Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Run, run, as fast as you can — Previewing the West Region

(Printable bracket here)

While I was driving home from Indianapolis, I caught a national radio interview with Long Island-Brooklyn head coach Jim Ferry.

At the end of the interview, the radio host told Ferry he was excited to watch the contrast of styles between LIU-Brooklyn, which likes to run and create a lot of possessions, and MSU, which likes to slow it down and "just dump it in to Draymond Green." Again, that was according to the radio host.

Ferry must have agreed, because he told the New York Post: "Everything (MSU does) is about toughness and strength, and they try to bang you inside and beat you on the glass. We’re going to have to get the game going up and down the court, which they don’t really do.”

I'm just going to call it The Wisconsin Effect or something. Playing in a conference with teams that like to slow it down and, you know, emphasize defense gives a lot of people nationally the perception that Big Ten teams don't like to run, including MSU.

As often is the case, MSU led the Big Ten in fast-break points this season, and playing against teams that like to run will help MSU's chances. Six of the top 12 teams in possessions per game play in the West Region, and seven teams in the region led their conference in transition points. The Spartans are going to run and, while they're missing some guys that would excel in it, they've got a team that enjoys doing it, led by Keith Appling, who is better on the break than in the halfcourt offense.

I'll do a more-detailed preview of LIU-Brooklyn closer to the game, along with my bracket.

There has been a stat floating around that seems to have people worried about MSU. Seven of KenPom's top 20 teams are in the West Region. That does look daunting. But this is a bracket. You don't have to beat the other 15 teams to come out of the region. Basically it comes down to MSU getting a tough draw in the 8/9 matchup between Memphis and Saint Louis. Memphis is the eighth-best team in the country according to KenPom. The Tigers have won 20 of theit last 23 games, but most of that has come against poor competition in Conference-USA.

Pete Rossman at The Only Colors made a good comparison between Memphis this season and USC in 2009. Both teams were young and came into the tournament hot. Only one senior contributes significantly for the Tigers. But before the Spartans and Tigers meet, Memphis needs to get by Saint Louis, which is the No. 15 team in the country, according to KenPom. Don't sleep on Rick Majerus' ability to get the Billikens ready.

Elsewhere in the bracket, Louisville got the Connecticut treatment from a year ago. The Cardinals lost four of their last six regular season games and struggled to score, but got hot in the Big East Tournament, winning four games in four days. They're probably overseeded as a No. 4. The No. 5 seed New Mexico plays tough defense, but No. 12 seed Long Beach State has long been a popular cinderella. LBSU played one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country. They're battle-tested.

On the other side of the region, all signs point to Mizzou reaching the Elite Eight. A lot of people had those Tigers close to getting a No. 1 seed, but MSU was actually given the weakest No. 2 seed, according to the NCAA Tournament S-curve and complete seeding list. Other notable teams on that side of the bracket are No. 3 seed Marquette, which finished second in the Big East, No. 6 Murray State, which lost one game all season and No. 7 Florida, which has been in the top 25 for most of the season. But again, I see Mizzou reaching the Elite Eight.

All in all, I think Memphis might be the biggest road block in MSU's road to the Final Four. The athletic Tigers present some matchup problems for the Spartans sans Branden Dawson. But the chances of getting to New Orleans still have to be fairly good given how the Spartans have been playing. MSU is always battle-tested heading into March, and the Spartans have actually been the best team in the country against NCAA Tournament teams.

In 14 previous NCAA Tournaments under Tom Izzo, the Spartans have lost in the second game of the weekend just three times: 2003 Elite Eight against Texas, 2007 second round against UNC and 2009 championship against UNC. Those three losses came to No. 1 seeds. Tom Izzo always tells his players to win the first game of the weekend and the coaches will win the second game.

KenPom has MSU as the third-most-likely team to win it all.  I like MSU's chances against Memphis, and I like their chances to make it to New Orleans.

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