West Region Overview: Duke Faces Many Obstacles

March 15th, 2011
Charlotte (March 18)
(1) Duke vs. Hampton
(8) Michigan vs. (9) Tennessee

Last year's run to the national title for Duke sparked complaining that they had their road to Indianapolis "paved" by the selection committee. There should be no such complaints this time around as Nolan Smith and company will face a number of challenges should they arrive in Houston. MEAC champion Hampton ended the run of Morgan State, who grabbed the last two automatic bids in the conference, but it's extremely difficult to see them challenging the Blue Devils. Round two is where Duke could run into trouble, because there may wait a team that has a great deal of talent but also possesses the maddening trait of playing to the level of its competition. That would be Tennessee, who has dealt with the Bruce Pearl recruiting violations with mixed results.

The Volunteers beat Villanova when the Wildcats were playing well in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off, and they also beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh (albeit not at The Pete) in the SEC/Big East Invitational. But the Vols also own losses to Charleston, Charlotte and Oakland, a clear indicator of their inconsistent nature. Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson both have the talent to take over a subregional however, and if center Brian Williams is healthy they have a big who can hit the offensive boards. They get Michigan in the first round, and John Beilein's system can embarrass opponents who do not defend with focus. Darius Morris has been outstanding all season long for the Wolverines, and if their perimeter shots are falling look out.

Tulsa (March 18)
(5) Arizona vs. (12) Memphis
(4) Texas vs. (13) Oakland

One has to wonder if the selection committee is willing to have fun with some of these matchups. How else can the matchup between a Memphis team coached by Josh Pastner and his alma mater be explained? The Tigers, who have fought the inconsistency that comes with trying to mold a collection of talented youngsters into a cohesive unit, won the Conference USA Tournament with the final coming at the expense of host UTEP. Talented on the perimeter, the Tigers have to be concerned up front with All-America Derrick Williams controlling things for Arizona. The question for the Wildcats: how well will their guards, especially MoMo Jones, perform on the big stage? Wings Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom have played well, and Parrom is arguably their most versatile player and he comes off the bench.

As for Texas, the Longhorns may have been the victim of the worst crime with regards to this bracket. For a team that at one point in the season was on its way to grabbing the top ranking nationally to get a four seed shows that a lot of weight was placed on their finish. No way can their overall profile warrant this low of a seed, not to mention the difficult matchup that comes in the form of Summit League champ Oakland. The matchup between Tristan Thompson (Texas) and Keith Benson (Oakland) will have the full attention of NBA scouts, but the Longhorns have another outstanding forward in Jordan Hamilton. The Golden Grizzlies have weapons in addition to their big man as well, especially Reggie Hamilton. Texas can get to Houston but they can also head back to Austin after one game if they aren't focused.

All-Top Half Team
G Nolan Smith (Duke)
G Scotty Hopson (Tennessee)
F Jordan Hamilton (Texas)
F Derrick Williams (Arizona)
C Keith Benson (Oakland)

Top Half All-Rookie Team
G Cory Joseph (Texas)
G Joe Jackson (Memphis)
G Will Barton (Memphis)
F Tobias Harris (Tennessee)
F Tristan Thompson (Texas)

Top Half All-Lower Seed Team
G Reggie Hamilton (Oakland)
G Hopson
G Darrion Pellum (Hampton)
F Harris
C Benson

Washington, D.C. (March 17)
(6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Missouri
(3) Connecticut vs. (14) Bucknell

Connecticut may be the most intriguing team in the West Region for the simple fact that no team had ever won five games in five days to win a conference tournament as they did last week. Will their legs and minds be fresh enough to navigate this weekend? Star guard Kemba Walker proved to be near indefatigable in New York, and youngsters such as Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi (to name three) stepped up as well. But don't underestimate Bucknell, led by experienced point guard Darryl Shazier and Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala inside. The Bison have the ability to pull off an upset if allowed to control the flow of the game.

UConn could be headed towards a rematch of the 2009 West Region final when they beat Missouri, and a few of the Tigers on this current team went through that run. Missouri likes to play fast and opponents who aren't used to such a tempo can turn the ball over at a high rate if they aren't careful. But the Tigers aren't the best rebounding team, something Yancy Gates and the Cincinnati Bearcats need to find a way to take advantage of. The Bearcats actually have a worse rebounding margin that Missouri and they don't have the elite size of a Kansas or Texas, two teams that whipped the Tigers in Austin and Lawrence respectively (Mizzou was closer to Kansas when they met in Columbia) as a result.

Tucson (March 17)
(7) Temple vs. (10) Penn State
(2) San Diego State vs. (15) Northern Colorado

San Diego State won't have to travel far if they're to get to their first-ever Final Four, with the path being Tucson to Anaheim to Houston. But the Aztecs have never won an NCAA Tournament game in their history, carrying an 0-6 record into the matchup with Big Sky champ Northern Colorado. The Bears, making their first-ever NCAA appearance, have an outstanding guard in senior Devon Beitzel but SDSU's experience in guarding Jimmer Fredette should help them out here. Kawhi Leonard is just one of the key players Steve Fisher relies on in the frontcourt and if they need a big shot guard D.J. Gay is the guy who gets the call more times than not. Look for SDSU to run into a zone defense or two and how well they execute against it will determine how far they go.

The other matchup is between two teams from the Keystone State, with Temple winning their last NCAA Tournament meeting in 2001 (Lynn Greer was outstanding for the Owls in that one). Fran Dunphy doesn't have the greatest track record in the Big Dance but he does have an experienced nucleus led by Lavoy Allen, Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore. Ed DeChellis has an experienced team as well led by guard Talor Battle, but it's been a decade since the Nittany Lions made an NCAA Tournament appearance. Penn State took care of business when they needed to last week, winning three games before falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament final.

All-Bottom Half Team
G Kemba Walker (Connecticut)
G Talor Battle (Penn State)
F Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State)
F Lavoy Allen (Temple)
F Mike Muscala (Bucknell)

Bottom Half All-Rookie Team
G Phil Pressey (Missouri)
G Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)
G Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati)
G/F Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut)
F Roscoe Smith (Connecticut)

Bottom Half All-Lower Seed Team
G Devon Beitzel (Northern Colorado)
G Marcus Denmon (Missouri)
G Battle
F Muscala
F Jeff Brooks (Penn State)

Region Winner: Texas