Wednesday, March 17

Tournament Time: West Region

It may be possible that some old media crumudgen will dust off an article about the lamentation of NCAA Final Four no longer being played in basketball arenas. The games have been moved to huge, vast domes. Oh for the days of basketball the way it was supposed to be! As Deepthroat once said, "follow the money". That is all that has to be done, sports are big business, welcome to reality, it is too foolish to not hold the culmination of the tournament in a huge stadium that can hold upwards of 50,000 instead of an intimate arena that holds less than half of that.

In the 80s, a few Final Fours were held in domes but most were still in basketball style arenas. I remember when the Final Four came to my hometown of Charlotte and the city was buzzing. The year was 1994 and Big Nasty and Scotty Thurman led Arkansas over Duke while president Clinton looked on. Those days are a memory now, as is Charlotte Coliseum. The last Final Four not played in one of behemoths was in 1996 in the Meadowlands. While those days are gone forever, the West regional final will be played in a modest 22,000 seat arena in Salt Lake City. Energy Solutions Arena offers a sensible name and a pro-style basketball venue. It is home to the Utah Jazz. The Regional semifinal and final rounds in the West will have a different feel than the others by the way it looks on TV. No better, no worse, just different. The West quadrant picks after the break.

1st Round

1 Syracuse over 16 Vermont: Here is where one can raise a cocked eyebrow at the committee. They pair Vermont with Syracuse, two teams that met in 2005 when the Catamounts pulled off the big upset over 3 seeded Syracuse. This time there is no Brennan and Coppenwrath (and no Gus Johnson) and this Orange team is much better than that one. This game is being played in Buffalo so plenty of fans from both side should be there. Once the committee placed this game on the final board there had to be at least one that said, "cha-ching!".

9 Florida State over 8 Gonzaga: I'll admit that I was in the bag for Gonzaga for a number of years. I had them in the Final Four multiple times earlier in the 2000s, and even last year I thought they could give Carolina a run for their money. This year, I'm not taking the bait. The Zags over Cuse upset in the second round has been dangled out there for people to take, but this time I won't get fooled again.

12 UTEP over 5 Butler: These next two games are agonizing to choose. I truly think the 5-12 and 4-13 games in the West are a complete tossup. The analysts are shoving Derek Caracter down our throats in this match-up, but the Miners' big man is a big key to their success and Butler does not have a match-up for them. It really comes down to how Butler shoots the 3 and I am leaning toward an off-day considering the midwestern team has to travel to the left coast. Miners in a squeaker.

4 Vanderbilt over 13 Murray State: Like the above game I think this will be close and a lot of people are high on the Racers. While their 30-4 record is impressive, their schedule strength is 263. They lost by 5 at Cal early on but other than that it was mostly blah and their conference schedule. Vandy sometimes gets more credit than it deserves for being consistenly competititve and often times less credit than it deserves because people point to their home court as an advantage. The Commodores were not horrible away from Memorial Colisuem entirely. I think they lean on Beal and Ogilvy to edge out a win.

6 Xavier over 11 Minnesota: This is the 9th straight year Xavier is in the tournament. Impressive run and even more so this year after losing Derek Brown and coach Sean Miller (more on that in a later post). They have only been bounced in the first round once during their current run. First year coach Chris Mack is in an similar position to his predecessor after Thad Matta left for Ohio State. I think the Musketeers triumph over a Minnesota team that got hot for a few games in the Big Ten tournament to get them a bid in the first place.

3 Pittsburgh over 14 Oakland: I just realized my whole first round of this region is all chalk (9 over 8 is not an upset). So much for my speech but surprises are coming, honest! Pitt is one of those teams waiting to break through and every year you think this is the year. Last year I thought it was that year. They nearly made it until Scottie Reynolds took it the length. I really like Pitt as a sleeper this year. No expectations, but the same hard-nosed defense Jamie Dixon always brings.

7 BYU over 10 Florida: The polls don't carry weight like they do in college football(thank goodness) but BYU is ranked 7th in Kenpom and 16th and 17th in the two major polls. They land at a 7 seed, making their quest to get their first tournament win since the Clinton administration. Is it not freaky/cool that you can say "since the Clinton administration" and make something sound dated? It was first term Clinton too for the Cougars, 1993. Florida is quite fortunate to make it in. If they had missed out nobody outside of Gainesville would be arguing their case. Now that they are in they are dangerous for a round or two but I think BYU gets good support in OKC and snaps their streak.

2 Kansas State over 15 North Texas: The Mean Green will more than likely be drubbed by the purple cats. Kansas State is a complete wildcard in this thing. Frank Martin deserves credit for finding a style that plays well with their formidable backcourt, but once the lights get bright on this team, can they succeed outside the Octagon of Doom?

2nd Round

1 Syracuse over 9 Florida State: Onuaku not playing in this game would be a bigger factor if Alabi had a better inside game, the Cuse did not play a long (and athletic!) 2-3 zone, and Rick Jackson was there. Jackson actually had better overall numbers this year. The depth/foul trouble issue is the biggest concern for the Orange, but again the 2-3 zone is supposed to help in that.

12 UTEP over 4 Vanderbilt: An Ogilvy/Character match-up would be great to see and no doubt would be ruined by cheap foul calls resulting in one or both players seeing limited playing time. It is always deflating to see a Sweet 16 pick go out in the first round, especially if they are blown out. I sense a good probability of that happening to UTEP.

6 Xavier over 3 Pittsburgh: Pitt's success in this year's tourney is predicated on the fact that most teams will be taken back by their aggressive and physical defense. Xavier, however will be ready. The A-10 was not the personification of run and gun basketball. Teams like Richmond, Rhode Island, Dayton and most of all St. Louis(coached by Rick Majerus) played similar grinding styles. Xavier and Pitt played a bloodbath last year in the Sweet 16 with Pitt escaping, this year Xavier will take them down.

7 BYU over 10 Kansas State: Like I mentioned before I do not trust K-State and they very well may prove me wrong. Despite the illness to BYU leading scorer Jimmer Fredette, I like what Michael Lloyd Jr. can do to disrupt Clemente. Solid defense and good shooting would lift them over erratic Kansas State.

Sweet 16

1 Syracuse over 12 UTEP: It is fun and sometimes fashionable to place low seeds making it to the Sweet 16. In the past few years when the chalk has been flying it makes it difficult to think a 12 would beat a 1. I think the Orange go marching on.

7 BYU over 6 Xavier: So just to recount so far, I have Robert Morris beating Nova and BYU, who has not won a tourney game the early 90s, in the Elite 8. Keep in mind BYU would be playing this game (if they get this far) in Salt Lake City. Any available ticket will be snatched up by any and all members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and 15,000 of their closest friends. The arena will be in a the kind of frenzy only a bunch of white, sober sports enthusiasts can produce.

Elite 8

1 Syracuse over 7 BYU: I'm projecting the Cougars to play in this tournament like they are on a mission (see what I did there? Do you?!) but ultimately I think their hot shooting comes to an end, even against the 2-3 zone.

Three 1 seeds so far in my Final Four. Seems chalkish but tomorrow when I reveal the East and my Final Four picks it will not be all number 1s.

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