We continue our tournament coverage with a look at the West Region, where UCLA looks well suited for a run to its third straight Final Four. The breakdown begins with a look at the region’s teams from top to bottom in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency (as rated by Ken Pomeroy), followed by analysis of the region's statistical make up. The regional preview concludes with a session of Tourney Talk between AW and PB.
All data from Ken Pomeroy. Teams listed in order of best to worst within each category. Each team's national rank is listed in parentheses.
|Texas A&M (12)
|West Virginia (29)
|West Virginia (27)
|Texas A&M (34)
|W. Kentucky (78)
|W. Kentucky (66)
|San Diego (68)
|San Diego (175)
|Mississippi Valley St. (325)
|Mississippi Valley St. (257)
Full bracket analysis, including Tourney Talk, after the jump.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS...
The numbers confirm what most college basketball fans thought when the brackets were revealed: the committee appears to have gone out of its way to pave the road for UCLA. Duke does rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiencies but they have difficulties defending physical post players and have difficulty scoring when they aren’t creating 15-20 turnovers. If it comes down to the Blue Devils and the Bruins in Phoenix, I’d give a big advantage to UCLA with Darren Collison protecting the basketball and Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Alfred Aboya in the paint.
The rest of the region is average at best. Xavier appears to be a fairly weak #3 seed as they rank in the twenties nationally on both ends of the floor, #4 UConn has been inconsistent and doesn’t play good enough defense to make much noise in the tournament, and #5 Drake and #11 Baylor have nearly identical high-powered offensive numbers and mediocre defensive ones. Last, I initially thought that UCLA vs. Texas A&M in the second round could be tough to watch. Now, after having looked at BYU’s numbers, the Aggies and Cougars first round match up could be an even more blinding defensive struggle. (AW)
WEST REGIONAL TOURNEY TALK...
PB: It's no secret that - dating even back to his days at Pittsburgh - I don't enjoy watching Ben Howland teams play basketball. They remind me a lot of the 2002 Ohio State Buckeye football team. (And not just because their brand of basketball so often resembles football.) They play great defense, they're physical, and they win close games. The important question, though, is: how effective can that style be in March Madness? Generally speaking, I think it's both outstanding and limiting, in that UCLA's incredibly hard to knock out, but they always seem too offensively limited to cut down the nets as champs. Agree or disagree?
AW: Gonna have to disagree. As ugly as they are to watch, their offensive numbers are top five in the country and under Howland they have been in that top five range consistently. Collison, Westbrook, Shipp, and Love are all skilled offensive players. I don't think we have to like the Bruins, but we should acknowledge that they’re a really good basketball team.
In fact, I really think that the two teams best equipped to win this tournament are Kansas and UCLA. Both are excellent on both ends of the floor, are loaded with talent, have tournament experience, and are led by solid coaches.
PB: To be fair, I did acknowledge that UCLA is really good. So let me take one more stab at this before we move on.
For starters, let's note why UCLA ranks highly in offensive efficiency each season. They shoot two-pointers exceptionally well (i.e. great in the paint), limit turnovers, and clean house on the offensive boards. That's a winning formula, and I don't discount that. My complaint isn't that UCLA isn't any good - they're great in a number of key areas - it's that they're unbearable to watch. They lack consistent perimeter scorers, succeeding instead with that brute force/work the paint/slam the offensive boards kind of way. Good? Yes. A pleasure to watch? No.
(Quick: name a guard Ben Howland has developed into an NBA caliber player.)
Now, with that out of the way.... Because I agree with you that UCLA has to be on the short list of teams that can win it all, it seems to me an important question. As strong as the Bruins are, my issue with UCLA has been that they've consistently lacked go-to scorers they can count on for points. I just couldn't see Aaron Afflalo anchoring an NCAA championship offense, for example.
The question, then, is whether: (1) Kevin Love is a guy who elevates them to a championship (instead of Final Four) team, and (2) whether Darren Collison's taken the kind of leap forward that can give them a go-to guard player. There are times when I think that the answer is yes, but others when I think this team is doomed to a loss when they play a great team and only score 55-60 points.
