Long Beach St. 49ers
I don't care what the outcome of that Creighton game was, and I don't care where they ultimately get placed in the bracket, "The Beach" will win at least one game in the tourney. That is a guarantee. This team can put up points and run the court faster than just about anyone in the country. Casper Ware is the real deal, they're a veteran group, and they've played the most difficult non-conference schedule in the country. Plus, the Niners are just plain fun to watch. I'd take an LBSU game on TV over one of those Big Ten snoozefests any day. In all seriousness, this team is a scary matchup and I could see them dancing into the second weekend.
St. Mary's Gaels and Murray State Racers
This was supposedly the big matchup of the weekend, and the Racers put this one in the books pretty quick. As I expected them too. Murray State -1 was a gift-wrapped line. If anyone just looked at the two teams standing around on the floor, the difference in athleticism was truly astounding. I've now watched St. Mary's get beat up on national TV in 3 of their past 4 games. Including once to LMU at home. I think it's safe to say this team is pretty terrible. But not to take anything away from Murray State. Saturday was my first chance to watch them live, and I definitely like what I saw. Isaiah Canaan can really score and could be this season's Kemba Walker. Not yet sure how they would match up against a bigger team that can also match them athletically, but I definitely think the Racers could win a couple games in the Dance.
While Mizzou is on a completely different level athletically than Duke, I view these teams in a similar light in that I don't think either is particularly great, but either could win any given game if they get it going from behind the arc. The Tigers have a legitimate point guard in Phil Pressey, and a bunch of other guys who can really shoot. But I don't know how I feel about their small lineup going against the Carolinas, Kentuckys, and 'Cuses of the world. The fact of the matter is that Mizzou has won a lot of close games this year due to timely shooting, and I'm not sure how well that translates to March. With Duke, anyone who watched the game in Chapel Hill a couple weeks ago can see what they are capable of. On any given day, they can be outplayed by a clearly superior team and still somehow walk away with a win. That's what 14 three-pointers will do. The jury is still out on both these teams.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Speaking of UNC, I'm only slightly worried. Look, I'm a lifelong Tar Heel fan, and I think this team has the talent, as is, to beat any team in the country. But I really don't think the Dexter Strickland injury has gotten enough press. Losing Strickland was a much bigger blow than most people in the media are leading on. Harrison Barnes, while a great player, has really developed primarily into a mid-range jump shooter. And while I'm a huge Kendall Marshall fan, everyone knows he has trouble scoring. That leaves a huge vacancy, as Strickland was really the only explosive, get-to-the-rack type player in Carolina's lineup. Reggie Bullock is going to be the X-factor here. He has done an admirable job filling in as the Heels' top perimeter defender, and he is very highly-touted as an outside shooter. Bullock is going to have to step up and make some shots to give UNC a scoring guard threat to go along with their Big Three in the frontcourt.
Tyshawn Taylor is a real playmaker and may be the most underrated point guard in the country. But this really all boils down to one player...
Thomas. Robinson. TR might be the most physically imposing athletic specimen to ever set foot on the college hardwood. I wouldn't be surprised if the MEAC conference champion or some equally meager opponent, literally walks off the court before the game starts once they see what they're up against. Seriously, though. Robinson is a beast in the paint and a real game changer. This Kansas team is capable of making a deep run in March.
The Mountain West
UNLV, SDSU, and New Mexico. I've watched a lot of SDSU and UNLV basketball this year, and despite their recent struggles, I think both teams pose a serious threat in March. If they can get some shots to fall, their athleticism will be tough for anyone to match up against. The Aztecs had a let down last week against Air Force without their leading scorer and electric swingman, Jamaal Franklin, but he should come back healthy and SDSU may once again make some noise in the tourney. With all that said, how about New Mexico? Reeling off back-to-back wins in dominating fashion against the two elite teams in the Mountain West, the Lobos have seized control of the conference. And with Drew Gordon patrolling the paint, averaging a double-double on the season, I think this team is for real. Look for one of these squads to make a deep tournament run.
...These are just a few of my observations heading into the Big Dance. Take from it what you will, but either way, it's going to be a fun ride. March is finally here.