Albuquerque Region Handicap

You raved about his first bracket breakdown, so here is Part II of Jeff's handicapping of the four NCAA Tournament regions. This edition looks at the Albuquerque Region, which has some excellent matchups. See who Jeff likes, and enjoy soaking in his mix of insight and humor across the 16 teams and eight first round games.

Author's note: In case you haven't figured it out by the first installment, this "analysis" is skewed toward entertainment, not winning your pool or breaking the Mirage sports book. If you lose money, tough frijoles - that means I probably did too!


#8 Pacific [+3 ½] #9 Pittsburgh

I love the contrasting visual imagery this game presents. No, not their styles of play, which indeed are stark contrasts. I mean the school names. Pacific, well, I think of breaking waves and sunshine and palm trees and maybe a surgically enhanced blonde or twenty. Pittsburgh, um, not that. Fat steel workers burping Iron City, Jack Lambert snarling at the quarterback, smoke wafting across a brown river on a gray fall day. How could these teams not play the way they do? Pacific's roster is full of names that remind one of the 1st round of the NBA draft these days. How can you not love a team whose best player is the lyrically named Guillaume Yango, from Martinque? Whose second leading scorer is Swedish and who also boasts Jasko Korajkic from Bosnia along with another Yugoslavian, Marko Mihailovic? How does this team communicate on the court? I'm picturing the cockpit from Airplane, tall basketball players saying "huh?" and "what?" a lot. Their best outside shooter, David Doubley, went to Berkeley High School and his noise reduction system was used by Spinal Tap.

If anyone can figure out Pittsburgh, let me know. You would think that a team built on defense with a veteran point guard and a physical inside scorer would be low Beta. They start 10-0 then lose at home to Bucknell and Georgetown, back-to-back. They get on a roll and sweep Syracuse, beat Connecticut on the road and have an 8-3 Big East record. Lose three straight, crush Boston College and Notre Dame on the road, play poorly against Villanova and lose their first Big East tourney game. In the games I've seen the refs have cracked down on their traditional trench warfare defense; their FT shooting has been shaky all year; and Chris Taft is the most frustrating major talent in the country. 6'10", strong, agile, nice hands… but he might give you one point or 25. And if that's not enough, they got stuck in South Dakota for 11 hours on their way to Boise. From Animal Challenge I know that Tigers beat Panthers. Pitt follows in Providence's footsteps as a first round victim to Pacific.

#1 Washington [-20] #16 Montana

So you live in Montana and are psyched your Grizzlies made the tournament. You bring the shorts and golf clubs out of storage in case you get sent to Tucson or Charlotte, get ready to party if it's Nashville, bring out the dress cowboy boots for if it's one of those "big cities" like Cleveland or Indianapolis… and then you hear "Boise"…against a #1 seed. Stanford may have no fear of the Huskies, but their style of play is going to be fairly frightening for many teams, starting here. Montana has the second most turnovers in the Big Sky. Ruh Roh.


#4 Louisville [-11] #13 Louisiana-Lafayette

While supposedly "disrespected" by the committee as far as seeding goes, it sure seems to me that the Cardinals got as favorable a draw as a #4 could hope for. Georgia Tech may be the toughest #5, but things could certainly be worse than UW as the #1 and Wake Forest/Gonzaga coming out of the other side. I read somewhere that Rick Pitino has coached in the Tournament before, so I doubt they will overlook those Ragin Cajuns. Balanced scoring attack can survive an off shooting night by one or even two guys. Lala played a very tough out-of-conference schedule: LSU, Charlotte, Kansas, North Carolina State. Of course they did lose to all of those teams, but they were all road games. Freakishly Tall Aussie Alert #2: Chris Cameron. Cajuns are athletic enough to keep the score respectable, losing by nine sounds right to me.

#5 Georgia Tech [-5 ½] #12 George Washington

Only two teams in the tournament start with "georg"; the fact that they play each other is still more evidence of the committee having a sense of humor (see KY vs EKY for more). Yellow Jackets are as scary a #5 seed as there can be, combining talent, momentum and experience from last year's trip to the Final Four. Sure they could lose the first weekend, but would anyone be surprised to see them win the whole region? Freakishly Tall Aussie Alert #3, Luke Schenscher.