AW: I agree with those points completely. It’s going to take a great team on top of its offensive game to beat the Bruins. I’ll note, too, that I can't stand Kevin Love or the hype he gets from the Fox Sports media. However, he is as solid a freshman big man as I've seen in many, many years. He’s not overwhelmingly athletic, but seems to find a way to 18 and 10 just about every night.
Also, I don't think Collison has to be great for this team to win it all. More important, he needs to be the conductor. Shipp can beat you from the outside, Westbrook is an excellent slasher, and Love can get his on the low blocks or of offensive rebounds. Similarly to Kansas, it’s UCLA’s balance and experience that I think will keep them in the tourney for a long time.
Oh yeah, have we mentioned yet that the Bruins have the easiest regional by far? Is there anyone in the West that scares you? At all?
PB: Well, the one thing I think about if I'm a UCLA fan is that two teams potentially await which may not be overwhelmed by the Bruins' size and physicality - Texas A&M and Connecticut. The problem for both those teams, of course, is that neither is able to score with any consistency, which means they'd have to have an "On" night to give UCLA trouble. Beyond that, though? No. I think the Bruins are in excellent shape to make their third straight Final Four.
AW: Agreed. If UConn shows up, they could give the Bruins a run for their money.
Looking elsewhere, I don't know how much you got to see Baylor this year. Any thoughts on their chances of winning a game, maybe two?
PB: Baylor's a dangerous team when they're hitting three point shots. They aren't exactly a gimme team at that 11-line, but they have too many holes for me to see them making any significant noise.
Can you sort out the bottom of the bracket for me?
AW: W-E-A-K. I really don't think any of the bottom eight are national championship contenders, but one of them will be in the Elite Eight.
I really like Baylor's offense. Purdue has had difficulty defending the three ball all year and hasn't seen guards like Baylor's at all in conference season. I like the Bears to get a W.
I'm glad the committee sent Georgia somewhere that doesn't start until Friday. If they had to play on Thursday, Felton would still be crying. The Dawgs are not very good, though. I like the game to be competitive mostly because I don’t think too much of the Muskateers, but Xavier's my pick to get to the Sweet 16.
I do think West Virginia is getting too much love. Has everyone forgotten that they were an early Big East tourney exit away from possibly missing the tournament altogether? Now, suddenly people have them in the Elite Eight. That may say more about the weakness of this sub-regional than anything else, I suppose.
And last, Duke. Maybe it’s good that Duke has to go to DC and then Phoenix (if they make it). Maybe they can stay focused, knock down some threes, and find a way to get Zoubek and Singler some touches in the low post. Or maybe it won't matter and their lack of a post presence will still be too much to overcome.
PB: I wonder if Duke didn't get a bit of a blessing with a potentially tough second round match up against WVU or Arizona. I could see the Blue Devils dropping that contest, but I could also see it being a good test for them as they head to Phoenix to try and get to UCLA. It's not hard to imagine Duke being in good shape for the Elite Eight if they play well in the Round of 32. And they could well be the kind of team that gives UCLA fits. Duke can absolutely put up points when they're stroking from outside.
West Regional lightning round:
Team you love to hate?
AW: A&M. Without question. I don't know who’s worse on the sidelines: Mark Turgeon or Jeff Capel.
PB: It's an impossible choice for me, because both exude so little sense of controlling the atmosphere around them. They always look like frantic hens in a tornado. It's downright cartoon-ish.
And finally, your prediction for the West.
AW: More chalk for me - I've got UCLA over UConn and Duke over Xavier. Then UCLA moving on. In any other bracket, Duke would be out much, much sooner. One last thought. Arizona is incredibly talented. When Bayless and Budinger are both on - look out. The Wildcats have the players to make a run in the tourney, but they've never really gotten it all together this year. So I won't hold my breath.
PB: I've got no horses to pull for in this bracket, so you can be sure I'll be hoping for chaos, but this one looks fairly orderly to me: UCLA taking out Connecticut, Duke over Purdue, and the Bruins to their third straight Final Four. Love 'em or hate 'em, it's hard to argue with the results...