NCAA tournament 2012: John Feinstein analyzes the West Region

Columnist March 11, 2012

It is worth noting that for all of the committee’s talk about trying to keep teams in their “natural region,” there is exactly one West Coast team playing in the West Region: Long Beach State. In this case, that may have more to do with the absolute dearth of good teams in the west (although San Diego State is in the Midwest as is California) than anything else.

The top seed, Michigan State, plays in the Eastern time zone. Its first-round opponent, Long Island University, is in Brooklyn. So much for natural regions.

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

The Blackbirds are a once-great basketball school risen from the ashes and probably deserved a better fate than a No. 16 seed. For winning the Northeast Conference, they get a trip to Columbus to play against a team coached by Tom Izzo, who has been to six Final Fours. He has an excellent chance to make it seven this month.

His second-round opponent will be an intriguing one regardless of who wins the Memphis-Saint Louis matchup. With all due respect to Memphis and Josh Pastner, you can’t help but pull for Rick Majerus, who has proven he can win anywhere by winning 25 games at Saint Louis. Majerus, it should be remembered, took Utah to the national championship game in 1998. He is also a swimmer who survived septuple bypass surgery — a man after my own heart (pun intended).

Still, Michigan State should advance past the Billikens or the Tigers and might find a real surprise team as its opponent in the round of 16. Teams that win four games to win the Big East title often struggle early in the tournament.

Louisville did just that and drew a smart, experienced team in Davidson in the first round. The Cardinals will no doubt be reminded by Rick Pitino that they lost as a No. 4 seed — to Morehead State — a year ago but they could still have a tough time with the Wildcats, who have a win over Kansas this season. If you are looking for a first-round upset, try Long Beach State (12) over New Mexico (5) if defensive specialist Larry Andersen is healthy enough to play. The 49ers have played just about everyone this season and start four seniors.

It is entirely possible that a 12 seed (Long Beach State) could play a 13 seed (Davidson) in the second round here. The team with the best chance to beat Michigan State prior to the round of eight is still Louisville but the Cardinals may not get the chance.

The bottom half of the region is loaded. Missouri won 30 games, and its only real weakness is depth — again, not that big a factor during tournament games that last almost 21 / 2 hours. It did play a mediocre nonconference schedule but, again, has anyone on the committee actually watched the Tigers play?

They are very good. Marcus Denmon is underrated and the team can beat anyone. They likely will play Florida in the second round unless Mike Scott can produce an all-world (say, 35 points) game for Virginia against the Gators. Missouri should advance, where most people think it will play Marquette. The Golden Eagles will beat the Iona-Brigham Young winner but will have a tough time with Murray State.

Again, the eye test. The Racers, who will play Colorado State first, lost one game this season. They have a great guard in Isaiah Canaan and won’t be easy to beat for Colorado State or Marquette playing the game in Louisville.

So let’s string along with Murray State to make it to Phoenix. Heck, they might even beat Michigan State. When the dust clears though, the best player and the best coach should be in New Orleans. Then again, the committee apparently didn’t think very much of Missouri, barely giving it a No. 2 seed. That alone should give fans of the Tigers hope.

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