Bracket Breakdown: The Southwest

By on March 17, 2011

By: Jack Spehn (RSE Basketball)

If Ohio State is the top seed in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament, then Kansas and its gaudy 32-2 tally has to be considered a close second. A juggernaut throughout the season, Bill Self’s squad is talented and deep with 6’10 junior forward and Wooden Award candidate   Marcus Morris and twin 6’9 brother Marquis patrolling the baseline for the Jayhawks.

At first glance, Kansas seems to have a relatively easy draw. Boston University, a perennial hockey power, should provide little resistance to the bigger and more talented Jayhawks in round 2. Round 3 could set up a reunion for coach Bill Self and his former club, the Illinois Fighting Illini, who have been battling inconsistency all season.  However, a more likely scenario would be a matchup with the Rebels of UNLV (21-8). A solid squad with quality senior leadership, UNLV would be at least a 10-point underdog to the powerful Jayhawks.

No disrespect to Pitt (who also has a beneficial draw) or Duke; but Kansas’ style of play and overall record (their only losses on the year were to a talented Texas team and in-state rival Kansas State) is a reflection of mature and consistent play not found with the other #1 seeds, save for Ohio State. Such valuable attributes going into the NCAA tournament, where a “bad moment” could be your ticket home, gives this roster the feel of a team capable of making a championship run.

Though Kansas is the clear favorite in the Southwest due to a favorable draw in the region’s competition, the field is not without its hidden dangers.

In the bottom of the bracket, 2nd-seeded Notre Dame is an experienced, senior- laden team led by veteran All-American guard Ben Hansborough. Hansborough, a tough-minded and streaky shooter whom coach Mike Brey admits has “light-it-up” as well “as burn it down” ability, leads the Irish attack with fiery demeanor. Well coached and battle tested following a second-place finish in the brutal Big East, the Irish were exposed a bit last week in the Big East Tournament by Louisville’s up-tempo pace. Louisville overcame a halftime lead and managed to overtake the Irish late in the game after the Irish seemed to succumb to the Cardinals constant pressure and become completely gassed. As a result, it would appear that Notre Dame could have trouble with teams that like to run and apply pressure in the backcourt – and the field has Louisville to thank for devising the blueprint which seems to have potential for defeating the Irish.

Third-seeded Purdue is another team I believe can make a serious run to the elite eight. Balanced offensively and defensively, Purdue has go-to guys both inside and out in 6’10 senior forward JaJuan Johnson and 6‘4 senior guard E’twaun Moore. I like the Boilermakers to bounce the Irish out of the bottom of the bracket and face KANSAS FOR A PLACE IN THE FINAL FOUR.

First round upsets:  12th-seeded Richmond Spiders over #5 seed Vanderbilt Commodores. Richmond, playing well and coming off their A-10 conference tournament title, will be looking to extend their reach in this year’s tournament. For Vanderbilt – losers to mid-majors Sienna and Murray State in the big dance in recent years – it shapes up to be another “not again” moment of tournament infamy. Look for Richmond to prevail in close contest.

Two teams which are being overlooked but have big reasons for optimism are Florida State and Georgetown. Florida State, a defensive force, announced this week that they will have the services of likely first-round NBA draft pick Chris Singleton, who stands as their best player on both ends of the court. If Singleton can shake off the rust against Akron in the first round, the Seminoles will give Notre Dame all they can handle in their projected 3rd-round game. A healthy Chris Singleton makes the Seminoles closer to a seven seed rather than the 10 seed assigned by the tournament selection committee. If things bounce their way, Florida State has the talent to sneak through the bottom of the bracket to face Kansas in the elite eight.

Like Florida State, Georgetown got some very good news this week. Chris Wright, Georgetown’s senior floor general, has returned to practice and will play in the tournament after suffering a broken bone in his non-shooting hand four weeks ago. In Wright’s absence, the Hoyas went 1-3 and averaged a league-low 51 points over that span. Wright, like Singleton, is a player capable of making the difference for a team which has been forced to adapt to life without their star player.  

If either Singleton or Wright can step in without missing a beat, they could provide the spark to propel their teams to a showdown with Kansas in the elite eight.

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