We’ll be rolling out our in-depth looks at the four NCAA regions throughout the day. First, Bart Matthews takes a look at the West Region, and then decides to avoid watching it at all costs come tourney time.
Well, after giving the West a fairly good look and vainly wondering if there was an interesting way to break it down, I finally realized that my question was providing me with my answer: there isn’t an interesting way to break it down, ‘cause it isn’t that interesting. Outside of Syracuse, K State, Butler , BYU and possibly UTEP this bracket is a collection of so-so teams without a lot of star power who, for the most part, have pretty unexciting styles of play. Pitt is the apotheosis of bruising, boring big-east ball and Florida State is their ACC doppelganger. Xavier and Vanderbilt are very similarly constructed in that not-great- at anything-not-bad-at-anything kind of way. My one look at Gonazaga this year did little to impress me. Florida and Minnesota just barely squeaked in and have awful RPI’s (56 and 62 respectively). We’ve heard all year from Jay Bilas about how weak this year’s field is and this bracket exemplefies that to me. It’s really hard to imagine any of these teams providing a legitimate threat to Syracuse and equally hard to imagine many matchups outside of the first round that one would be truly intrigued by.
As for the teams of interest, Syracuse was the best team in the country for most of the year, though it lost it’s last 2 games and will be without big man Arinze Onawaku for the first weekend. Still, this team has pretty much everything you need to be a legit title contender : size, defense, depth, shooting, and good point guard play. The zone is not a defense other teams get to play against a lot and there aren’t a lot of great shooting teams in this bracket to threaten it. K State plays an intense style of basketball, has a dynamic guard duo and an insane man for a coach. Butler lost to Georgetown by 7 and Clemson by 1 on neutral courts and beat Xavier, Ohio State, UCLA and Northwestern. Not to mention they have won their last 20 games. BYU can light it up from 3 and has a player who can take over a game in Jimmer Fredette. UTEP is a very intriguing 12 seed, with good size, a great defense and a strong scorer in the backcourt in the person of Randy Culpepper.
Best First Round Matchup: Butler v UTEP - two very good mid-majors squaring off. It will be great fg shooting and effecient offense against size and defense. Also these are probably the two hottest teams in the country.
Dark Horse: The winner of the above game could potentially give the Orange a run ( especially Butler). On the other side , I like BYU quite a bit, but I just don’t realistically see anyone other than Syracuse getting out of this region.
The All-Atlas Squad (guys who can carry their teams): Jimmer Fredette, BYU Randy Culpepper, UTEP Keith Benson, Oakland Marqus Blakely, Vermont Jordan Crawford, Xavier
Upset Special: Oakland over Pitt - Pitt plays grinding defense and is not especially good offensively, which means that Oakland has a good chance of being in this one at the end. Keith Benson is an absolute beast on the interior for the Golden Grizzlies and could be a problem for the undersized Panthers.
Best Potential Second Round Game: BYU vs. K State - The Cougars shoot exceptionally well and are well coached. This year , they’ve had problems with bigger teams, which K State isn’t. The Wildcats are turnover prone and poor at the line, but have terrific guard play and played the second toughest schedule in the country ( 3 of their 7 losses came against Kansas)
Best Mascot: Not even close - the North Texas Mean Green
All - Digger Phelps Team (names most likely to be mispronounced): Joey Accaoui, Vermont Devydas Dulkys, FSU Steve Tchiengang, Vandy Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse
God Shammgod Award (best name): Bol Kong, Gonzaga - (I’m pretty sure he was one of the fighters in Blood Sport)
Home Cookin’ Award (best geographical placement) - BYU. If they get to the Sweet 16 they’ll be playing in Salt Lake
Coach Most Likely to Play a Mob Enforcer in a Movie: Frank Martin, KSU ( aka Frankie Martino or Frank the Finger) This may explain why his team has played so well this year.
and finally, The CincyWakePittBigTenTeam Award for Perennial Underperformer to Avoid Picking for a Deep Run goes to…Pitt ( appropriately). They have screwed me so many times in years past and with teams a lot better than this. Not this time, Panteros !