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By Jared Trexler, Contributing Editor - Archive - Email
Region-by-Region Bracket Breakdown
The Wildcats now head into March with the same attitude, but not the cloud of invincibility.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I estimate that I've watched over 300 hours of college basketball this season, spent valuable time pouring through Ken Pomeroy's statistical analysis and researched the tricks and trends of tournaments past (as are available in my book, 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket).

And yet, at the end of the day, my selections are as much guesses as yours are. That's what makes March so maddening and magnificent. The improbable always happens, you just aren't always sure which door to look behind.

This guide includes selections based off numerical data and my own personal evaluation of each team's strengths and weaknesses, yet you could take home the office pool's top prize with a one-minute rapid fire selection process through the bracket.

Granted, I'd take my odds in a best-of-100, but March's greatness lies in its one-and-done format. The best teams don't always win. And neither do the "experts."

The detailed analysis below is not for everybody. Some will scream halfway through, "Just unveil your champion already!" For those impatient readers, the answer is Kentucky.

Now, let's get on with the madness.

South Region

Two Sentences on Top 4 Seeds

Kentucky: Sometimes a loss is a good thing. The SEC Tournament was one of those times, as the Wildcats now head into March with the same attitude, but not the cloud of invincibility.

Duke: The softest No. 2 seed in recent memory by the numbers, the Blue Devils got as advantageous of a draw as possible in the lower half of the South region. Duke ranks 88th in effective field goal defense and 240th nationally at forcing turnovers.

Baylor: You never know what you are going to get. The Bears don't close out on shooters, ranking 154th in three-point defense, which is music to South Dakota State's Nate Wolters' ears.

Indiana: The Hoosiers are just 12-7 in 2012, but have the nation's fourth most efficient offense. Defense, however, can be an issue that a team with a fast point guard (Wichita State's Joe Ragland) could exploit.

Team No One is Talking About...But Should Be

Iowa State: Head coach Fred Hoiberg has done a fantastic job meshing a team made up largely of transfers. Everyone is sleeping on the Cyclones, but they are 32nd nationally in three-point percentage while UConn is 169th in guarding the arc. This has the recipe of a long-range shooting clinic.

Cinderella Hopeful

South Dakota State: Any hoops purist will fall in love with Walters, who does it all for the Jackrabbits. This is not your typical No. 14 seed. South Dakota State pummeled Pac-12 champion Washington on the Huskies home floor and steamed through the Summit League. Baylor better bring it for 40 minutes or a hot-shooting underdog that ranks 26th in offensive efficiency could pull the surprise.

How the South Will Play Out

Second Round

Kentucky over Western Kentucky Iowa State over Connecticut Wichita State over VCU Indiana over New Mexico State UNLV over Colorado Baylor over South Dakota State Xavier over Notre Dame Duke over Lehigh

Thoughts: Xavier is the only higher seed to claim a second round victory in the South region. The Musketeers are too explosive and will win the tempo game against Notre Dame and head coach Mike Brey's "burn" offense. I couldn't pull the trigger on South Dakota State, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't strongly consider it. Iowa State will play long ball against the empathetic Huskies, who did just enough down the stretch but haven't been playing up to their potential for months.

Third Round

Kentucky over Iowa State Wichita State over Indiana UNLV over Baylor Duke over Xavier

Thoughts: The Runnin' Rebels will be playing a de facto home game against the Bears at the Pit, a place with awkward sightlines that require an adjustment period the Bears can't afford. If you haven't seen the Rebels much this season, forward Mike Moser and guard Chace Stanback are the standouts, but the job of Oscar Bellfield in controlling tempo and cutting down on turnovers will be the key. Elsewhere, seeds hold up other than Wichita State over Indiana. I don't think the Hoosiers have an answer for Ragland on the perimeter, and the loss of Verdell Jones will prove the difference in a close game.

Fourth Round

Kentucky over Wichita State Duke over UNLV

Thoughts: Can anyone say Christian Laetnner? Replays of the shot, audio commentary of the passer Grant Hill and features on Thomas Hill's teary reaction and Jamal Mashburn's raw emotion will be played on loop heading into a regional final between these two storied programs.

South champion: Kentucky. The Wildcats are too physical in the middle and too athletic on the perimeter. Darius Miller will make it difficult for Austin Rivers and force Seth Curry to score off the dribble, while the Plumlees will get into early foul trouble and Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will feast on Duke's limited interior depth.

West Region

Two Sentences on Top 4 Seeds

Michigan State: The Spartans are in prime position with a Player of the Year candidate (Draymond Green) and a tournament veteran on the bench (Tom Izzo). Michigan State's efficiency spans both ends of the floor with the 11th-most efficient offense and the third most-efficient defense.

Missouri: The Tigers are the first 30-win team from a power conference to fall short of the top regional line. Missouri's interior deficiencies may not be tested until a regional final.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles' swing offense is difficult to prepare for, and they provide matchup problems all over the floor. Jae Crowder is the biggest one, a raw physical specimen who is comfortable enough off the dribble to open an above-average three-point game.

