The Field of 65: Cousins rules the East, but West Virginia should be favored
If you're reading this, you've somehow mis-steered your Interwebs into the third of four preliminary Field of 65 blogs. But don't turn back! Information lies ahead:
For all the uproar about Kansas' difficult route to the Final Four, Kentucky has it just as bad. The East Region of the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is packed with solid defensive squads and includes two teams seeded 11-or-worse that could make serious noise in the tournament.
Most Compelling Matchup
If only because Kansas fans have seen Temple at its worst and Cornell at its best, the East's 5-12 matchup is the most interesting of the first-round tilts. With the exception of an embarrassing 32-point home loss to KU in January, Temple has posted solid results to go along with a 29-5 (14-2 Atlantic 10) record this season. The Owls are decent offensively and ridiculously sturdy on defense, allowing an adjusted 0.86 points per possession, third nationally. Temple slows the pace of play to a crawl, maximizing the importance of possessions and further dooming opposing offenses. Kansas was Temple's only opponent to break 80 points in a game this season and the Owls held six teams to less than 45 points.
Cornell earned national attention for crushing the Ivy League (13-1) and hanging with KU at Allen Fieldhouse before losing, 71-66. The Big Red is a team full of gunners: Their 43.8 percent three-point mark is the nation's best. On the flip side, they rarely attack the hoop, attempting just 2.9 free throws for every field goal attempt (328th nationally). Cornell is pedestrian defensively, so reading too much into their dominance of a poor conference and one game at KU might break a few brackets this year.
Wofford is not a strong 13-seed and nobody would consider No. 9-seed Wake Forest over the No. 8-seed shell of a Texas team much of an upset. That leaves 11th-seeded Washington as the most likely upsettor. Marquette slogged through a strong Big East conference, losing enough close games to go 22-11 and still remain No. 28 in KenPom.com's rankings. Marquette is a very good offensive team led by uber-high usage forward Lazar Hayward, who uses 29.4 percent of the team's possessions. Guard Jimmy Butler is one of the nation's most efficient offensive players on a per-possession basis.
Washington, an auto-bid NCAA entry from the much-maligned Pac 10, has picked up its play substantially in the past several weeks, winning seven straight games against a manageable (Read: Pac 10) schedule. The Huskies played the nation's 55th-hardest schedule and went 3-1 in games against KenPom's Top 25. Wing Quincy Pondexter could be the Pac 10's top all-around player after generating Evan Turner Lite stats this season.
The Region's Best
This Kentucky freshman did it all this season. He generated 1.14 points per possession while using 31.9 percent of the Wildcats' trips. He cleaned up on the glass, ranking second in the nation in Offensive Rebound Rate. His Turnover Rate was among the nation's 350 best. He blocked 7.8 percent of opponents' shots and drew nearly nine fouls per 40 minutes. DeMarcus Cousins is Kentucky's best player, the SEC's best player, one of the two best centers in the nation and the best player in the East Region.
This one was a nailbiter between two exceptionally strong candidates:
• The Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who earn points for having a nickname that is alliterative and blasphemous.
• The East Tennessee State Buccaneers, who earn credit for forgetting that Tennessee is, in fact, landlocked, and most likely safe from pirates.
Wake takes the cake.
Kentucky may be the No. 1 seed, but a lack of postseason experience and a general iffy feeling surrounding Calipari's bunch make West Virginia the easy pick to emerge from the East. The Mountaineers are weak at point guard but strong everywhere else. West Virginia is balanced and actually better on offense than on defense, defying preconceptions of a Bob Huggins-coached squad. With the strength of this year's No. 1 seeds, West Virginia could be the only team seeded 2nd or lower to crack the Final Four.