2010 NCAA Tournament Picks: West

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2010 NCAA Tournament: West Bracket Teams

  1. Syracuse (28-4)

    WHY TO LOVE: This Syracuse team seems to have it all:

    – They have five double-digit scorers.

    – They have experience (four of those five players are upperclassmen).

    – They can hit from long range, nailing threes at a 38-percent clip as a team. Wes Johnson (38.1%), Andy Rautins (39.4), Brandon Triche (39.7) and Mookie Jones (46.3) are all lethal from deep.

    – They have a coach who knows how to win in March.

    – They were 8-1 on the road this year, losing only at Louisville. They won at Georgetown, Notre Dame and West Virginia.

    – Fulfills all five requisites in the Portrait of a Champion (returning head coach, scored 76 ppg, 10+ margin of victory, in the tournament last year, seeded 1-4).

    WHY TO HATE: Center Arinze Onuaku injured his knee/hamstring in the Big East Tournament opener. It looks like he’ll be able to play in the NCAA Tournament, but will he be 100 percent?

    THE VERDICT: Assuming Onuaku is OK, Syracuse should be able to make it to the Final Four. I won’t have them winning the championship, but they certainly can.

  2. Kansas State (26-7)

    WHY TO LOVE: Guard play wins in March, and Kansas State has two great ones. Jacob Pullen (18.9, 2.7 rpg, 3.6 apg, 38.0 3PT) is the team’s leading scorer, while Denis Clemente (16.0, 3.9 apg) is a dynamic point guard. Both are experienced; Pullen is a junior and Clemente is a senior.

    Along with Pullen and Clemente, two other players average more than 11 points per game.

    Kansas State was an impressive 8-2 on the road, beating tough teams like Baylor and UNLV outside of Manhattan.

    WHY TO HATE: The Wildcats lack size, so it’ll be tough for them to contend with teams that have both a talented frontcourt and backcourt.

    Doesn’t fulfill all five requisites in the Portrait of a Champion (returning head coach, scored 76 ppg, 10+ margin of victory, in the tournament last year, seeded 1-4).

    THE VERDICT: A Final Four sleeper, Kansas State is a dangerous team that will be playing in the second weekend.

  3. Pittsburgh (24-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: Pittsburgh has four double-digit scorers, led by sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs (16.2 ppg, 1.9 apg). Gibbs is the only underclassman of the group.

    The Panthers have three excellent three-point shooters in Gibbs (40.4%), Gilbert Brown (37.2) and Brad Wanamaker (36.4). Wanamaker is a very good junior point guard.

    This team is hot, entering the Big East Tournament on an 8-1 run.

    Pittsburgh is 6-4 on the road, which includes impressive victories at Syracuse and Marquette.

    WHY TO HATE: Pittsburgh violates Rule No. 3 of my NCAA Tournament Credo. The team has a dubious history of getting upset early in the Big Dance. In 2005, the Panthers lost in the first round to Pacific. In 2006, they lost in the second round as a No. 5 seed to No. 13 Bradley. A year later, Pittsburgh struggled against Virginia Commonwealth before losing to UCLA in the Sweet 16. In 2008, the team went down to Michigan State in the second round. And last year, the Panthers were upset in the Elite Eight as one of the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament.

    Doesn’t fulfill all five requisites in the Portrait of a Champion (returning head coach, scored 76 ppg, 10+ margin of victory, in the tournament last year, seeded 1-4).

    THE VERDICT: Many brackets will have Pittsburgh playing into the second weekend. I wouldn’t bet on it. A first- or second-round exit is very likely.

  4. Vanderbilt (24-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: Vanderbilt has three players who average more than 13.5 points per game: senior guard Jermaine Beal (14.7 ppg, 3.1 apg), junior center A.J. Ogilvy (13.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and sophomore swingman Jeffrey Taylor (13.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg).

    The Commodores shoot the three fairly well (36.1 percent as a team). Beal nails 37.5 percent of his attempts, but the story here is freshman sharp-shooter John Jenkins, who somehow drills 46.7 percent of his long-distance shots.

    Vanderbilt went 8-3 on the road. Impressive victories came at Saint Mary’s and Tennessee.

    Head coach Kevin Stallings has coached three Vanderbilt teams to 22-plus wins. Two of those squads advanced to the Sweet 16.

