Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Midwest Region Preview


The Midwest is also a fairly stacked region, especially at the top. It has the Big 12 Tournament winner in Kansas, the Big East regular-season champion in Georgetown and the winner of both Big Ten titles in Wisconsin. It also has arguably the two most intriguing games of the first-round as Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo face-off when Kansas State takes on USC; and two of the top mid-majors do battle when Gonzaga plays Davidson. Several of the middle seeds are not threatening, but have played well at times this year and can make noise.

Favorite: Kansas. The Jayhawks might be the most complete team in the country. They have one of the deepest perimeter groups in the country, led by Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers. Russell Robinson is a tremendous defender and does all the little things, while Sherron Collins might be the most explosive offensive player they have. Up front, Darrell Arthur has developed into the team’s leading scorer and Darnell Jackson is a physical rebounder and finisher.

Contenders: Georgetown, Wisconsin. Although both of these teams had great regular seasons and won their respective conferences, I think both are vulnerable and could be ripe for an upset. However, every time you think that about these two teams, they go out and win a few games. Georgetown has a very difficult system to defend, and the Hoyas are stout defensively. Roy Hibbert is one of the best big men in the country, while Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp are solid on the perimeter. DaJuan Summers is a very good inside-outside option. The Hoyas are experienced and have options inside and out. Wisconsin is another team that I’m worried about when it comes to offensive firepower. Like Georgetown, they are very balanced but don’t have too many go-to-guys. Still, Michael Flowers is an outstanding veteran in the backcourt, and Trevon Hughes is quick. Brian Butch is a solid inside-outside player, while Marcus Landry has a lot of potential at forward.

Sleepers: Clemson, USC. The Tigers are playing some of their best basketball of the season, as they made a run to the ACC title game before falling to North Carolina for the third time this season. They have a great big man duo in the emerging Trevor Booker and the athletic James Mays. Cliff Hammonds is a leader and K.C. Rivers can really shoot and score the ball. If they are forcing turnovers and hitting their free-throws, they can beat anyone. USC is going to be a popular sleeper pick in the Tournament. The Trojans play excellent defense and have the talent to play with anyone around. O.J. Mayo is an outstanding freshman at guard, while Taj Gibson has the ability to dominate at both ends down low. Davon Jefferson and Daniel Hackett are match-up problems, and Dwight Lewis can do a variety of things on the court.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Gonzaga, Davidson. Yes, both of these teams play each other in the first-round, but the winner has a great shot at knocking off Georgetown in the second-round and can really make some noise. Gonzaga is always a threat in the NCAA Tournament, and has a lot of talent and depth this season. Jeremy Pargo is a very difficult point guard to defend, while Josh Heytvelt is solid down low. Austin Daye and Matt Bouldin are very talented players on the perimeter. Davidson is the “chic” upset pick this year. The Wildcats have an outstanding backcourt in Stephen Curry, one of the best shooters and scorers around, and Jason Richards, who led the nation in assists. Davidson has a lot of options inside and out, and are battle-tested heading into the Big Dance.

Upset Pick: Siena over Vanderbilt. This might be the lowest-seeded to win a first-round game this season. The Saints have already defeated Stanford this season, and have a great perimeter duo in Kenny Hasbrouck and swingman Edwin Ubiles. Furthermore, Vanderbilt has shown nothing but inconsistency away from home, and the Commodores are not very good defensively at all. They did not deserve a No. 4 seed, and will prove it when they lose to the MAAC champions.

Top Five Players (only one per team):

1. Michael Beasley, Kansas State
2. Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
3. Stephen Curry, Davidson
4. Roy Hibbert, Georgetown
5. O.J. Mayo, USC

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