By: Brian Dernulc
Midwest Region – “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk…KU”
The Midwest is unquestionably the most difficult region. How Kansas got stuck in a region with so many other good teams is a mystery to me. They were given the second best #2 seed in Ohio State, the best or second best #3 seed in Georgetown, the best #4 seed in Maryland, and a #5 seed who is always dangerous in March in Michigan State. The Jayhawks are the #1 overall team in the tournament right? Just another example of a job well done by the NCAA Selection Committee. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the individual talent in this region will have NBA Scouts and GMs flocking to St. Louis. It will take a monumental effort to take down Kansas, but one thing’s for certain…this region will be fun to watch.
#1 Kansas v. #16 Lehigh – Here’s what I know about Lehigh – it’s the halfway point of the drive between my school and my hometown, but I have no idea where the school is in relation to I-476. That’s it. Glad we got that out of the way. Kansas is loaded. They are the best team in the field and have earned their #1 overall ranking. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich are the best inside-outside combo in college basketball. This game will be less difficult than their practices…by a lot. It’ll be nice to see the walk-ons start entering the game around the 5-minute mark up 40 points. I’m sure they are looking forward to it. My only hope is that there are other watchable games during that time slot. I just checked and good news…there are!! The Pick: Kansas
#8 UNLV v. #9 Northern Iowa – This is one of the first games I picked on my bracket. Is it because it’s the second game down in the top left region or because I am extremely confident in the winner? I’ll save you the suspense – it’s the former. I must confess I haven’t seen one UNLV game this season. I know they are well coached, they prefer to play at a quick pace (someone told me that), and they lost the Mountain West Tournament Final on their home floor (someone told me that also) scoring only 45 points (I looked that up). I’ve seen Northern Iowa a few times though and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. They return a lot of NCAA tournament experience and won both their conference’s regular season and tournament titles. We’ll call this a hunch. The Pick: Northern Iowa
#5 Michigan State v. #12 New Mexico State – Despite making a run to the Championship last year and returning a large portion of the players from that team, the Michigan State of 2010 is nothing like that team from a year ago. They have struggled to get consistent play from Delvon Roe and Raymar Morgan. They recently suspended Chris Allen, and Kalin Lucas, despite being a hell of a player, had both leadership and ankle problems earlier in the year. I’m throwing all of that out the window for at least the first game though because Tom Izzo can coach his ass off in March. Sorry New Mexico State, but you will not be a part of the 12-5 upset game this year. The Pick: Michigan State
#4 Maryland v. #13 Houston – Despite claiming residence in the state of Maryland for nearly my entire life, I stopped rooting for them about 15 years ago when I realized the group I was a part of as a Terps fan. My apologies to those of you who aren’t like the rest, but as a generality I find the University of Maryland basketball fan base to be intolerable. They seem to suffer from some sort of complex because their major rivals (Duke) don’t really give a shit about them, so they insist on being loud and overbearing (while usually unknowledgeable) so everyone knows how good they are. I have a number of friends and acquaintances who attend, attended, or just root for Maryland who I like very much and are great people, but it’s true. I mean after all they did just have a couple dozen arrests for public disturbance and destruction of property after winning a regular season game at home as a ranked team and sadly nobody was surprised. What is that? Come on! All that being said, I really like this Maryland team and think they are dangerous. Despite his more than occasional wildness, a player like Greivis Vasquez can carry a team a long way in the NCAA tournament if he doesn’t kill them first. They also have Jordan Williams who has emerged as a very solid contributor down low. If they can get a few stops and slow down the nation’s leading scorer in Aubrey Coleman, they will be just fine. The Pick: Maryland
