Five Best Offenses
3. Michigan State
If you are a fan of fun college basketball (and by "fun," we of course mean "high-scoring"), you may want to root for Florida to beat Virginia in the Round of 64 on Friday (and, it goes without saying, Missouri to beat Norfolk State as well). The two best offenses in the region could each throw it in fifth gear in Omaha on Sunday. Missouri ranks first in overall offensive efficiency (according to Ken Pomeroy), second in Effective Field Goal Percentage and third in Turnover Rate. Florida ranks third, eighth and 14th in those same categories. Missouri has Marcus Denmon, Phil Pressey, Mike Dixon and Kim English. Florida has Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Bradley Beal and Erik Murphy. They play similar games -- lots of 3-pointers, lots of assists, lots of high-percentage inside shots; Missouri has been more successful in 2011-12, in part because their inside game is a little better and they draw fouls at a higher rate. But it could be "bombs away" if these two teams meet.
(And yes, I just gave away the "Best Potential Round Of 32 Matchup" below.)
Five Best Defenses
1. Michigan State
4. St. Louis
5. New Mexico
Why is Michigan State the 1-seed? Because they are just about the only team in this region that can play both elite offense and defense. Using Pomeroy stats, almost every other team is all-or-nothing one way or another. Missouri ranks first on offense, 76th on defense. Florida ranks third and 119th. Colorado State: 26th and 17th. Iona: 16th and 188th. Meanwhile, you've got the opposite phenomenon as well -- Louisville ranks 122nd on offense and second on defense, Virginia 106th and fifth, BYU 101st and 25th. Hell, even the lowest seeds, Norfolk State (239th and 177th) and Long Island (78th and 272nd) get into the act. Michigan State, however, is 11th and third. They play Izzo-quality defense -- low-percentage shots, proper board crashing, etc. -- but they also have Draymond Green and a host of efficient offensive options (Brandon Wood, Branden Dawson, Keith Appling, etc.) on the other side of the court.
(Marquette -- 25th and 19th -- also pulls off a quality balance.)
As Seeded By Pomeroy
To get a glimpse into the strengths, weaknesses, overseed and underseeds of the bracket, let's re-seed the teams based on their Ken Pomeroy rankings.
1. Michigan State vs. 16. Long Island
3. Memphis vs. 5. St. Louis
4. New Mexico vs. 10. Long Beach State
8. Louisville vs. 14. Davidson
11. Murray State vs. 15. Colorado State
6. Marquette vs. 12. BYU / 13. Iona
7. Florida vs. 9. Virginia
2. Missouri vs. 17. Norfolk State
As with the South Region, most of the heft comes in the upper half of this region. Four of the top five teams reside in Michigan State's half of the region, though obviously they would only have to play two of them. Missouri's half, meanwhile, presents all sorts of interesting matchups but a lower overall level of quality.
Most Likely Cinderella
(In this case, "Cinderella" refers to the team, seeded 11th or worse, most likely to make the Sweet 16.)
BYU. While eight of Ken Pomeroy's Top 20 reside in the West Region, the Cougars, co-14th seeds, would have to beat just one (No. 18 Marquette) to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Granted, they also have to win three games -- they must first dispose of up-tempo Iona before even getting a shot at Marquette -- but odds are still as good for them becoming this year's VCU (the play-in winner that goes on a run) as anybody.
This Year's Harold Arceneaux
Here are the top three players, from the list of Cinderellas, most likely to single-handedly take down a region heavyweight, a la Weber State's Harold Arceneaux in 1999.
Casper Ware, Long Beach State. This one was almost too obvious. Ware averaged 17.4 points per game for the rock-solid, senior-laden 49ers. He scored 28 in a win over Pittsburgh, 29 in a near-upset of North Carolina, 38 last month against Pacific, and 33 in the Big West tournament finals against UCSB. He was wonderfully efficient for such a high-volume scorer, rarely taking more than about 15 field goal attempts per game.
De'Mon Brooks, Davidson. Through the years, Davidson has earned a reputation as a team full of 3-point bombers, and while that isn't an altogether untrue perception for this year's team, Brooks (6-foot-7) and Jake Cohen (6-foot-10) make them an incredibly unique matchup for just about anybody. The two combined to attempt over four 3-pointers per game, and both ranked in the nation's top 500 in terms of offensive rebound rate. Davidson wasn't actually that great at the 3-ball this year (179th), but the second-chance opportunities afforded them by Brooks and Cohen made it work. Brooks scored 19 or more points in 13 games this year, and he pulled down eight or more rebounds 11 times. He could give Louisville fits.
Kyle O'Quinn, Norfolk State. When the betting lines opened, Missouri-Norfolk State had the highest line; it currently stands at Missouri -21.5. But while the Tigers might not struggle for long, O'Quinn, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound center who averages a double-double and draws fouls like nobody's business, could make this an awkward matchup for quite a while. For most of the season, Missouri has gotten away with playing just two bigs -- Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore -- but O'Quinn could get both of them in foul trouble; that would change the game dramatically. However, he will need to come up bigger than he has against major conference teams thus far this season -- in two games versus Marquette and one versus Virginia Tech, O'Quinn averaged just 9.3 points and 8.0 rebounds and shot just eight total free throws.
Most Overlooked Team
Michigan State. As strange as it seems, the 1-seed is gathering plenty of "DISRESPECT!" fodder, as Missouri seems to be by far the popular Final Four pick out of the West. Tom Izzo must love it. The Spartans are well-rounded, they looked fantastic in the Big Ten Tournament, and now they have the "Nobody believed in us!" card to play, as well.
Best Round Of 64 Matchup
Memphis vs. St. Louis. It is almost unfair that two of the nation's top 15 teams (according to Pomeroy) have to play each other in the first round (especially while you've got No. 45 Murray State and No. 76 Colorado State facing off on the other side of the bracket), but it is great from a viewer's perspective.
Best Potential Round Of 32 Matchup
Missouri vs. Florida. As explained above. Offense, offense, offense.
Best Potential Sweet Sixteen Matchup
Michigan State vs. Louisville. Granted, a rematch of the 2009 Missouri-Marquette NCAA Tournament game would be fun, too, but one has to enjoy the thought of the Big Ten and Big East tournament champions facing off to kick off the second weekend of the tournament.
Best Potential Elite Eight Matchup
Michigan State vs. Missouri. Disrespect versus over-respect. Size versus speed. Rebounds versus turnovers. A barrage of 3-pointers versus ... well, a slightly smaller barrage of 3-pointers. All season, Missouri has thrived by turning matchup disadvantages on one end of the court into an extreme matchup advantage on the other; but Draymond Green seems like the perfectly-built Mizzou killer.
Missouri. Wisdom of the crowds, I guess. Though I'm feeling more bullish on State by the moment.