March Madness: West Division

Even though I consciously promise myself every year right before I fill out my bracket that I won’t pick the top seed in each of the four divisions, I usually end up coming pretty close.  This year is no different.  The West region starts with Duke.  The Blue Devils are a deserving number 1 seed, and have the necessary components to cut down the nets.  What do I mean by necessary components?  There’s a few characteristics I consider.  Firstly, do you have a point guard?  Do you have a center?  And do you play defense?  Of course there are other limbs that branch off from that foundation, but those components are the bottom of the pyramid.  Duke has the guard play.  In my eyes Nolan Smith is the best guard in the ACC and one of the best in the country.  Not only does the senior distribute the rock (2nd in ACC in assists) and score it (1st in ACC in scoring), but this dude plays defense like a rabid dog.  In the ACC championship against the Tar Heels, Smith would barely let Kendall Marshall bring the ball over half court in the first half.  The Dukies will need that defense to advance out of their region.  Secondly, Duke has the big men.  Both 7-foot Plumlee brothers combine for 40 plus minutes,  more than 13 rebounds per game, while both shooting above 50% from the floor.  Duke is a mentally tough club who leads the ACC in field goal percentage…impressive considering they have attempted 725 three pointers this season alone.  Out of the four #1 seeds, Duke may have the first or second easiest route to the Final Four (if there is one).   In the end, I have Duke coming out of the West, because I know exactly what I’m getting from Coach K and his veterans.  Don’t forget the Plumlee brothers, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Ryan Kelly all all have the experience of contributing to that national championship team in 2010.  It’s these kinds of variables that have me penciling in Duke to play in Houston on April 2nd. 

The fact that Penn State is in the NCAA tournament is remarkable.  Not only is Penn State one of three teams in the whole tourny that has yet to win 20 games, but they are also tied for the most losses of anyone in the tournament (19-14).  It begs the question whether the Nittany Lions would have been invited had they not advanced to the Big 10 tournament championship.  Some analysts had them in, some had them last out.  I don’t think they would have been in had they lost to Michigan State and finished with a 18-15 record.  Although they have the momentum of winning 7 of their last 10, I don’t see them passing Temple.  Regardless of who wins, I don’t have either team getting past San Diego State.  It always scares me when an NBA player is still in college and is surrounded by other good players who want to win.  Kawhi Leonard from San Diego State is that player, and his supporting cast is scary.  They have two players averaging 8 rebounds or more and three players with the ability to score 20-30 points on any given night (And that’s no exaggeration).  They’re fast, strong, athletic, and for the most part, pretty smart.  That’s always a frightful combination for opponents.  This Aztec team is also feeling pretty good about themselves after pounding BYU in the Mountain West championship this past weekend by nearly 20 points (Btw, did anyone see Jimmer and Kawhi Leonard exchanging words as the buzzer sounded?  I’m sure it went something to the effect of “I bet I get drafted higher than you”)…  The West region’s #3 seed, UConn, is also riding high, but what happens if King Kemba has a bad game?  I fully understand he just put the whole university on his wide shoulders for five straight games to capture the Big East title, but can you expect a meer mortal to do that again?  Where’s the help?  No other player for the Huskies scores more than 10.3 points per contest besides Walker, making UConn too much of a risk to write deep into my bracket. 

The East region is below this post, with more to follow…Who will be this year’s George Mason?  Let this video refresh your memory of who I mean…

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