Midwest Regional breakdown
Catch Kansas vs. Clemson, watch out for Davidson
Posted: Monday March 17, 2008 1:29PM; Updated: Monday March 17, 2008 2:06PM
Underrated: Siena. If you watched the Saints wallop a very good Rider team in the MAAC championship game, you know how dangerous this team can be. Siena has very little size (no starters taller than 6-foot-7) and experience (only one senior), yet it has four different players who are capable of scoring 20 or more points. Since they play a five-out, none-in style offense, they can lose to anyone when their threes aren't falling, but you could say that about a lot of teams -- including their first-round opponent, Vanderbilt.
Overrated: Vanderbilt. I almost went with Georgetown here (Jonathan Wallace has not had a vintage season), but I was quite surprised the Commodores ended up as a No. 4 seed. What makes me even more skeptical about them is the trouble they had winning away from home. Vanderbilt lost at Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama during SEC play, and they lost to Arkansas again in the SEC tournament. Even if they get by Siena in the first round, I have a hard time seeing them defeat a physical, defensive team like Clemson in round two.
Bracket Buster: Davidson. I really, really wanted to pick Davidson to get to the Sweet 16, but the cautious bracket protector in me thought better of it. Even so, this is a team that is as battle-tested as anyone in the so-called power conferences. Davidson returned all five starters, led by its sterling backcourt duo of Jason Richards and Stephen Curry, from the team that almost beat Maryland in the first round of last year's tournament, and during the nonconference season it played North Carolina, UCLA and Duke close before losing. (They even led UCLA by 18 points in the second half.) Davidson has a very tough first-round in Gonzaga, but since they're playing in Raleigh, they should have plenty of help from the crowd.
Home cooking: Kansas State. Since I gave the nod to Davidson above, the Wildcats are the choice here for the fortune of getting to play USC in Omaha. They'll need that help from the crowd, too, because they're playing a team that is extremely dangerous. Everyone will be caught up (rightly so) in the O.J. Mayo-Michael Beasley matchup, but Kansas State's other two freshmen, forward Bill Walker and guard Jacob Pullen, will have to play their best games of the year in order to advance to the second round.
Best player you've never heard of: Al Fisher, 6-1 junior guard, Kent State. Fisher was one of the best stories in college basketball this season. He was added to the roster last fall as a junior college transfer, even though coach Jim Christian had never seen him play. All he did was average 14.2 points and 4.1 points per game en route to being named the MAC player of the year. In the Golden Flashes' biggest win, Fisher scored 28 points at St. Mary's and only made one three-pointer. He's only a 31.7 percent three-point shooter, but it's still hard for defenders to stay in front of him.
Best matchup: Kansas vs. Clemson. The Tigers played some very good basketball down the stretch in the ACC, including a win over Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals. Unlike Duke, the Jayhawks have the size to battle the Tigers inside, but Kansas prefers to play an up-tempo game while Clemson will try to grind it out. Clemson's guards, K.C. Rivers and Cliff Hammonds, have been inconsistent shooting the ball, but if they're having a good night from long-range they could pull off the upset.
The pick: Kansas. The Jayhawks were already playing great basketball before Sherron Collins got fully healthy the last three weeks. With Collins back to full strength and once again providing this team with critical leadership, there's no team in this region -- or maybe the country -- that can beat Kansas when it is playing as well as it can.