NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Justin Brownlee #32 of the St. John's Red Storm reacts after a play in the second half against the Syracuse Orange during the quarterfinals of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
We make our March Madness predictions for the Southeast Region of the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket, which should feature tons of upsets along the way with sleepers like St. John's ready to take advantage of a weak region.
Unlike the 2011 NCAA Tournament's East Region which should be choc-full of chalk when the dust settles after the opening weekend of March Madness, the Southeast Region appears to be wide open. Pitt looks to be the least impressive one-seed and slots two-through-four are for the most part over-seeded if you look at their peers around the bracket.
Couple that with the fact that some teams like Old Dominion, St. John's, and Belmont should play better than their seed, and you have a recipe for not only first round upsets, but deep bracket busting runs. Matchups are always key in tournament play, and there are a couple of potential pairings that should make Cinderella's shoe fit a bit more comfortably.
Their body of work makes Pitt the class of this region but the matchups might go a long way in determining if Pitt even makes it out of the first weekend. A team that likes to grind in a half court as much as Pitt lurks in a possible second round matchup if Old Dominion can past last year's runner-up Butler. More on ODU in a moment.
Endorsing second seeded Florida as a headliner in this region ignores glaring holes. Teams that lose to Jacksonville, Central Florida, and South Carolina, and then get dominated in their conference championship don't strike fear in an opponent's heart like a two seed should. Second round opponents Michigan State and UCLA play defense every bit as smothering as Kentucky played in the SEC Championship game.
Ditto that sentiment for third seed BYU that is a shell of its former self with the loss of their best post Brandon Davies. An opening round upset of either BYU or Florida is not out of the question, especially in BYU's case. Wofford has taken two 2011 NCAA Tournament teams to overtime and beat another in George Mason.
Fourth-seed Wisconsin is appropriately slotted and worthy of top four billing. Historically their style allows David to maintain contact with Goliath but this season they've got a couple dynamic offensive players in Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor that they haven't had in years past. Belmont's a good team, but I fully expect the winner of the Wisconsin-Kansas State game to make a run to the regional final.
If you can accurately predict this bracket game-for-game, you're either lucky or a Mayan calendar. Five of the seven double digit seeds are favored by eight points or less. Belmont, Utah State, and Gonzaga have good shots at pulling off upsets, with Wofford having a legit shot at a stunner if BYU plays the same way they've played down the stretch.
As for deep tournament runs and second round upsets as bracket busters du jour, I really like Old Dominion and St. John's. Old Dominion is big, physical and athletic and as stated above, the matchup gods will be smiling upon them when they face Pitt. Old Dominion won't be outclassed athletically, they have NBA talent in Kent Bazemore, and they're one of the great rebounding teams in America which should limit Pitt's best offensive weapon-second chance points. Shockingly, ODU does this stellar work on the glass while playing an air-tight zone defense. That's unheard of in the college game. Don't be surprised if ODU knocks off Pitt and makes a deep run.
St. John's is under-seeded as a six in this region even after the injury to DJ Kennedy. The Johnnies are deep enough to absorb an injury to one of its two or three best players, but more importantly Coach Lavin is a master of getting his teams to play loose come tournament time. He's a modern day Jim Valvano and he has a senior laden squad to go to war with in a really weak bottom half of the bracket.
All Region Team
The lead guard on our team is none other than Jimmer Fredette. The scouting report on Jimmer is to guard him with multiple bodies on the offensive end and then go right at him with the dribble on the defensive end. Rumor has it that Fredette guards the ball like a bull fighter, and I'm betting St. John's point man Dwight Hardy is licking his chops. Despite defensive deficiencies, you can't leave a modern day Pete Maravich off your all region team.
Ashton Gibbs edges out his buddy Brad Wannamaker as the two guard. Gibbs has in-the-gym range and a knack for using his shot credibility for creating scoring opportunities off the bounce.
My small forward is Kansas State's Jacob Pullen, who's actually a third guard, but someone on this club has to play defense. Pullen is a lock-down, in your chest defender but he can shoot it and score it on the other end with the best of them. Pullen may be the most complete guard in the nation for those reasons.
John Leuer of Wisconsin is my hybrid four. He's hybrid because he can do damage inside and outside evidenced by his 7.1 rebounds per game and near 40% average from behind the arc. Put a smaller man on Leuer to tag him on the perimeter and the talented forward get bushels of back to the basket buckets.
At the other forward we're going with another stat sheet stuffer in Draymond Green. Green can score it, shoot it, and rebound, but his playmaking off the bounce as a power forward sets him apart from most all big men. When Michigan State needs to manufacture buckets, they run offense through the 6'8" 240 pound forward who averages over four assists per game as a part time point forward.
As boring as the East region will be, the Southeast region will be a roller coaster ride. The top three seeds in this region Pitt, Florida, and BYU won't make it to the second weekend as they suffer upsets to Old Dominion, UCLA, and St. John's respectively. I like the Johnnies to take advantage of the wide open bottom side of the bracket and face the Wisconsin Badgers who will benefit from the Pitt upset.
In the regional final, Wisconsin's talented point guard Jordan Taylor will outplay his counterpart Dwight Hardy, and the Red Storm will struggle to find an answer for Jon Leuer who will be the best player on the floor. In lieu of cutting down the nets, Bo Ryan has his players do defensive slide drills.