The NCAA Tournament’s West Regional officially gets underway tonight with BYU-Iona in a play-in game (9:10 PM ET, TruTV). TheSportsNotebook takes a look at the entire region, which is marked by the debate over whether Michigan State or Missouri should really have been the #1 seed, and reaches its conclusion in Phoenix next weekend. We’ll run through the four bracket pods that play this week and then make a Final Four pick.
#1 SEED POD (Columbus): Michigan State-Long Island, Memphis-St. Louis
This won’t be easy for Michigan State to advance out of, especially if Memphis is the second-round opponent. The Tigers are playing well right now, and the Spartans are not an exceptionally talented team. But they do have an exceptional post player in Draymond Green, who can get you 12-15 points and scoop up every rebound in the area. And they have a head coach in Tom Izzo who transcends exceptional, especially in March. They might have to sweat, but they won’t go home early.
#4 SEED POD (Portland): Louisville-Davidson, New Mexico-Long Beach State
Louisville is the favorite, but I don’t see the Cards repeating UConn’s feat of year ago and extending their Big East tournament run all the way through March. The New Mexico-Long Beach State game is a really good matchup. One of the things I noted in yesterday’s breakdown of the tournament by venue, is that the other pod in Portland has Indiana in it—whose fans will presumably get right behind their former hero in Steve Alford, the New Mexico coach. But Long Beach has been a solid team all year and has played competitive games against elite teams, including on a visit to North Carolina. The 49ers are battle-tested and I think they’re coming out of this draw as a #12 seed.
#3 SEED POD (Louisville): Murray State-Colorado State, Marquette-BYU/Iona
Marquette is the #3 seed, but this is another pod where I don’t like the Big East team’s chances. I think the Golden Eagles will have a lot of problems with BYU, should the Cougars win tonight—and I think BYU is going to beat Iona by 10-plus, thanks to their superior size. And in either case, I think the Murray State-Colorado State winner is whose being ticketed for Phoenix. I’ll pick the Racers to advance from the #6 seed.
#2 SEED POD (Omaha): Florida-Virginia, Missouri-Norfolk State
Florida’s got the talent to cause a lot of problems for Missouri if that’s the second-round matchup. But before we book Billy Donovan’s flight to Phoenix, let’s remember two things—Virginia’s Mike Scott is the best player in the ACC and the power forward can cause problems for anyone. And Missouri’s raw depth in the backcourt is a problem for any opponent. That’s why I’m staying with the chalk and picking Mizzou to advance.
LOOKING AHEAD TO PHOENIX
This pod is the midmajors’ dream, as Michigan State plays Long Beach State and Missouri meets Murray State. Of course if it works out this way, CBS is secretly dreading a Long Beach-Murray regional final game. This is a bracket where I’m determined to roll the dice and I’m going with Long Beach State to become the first #12 seed to reach the Final Four.