West Region Preview & Predictions

    
March 15th, 2010
While injuries in recent seasons have dropped a team a seed line few have hovered over a region like the right quadriceps injury to Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku. The Orange were rightfully rewarded for their overall body of work, giving them a one seed. However, how much were the penalized for the fifth-year senior’s injury? Thought by many to be a lock along with Kansas and Kentucky, Syracuse was actually slipped in behind Duke and all the way out to Salt Lake City. Essentially boasting a seven-man rotation with a healthy Onuaku, what happens if he (according to some reports) can’t go the opening weekend?

 

Do they go small or hope that DaShonte Riley and/or James Southerland can give them something of consequence? They will be tested early, most likely as soon as the second round with a matchup against either Gonzaga or Florida State. Both teams have bodies up front that they can throw at the Orange in attempts of taking advantage of the top-seed’s overall lack of depth. But you’ve still got to account for the likes of Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Rick Jackson and the bench combo of Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph. Some may have been quick to jump off the Syracuse bandwagon in light of their loss to Georgetown and Arinze’s injury, but this is still a talented club with a coach who’s won more than 800 games.

 

Kansas St and Pittsburgh are next in line when it comes to seeding; the Wildcats have one of the most explosive backcourts in the nation (Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente) as well as a deep frontcourt. Pittsburgh bowed out of the Big East Tournament in the quarterfinals but this is not a team to underestimate; Jamie Dixon’s club used the preseason prediction of tenth as motivation to finish second in the nation’s toughest conference. Ashton Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon will need to lead the way but Gary McGhee will have his hands full with Oakland’s Keith Benson, a legit NBA prospect, in the opening round.

 

Vanderbilt (Murray State) and Butler (UTEP) have first round matchups that could very well result in both going home early. Billy Kennedy’s Racers were the first team to thirty wins on the season and features a high-octane offense where six players average ten points per game, making it extremely difficult to focus on one or two guys to slow down. And UTEP had to sweat on Selection Sunday, despite entering the week in the Top 25, but Tony Barbee’s got a team that could make a run all the way to the second weekend.

 

Randy Culpepper is an explosive guard that could give Butler fits and Derrick Caracter has the offensive skill and physical bulk to get Matt Howard into foul trouble. But they’ll need Arnett Moultrie and Jeremy Williams to play well up front in order to knock off Gordon Hayward and company. Brad Stevens’ club is tough and thanks to their non-conference schedule more than ready for any challenge they could face. But once again: Howard must stay out of foul trouble. Be it UTEP or possible matchups down the line against Vanderbilt and Syracuse, the Bulldogs will need Howard on the floor in order to be successful.

 

Other teams to keep tabs on include BYU (if they find a way to win two games they’d be playing a virtual home game in Salt Lake City in the Sweet 16), Xavier (Chris Mack’s team has experience and a solid rotation featuring Jason Love and A10 Player of the Year Jordan Crawford), and a pair of bubble teams that either played their way in (Minnesota) or held their breath until their name showed up on the TV screen (Florida, perhaps the tournament’s lone bubble surpruse). But for all the players who will be featured in the West Regional, it will likely be a right quad that paints the picture of this region in regards to who wins it.

 

Predictions

West Champion: Syracuse

Sweet 16: UTEP, Xavier and Kansas State

Best 1st Round Game: #12 UTEP vs. #5 Butler

1st Round Upset Possibility: #13 Murray State over #4 Vanderbilt

Scary Underachiever: #11 Minnesota

Sweet 16 “Crasher”: UTEP

 

Players who can shoot their team to an upset:

G Jimmer Fredette (BYU), G Randy Culpepper (UTEP), G Steven Gray (Gonzaga), F Elias Harris (Gonzaga)

 

All-Regional Team:

G Jimmer Fredette (BYU), G Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), F Elias Harris (Gonzaga), F Wes Johnson (Syracuse), F Gordon Hayward (Butler)