2011 NCAA Tournament: Bracket Breakdown - West Bracket
A couple things really stand out about this regional. First and foremost, how in the world did Michigan earn an eight seed? Weren't they barely in before beating Illinois in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal? Now all of a sudden they are an eight?
Second, the committee set up a potential second-round matchup between UConn and Cincinnati. Usually they will avoid having two teams from the same conference possibly meet before the Elite Eight, Sweet 16 at the earliest. However, with the Big East getting 11 teams into the dance that philosophy was thrown out the window.
Finally, the opening-round Pennsylvania showdown between seventh seed Temple and 10th-seeded Penn State could compete with the Nittany Lions ugly, ugly, ugly 36-33 win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tourney in terms of low-scoring games. The over/under for this game could be 90, and I still wouldn't touch the over.
Most Intriguing First Round Game: #5 Arizona vs. #12 Memphis
Based on their seeding, Memphis needed to win the Conference USA Tournament to get into the dance and did just that. Both of these teams are very young though Sean Miller has done a fabulous job, winning the Pac-10 regular season in just his second season at Arizona. I am not sure the Tigers have anyone to slow down Derrick Williams who has become one of the best all-around forwards in college basketball. Do not count out Josh Pastner's crew who has the talent to hang with Wildcats. It is just a matter of whether or not they can put it together on this given day to pull off the 5-12 upset.
Early Exit: #6 Cincinnati
A six seed seems a little high for this team, but regardless they have a dangerous first-round matchup against an up-tempo, pressing Missouri team. The Bearcats are not a team that can into a shootout with their opponents because they just lack a ton of offensive firepower. That is exactly what Mizzou wants to do; force turnovers, run, and score a ton of points with their "40 Minutes of Hell." Even if Cincinnati can control the tempo and get past the Tigers, I don't think they stand a chance against a scorching UConn team.
Sleeper: #9 Tennessee
The Vols are a tricky team to figure out. They are more talented than their 19-14 record indicates, but have just been unable to put together for a stretch of time this season. A similar thing happened last season when the Vols were a six seed and then made a run to the Elite Eight before losing to Michigan State. A first-round matchup against Michigan is very winnable and Tennessee has the athleticism to potentially cause problems for Duke in their second-round matchup. Their success or lack thereof may come down to Scotty Hopson who is one of the streakier shooters in the country but can certainly fill it up.
Five Players to Watch: Jordan Hamilton, Texas
A natural all-around scorer, Hamilton is one of those players who could easily go off for 30-plus points on any given night. He has matured a ton during his sophomore season in terms of his shot selection and willingness to play defense, and will be the key to the Horns' postseason success.
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
Jimmer gets all the love out in the Mountain West Conference, but Leonard is the league's best all-around player. He is tenacious on the boards due to his crazy athleticism and can multiple positions on both ends of the floor. If he declares for the NBA Draft, Leonard will likely be a lottery pick.
Tim Hardaway Jr, Michigan
He does not possess the UTEP-two step like his dad, but is a dangerous wing scorer. Junior has played well and hit some big shots for the Wolverines down the stretch and will need to do so if Michigan is going to get past Tennessee in the opening round.
Keith Benson, Oakland
Averaging 18 points, 10 boards and more than 3.5 blocks per game, Benson is one of the best small-school players in the country. Do not let that small-school label fool you though. The Grizzlies played a tough non-conference schedule so the 6-11 senior will be ready to compete against Tristan Thompson of Texas in the opening round.
Talor Battle, Penn State
I certainly don't think he deserves to be a second team All-American like my counterpart Paul M. Banks does, but that doesn't make me blind to the fact that he is the motor for this Penn State team. He can and will pull it from anywhere past halfcourt, but if that shot is not falling, the Nittany Lions' trip to the tourney will be short-lived.
Regional Final: #1 Duke over #3 UConn
Kemba Walker and the Huskies put together an insanely impressive run winning five games in five days to capture the Big East Tournament title. They have to run out of gas at some point, right? The Blue Devils obviously have the experience factor and I am rooting for this matchup in hopes of seeing Walker and fellow National Player of the Year candidate Nolan Smith go toe-to-toe. UConn does have the athleticism that could be problematic for the Dukies, but I think Smith and Kyle Singler do enough to get Coach K. back to the Final Four.