Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 NCAA Tournament Preview: West Regional

While lacking the straight-forward predictability of the South and Midwest Regions or the wide open situation of the East, the West Regional has two favorites at the top, with one dark horse and a lot of long shots. It's no surprise Syracuse, despite back to back losses prior to the NCAA's, is a 5 to 2 favorite, with Kansas State right on their tails at around 4 to 1. But the dark horse is a surprise. Yes, I'm going to make you wait to find out.


. Pomeroy says 8 seed. Sagarin says 5-6 seed. The Committee says 3 seed. The Committee must love when a team loses four of five to close January, including losses to NIT-worthy Seton Hall and South Florida... and listless 50-45 Big East tourney losses to Notre Dame to close your season. Instead of a deserved mouth-punch game with a serious bubble team or 30-ish rank squad, the Panthers get an undeservedly easy game with #14 Oakland. This team can't force turnovers to save their lives and their defense pretty much hangs on hoping their opponents can't hit shots. Their offense relies on getting second chance points and drawing fouls. If both checks fail, they are beatable fodder. Oakland's probably not beating them but #6 Xavier has a good shot at the "upset" (and yes, Xavier would actually be a 57.2% favorite in a round 2 match with Pittsburgh).

Vanderbilt. Every year, Vanderbilt seems to get a seed way higher than they deserve, implying a close, intimate relationship between Vanderbilt's AD (and possibly more attractive female members of his extended family and/or student body) and the Selection Committee. This year a Commodores team that fits as a #7... gets a #4 seed and an easily winnable 1st round matchup with tough but not tough enough #13 Murray State (63.7%). #5 Butler is a 49-51 shot against Vanderbilt, and #12 UTEP would also have a real shot at knocking them out (47.8%).

Even granted that, Vanderbilt has a stronger than deserved shot at the Sweet 16, not because they're good (their defense is ordinary and their offense relies a lot on getting calls and getting to the line) but because they got an undeservedly high seed that makes their first game easier than a deserved 7-10 matchup would have been.

Florida. The Gators probably shouldn't even be in the tournament. They were easily the most dubious at-large selection (#47 Sagarin), made more so by the omission of Virginia Tech (#34). But on top of that, instead of a more deserved #12 seed they get a #10, bypassing a challenging #5 for a more beatable #7. However, karmic justice prevails (or Holy justice if you ask their opponent), because their opponent....

Got the Shaft:

. Yes, Florida gets fed to a BYU team that Sagarin rated #10 and Pomeroy rated #7, and who did not take a loss this year to anyone outside of the field of 65. I'm not sure if the Committee penalized the Mormon Cougars for their religious refusal to play Sundays or not, but BYU was a better fit for a #3 or #4 than the #7 seed.

You can't even argue that the Mountain West was a weak mid-major conference this year given the MWC sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament this year (BYU themselves, New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State) and a 5th, Colorado State, was at least good enough to get invited to the CBI.

The irony is that this combination of bad seeding actually table-set a 7-10 upset, as BYU is a 73-27 favorite to up-end the Gators. However, instead of a likely matchup with a beatable #5 or #6 in round two, they will probably have to look up at #2 Kansas State, one of the favorites to win the regional, an injustice to a good program that seems to have taken Gonzaga's title of Official Mid-Major Selection Committee Seeding Screwjob Recipient.

Florida State. The best defense in the nation according to Pomeroy took a few late season lumps, including two losses to NIT-bound NC State, and the committee downgraded them to a #9 seed. But aside from their Wolfpack foil, none of those seven late season losses came to anyone outside of the top 20: Two losses to Maryland, two losses to Clemson and a loss to Duke, plus the Duke loss was the only defeat by a double digit margin. Hardly embarrassing losses, and they held serve against unspectacular but solid ACC competition with nine wins after January 4's win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi. FSU probably should have gotten a #7 instead of a #9, and even if they beat Gonzaga (which they have a 62.1% chance to do) they then have to look Syracuse in the eye and pull a big upset to see the 2nd weekend. They have a 33% chance at such an upset, but still.

UTEP. Yes, dropping a load in the Conference USA final to Houston was embarrassing, but the Miners still had a great season buoyed by a 16 game winning streak to close the season, and even against a weakish schedule that should be worth an #8 seed.

But instead UTEP gets the #12 shaft and is now everyone's darling upset pick against #5 Butler. It'll be close, with UTEP 48.8% to win, and they have a real chance in the 2nd round to make the 2nd weekend. But in an allegedly weak tournament field, the Committee downgraded UTEP far too hard for not winning the Conference USA tournament... even though they allegedly weren't factoring in the conference tournaments in their decisions. Right, Dan Guerrero, and I can hit 50 home runs in the Majors left handed.

