756sports would like to start off by honoring West Coast hip hip legend and all-time great, Nate Dogg. Rest in peace.The West Coast rapper passed away yesterday at the age of 41.
In Nate Dogg’s honor, we will now refer to this region as the Nate Dogg Region. Duke takes the 1-seed for this region after beating up on UNC in the ACC championship. Meanwhile, the San Diego State Aztecs are the 2-seed and have a very favorable path, due to the close proximity of their games locations and their campus. They will be playing their first weekend in Tucson, Arizona and would be playing in Anaheim if they are able to make it to the later rounds. The UConn Huskies and Texas Longhorns finish out the top 4 and will do their best to ruin a Duke Blue Devil return to the Final Four. The opening round (should be called first round, hate that its not) features three very interesting games and two potential upsets that could make or break your bracket. The 5-12 Arizona-Memphis matchup will put two very athletic, fast-paced teams on the court and have us on the edge of our seats. I like the Derrick Williams-led Wildcats from Zona to pull it out. The 8-9 Michigan-Tennessee game has two well-coached, hard-working teams pitted against one another. I love Bruce Pearl, coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, but I think the Wolverines will pull this one out behind the 3-point shooting of Tim Hardaway Jr. I am also very excited to see who pulls out the W in the 6-11 matchup between Cincinnati and Missouri. My two upset specials to watch out for (although I do not have both of them picked) are Oakland over Texas and Bucknell over UConn.
Here are my picks for the first round of games out in the Nate Dogg region…
1. Duke over 16. Hampton
8. Michigan over 9. Tennessee
5. Arizona over 12. Memphis
13. Oakland over 4. Texas
13. Oakland over 4. Texas
6. Cincy over 11. Mizzou
3. UConn over 14. Bucknell
10. Penn St. over 7. Temple
2. SDSU over 15. Northern Colorado
This would leave us with some solid weekend games as UConn and Cincy square off in a Big East battle, whie we could see a reignition of the Duke-Michigan rivalry.
In these matchups, I have the higher seeds prevailing…
1. Duke over 8. Michigan
5. Arizona over 13. Oakland
3. UConn over 6. Cincy
2. SDSU over 10. Penn St.
In the round of 16, we would have a very athletic Arizona squad taking on the mighty Blue Devils of Duke University. On the bottom half, we have Kemba Walker’s Huskies squaring off against one of the most athletic teams in the nation, SDSU. I think both of these games will be close, but the legends will move on…
1. Duke over 5. Arizona
3. UConn over 2. SDSU
This regional final would have the chance to go down as one of the best in the history of March madness. A battle between the ACC and Big East, between Nolan Smith and Kemba Walker…I like the Dukies to will themselves to victory and top UConn in a game that comes down to the wire. I think the Huskies’ legs will finally give out and Duke will return to the Final Four under Coach K…oh yeah, and Kyrie Irving is back…
1. Duke over 3. UConn
FINAL FOUR PICK: Duke Blue Devils…depth, solid guards, and long big men will prove to be too much to handle out west in Nate Dogg’s region.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-UConn, Junior, G Kemba Walker (23.5 ppg, 4.3 apg, 5.3 rpg)…This guy is my favorite player in college basketball. He willed UConn to win 5 games in 5 days and hoist the Big East trophy. I hope he has enough left in the tank to make a big run into late March.
-SDSU, Sophomore, F Kawhi Leonard (15.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg)…This 6’7, 225 lb beast is freakishly athletic and a double-double machine. Look for him to rally up the Aztecs as they try to use the west coast region to their advantage and make a run at the Final Four spot.
-Arizona, Sophomore, F Derrick Williams (19 ppg, 8 rpg)…The future NBA lottery pick and possible #1 selection is a monster. He put over 20 points in all of his Pac-10 tournament games and I expect him to do the same this coming weekend. The guy has great inside game and can finish with the best of him. He also shot 60% from three-point range this season on 58 attempts.
-Duke, Freshman, G Kyrie Irving (17.4 ppg, 5 apg, 3.8 rpg)…This freshman only played 8 games this year before being sidelined by a foot/toe injury. Not only did teams have to worry about Duke without him, but now they have to worry about Duke with him. The freshman sensation has been cleared to play and Coach K announced that he will be used in the tournament. Everyone needs to be on high alert because this kid can ball.
-Oakland, Senior, C Keith Benson (18 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.6 blocks)…The 6’11 beast in the middle had 28 points in their conference championship game, and will look to keep it going as the Cinderella looks to beat Big-12 powerhouse Texas in the opening round.
Sleeper: Cincy Bearcats…if this Big East at-large bid can get teams to play at their frantic, frenetic pace, they will be able to pull off some upsets. I am excited to see if they can play UConn close in a potential second round game.
Super Sleeper: Bucknell Bison…These guys have only lost once in 2011 and have a solid 6’11 center in Mike Muscala (15 ppg, 7 rpg). Look for them to scare UConn for a little bit…and who knows what could happen in the Madness?
Check back for more analysis later as 756sports breaks down the Southwest region and my Final Four and Championship picks.