    WHY TO HATE: Vanderbilt rebounds poorly and doesn’t play good defense (69.3 ppg allowed).

    Four of Vanderbilt’s top six scorers are underclassmen.

    Doesn’t fulfill all five requisites in the Portrait of a Champion (returning head coach, scored 76 ppg, 10+ margin of victory, in the tournament last year, seeded 1-4).

    THE VERDICT: The Commodores are a pretty good team that has a solid chance to advance to the Sweet 16. I’ll probably have them losing in the second round because of all of their inexperience, but they could easily advance to the second weekend.

  5. Butler (28-4)

    WHY TO LOVE: Butler is the hottest team in the country; they’ve won 20 in a row, and the last time they lost was Dec. 22.

    The Bulldogs have four double-digit scorers: sophomore swingman Gordon Hayward (15.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg), sophomore guard Shelvin Mack (13.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.1 apg), junior forward Matt Howard (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and senior forward Willie Veasley (10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

    As you may expect, Butler has a few dynamic three-point shooters: Mack (37.2%), Veasley (37.0) and Zach Hahn (43.4).

    The Bulldogs play terrific defense, limiting foes to just 60.0 ppg.

    WHY TO HATE: Inexperience and rebounding are weaknesses; three of the top five scorers are underclassmen.

    THE VERDICT: This young Butler team had a taste of the NCAA Tournament last year, losing to LSU in the first round by four points. They’ll probably get out of the opening round this season, and there’s a chance they could shoot their way into the Sweet 16.

  6. Xavier (24-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: Sophomore guard Jordan Crawford is one of the top scorers in the country. Crawford (19.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.0 apg), an Indiana transfer, nails 39.9 percent of his threes.

    Two other X-Men average double digits: senior center Jason Love (11.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and sophomore point guard Terrell Holloway (11.4 ppg, 4.0 apg).

    Xavier shoots the ball very well, hitting 47 percent of its field goals and 37.7 percent of its threes. Four X-Men drill better than 36 percent of their threes: Crawford, Mark Lyons (36.2), Dante Jackson (39.7) and Brad Redford (42.7).

    Xavier’s just 7-5 on the road, but one of those victories came at Florida. The Musketeers lost at Butler by only one point. They lost at Wake Forest in double overtime.

    WHY TO HATE: Five of Xavier’s eight rotation players are underclassmen.

    The Musketeers may rebound well, but they don’t play good defense. They allow 68.3 points per game, though.

    THE VERDICT: Xavier will once again be a threat to knock off overrated higher seeded teams. Depending on the matchup, they could advance to the Sweet 16 again. Anything more is a stretch considering their youth.

  7. BYU (29-5)

    WHY TO LOVE: The Cougars have an excellent offense that averages 83.5 points per game. That’s not surprising, as junior guard Jimmer Fredette is one of the top scorers in the nation. Fredette (21.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.7 apg) is a great shooter, who nails 45.4 percent of his threes.

    Including Fredette, BYU has four double-digit scorers: junior guard Jackson Emery (12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg), freshman guard Tyler Haws (11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and senior forward Jonathan Tavernari (10.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg).

    No one shoots threes better than BYU, as the team hits an amazing 42.1 percent of its long-distance shots. Along with Fredette, the Cougars have four dynamic three-point shooters: Emery (43.1), Haws (36.8) and Tavernari (39.3).

    BYU takes great care of the basketball, turning it over just 11.5 times per contest – an amazingly low number compared to the team’s points-per-game average.

    The Cougars were 9-3 on the road this season, winning impressively at UTEP and San Diego State.

    WHY TO HATE: From reading everything above, you may think BYU is a Final Four contender. Well, consider this: In the past three seasons, head coach Dave Rose has taken 25-9, 27-7 and 25-8 Cougar teams to the NCAA Tournament. All three ventures into the Big Dance resulted in first-round losses. Thus, BYU violates Rule No. 3 of my NCAA Tournament Credo.

    THE VERDICT: Depending on the matchup, BYU could once again lose in the first round. This is their best chance to finally get past the first day, but getting out of the first weekend will be a challenge.