GW is one of my sleepers for a fairly obscure reason. Their performance away from home was exceptional this season. Four road loses total, plus neutral court wins over Michigan State and Maryland. The A-10 is a bit down and the opponent is tough, but if you want to pick a #12 that hardly anyone else will, choose this as your squad. The fact that the line is shockingly low for an ACC power team tells me the big money guys like them (this is the "10% of the people bet 50% of the money" theory). Georgia Tech's savvy guards pull out a close one.


#2 Wake Forest [-18] #15 Chattanooga

Another ACC team that has been on TV approximately 47 times this season, super soph Chris Paul returns from his one-game suspension for grabbing Julius Hodge by the oranges. You don't need me to tell you about Wake, but I do find it interesting that their own Billy Packer questions their ability to play lock down defense. That won't matter here, but it's a rare team that can make the Final Four without playing some serious defense when needed, even if they do lead the nation in scoring. Chattanooga is a fun word to say; their nickname has been shortened to the trendier "Mocs"; and if you are like me, you really hope they took a choo-choo to Cleveland. Four weeks ago they lost 100-68 at Creighton. Not saying that will happen here, but 18 may still not be enough.

#7 West Virginia [-2 ½] #10 Creighton

Speaking of Cray-TOHN (think Cajun man), here they are, sorely missed after a one-year absence and riding an eight-game winning streak. But they had to win the MVC tourney this year after an 11-7 conference mark. Only one game vs. a Tourney team that I can see (L to Salukis), but they started their season with a bang by beating Missouri, Ohio State and Xavier in consecutive games. Granted those teams have seen better days, but still… The Mountaineers chose a good time to stop sniffing glue as they impressed everyone with their Big East Tourney run. Without a first round bye, their loss to Syracuse in the final was their fourth game in four days. That is a brutal way to prepare for the NCAAs. Though they have to play on Thursday, at least it's the late game and only 203 miles from Morgantown, WV to Cleveland, OH (per Yahoo! Maps). This team has made 277 threes in 31 games with no player making more than 65. I like that balance, and a sub named D'or Fischer is an extra benefit. On the other hand, Creighton led the MVC in three-point percentage and made 265 in 30 games, but also allowed 37.6% from deep. Those who believe that points in the paint and from the foul line are the most important factors of success may want to cover their eyes. WV gets about 45 points behind from the arc to Creighton's 39 and covers by a trifecta or so.


#3 Gonzaga [-13 ½] #14 Winthrop

A moment of silence for my dream location…

From "what is a Gonzaga" to sleeper to budding power to a #3 seed. I can't help but feel they should thank Stanford - we're the ones who started this snowball. This edition of the Zags looks like their best yet. Ronny Turiaf, that lovable combination of Sideshow Bob and Wolfman, is back for what feels like his 6th or 7th year. He combines with the goofy but talented Adam Morrison (anyone watch ESPN Total Access Gonzaga last year?) to make a deadly scoring and rebounding combination. Derek Raivio is the pure point guard that Blake Stepp, for all his talent, could never be. They may be 25-5, but Winthrop needs Mortimer and Randolph to pay off the refs to have a chance here. Gonzaga hasn't lost in two months and isn't about to start now. Having incredible depth is great for the regular season, but unless the Eagles can play more than five at once, that number looks about right.

#6 Texas Tech [-3 ½] #11 UCLA

Yech, who to root for in this one? I've never taken the high road before, let's give that a try and not mention Bobby Knight or those mouthy young Bruins. When I think of the Big 12 I think of physical basketball; when I think of UCLA I think of a coach who is willing but whose players are weak. The Red Raiders were impressive in the Big 12 Tournament, and their motion offense gives problems to even veteran teams. Can anyone imagine these toddler Bruins being physical and disciplined enough to give Tech any problems on defense? That win at Notre Dame has lost most of its luster as the Irish got an early start on St. Patrick's Day boozing by punting the NIT. I'm no expert on Texas Tech, but Stanford's fundamental basketball took care of the Bruins twice. TT handles them with relative ease, as Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo melt on the court, not in their hand.

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