Last year Duke was able to benefit from having an easy road to the Final Four. If the Blue Devils are fortunate enough to make it back this season, it will be a much tougher road to travel. Arizona, Texas, Connecticut, and to a lesser extent San Diego State would present challenges for Duke. People want to overlook Texas because of their late season struggles, but I can guarantee the Blue Devils would not be happy to see the Longhorns in Anaheim next weekend.
Best Game: #5 Arizona vs. #12 Memphis
After a one year absence Josh Pastner has Memphis back in the NCAA Tournament. The committee feigned ignorance, but I don’t believe it was pure coincidence that he is matched up against the Wildcats, where he used to serve as an assistant, was a walk-on for the 1997 national championship team. Arizona features future NBA player Derrick Williams. Williams shoots the ball extremely well, and is ferocious on the glass. Also, when he wants to be, he is a threat from the three point line where he hit 35 of 58 shots. This version of the Tigers is less flashy then when John Calipari coached there, but they certainly buy into the team concept. Nine of their players average double digits in minutes per game, and all nine average at least 6 points a game, with guard Will Barton leading the way with 12.3 ppg. That doesn’t sound like much but it also means that defenses can’t focus on just one or two guys.
Player to Watch: Duke guard Nolan Smith
Some of you might be asking if this is a mistake. While Kemba Walker from UCONN just electrified the Garden last week, I think Nolan Smith is the true player to watch in the West. Despite averaging less minutes per game this season than he did last year, Smith improved his numbers across the board. His scoring went up from 17.4 ppg to 21.3, his assists from 3 to 5.2 per game, and his rebounds from 2.8 to 4.6 per game. Smith only scored in single digits twice this season. What makes Smith even better is he is just as accomplished on the defensive end. Smith is a very physical player and as was shown against Kendall Marshall on Sunday, can easily get in his opponents heads.
Lowest Seed to Make It Through the First Weekend: #4 Texas
This looks to be another chalky region. I think we will only see one “upset” in the first weekend, and that will be Penn State knocking off Temple. While I am not sold on San Diego State, I don’t think Penn State is good enough to knock them off. People will be overlooking Texas at their own risk, don’t underestimate Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson.
Best Potential Game: #4 Texas vs. #5 Arizona
The athleticism and talent in this game would be a joy to watch. Derrick Wiliams, Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, and Gary Johnson are all exciting players. Duke/Michigan would be a close second but I think that game could have blowout potential. I think this game would be competitive all the way, with the outcome in doubt right to the very end.
#1 Duke over # 16 Hampton
#8 Michigan over #9 Tennessee
#5 Arizona over #12 Memphia
#4 Texas over #13 Oakland
#6 Cincinnati over #11 Missouri
#3 Connecticut over #14 Bucknell
#10 Penn State over #7 Temple
#2 San Diego State over #15 Northern Colorado
#1 Duke over #8 Michigan
#4 Texas over #5 Arizona
#3 Connecticut over #6 Cincinnati
#2 San Diego State over #10 Penn State