Louisville: The Cardinals go through extended scoring slumps, especially when Peyton Siva isn't driving and Kyle Kuric isn't shooting. Those scoring droughts put a greater tournament strain on the Cardinals' defense.

Team No One is Talking About...But Should Be

New Mexico: The Lobos are a statistically efficient force, ranking 32nd in offensive efficiency and 13th on the other end of the floor. New Mexico, at least by the numbers, does everything slightly above average, and it is usually those teams without a glaring deficiency that advance.

Cinderella Hopeful

Davidson: We've danced before with head coach Bob McKillop, and with good reason. However, these aren't Stephen Curry's Wildcats. Davidson is a bruising bunch compared to past standards, ranking 19th nationally in rebounds per game and just 110th in field goal percentage. The benchmark of a second-round upset is whether or not you feel the Wildcats can hang with or even find success against Louisville on the glass.

How the West Will Play Out

Second Round

Michigan State over Long Island Memphis over St. Louis New Mexico over Long Beach State Louisville over Davidson Murray State over Colorado State Marquette over Iona Florida over Virginia Missouri over Norfolk State

Thoughts: All chalk. The double-digit seeds in this region are not as strong as others, especially considering Long Beach State (the strongest of the bunch) may be without sharp-shooter Larry Anderson for the game against the Lobos.

Third Round

Memphis over Michigan State New Mexico over Louisville Marquette over Murray State Missouri over Norfolk State

Thoughts: And now the bracket blows up with Memphis, a statistical force placed far too high on the selection committee's S-curve, using its waves of athleticism to down Michigan State. Yes, the Tigers don't have a player that can match-up with Green, but the Spartans have no answer for the Tigers' speed on the wings. The bottom of the bracket holds true to form, setting up a Sweet 16 contest between two teams with an eye towards New Orleans.

Fourth Round

Memphis over New Mexico Missouri over Marquette

Thoughts:Memphis continues its ride to the regional final, one that shouldn?t be overly surprising based on numerical evidence. It is efficient on both ends of the floor, ranks fifth in team field goal percentage and seventh in effective team field goal defense. And if this bracket goes as planned, Missouri will have a golden opportunity to reach the Final Four without playing a team with a sizable interior presence.

West champion: Missouri. The Tigers hold the dubious honor of racking up the most tournament victories without a trip to the Final Four. That will change in Phoenix, as the bracket will break the Tigers way. Missouri will face four teams (Norfolk State, Florida, Marquette and Memphis) that play a similar style, except no one plays the perimeter game better than the Tigers.

East Region

Two Sentences on Top 4 Seeds

Syracuse: The Orange don't control the glass very well (341st in the country in opponents? offensive rebounding percentage). Now, with Fab Melo ineligible the rest of the way, where does Syracuse turn in an area of vulnerability?

Ohio State: Yes, William Buford needs to rediscover his shooting stroke. And yes, Ohio State needs to be more aggressive in attacking the rim, but the Buckeyes can still find a path to the Final Four thanks to the nation's most efficient defense.

Florida State: The committee was enamored with Florida State's run through the ACC Tournament, and it was tough not to vault the Seminoles a seed line or two above their statistical worth. Yes, Florida State has been much better on the offensive end over the last five or so games, but don't let a small sample size fool you.

Wisconsin: Speaking of statistical evidence, the numbers love the Badgers, even though the eye test winces from the tip to the final buzzer. Wisconsin doesn't turn the ball over (2nd nationally in turnover percentage) and plays solid defense (4th nationally in that category), but the key will be whether it makes enough shots to survive.

Team No One is Talking About...But Should Be

Cincinnati: When the Bearcats are hitting their long-range shots (and that's a big if), they can stay on the floor with any team in this tournament. Cincinnati's Yancy Gates plays by emotion, so keeping him engaged in the offense early is the key to March success.

Cinderella Hopeful

Harvard: The Crimson are already on the radar of hoops junkies, but for those just tuning in, this isn't a typical Ivy League squad. They rank 30th nationally in defensive efficiency and have already beaten Utah, Florida State, Central Florida, Saint Joseph?s and Boston College. This veteran outfit won't be intimidated by the surroundings or the SEC opponents staring back at them.

How the East Will Play Out

Second Round

Syracuse over UNC-Asheville Kansas State over Southern Miss Vanderbilt over Harvard Wisconsin over Montana Cincinnati over Texas Florida State over St. Bonaventure West Virginia over Gonzaga Ohio State over Loyola (Maryland)

Thoughts: Both Harvard and Montana have an opportunity to dream in Albuquerque, but Vanderbilt and Wisconsin's collective experience should push each into a Saturday meeting. Gonzaga has to travel east to Pittsburgh for a Thursday night showdown with West Virginia, which will have the short trip to a quasi home game in its backyard. The home-court advantage coupled with Gonzaga's long trip and susceptibility to physical front lines will give the 10th-seeded Mountaineers the "upset" victory.