  8. Gonzaga (26-6)

    WHY TO LOVE: Three players average more than 13.5 points per game: senior guard Matt Bouldin (15.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.1 apg), freshman forward Elias Harris (14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and junior guard Steven Gray (13.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg).

    Gonzaga shoots the ball very well. The three-pointer is not a big factor in their offense, though they shoot it fairly well (36.3%). However, the team hits 49.4 percent of its field goals.

    The Zags were 6-3 on the road; they were able to win at Saint Mary’s and Memphis, and nearly knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing.

    Gonzaga has a 7-5 center named Will Foster. He plays just 7.4 minutes per game, and he hilariously makes only 16.7 percent of his free throws. Just worth mentioning.

    WHY TO HATE: People associate Gonzaga as a Cinderella. Perhaps the ugly step-sister would be a better comparison. The Zags have made it out of the Sweet 16 only once. They’ve been eliminated in the first round in two of the past three years, making them a violator of Rule No. 3 of the NCAA Tournament Credo.

    The Zags are really young; five of their top seven scorers are underclassmen.

    THE VERDICT: Gonzaga is an NCAA Tournament underachiever. Given the inexperience on this team, it’ll be difficult for this team to get out of the first weekend. They’re certainly a candidate to be upset in the first round.

  9. Florida State (22-9)

    WHY TO LOVE: Florida State has tremendous size. They’re led by 7-1 sophomore center Solomon Alabi (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg) and 6-9 sophomore forward Chris Singleton (10.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

    The Seminoles finished with a 6-5 road record, with nice wins at Miami, North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

    Florida State’s defense limits opponents to just 60.2 points per game.

    WHY TO HATE: Florida State has lots of flaws:

    – Youth: The top four scorers are underclassmen.

    – Turnovers: The Seminoles give the ball away a mind-boggling 16.7 times per game.

    – Three-point shooting: The team as a whole hits 34.2 percent of its threes. Only Deividas Dulkys hits better than 35.5 percent (40.1).

    – Poor guard play: No Seminole guard averages more than nine points per game.

    – Free-throw shooting: Just 64.9 percent from the charity stripe.

    – No NCAA Tournament success: Florida State hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament contest since 1998.

    THE VERDICT: Guard play wins in March. Florida State has poor guard play. They’ll be lucky to win a game.

  10. Florida (21-12)

    WHY TO LOVE: Florida has five players who average double figures: freshman guard Kenny Boynton (13.6 ppg), sophomore guard Erving Walker (12.6 ppg, 4.9 apg), junior forwards Chandler Parsons (12.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Alex Tyus (12.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg), and junior center Vernon Macklin (10.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

    WHY TO HATE: The Gators as a whole don’t shoot well from beyond the arc; they hit 31.3 percent from downtown.

    Florida lacks depth; they go only six deep.

    THE VERDICT: Amazingly, this is Florida’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since its back-to-back championship. I’ll be surprised if the Gators win a game; they’re a young team that doesn’t shoot threes well.

  11. Minnesota (21-13)

    WHY TO LOVE: Minnesota is hot, riding a 7-3 clip entering the NCAA Tournament. They knocked off Michigan State in double overtime and debacled Purdue on Saturday.

    The Gophers are pretty balanced; their top two scorers are experienced guards – senior Lawrence Westbrook (12.7 ppg) and junior Blake Hoffarber (10.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg). They have the size with two sophomores: 6-11 Ralph Sampson III (8.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and 6-10 Colton Iverson (4.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg). Iverson has been scoring double digits consistently recently, so don’t be fooled by that average; he’s been instrumental in their Big Ten Tournament run.

    Minnesota had the best three-point percentage in the Big Ten this season, knocking down 40.5 percent of its long balls. The team features three dangerous shooters: Westbrook (42.1%), Hoffarber (48.0) and Devoe Joseph (39.0).

    WHY TO HATE: The Gophers violate Rule No. 4 of my NCAA Tournament Credo. They were just 3-7 on the road, which includes losses at Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan (by 28).

    THE VERDICT: Credit Minnesota for its impressive Big Ten Tournament run, but I don’t think they’ll win a game in the Big Dance.

  12. UTEP (26-6)

    WHY TO LOVE: The Miners have two dynamic scorers: junior guard Randy Culpepper (17.8 ppg) and junior forward Derrick Caracter (13.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg). Junior forward Jeremy Williams also averages in double figures (10.5).

