West Region Breakdown
The West Region is very intriguing, as it features what was clearly the last No. 1 seed selected (Connecticut) and the first No. 2 seed picked (Memphis). Are they headed for an Elite Eight showdown? We’ll see. This region also has the Pac-10 regular-season champ, the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC tournament champions, as well as several other talented teams across the board. Don’t forget about another 30-win team: Utah State. Imagine if Marquette still had Dominic James? This region would be loaded.
Favorite: Connecticut. The Huskies haven’t been the same since losing Jerome Dyson to season-ending knee surgery. However, they still have the weapons necessary to win the title come early April. Hasheem Thabeet is a force in the middle defensively, and he is coming along at the other end. Jeff Adrien is a double-double lock every night out, and A.J. Price can put the Huskies on his back. Freshman Kemba Walker could be the x-factor.
Contenders: Memphis, Missouri. Memphis is undefeated since moving freshman Tyreke Evans to the point guard spot and is playing their best basketball of the season. They have the most efficient defense in the country, and plenty of weapons offensively. Evans is very difficult to contain, while Antonio Anderson can do it all. Robert Dozier is a match-up problem up front and Shawn Taggart can score and rebound. Doneal Mack is a shooter. Missouri surprised many people this season, riding its pressure defense and helter-skelter style of play to the Big 12 Tournament title. DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are both very difficult players to match-up with in the frontcourt for the Tigers. On the perimeter, Zaire Taylor handles the point, while Matt Lawrence does the shooting and J.T. Tiller contributes in a variety of areas. The Tigers have not proven they can win consistently away from home, though.
Sleepers: Purdue, California. Purdue was inconsistent throughout the conference campaign, mainly because of a lingering back injury to Robbie Hummel, who had to sit out several games as a result. However, when he is healthy, this team is solid. E’Twaun Moore is a very good scorer who can also rebound and pass, while JaJuan Johnson has developed into a go-to option down low and a shot-blocker defensively. Keaton Grant is a leader and Chris Kramer is a standout defender. California can beat any team in the country when it is shooting the ball well. Jerome Randle is a jitterbug at the point who can get into the lane on anyone, while Patrick Christopher can score and Theo Robertson can shoot. Mike Montgomery is a tournament-tested coach who brings experience to the Big Dance. However, if the Golden Bears have an off-night from beyond the arc, they don’t have the inside play to make up for it.
Non-BCS Teams to Watch: BYU, Northern Iowa. BYU has been receiving plenty of praise of lovers of tempo-free stats all season long, as the Cougars are one of just a few teams to rank in the top-25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. They have one of the most impressive trios in the country, led by Lee Cummard, who was named an All-American by FOXSports.com. Jonathan Tavernari is a versatile and multi-dimensional player, while Jimmer Fredette can score and also contribute in a variety of ways. Northern Iowa plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, but the Panthers are suited for it and force teams to adjust. Adam Koch is the leading scorer up front, while 7-1 Jordan Eglseder is a match-up problem for nearly everyone in the conference. Kwadzo Ahelegbe can score effectively and also contribute in other areas, and Ali Farokhmanesh can shoot. Johnny Moran might be the best all-around player in the backcourt.
Upset Pick: Utah State over Marquette. As mentioned above, Marquette is certainly not the same team without Dominic James at the point. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews are a great wing duo and Lazar Hayward causes match-up problems, but this team is not going to make a run without James. On the other side, Utah State is a veteran squad that has size up front and plenty of shooters on the perimeter. Gary Wilkinson is a 26-year old forward who has the ability to carry the Aggies.
Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. Jerel McNeal, Marquette
2. Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
3. Jon Brockman, Washington
4. Tyreke Evans, Memphis
5. Lee Cummard, BYU