We’ll be rolling out our in-depth looks at the four NCAA regions throughout the day - don’t forget to also look at our previews for the West, South and East Regions. Right now, Zeke Smith takes a look at the Midwest and sees a region that will leave scouts drooling… and why wouldn’t they, with Evan Turner’s impressively sculpted features. Wait, what’d I say?
As the brackets were being released last Sunday, Bill Self must have been wondering if there was someone on the selection committee whose mother he insulted, because his Kansas Jayhawks clearly got a pretty raw deal. The Midwest is this year’s group of death, so to speak, stacked with tons of NBA-level talent. Somehow as a reward for nearly going wire-to-wire as the number 1 team in the country, Kansas got the Big Ten tourney champ (Ohio State) as 2-seed, a Big East tournament finalist (Georgetown) at No. 3, the co-ACC champion (Maryland) at No. 4 and perennial tournament overachiever Michigan State at No. 5. I guess the consolation is that the Jayhawks would only potentially have to play two of those teams at the most, but it hardly seems fair when you’re staring at what’s across the way in the South (more on that later). Still, this Kansas team is balanced, experienced, and has proven itself against loads of good teams this year, making it the prohibitive favorite to win it all regardless of who they’re playing. The Jayhawks have rightfully drawn comparisons to last year’s UNC team all year – now all they have to do is go out and win the whole thing.
The nice part with this bracket is that regardless of where you look or who wins, interesting potential matchups abound. Tennessee-Georgetown? Sure! If San Diego State pulls they upset? Even better? Even Turner vs. another lottery prospect in the 2nd round? It’ll happen, no matter who wins (OK State has volume scorer James Anderson, while readers of this site are quite familiar with Georgia Tech’s big men). Even Kansas-UNLV/UNI is vaguely intruiging second-round fodder. Safe to say whatever happens, most people will make this the bracket of choice to watch.
Best First Round Matchup: Tennessee-San Diego State. The Vols are the definition of a team that’s tough to project in the NCAAs. One one hand, they’ve beaten the best two teams in the country, Kansas and Kentucky, but they also have double-digit losses to teams like Southern Cal, Georgia and Florida, not to mention off-the court problems and a 29-point drubbing from UK in their most recent game in the SEC Tourney. Their up-tempo style may run into a wall in the Aztecs, who come in playing hot and allow opponents just 61ppg. SDS has beaten high-scoring conference foe New Mexico twice this season, which bodes well for their upset chances.
Dark Horse: Hard to see anyone other than the top 3 squads emerging, but if they somehow found a way to actually play to their talent level (and I’m definitely not betting they will), Georgia Tech could actually be a team that made some noise. Too bad their coach runs an offense so bad Bill Simmons once dubbed it “the clogged toilet.” If you want someone to actually bet on, Michigan State is a decent candidate – Tom Izzo’s teams almost always seem to outperform their seeding in March… except when they play UNC.
The All-Atlas Squad (guys who can carry their teams): Evan Turner, Ohio State; Greivis Vasquez, Maryland; James Anderson, Oklahoma State; Greg Monroe, Georgetown or Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech (provided either of their teams get them the ball)
Upset Special: Houston over Maryland; if Terps fans are honest, they know their team has played a bit over their heads all season, and if Vasques isn’t rolling they’re in trouble. They’ll also be going against the leading scorer in D-1 in Aubrey Coleman – his matchup with General Greivis could be interesting to watch on both ends of the floor.
Best Potential Second Round Game: Ohio State-Georgia Tech. Plenty of scouts would be in the building to see Evan Turner take on Derrick Favors, and GT actually has a couple of fairly long, athletic players they could throw at Turner to try and slow him down. Michigan State and Maryland is looming as a nice matchup, as well.
Best Mascot: Gonna give that to the UCSB Gauchos, who were apparently originally known as the Road Runners, but adopted a new nickname in 1936 when, inspired by Douglas Fairbanks’s performance in the 1927 film The Gaucho, the female student population led a push to make the change. Nice work, ladies – but why did the University go with the creepiest logo possible to illustrate this (see image to the right)?
All-Digger Phelps Team (names most likely to be mispronounced): Greivis Vasquez, Maryland (seriously, how many different ways can you say “Vasquez”, Digger?); Ali Farokhmanesh and Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Northern Iowa; Mehdi Cheriet, San Diego State; Adetunji Adedipe, Ohio
God Shammgod Award (best name): Brice Massamba, UNLV – you could go a variety of ways here, with the potential for “Brice” rhyming with “ice” should he do something clutch, and “Massamba” sounding either like a Street Fighter II character or a variety of snake (he could be the “black massamba” to Kobe’s “black mamba”
Home Cookin’ Award (best geographical placement): That probably has to go to Kansas, not that they needed it, who will be playing in St. Louis should they advance to the Sweet 16.
Coach Most Likely to Play a Mob Enforcer in a Movie: John Thompson III has a certain Michael-Corleone-taking-over-as-the-Godfather vibe to him, so I’ll go with JT3, although Sweaty Gary (Williams) has a certain Mafioso ring to it.
The CincyWakePittBigTenTeam Award for Perennial Underperformer to Avoid Picking for a Deep Run goes to any combination of Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech or Tennessee – talent minus consistency = a team to stay away from betting on.