East Region Breakdown: Can the Mountaineers Rise Above the Wildcats?
The East Region shapes up as the second toughest region in the tournament, with the #1 seed, Kentucky, sporting the youngest team in the bracket. They've managed to find a way to keep games close that shouldn't be and that will come back to bite them now that they're playing teams outside the SEC (the fifth best conference in the country, according to Ken Pomeory's rankings). Their non-conference strength of schedule is 138th in the country, not the best when compared to the other #1s (Duke is 39th; Kansas is 80th; Syracuse comes up a little short at 197th, but at least they played in a much tougher conference.)
I wouldn't be vehemently against you picking Kentucky in your bracket, but I plan on going in a different direction. I like the risk-averse model of bracket picking and I see Wisconsin as a bad matchup for Kentucky. Wisconsin's methodical style could frustrate the young Wildcats and send them home early. Wisconsin itself could be a sleeper Final Four pick, but I'll be going with West Virginia, who I currently have making it to the Final. The Mountaineers are strong defensively and produce efficient offense because of their ability to hit the offensive glass. They've got an easier road to the Final Four than Kentucky. I don't see New Mexico as a true threat, but Darrington Hobson (a lefty Danny Grangier) is fun to watch. The Lobos have generally been over-ranked the whole season.
First round upset that will happen: Missouri over Clemson This should be one of the most exciting games of the first round as both teams run a full-court press. Missouri has better, more experienced guards than Clemson. Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell is 0-5 in first-round NCAA games, while Missouri Coach Mike Anderson (of UAB over Kentucky fame) is 6-4.
First round upset that won't happen: Cornell over Temple Cornell's coach Steve Donahue used to be the assistant at Penn under Temple coach Fran Dunphy. Dunphy has never lost to one of his assistant coaches. Temple was expected by some to be rated as high as a #3 seed. They've got quality wins over Villanova and Xavier, and only lost to Georgetown by one. Cornell is the most efficient three-point shooting team in the country, which is normally a recipe for tournament success. Temple, however, is #2 in three-point defensive efficiency. Advantage neutralized.
Best Vegas Bets:
- Marquette (-2) over Washington: I don't believe in the Pac 10.
- Temple (-4) over Cornell: As explained above.
- Wisconsin (+700) to make the Final Four: The Badgers' style is good for tournament play.
- Marquette (+1500) to make the Final Four: If you're looking for a deep sleeper.
Coming later today: The South Region.