Now to the East, where the youngest team in the tournament is the region’s No. 1 seed.
Overall theme: Well-renowned coaches looking to get over “the hump”
The coaches of the top two seeds, Kentucky’s John Calipari and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, are two of the more respected coaches in the game. They’ve combined to win 1,090 games and have combined for three Final Four appearances. However, neither coach has won a national title and only one (Calipari) has even been in the championship game. This year could either boost their legacies or cement them as guys who couldn’t quite win the big one. Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, who has never been to a Final Four, is in a similar boat as well.
Watch out for: No. 2 West Virginia
While Huggins’ teams have underachieved in the tournament in the past – last year’s first-round flameout being the latest – the stars seem aligned for a long Mountaineer run this year. They are the No. 2 seed in a region where the No. 1 seed (Kentucky) has star players barely able to vote and a No. 3 seed (New Mexico) that plays in a mid-major conference. The Mountaineers have length, size, and athleticism in the forward and wing guard spots and can play a variety of styles. There’s no reason for WVU not to at least make the Elite 8.
Stay away from: No. 12 Cornell
This seems kind of a copout, but the chic “12-over-5″ upset pick has involved the Big Red beating No. 5 Temple. I get a bit wary when everyone jumps on an upset pick – makes me think twice about its validity. Cornell is getting its props for almost beating Kansas in December but it couldn’t make it through the Ivy League unscathed, losing to conference doormat Penn at one point. Temple has 29 wins in an underrated Atlantic 10 and has plenty of athleticism on the perimeter. Don’t see the Ivy League kids winning this one.
High risk, high reward: The Washington-Marquette winner
Another kind of goofy pick, but the winner of the 11-6 matchup between the Huskies and the Golden Eagles are set up for a run into the second weekend. Marquette is guard heavy with an elite scorer in forward Lazar Hayward – two things that tend to work in the favor of teams in the tourney. Washington also has an elite scoring forward in Quincy Pondexter and a point guard that pushes tempo well in Isaiah Thomas. Whoever wins this game can beat New Mexico in round two and give West Virginia a run, but picking the winner is a crapshoot to say the least.
Upset special: No. 10 Missouri over No. 7 Clemson
Another weak 10-7 call, but there aren’t any other upsets that I think are compelling. Not into Wofford over Wisconsin in the 13-4, already have discussed the 12-5 and 11-6 games, etc. Mizzou coach Mike Anderson’s up-tempo, “40 Minutes of Hell” approach has yielded dividends in the past, getting UAB to the Sweet 16 as a nine-seed in 2004 and getting the Tigers to the Elite 8 a year ago. Oliver Purnell, on the other hand, as seen Clemson lose in the first round as a higher seed two years in a row, as a 5 to Villanova in ’08 and as a 7 to Michigan last year. I’m feeling a hat trick.
Lead-pipe lock: There will be some fun basketball played in games not involving Wisconsin.
Between the up-tempo teams that I’ve mentioned early in this thread to the spectacle that Kentucky freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins create with their soon-to-be-NBA-lottery-picks skill, this will be fun. Kentucky has the most talent in the region, but their youth could hold them back from getting to the Final 4. As for the Badgers, watch at your own risk.