#6 Tennessee v. #11 San Diego State – First of all, Bruce Pearl deserves a ton of credit for Tennessee’s performance this year. Other than Georgetown, they are the only team in the country to beat two different #1 seeds this year (Kansas and Kentucky) and they did it both times without their best player (Tyler Smith) who was kicked off the team for an off-the-court incident earlier in the year. He also had to suspend 3 other players for a period of time in a related incident. The way he handled those situations and kept his other players motivated and together was nothing short of magnificent. However, I just don’t like what I see from them on the court a lot of the time. They play hard, but something is missing from this team and I think they are primed to be upset in the first round. The Aztecs are streaking right now and as part of that streak took down New Mexico in the conference tournament semifinal. Steve Fisher (he of Michigan fame/infamy) is a good coach and I think he’ll have his team poised to jump at the upset opportunity. The Pick: San Diego State
#3 Georgetown v. #14 Ohio – Despite the fact that I have learned to despise everything Georgetown (except Allen Iverson) with every fiber of my being I can’t help but enjoy watching and admiring the skills and ability of Greg Monroe. He’s not the most athletic and he disappears at times during games, but he has a skill set that is unmatched by any big man in this tournament. The future lottery pick has the ability to post up, turn and face, drive to the basket, shoot and make a 15 footer, or find an open teammate as he is threatening to do all those other things to his defender. He makes his teammates, specifically Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, a lot more dangerous when he plays well. When the Georgetown offense runs through him, they are very tough to beat because he makes them so efficient. That being said, the offense doesn’t always run through him and if he gets in foul trouble or doesn’t assert himself, Georgetown will go down. Either way, it won’t matter in this one. The Pick: Georgetown
#7 Oklahoma State v. #10 Georgia Tech – Like seeing that hot girl you really like dating a douchebag when you know you and her have so much potential. That’s what it’s like to watch Georgia Tech play. They have two monsters down low in Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, but no guards to get the ball inbounds or up the court, let alone to them in a scoring position, without turning it over. It’s scary how good this team could be with a consistent point guard. Oklahoma State has one of the best shooting guards in the country in James Anderson, but they are so undersized down low that not even Coach Paul Hewitt can screw up this game plan for Tech. Right?… Right? Someone please tell me that’s true. Throw the ball to the big men and play defense on Anderson and you will win. It’s that simple. The Pick: Georgia Tech
#2 Ohio State v. #15 UC-Santa Barbara – Evan Turner. Wow. The best player in college basketball as far as I’m concerned. I had the perfect comparison for Evan Turner that I had been planning on throwing in this column when I heard a lot of people comparing him to Dwyane Wade. Then I heard someone else say it the other day and I became furious. I promise I thought this on my own. He reminds me a lot of Brandon Roy of the Portland Trailblazers. Comparable athleticism, massive stones, unafraid to take any big shot and doing it as cool and as calm as a regular shot in the 1st half except he knows it isn’t and everyone else knows he’s going to make it. While we’re here though, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how horrific Michigan’s attempt at defense was in the Big Ten Tournament when he hit a 35-footer to win the game. Well really, it wasn’t even an attempt, I just don’t know what other word to use. Absolutely inexcusable. I am unsure whether the Buckeyes are a one man team though. I keep hearing people say that isn’t just Evan Turner, but until I see someone else put a dagger in someone’s heart, I am going to assume that if you stop him (no easy task) you can beat Ohio State. That won’t happen for a while however. The Pick: Ohio State
How will the rest of the region shake down?
Kansas will skate by another opponent in its second round game although this time only by 20 and will meet Michigan State in the Sweet 16. I’m sticking by my opinion that this Maryland team is dangerous, but because Vasquez can kill them as much as he can carry them, it’s hard for me to pick them far. Also, see above on Tom Izzo. Izzo won’t be enough to take down Kansas though. Michigan State will keep this game close and keep everyone interested for a little while but Collins, Aldrich, and company will be too much at the end of the day.
In the bottom half of this region I like Georgetown to continue their run and I like Evan Turner and Ohio State to meet them in the Sweet 16. That game will feature two of the most skilled players in the tournament and will be a lot of fun to watch. I have a tough time seeing Ohio State go down though and I think they will advance to the Elite 8 to face Kansas. Kansas, despite being in a loaded region won’t have a lot of tough games entering the Elite 8 and I think will be well rested, unlike Ohio State . Once again, all that talent Kansas possesses will be too much for the Buckeyes. It will take a special performance from Evan Turner to beat the Jayhawks and I wouldn’t put it past him, but I won’t bet my bracket on it either. Rock Chalk will roll on to Indianapolis.