opener, and will likewise easily dispatch Florida who knocks off a reeling Virginia squad. I am not 100% sure I am ready to officially pull the trigger on the biggest upset of the tourney, but I am really leaning towards Iona getting past BYU in the play-in game and then stunning a Marquette team they matchup against very well. Of every #3 in the field, only Marquette is small enough to be a good dance partner for Iona. For example, if they had drawn Baylor? Curtains. No chance. But Marquette and the over achieving Warriors?? I think the Gaels have a REAL SHOT…. Ah, to heck with it. Give me Iona in a stunner. They have a real shot to get past Murray State as well (who will beat Colorado State). Iona’s point guard Scott MArchado led the nation in assists. Watching him and Murray’s Isaiah Cannon go head-to-head would be an absolute treat, especially for us college basketball die-hards who don’t need to be told by Jay Bilas and crew what a special matchup it is. I am going to commit possible pool-suicide and advance a #14 seed to my Sweet 16. It happens next to never, but rarely is an at-large team a #14 seed, so it is a little different. Give me Iona to keep the magic alive, VCU-making a run from the play-in game-style, and knocking off the Racers and ending their dream season.
In the Sweet 16, Louisville knocks off their old Conference USA (and Metro, for those of you who go WAY back) mate, and Missouri overwhelms an exhausted and media-dizzied Iona in the second game. In the regional final, I’m sticking with Missouri. I loved them pre-season and had them fifth in my first poll when they were only #19 nationally. They are senior-laden, smart and play a tempo that many teams just won’t be prepared for. They will speed up Louisville and cause WAY too many turnovers for Piton’s crew to overcome.
My West Region Pick: Missouri Tigers
Good Value Bets:
Louisville at 7:1 is intriguing. Florida at 14:1 is throwing bad money down the toilet. Murray State at 25:1 is interesting, if for no other reason than Marquette is a soft #3, giving you hedging opportunities if they reach the Sweet 16. And of course my Iona Gaels at 150:1… They aren’t really going to the Final Four, BUT if they do spring an upset or two, you have some incredibly leverage and wager protection.