Third Round

Syracuse over Kansas State Vanderbilt over Wisconsin Florida State over Cincinnati Ohio State over West Virginia

Thoughts: Festus Ezeli will be the most important player on the floor when the Commodores and Badgers square off Saturday. Both teams have veteran guards, but Vanderbilt has the advantage in the middle, where Ezeli touches the ball on anywhere from 24 to 28 percent of the team?s offensive possessions. Expect a number near the upper end or even higher in a game of possession value that will be won by the team that gets more high percentage shots. That will be Vanderbilt.

Fourth Round

Vanderbilt over Syracuse Ohio State over Florida State

Thoughts: Vanderbilt need only look at tape of Notre Dame's thrashing of Syracuse to copy the blueprint of how to beat the Orange without Melo. The Commodores can attack one of two ways at the outset, either using Ezeli at the high post to jumpstart his own offensive game or as a facilitator and passer to the wing shooters (Jenkins and Taylor) when the zone collapses. Success at either will open up the other, and I don't think the Orange has an answer to the now gaping hole in the middle of their vaunted zone. On the other side, Ohio State needs to match Florida State's physicality, because you can bet the Seminoles will come out with the intention of pushing Jared Sullinger off the block and doubling down with the hope their long guards can close out on shooters. Yet, people forget about the Buckeyes' defense, and I just don't see the Seminoles scoring enough to keep pace.

East champion: Ohio State. The Buckeyes looked unbeatable in early January then seemed to coast through a month-long rough patch. They played much better in Indianapolis, and as long as they keep up the defensive intensity, they have too many offensive weapons for Vandy.

Midwest Region

Two Sentences on Top 4 Seeds

North Carolina: The Tar Heels enter the tournament with another injury hanging over a star player (remember Ty Lawson in 2009?). John Henson may not be available on Friday, but North Carolina needs his defense and intangibles to get out of the region.

Kansas: Rock, chalk, solid, the Jayhawks won't beat themselves this March according to the statistical metrics. Kansas has the nation's eighth most efficient offense and defense and holds opponents to a 40 percent percentage on two-point shots, a result of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey disrupting any interior attempts.

Georgetown: The Hoyas intend to make each March conquest a limited possession affair, and with good reason. Georgetown doesn't allow its opponents to make threes (just 26.6 percent, best in the nation) then uses its wings to create mismatches within the Princeton set.

Michigan: You will hear a lot about head coach John Beilein's unique offensive sets, and the difficulty preparing for his Wolverines on short rest. Michigan lost just twice when the opponent had less than two full days to prepare, which is a good indicator of a Sweet 16 visit.

Team No One is Talking About...But Should Be

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack's raucous reaction to their tournament inclusion has made YouTube history, yet no one should forget their play on the floor at the ACC Tournament and in season-ending victories over Miami and Virginia Tech. North Carolina State also has the added benefit of playing a 12:40 p.m. tip in Dayton against a team from the west coast (San Diego State). If you ever read my book, you know the historical trends of those west coast teams going east for an early afternoon tip.

Cinderella Hopeful

Belmont: For the second straight season, kenpom.com loves the Bruins. It didn't end well last year, but Belmont can't be dismissed because it values possessions, plays tournament-average defense and is facing off against a team (Georgetown) that won't try to push tempo. The Bruins also aren't afraid of the big stage, starting the season with a one-point loss in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Second Round

North Carolina over Lamar Creighton over Alabama California over Temple Michigan over Ohio North Carolina State over San Diego State Georgetown over Belmont Purdue over Saint Mary's Kansas over Detroit

Thoughts: California or South Florida would give Temple fits with length and athleticism, and the Owls aren't exactly entering the tournament with a wave of momentum. We already discussed North Carolina State's decided advantage. Purdue's guard play will wear down Saint Mary's standout Matthew Dellavedova.

Third Round

North Carolina over Creighton Michigan over California North Carolina State over Georgetown Kansas over Purdue

Thoughts: C.J. Leslie must stay on the floor (despite poor officiating he committed several careless fouls against North Carolina) because he is the Wolfpack's most important player, and the one playing with the most confidence down the stretch. The Wolfpack also need to get the adjusted tempo into the high 60s (North Carolina plays to a 68.1 adjusted tempo while Georgetown plays to 63.3).

Fourth Round

North Carolina over Michigan Kansas over North Carolina State

Thoughts: Will we see the legendary Bonnie Bernstein interview in which then- Kansas head coach Roy Williams said he didn't, "give a flip about North Carolina" following the Jayhawks national championship game loss? I hope not. Both programs have succeeded under new leadership -- UNC with Williams and Kansas with Bill Self. As I stated above, the Jayhawks will force the Tar Heels to be patient and defend for the better part of 30 seconds on each possession. UNC's discipline level will be the difference.

Midwest champion: North Carolina. Over 40 minutes, a collection of All- Americans will edge a team devoid of any with a late wave of talent too tough to overcome.

Final Four

Kentucky over Missouri Ohio State over North Carolina

National champion: Kentucky. When all else fails, always, always go with the best team. March is known for Cinderella and upsets, but when the dusts settles, the best team or the team playing the best usually wins out. That team is Kentucky on both fronts. John Calipari will finally capture his first national championship on the first Monday night in April.



Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.


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