If the 2011 NCAA Tournament Committee wants a template for what a well balanced, accurately seeded bracket looks like, it need only look at the Southwest Region. The Southwest Region is balanced from top to bottom with each team deserving of the seed lines they've been slotted. There's even a traditional 5 vs. 12 upset possibility, or probability, for folks to clamor about.
Unlike the other three regions, there is not much to complain about because the committee got it right here. One out of four should be an embarrassment, however.
Obviously Kansas is the class of this bracket, and conveniently, the word that best describes this region describes Kansas as a basketball team-balance. The Jayhawks are one of the few teams in this tournament that can boast both front court and back court depth. From the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson inside, to the troika of hot shooting guards like Morningstar, Reed, and Selby flanked by a terrific ball handler in Tyshawn Taylor, KU just about has it all. If we're picking nits, the only thing Coach Self's club lacks is an athletic wing, but I'm quite sure they'll make do.
The second seed Notre Dame is flying under the radar but they're as dangerous as a stealth bomber. They play a unique spread ‘em out style deploying up to five perimeter shooters in Mike Brey's open post offense. Bigs that can shoot it from deep on the offensive end and then guard bigs on the other end are worth their weight in gold. The Irish are wealthy. Ben Hansbrough ties it all together at the point guard spot and unquestioned leader of the team.
The three seed in the region is the Purdue Boilermakers and they come in as a perceived two headed monster of JaJuan Johnson and E'twaun Moore when in fact they're much more than that. Kelsey Barlow and Lewis Jackson along with DJ Byrd have been providing productive minutes to augment the inside/out attack of Johnson and Moore giving Coach Matt Painter some options.
On the four line, the Louisville Cardinals are a tough out due to their multiple defensive looks and pressures, as well as Rick Pitino's experience in the tournament. The Cardinal perimeter personnel are excellent with Siva, Knowles, and Kuric providing playmaking and shot making, but Terrence Jennings is the lone bona fide Louisville big. So the question is, do the Cardinal's have enough to size to compete with the bigger front courts?
Seeds 13 through 16 should be vanquished early considering the talent-laden top seeds in this region. If you're looking for an upset or two, keep an eye on the Richmond Spiders who should get by Vanderbilt. The dynamic duo of point guard Kevin Anderson and athletic power forward Justin Harper are high-major caliber players. Throw in the passing wizardry of point forward Dan Geriot out of the low post, and the puzzle pieces fit together well enough for the Spiders to make a run. Do the pieces fit together as well as Northern Iowa's did last season? It's the question Kansas fans may be asking on Sunday.
All Region Team
In the backcourt, give me Ben Hansbrough as the lead guard with Purdue's hot shooting E'Twaun Moore at the two. This pair has talent, but more importantly they are tremendous leaders for their respective clubs.
In the front court Vandy's Jeffery Taylor gets the nod as my small forward. He shoots it and rebounds well as a three man.
Marcus Morris has to be one of the two posts on the team. He's got NBA talent with his ability to score inside and out. He also has a chip on his shoulder that makes him a ferocious rebounder.
Every team needs a fly-swatter in the middle to protect the rim on defense, and JaJuan Johnson is just that at the other post spot. With Morris left to do the dirty work inside, Johnson would be free to roam the paint and erase dribble drives and cutters to the basket. Oh, and he scores the ball well to boot.
I don't see anyone in the top half of the bracket to give the Jayhawks much trouble. To combat KU's three headed interior monster of Thomas Robinson and the Morris twins you have to have front court depth. Richmond doesn't have it and Louisville's Terrence Jennings will be at the mercy of the officials as the lone Cardinal big in a match up against three NBA talents. The Cardinals can try to pressure the Jayhawks full court hoping to replicate Missouri's 24 forced turnover performance against KU in the regular season. If the Jayhawks take care of the ball, however, the Cardinals stand little chance in that tilt.
On the bottom side, the bracket should play according to seed unless an enigmatic but talented team like USC comes to play and knocks off Purdue. Purdue is susceptible to size and athleticism inside and the Trojans certainly have that. Still, I give the nod to the Boilers in this group.
Notre Dame should take care of business against a punch-less Texas A&M team and they shoot the ball and the spread the floor well enough to defeat the Boilermakers lock-down half court defense in the Sweet 16.
In the Elite Eight, the Fighting Irish have a shooter's chance to knock off the Kansas Jayhawks who have played porous on the defensive end at times this season. Notre Dame is also well schooled on how to attack bigger and more physical front courts on both ends of the floor after playing the likes of Syracuse, UConn, and Pitt in conference. Additionally, KU's lack of creators in the back court makes them susceptible to a disciplined defense like the Irish.
Based on the above, a four leaf clover, and a David Rivers/Kelly Tripucka visit to the Alamo City, Notre Dame advances to Houston.