The NCAA Selection Committee never ceases to amaze. In addition to creating one of the most stacked Regions in history (Midwest) and one of the worst ever (South), the committee used the East Region to seed teams with similar–make that identical–styles of play and shortcomings. An intriguing 8-9 matchup between Texas and Wake Forest features two teams that crashed and burned late in the season. Marquette and Washington have strong perimeter play and no true inside threats whatsoever. Clemson and Missouri play a scattered pressuring style that looks great when it works and horrible when it doesn’t. Cornell is emerging as a popular tournament darling, and a win over a solid Temple squad would set up a matchup with Wisconsin featuring a plethora of skilled white dudes. West Virginia sits quietly at the bottom of the region as the No. 2 seed without much fanfare. Will the Mountaineers survive to meet Kentucky in the Elite Eight? Will Kentucky be dethroned by a slower, tougher team? This should be fun.
Best first-round matchup
No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 5 Temple
This could be one of the best games of the entire tournament. A bold statement? Maybe, but Cornell is a talented, experienced No. 12 and Temple could be the best No. 5 seed in the field. The teams play similar styles, with Temple having a slight edge in athleticism. Cornell’s Randy Wittman and Juan Fernandez of Temple are two of the best shooters in the country. Fernandez is also a good passer with the ability to create. Cornell 7-footer Matt Foote could be the difference if Cornell pulls off what amounts to a mild upset in Jacksonville. Both teams have a good chance of advancing to the Sweet 16, it’s too bad one has to lose.
Most likely first-round upset
No. 10 Missouri over No. 7 Clemson
Missouri has a veteran, balanced team with slightly better guard-play than Clemson. In a game featuring full-court pressure from both sides, that could prove to be the difference. Mike Anderson’s squad is well-coached, disciplined, and tough. Clemson has more talent than Mizzou but rarely ever seems to play up to its potential. Trevor Booker can be a dominant player when he gets the ball. Aside from Georgia Tech, few teams have a harder time feeding the post than Clemson. Even though Missouri forward Laurence Bowers is dealing with a significant wrist injury that will hamper his effectiveness, Clemson is often its own worst enemy. Missouri has a great chance to advance, setting up a potential matchup with West Virginia.
No. 2 West Virginia
At last check, ESPN’s Jay Bilas was still sticking with his pick of Cornell over Kentucky. What courage, what foresight! Realistically, Cornell could easily lose in the the first or second round given the unfortunate seeding of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has a chance against Kentucky, but West Virginia seems more likely to fall. The Mountaineers had a strong case for a No. 1 seed, so it will be interesting if Bob Huggins employs his “us against the world” mantra he has used successfully with previous teams. Regardless, West Virginia lacks a true point guard and has looked rattled at times against pressure, meaning Second-Round games against Mizzou or Clemson could be tough. Further down the road, Marquette and New Mexico matchup well with West Virginia. It could be a brief stint for Huggy Bear this year.
No. 3 New Mexico
Although the Lobos were defeated in the Mountain West Semifinals, it’s difficult to ignore their 15-game winning-streak at the end of the regular season. Potential matchups with Marquette, Washington, and West Virginia are very suitable for New Mexico. Steve Alford will have to get through that dreaded 3-14 First-Round game if he wants to be the first coach to lead the Lobos to the Sweet 16.
No. 8 Texas
Is there any doubt? The Longhorns managed to land a No. 8 seed despite getting run out of the gym by Baylor twice in the same week and fading steadily after reaching the pinnacle of college hoops earlier this season. Even with season-ending injuries to Balbay and Ward, the Longhorns still have a ton of talent. For whatever reason, Rick Barnes seems to have lost his team. Damion James can be a dominant player, but Texas has looked absolutely clueless since the middle of January.
The Slipper Fits
No. 6 Marquette
This is a gutsy call to say the least, considering the Golden Eagles could easily lose to Washington or New Mexico. There is just something about Marquette; how’s that for insider analysis? The Golden Eagles have wins over Villanova, Georgetown and Xavier, one-point losses to Florida State and West Virginia on the road, and a pair of two-point losses to Villanova. Marquette could have had two or three additional huge wins with a little bit of luck despite having fairly average talent. Buzz Williams can flat-out coach. It seems very foolish to slight Marquette in this particular region.
Elite Eight: No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 1 Kentucky Final Four: Kentucky
By far the most annoying an likely inaccurate portion of the ToTheTin Bracketology feature. With that disclaimer out of the way, Kentucky and Marquette are the picks to make the Elite Eight. The Wildcats sneak out a win against Wisconsin, Marquette edges West Virginia in a low-scoring affair. Cousins and Wall lead the young ‘Cats to Indianapolis with an easy win over Marquette.