    Three UTEP players hit better than 37 percent from beyond: Culpepper (37.9), Williams (39.7) and Christian Polk (38.1).

    The Miners were 8-3 on the road this year, which includes wins at Memphis, UAB and Marshall.

    WHY TO HATE: UTEP turns it over a bit too much for my liking. Their rebounding ability isn’t that great either. However, they do play solid defense (63.7 ppg allowed).

    The Miners are fighting history here; they haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1992! Head coach Tony Barbee has never coached a single game in the Big Dance.

    THE VERDICT: UTEP has a good chance of winning its opening-round game, but I doubt they knock off a No. 1/2 seed in Round 2.

  13. Murray State (30-4)

    WHY TO LOVE: Amazing balance – Murray State amazingly has five players who average between 10.3 and 10.6 ppg: sophomore forward Ivan Aska (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), junior guard B.J. Jenkins (10.5 ppg, 3.2 apg), senior forward Danero Thomas (10.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg), senior center Tony Easley (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and freshman guard Isaiah Canaan (10.3 ppg).

    Murray State shoots the ball tremendously; the team hits 50.3 percent of its field goals and 36.8 percent of its threes. They have three quality long-range snipers: Jenkins (37.7%), Isacc Miles (35.9) and Canaan (45.7).

    The Racers play quality defense (60.5 ppg).

    WHY TO HATE: The Racers are untested; they inflated their record by beating crap opponents. The only NCAA Tournament team they played was Cal, which was a 75-70 loss. However, it’s tough to gauge how much that means because that contest took place back on Nov. 9.

    Murray State turns the ball over too much (14.6 turnovers per game).

    THE VERDICT: Murray State could shoot past a weak No. 4 seed, but two NCAA Tournament wins is unlikely.

  14. Oakland (26-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: Oakland is a very hot team; they haven’t lost since Jan. 28. They’re currently on an 11-game winning streak.

    The Grizzlies have four double-digit scorers: junior center Keith Benson (17.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg), senior guard Johnathon Jones (12.4 ppg, 6.4 apg), senior forward Derick Nelson (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and junior guard Larry Wright (11.1 ppg).

    Oakland rebounds well and shoots a solid 45.1 percent from the field.

    It’s a good thing Al Davis doesn’t run this Oakland team. Can you imagine a basketball squad with guys with fast 40s who don’t know how to play hoops? I think I just described Isiah Thomas’ Knicks teams.

    WHY TO HATE: Oakland played five NCAA Tournament-caliber teams this year, and the results weren’t pretty: Loss at Wisconsin (58-42); loss at Kansas (89-59); loss at Memphis (77-46); loss at Michigan State (88-57); loss at Syracuse (92-60).

    This Grizzlies team has a ton of flaws: They turn the ball over a lot (13.8 times per game); they struggle to hit threes (32.6%) and their defense stinks (71.0 ppg allowed).

    THE VERDICT: I’ll be surprised if Oakland pulls an upset this March.

  15. North Texas (24-8)

    WHY TO LOVE: North Texas is a hot team that hasn’t lost since Jan. 30. They have four double-digit scorers: junior guards Josh White (14.9 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Tristan Thompson (14.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg), senior forward Eric Tramiel (13.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and junior forward George Odufuwa (11.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg).

    The Mean Green shoot well from the field (46.1%). They also have two great three-point snipers, White (39.9%) and Thompson (40.1).

    WHY TO HATE: The only two NCAA Tournament teams North Texas played all year were Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, and those games were 14- and 10-point losses.

    The Mean Green play poor defense (69.4 ppg allowed) and sloppy offense (14.7 turnovers per game).

    THE VERDICT: North Texas could give a No. 2 or 3 seed some problems if White and Thompson can hit their threes. A first-round exit is the most likely scenario, but an upset wouldn’t be shocking.

  16. Vermont (25-9)

    WHY TO LOVE: Listen to this storyline: Junior guard Evan Fjeld lost his mother to cancer a week ago. With a teary-eyed father watching him, Fjeld responded by going for nine points and six boards against Boston University in the American East Championship. After the final buzzer sounded, Fjeld went into the stands and hugged his father. How can you not root for Vermont?

