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The Dagger

West Region Preview: Can Missouri finally reach its first Final Four?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

The Dagger previews the West Region of the 2012 NCAA tournament. Read our previews of the East, Midwest and West.

Three who can carry their teams:

* Draymond Green, F, Michigan State

* Will Barton, G, Memphis

* Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State

Most intriguing opening round matchup: No. 5 New Mexico (27-6) vs. No. 12 Long Beach State (25-8)

No mid-major is more battle-tested than Long Beach State, which toppled Pittsburgh and Xavier and pushed North Carolina, Kansas and San Diego State to the limit this season. Mountain West tournament champ New Mexico is hardly ripe for an upset, however, after playing its best basketball last week in dispatching UNLV and San Diego State. Two keys to this game will be how healthy Long Beach State wing Larry Anderson is and how New Mexico plans to match up with two-time Big West player of the year Casper Ware. Anderson, a first-team all-league selection and Big West defensive player of the year, is expected to play despite spraining an MCL in his right knee earlier this month. And Ware is a matchup nightmare for New Mexico point guard Hugh Greenwood, which may require backup Jamal Fenton to see more action than usual.

Best potential round of 32 game: No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Memphis

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo could not have been thrilled to see Memphis pop up as the No. 8 seed in his team's sector of the draw. With 26 victories, a seven-game win streak and a No. 16 RPI, the Conference USA champion Tigers were perhaps the most under-seeded team in the field. Memphis will have to defeat defensive-oriented ninth-seeded Saint Louis and Michigan State must avoid tripping up against No. 16 seed LIU-Brooklyn, but neutral observers should be rooting for this matchup to happen. There's star power with Will Barton and Draymond Green. There's a quality point guard matchup with Keith Appling and Joe Jackson. And there's name-brand appeal with two programs who have been to the Final Four in recent years.

Ripe for an upset: No. 4 Louisville

One year after Louisville lost to 13th-seeded Morehead State in an opening-round game in Denver, the Cardinals are again headed West as a No. 4 seed. They'll go to Portland to face a 13th-seeded Davidson team making its first NCAA tournament appearance since the days of Stephen Curry in 2008. Davidson's defense is suspect and its ability to break Louisville's pressure will be key, but the Wildcats' boom-or-bust three-point happy offense could keep them competitive if they get hot from the perimeter. If not, neither potential Round of 32 opponent for Louisville, New Mexico or Long Beach State, will be an easy out.

Bound for the Final Four: Missouri

If Missouri is ever going to reach its first Final Four in program history, this may be one of its best chances. Although the Tigers have only seven scholarship players and only two legitimate post players, they have become adept at using their four-guard lineup as a matchup advantage in their favor. Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey complement each other at point guard, Marcus Denmon is a weapon on the perimeter and Kim English has become more adept at guarding opposing power forwards in the paint than they are guarding him on the perimeter. All that contributes to the Tigers boasting one of the most efficient and unselfish offenses in the country. Some of the teams in the Tigers half of the bracket are dangerous, especially an undersized but physical Marquette team that finished second in the Big East. Still nobody in that half of the bracket has a deep, imposing frontline that can exploit the Tigers on the glass the way Kansas State did twice.

Possible Dark Horse: No. 8 Memphis

Taking a No. 8 seed to reach the Final Four requires a leap of faith, but Memphis might be worthy. The Tigers are playing their best basketball of the season entering March and boast more perimeter talent than anyone in their half of the region, even top-seeded Michigan State. It's possible the Tigers' get stymied by Saint Louis' physical defense and precise offense in the opening round or lacks the toughness to hold off Michigan State for 40 minutes. Nonetheless, if Memphis can get through those two games, there's no reason to think the Tigers can't make it all the way to New Orleans.

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