Selection Sunday is through. The matchups are set, Washington fans are crying, and if you listen real close, you’ll hear mad typing across the country as millions fill out their brackets.
So, who do we have at GridironGrit? Here’s my picks for the West Region, including upset alerts, and the most overrated/ underrated teams.
I’ll cover the best match of the first two rounds (not counting play ins), and then analysis of every game from the Sweet 16 on. A link to my complete bracket is here.
3. Marquette vs 14. Iona – Louisville, KY – Thursday, March 15, 2:45PM EST
Player to watch – Scott Machado, Iona, PG. Talk about a high flyer. Iona and BYU will actually be a decent game, as BYU has a top rated defense while Iona has one of the best offenses in the nation. Should Iona beat BYU, they play another high powered team in Marquette.
It’ll be a shootout, with Machado leading the Gaels attack. If Iona wins, it’s because of Machado who leads the team in scoring and the nation in assists.
This game has major bracket busting potential. Granted, the Memphis vs St Louis may mean more, and the New Mexico vs Long Beach St has more media buzz, this game will be the one to watch. Iona has potential to beat Marquette and Marquette has the potential, if they win this game, to make an Elite 8 appearance.
Here’s why Iona doesn’t belong in the tournament at all though: NO top 50 RPI wins. There’s other 14 seeds that do. Iona lost against Purdue, and got clobbered by Marshall back in December. Even in the 201+ division Iona suffered two losses against Siena and Hofstra.
That said, Marquette isn’t exactly cream of the crop. As a fourth, fifth, or sixth seed they might go down first round. Where they are, Marquette has a favorable matchup against a wore out Iona Gaels team, and then a tough-yet-overrated Murray State, followed by the also high powered offense Missouri Tigers. There isn’t a real defensive test until the Elite 8 should they make it that far.
Marquette has a top 50 RPI losing record, one of the most notable losses coming against Louisville during the Big East tournament. Marquette didn’t look tournament ready in that game. On the other hand, they’ve demolished Big East contenders Georgetown 83-69, UConn 79-64, and Cincinnati 95-78. Conclusion? When Marquette is hot – they’re near unstoppable. Marquette is 21-2 when scoring at least 70 points, which is quite impressive.
Why is this game important? Bracket busting implications. Should Marquette win, and stay hot, they can beat Murray State and Missouri. Should they lose, Iona pulls off a huge upset and beating Marquette means they can handle other high flying teams like Missouri.
In the end, Iona isn’t ready for a team like the Golden Eagles, and will be tired after a hard fought game with BYU. Marquette wins, 82-68.
Next – 5. New Mexico vs 12. Long Beach State. New Mexico has the skills to beat Michigan State should they survive. Long Beach has upset potential, and these two offer a very entertaining matchup.
Easiest First Round 3-14+ – 6. Murray State vs 11. Colorado State. All games in this range have upset potential. The West is the hardest to predict this year in my opinion, but the Rams simply do not have the necessary skills to keep up with Murray State. Colorado State has a 175th ranked defense and a horrible road record.
1. Michigan State vs 8. Memphis – Columbus, OH – Sunday, March 18
Player to watch – Will Barton, Memphis, SG. Barton is absolutely explosive, and a key part of the Tigers offense. Stopping him will be a major part of the MSU gameplan. Barton averages 18 points and 8 rebounds per game, is a joy to watch, and if he plays like he did against Marshall… look out.
Honestly, all the second round games could go here, as all of them are worth watching, and all would be fun to watch. Tom Izzo is one of the best college basketball coaches, no question. Memphis is absolutely on fire right now and while beating St Louis is challenging, it’s small potatoes compared to the likes of Michigan State.
Everyone will talk about this being Izzo’s year, the year of the Spartan, and that’s only been further exclaimed by the fact they beat Ohio State to win the Big Ten. But, here’s the other side of that stat – Izzo hasn’t been a number one since 2001. They lost first round last year, made to the Final Four in 2010 as a five seed, and lost in the Championship the year before to North Carolina.
They would have been a two or three if not for that one win over Ohio State, and everyone knows it. Memphis has won 19 of the last 22, and are athletic enough to keep up with Michigan State. They’re uptempo enough to shut down the Spartans, make no mistake about it. With their momentum, if their players don’t choke, this will be your first number one seed to go down.
Why is this game important? It’s obvious. The winner will probably go to the Final Four, supposing Missouri loses somewhere along the line. Memphis has the guns to outlast Michigan State, and will extend their winning streak by pulling off an impressive upset 72-69.
Next – 7. Florida vs 2. Missouri. Florida has a defense strong enough to possibly defeat Missouri. On the other hand, the Tigers have an offense powerful enough to manhandle Florida. It’ll be a very exciting game.
