Posted by: mdegeorge | March 15, 2011

NCAA Tournament Diagnosis: West Region

The Madness is finally upon us. With the greatest three weeks in all of sports about to tip off, I’ll be going region by region with my picks and analysis on what is sure to be a (not) winning bracket.

If there’s a region where I can see a No. 1 not making the Final Four, it’s the West. But two factors make me gun shy about this prediction. First, I made the same mistake by torpedoing Duke early last year, turning my bracket into birdcage liner by April 1. Second, there’s no other team I deem particularly worthy of a Final Four bid in this field. If Florida, Notre Dame, or even Purdue were in this region, I would have no qualms about choosing them to head to Houston.

Texas is the chic pick. I personally don’t see it. I’m all for dominating big men, but I don’t believe they have the guard play to cope deep in the tourney. They’ll have enough to survive the sub-regional, but Duke has should be able to take them down there thanks to a big night from Nolan Smith.

But that’s jumping ahead. Duke’s second speed bump, after disposing of Hampton and the myriad replays of Steve Merfeld jumping in the air after upsetting No. 2 Iowa State in 2001, will be between Tennessee and Michigan. It’s the classic case of a team on the upswing against one on the downswing. I’ll take the up-trending Wolverines.

Texas could have a rough go against Oakland, and the Grizzlies should be unhappy with a tough matchup that deprives them a realistic shot at an upset because they’ll simply have no answer for Texas’ low-post length. Texas should also use that size to take care of Arizona, who’ll struggle some against a Memphis team in a fellow Conference USA building relatively close to home (in case you haven’t gotten the message, Pac-10 teams don’t travel well).

I like Missouri as an upset over Cincinnati, mainly because I’m not sold on Cincy and need something that isn’t a favorite in the bracket. I’ve even got the Tigers over UConn in the second round on the exhaustion/let down/they’ve played down to their opponents all season card. Plus, I think Mizzou has enough talent in the low block to thin the Huskies out.

I think paint prevails in the bottom quadrant of the West. Temple has a long trip out to Tuscon and is starting to crack with some injuries. One tournament win is asking a lot from a Fran Dunphy team, but I think they’ll get past the Nittany Lions. San Diego State should take advantage of the easy road provided by Missouri and topple Duke in Anaheim. That’s right, San Diego State in the final four. Were it not for the exploits of George Mason and Butler, I would have been institutionalized for this pick five years ago.

Round of 64 winners: Duke, Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Connecticut, Temple, San Diego State

Round of 32 winners: Duke, Texas, Missouri, San Diego State

Sweet 16 winners: Duke and San Diego State

Elite 8 result: San Diego State over Duke

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