    Fjeld is the team’s third-leading scorer. The second is senior guard Maurice Joseph (14.1 ppg). The first is 6-5 senior forward Marqus Blakely, who is the only player in the country to lead his team in points (17.2), rebounds (9.2), assists (3.7), blocks (2.0) and steals (2.5).

    WHY TO HATE: Joseph nails the three well, but no one else does. Vermont as a team hits just 31.4 percent from beyond the arc.

    Vermont turns the ball over too much (14.2 turnovers per game).

    The Catamounts are way too untested. Sadly, the toughest team they’ve played all year was Cornell, which was an 8-point loss.

    THE VERDICT: I’ll be rooting for this Vermont team because of the Fjeld storyline, but I don’t think the Catamounts have the three-point shooting to pull a first-round upset as a No. 15 or 16 seed. If they’re awarded a No. 13 or 14 seed, I may reconsider.

2010 NCAA Tournament: West Bracket Picks

2010 NCAA Tournament: West Bracket First Round

#1 Syracuse over #16 Vermont
I’ll be rooting for Vermont because of the Evan Fjeld storyline (read above), but the only way Syracuse is losing this game is if some divine entity interferes.

#8 Gonzaga over #9 Florida State
This Florida State team is really flawed (read above). Their guard play isn’t very good, and that’s what wins in the NCAA Tournament.

#5 Butler over #12 UTEP
I had a really tough time deciding on a winner here, but it came down to Butler’s defense and NCAA Tournament experience.

#4 Vanderbilt over #13 Murray State
Murray State is the popular upset pick here, but Vanderbilt is the toughest opponent the Racers have played all year. Commodore head coach Kevin Stallings has had great success in the NCAA Tournament with 22-plus-win teams.

#6 Xavier over #11 Minnesota
Minnesota hasn’t been able to win on the road all year. Xavier is really talented and should be able to beat the Gophers.

#3 Pittsburgh over #14 Oakland
Ah, Pittsburgh vs. Oakland. This matchup will make older people remember the great football rivalry of the 70s. OK, maybe not. Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger over Captain Skittles and Al Davis here.

#10 Florida over #7 BYU
Mountain West teams generally fare very poorly in the NCAA Tournament. BYU has been 25-9, 27-7 and 25-8 the past three seasons and has lost in the first round all three times.

#2 Kansas State over #15 North Texas
Kansas State should allow North Texas to take players from East Texas, West Texas, South Texas and Central Texas to make this game fair.

2010 NCAA Tournament: West Bracket Second Round

#1 Syracuse over #8 Gonzaga
Gonzaga started off as a Cinderella in the late 90s, but lately they’ve been an ugly stepsister.

#4 Vanderbilt over #5 Butler
This was a really tough call. What it came down to was playing the odds; statistically, there’s a better chance Vanderbilt makes it to Round 2 over Butler, given the rate of 5-12 upsets. So, if you pick Butler and they’re upset in the first round, you’re screwed.

#6 Xavier over #3 Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has a long history of being upset early under Jamie Dixon. Xavier is a very solid team and has a good chance of knocking off the Panthers.

#2 Kansas State over #10 Florida
Kansas State essentially gets a bye into the Sweet 16. I can’t see either BYU or Florida touching them.

2010 NCAA Tournament: West Bracket Sweet 16

#1 Syracuse over #4 Vanderbilt
Syracuse is a great team. I can’t see them tripping up against Vanderbilt, Butler, Gonzaga or Florida State. They’re too good. Plus, the same odds argument I used for Vanderbilt over Butler applies here.

#2 Kansas State over #6 Xavier
I love Kansas State’s guard play. I was actually hoping they’d be in the same bracket as Duke so I could pick them to go to the Final Four.

2010 NCAA Tournament: West Bracket Elite Eight

#1 Syracuse over #2 Kansas State
Kansas State is a very good team, but their downfall will be a very balanced opponent who can match their guard play and take advantage of their unimpressive frontcourt. Syracuse can do that.

2011 NCAA Tournament Picks:
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2011 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdowns:
West | East | Southwest | Southeast | Final Four | Schedule
2011 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Breakdowns:
West | Southeast |
2011 NCAA Tournament Preview:
ACC | Atlantic 10 | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Mid-Majors | Mountain West | Pac 10 | SEC

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