Easiest Second Round – 3. Marquette vs 6. Murray State. Murray State is deceptive, as they’ve barely played a real team all year. Marquette comes out of the Big East with several big wins and the Big East player of the year. 15 point victory? You bet.
8. Memphis vs 5. New Mexico – Phoenix, AZ – Thursday, March 22
Player to watch – Drew Gordan, F, New Mexico. Gordan is a senior forward, and runner up Mountain West player of the year. He’s no stranger to the tournament, and had a double double in their win over San Diego State to claim the conference championship. If New Mexico is to beat Memphis, Gordan will be a major reason why.
Memphis, as previously stated, is on a roll. So far they’ll have beaten St Louis and Michigan State – both impressive wins. If they’re able to outscore Michigan State than honestly, New Mexico shouldn’t be a problem. The “roll” Memphis is on isn’t against Michigan State quality teams to be sure, but New Mexico is far less impressive. They give up far too many turnovers which the Tigers are able to take advantage of.
On paper, the two are surprisingly even. Their RPI ranking is separated by 10, Memphis at 16 and New Mexico at 26. They each have similar losses to top 100 RPI teams, and their points per game is separated by a mere two point. That’s to say, it’ll be a great game.
The bottom line – Memphis is moving far too fast, Memphis is at it’s peak and shows no signs of slowing down. Josh Pastner has something to prove, and is highly motivated to make his first deep tournament run. Barring injury, Memphis will take down the Lobos 77-69.
3. Marquette vs 2. Missouri – Phoenix, AZ – Thursday, March 22
Player to watch – Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette, SG. Both these teams are high scoring, and Johnson-Odom is key to the Golden Eagles offense. He’s the highest score on this Marquette team, as well as the best three point shooter. If he’s shut down, they’re in trouble.
Missouri is being talked about a lot. They’re screaming Final Four, have an incredibly high powered offense, and have a team that can play a full game without getting tired. It’s insane how fast they play, and how many three pointers they can hit. That said, their defense is almost nonexistent.
Marquette having a smaller squad is of concern, but not against the Tigers. Both have relatively small rosters. Marquette has a top 20 defense, while Missouri’s is 75th.
Buzz Williams beats out Missouri as far as coaching experience, especially in the tournament. Marquette has the offense and defense necessary, are far more balanced than people give them credit, and ultimately possess the skills to take down two seed Missouri.
The bottom line – Marquette plays better defense, much better. Missouri, if shooting bad from beyond the arc, is completely disabled. The Golden Eagles run away with it 80-70.
8. Memphis vs 3. Marquette – Phoenix, AZ – Saturday, March 24
Player to watch – Tarik Black, Memphis, F. Tarik Black is a dominant force when on top of his game. But, he’s had games of only four points. Black is a a major contributor to the Tigers defense, leading the team in blocks per game. If he has a good night, then Marquette will be shut down.
This is a matchup few will predict, but has potential to be one of the most exciting games all tournament. Marquette has a top rated defense and a very fast paced offense. Memphis can keep up with Marquette, and rebounds far better than them. As already mentioned, Coach Pastner has a chip on his shoulder. He needs to prove this squad can make a tournament run and hang with the elite schools. Memphis is young, but possess all the tools to succeed.
Tarik Black will be a man to watch, as will the exciting Golden Eagles tandem Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. DJO is a scoring machine when he’s playing well, and Crowder is the big man up front. The Golden Eagles are balanced enough to challenge any team in the nation, and handling Memphis is well within their grasp.
The bottom line – Watching these two teams play will be a matchup for the ages. If Marquette can outscore Missouri, they play the balanced yet inconsistent Memphis Tigers. Memphis will play a Marquette team at its best, and has to be a defensive stronghold to shut down Johnson-Odom. The problem with that? Marquette’s defense can slow down Memphis… and besides, no team stays hot forever.
It’s very, very close. Either one could walk away the winner, but I’m taking Marquette to the Final Four 71-69.
Most Overrated 8+: Murray State Racers. I like them as much as the next guy, but a number six seed is too high. They’ve barely been tested all year and Memphis, St Louis, or Florida are more deserving.
Most Underrated 8+: Memphis Tigers. They could easily be a number three or four seed. They’re offense and athleticism is nearly unmatched in this tournament. Louisville or Murray State should switch places with the Tigers.
Most Overrated 9-: Colorado State Rams. Honestly, how are they even in the tournament? A win over Murray State would be an absolute miracle.
Most Underrated 9-: St Louis Billikens. At number nine, the selection committee really screwed over St Louis by pitting them against Memphis in the first round. That matchup is Sweet 16 worthy. St Louis has an incredible defense and deserved at least a six, if not a five.