West figures to have a few unexpected guests
A quick, first-blush look at the West Regional.
Most overseeded: No. 14 Iona. It’s good to see the selection committee rewarding mid-majors who won their leagues but fell in their league tourney. But Drexel deserved the bid more than Iona. Drexel won the regular-season title in the Colonial, while Iona won the Metro Atlantic Athletic. The Colonial is better than the MAAC. Drexel also lost in its tourney final, to a VCU team seeded 12th in this tourney. Iona lost in the semis to Fairfield, which didn’t even make the NCAA field. Iona had five top-100 wins, one more than Drexel. But Drexel had one top-50 win, while Iona had none. And as bad as the Pac-12 was this season, does the MAAC regular-season winner deserve a bid more than the Pac-12 regular-season winner? We bet Washington coach Lorenzo Romar would disagree with the committee on that. Washington played a tougher non-conference schedule and had four top-100 wins. All that said, Iona is a dangerous team that should win its play-in contest and would give third-seeded Marquette a tough test.
In Louisville, Ky.
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 BYU/Iona*
No. 6 Murray State vs. No. 11 Colorado State
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Davidson
No. 5 New Mexico vs. No. 12 Long Beach State
In Columbus, Ohio
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Long Island
No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Saint Louis
In Omaha, Neb.
No. 2 Missouri vs. No. 15 Norfolk State
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia
*—teams meet Tuesday in a play-in game
Most underseeded: No. 6 Murray State. This is a minor complaint. Murray had a case for a No. 5 seed. It wasn’t necessarily a strong one, mind you, but the Racers could’ve been a No. 5.
Best round-of-64 matchup: There are a few intriguing ones in this region. Davidson-Louisville is worth watching. This is not a vintage Louisville team, but coach Rick Pitino somehow got a Big East tourney title out of his players. Davidson, which won at Kansas this season, is a year away from really being good, but if the Wildcats can hit their 3-pointers and find a way to keep it somewhat close on the boards, this will go down to the final minutes. Florida-Virginia is intriguing. The Gators are going to have trouble with Cavs big man Mike Scott, but the Gators’ guards should dominate. And Long Beach State-New Mexico is an unfortunate 5-12 matchup because it features two mid-major programs. Both have the potential to get to the Sweet 16.
Best potential round-of-32 matchup: The 4-13/5-12 pod in this region is an intriguing one. Long Beach State and New Mexico have the ability to beat No. 4 Louisville, assuming Louisville gets to the second round. And Florida-Missouri, an annual SEC matchup in the future, could be interesting. Florida has one of the nation’s best backcourts, but its big men are lacking. Mizzou has the nation’s best backcourt, but its frontcourt is weaker than Florida’s. This could feature a plethora of 3-pointers in front of what should be a heavily pro-Mizzou crowd in Omaha, Neb. Finally, Marquette-Murray State would be a good one, as well. Marquette’s physical nature would wreak havoc on Murray’s small frontcourt, but Murray has more speed than the Golden Eagles.
Best player: Michigan State F Draymond Green. The main reason Michigan State is a No. 1 seed is this guy. Well, this guy and Tom Izzo’s masterful coaching. Seriously, look at the other No. 1 seeds and marvel at all the offensive weapons each possesses. Now, look at the Spartans. It makes you shake your head in wonderment, doesn’t it? If Green struggles, the Spartans struggle. Every opponent knows that, and Green still gets it done. Green does everything well: He can shoot, rebound, pass and defend, and he basically is an extension of Izzo on the floor and in the locker room.
Five others to watch: Murray State G Isaiah Canaan (he has unreal quickness and deep range), Marquette F Jae Crowder (he was the Big East’s player of the year), Missouri G Marcus Denmon (he’s an excellent shooter and a team leader), Marquette G Darius Johnson-Odom (he’s a solid scorer who teams well with Crowder), Virginia F Mike Scott (he is the Cavs’ only real offensive threat and seemingly can get 20 points at will).
Best player you’ve never heard of: Iona G Scott Machado. One good thing about Iona being picked is that folks get another chance to watch Machado, who is an excellent point man. He was the player of the year in the MAAC and averages 13.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 9.9 assists. He also shoots 41.1 percent from 3-point range and 80.8 percent from the foul line. Some folks consider him a late first-round pick in the NBA draft.
Five others to watch: Long Island F Julian Boyd (he’s athletic and can score in the paint, and also is a good rebounder), Saint Louis F Brian Conklin (hard-working, efficient offensive player is a good fit for Rick Majerus’ offense), Colorado State G Wes Eikmeier (dangerous 3-point shooter also is money from the line), Norfolk State C Kyle O’Quinn (he averages 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks), Long Beach State G Casper Ware (quick point man has good range and can be pesky defender).
Numbers game: There are nine conference champions in this region. There are six “Big Six” conference teams in the region, the fewest of any region, and there also is one team from the Atlantic 10, one from Conference USA, two from the Mountain West and one from the West Coast Conference.
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