Vermont. A bit trifling to debate whether a team deserves a #15 or #16 since both get force fed to a top 8 team in round one, but given no #16's ever won while we've seen at least two #15 upsets, it's a difference in scope of hope. And Vermont (#145 per Sagarin) isn't the sort of dead weight that Lehigh (#204) is. Several teams that had a case for #16 got a #15, like Morgan State (#144), North Texas (#153) and Robert Morris (#191). The Catamounts arguably deserved better, and you could make a case of swapping them out for any of those three #15 seeds at #16.

A team like Vermont, which rallied around key contributor Evan Fjeld after the recent death of his mother, could have used more from the Committee than a force-feeding to Syracuse, in which they're a 15 to 1 underdog. But hey, at least the Orange are the most vulnerable #1 seed in the field, right?

Speaking of underdogs facing the gaping maw of death, a 42 to 1 boxing longshot named Buster Douglas lost his mother three weeks before he knocked out heavyweight champ Mike Tyson in Tokyo, Japan to become the new champion back in 1990. So never say never, Catamounts. Your ability to contest shots and get to the line may give you a chance in hell.

Contrary to Popular Belief:

While the favorite, Syracuse is not a huge favorite to make it out of the East Region. Kansas State can definitely give them a game in an Elite Eight matchup, but they could run into trouble before then: #9 Florida State defends well and could give them a matchup problem in round two, plus they would likely only be a 70-75% favorite in the Sweet 16 (Possible opponents: Vanderbilt, Butler, UTEP), meaning the average opponent would have a 25-30% chance of ending their run. Xavier and BYU would also pose a challenge (40% chance of beating the Orange) if either team made a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight. There is a 70.8% chance someone sends Syracuse home before the Final Four.

Watch out for:

BYU: Yes, I still attest they got shafted, but they're one of the region's best teams, and if they can beat Florida and squeeze past Kansas State to make the Sweet 16, they are a dangerous shot to make the Final Four, as they would only be an underdog to Syracuse (44.1%) and a 60-70% favorite versus anyone else.

Minnesota: I counted them out after a blowout loss to Michigan late this season, a game I said the Gophers at least had to play close. But they blew out Iowa and Penn State, then took Michigan State out in OT in the Big Ten tourney and surprisingly blew out Purdue to worm their way into the bubble hunt even despite their eventual blowout loss to Ohio State.

They totally deserved their low-ish #11 seed, but they're a 50-50 shot in round one against #6 Xavier, and can certainly beat #3 Pittsburgh in round two. They become 35-65 underdogs to most likely opponents once they reach the 2nd weekend, but as they showed down the stretch, the Gophers can play up to and beyond their competition. I could easily see BYU and Minnesota clashing in the Sweet 16... not that that's likely, just that it's possible.

Not a prayer:

They got really lucky in receiving a #15 seed they probably didn't deserve, but North Texas is probably going to get run off the floor just as easily by #2 Kansas State as they would have by any #1. NTU is a 17 to 1 longshot to see the 2nd round, and a 22,789 to 1 shot to make the Final Four.

You have a better chance of... passing a kidney stone as a teenager. I was among the 1 in 20,210 who visited a hospital while passing one in high school. Passing a stone really hurts, and you need a lot of hospital-grade drugs to stand the doubling-over, vomit inducing pain it causes.

Compared to that, getting annihilated by 30 points should seem like a breeze for North Texas.


1. Syracuse. Sweet 16: 66.3%. Final Four: 5 to 2
2. Kansas State. Sweet 16: 54.9%. Final Four: 3.8 to 1
3. Pittsburgh. Sweet 16: 35.9%. Final Four: 20.3 to 1
4. Vanderbilt. Sweet 16: 32.8%. Final Four: 20.2 to 1
5. Butler. Sweet 16: 27.7%. Final Four: 25.4 to 1
6. Xavier. Sweet 16: 31.1%. Final Four: 16.5 to 1
7. BYU. Sweet 16: 36.6%. Final Four: 6.7 to 1
8. Gonzaga. Sweet 16: 9 to 1. Final Four: 66.5 to 1
9. Florida State. Sweet 16: 22.7%. Final Four: 16.7 to 1
10. Florida. Sweet 16: 12 to 1. Final Four: 91.7 to 1
11. Minnesota. Sweet 16: 30.9%. Final Four: 16.7 to 1
12. UTEP. Sweet 16: 25.8%. Final Four: 29.0 to 1
13. Murray State. Sweet 16: 6 to 1. Final Four: 105.2 to 1
14. Oakland-PA. Sweet 16: 49 to 1. Final Four: 4612.1 to 1
15. North Texas. Sweet 16: 199 to 1. Final Four: 22789.1 to 1
16. Vermont. Sweet 16: 110 to 1. Final Four: 7881.3 to 1

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