Wednesday, March 14, 2007

West Region Preview


The West Region has some interesting storylines. First of all, some of the best programs in college basketball history reside in San Jose—Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, Duke, Indiana. And two of the most successful programs in the last decade, Gonzaga and Pittsburgh, are also in the West. Kansas is one of the hottest teams in the country, while UCLA had the regular-season resume for a #1 seed. Moreover, fourth-seed Southern Illinois should’ve been a 3. There are also several double-digit seeds capable of making some noise in the first couple of rounds. The West could be an entertaining region.

Favorite: Kansas. The Jayhawks came into last year’s Tournament as one of the hotter teams in the country, but they fell in the first round. Don’t expect the same this season. Kansas might be the most talented team in the country. Brandon Rush can shoot the ball well, while Julian Wright can do everything up front. KU also has plenty of talented guards at their disposal, as well as athletes everywhere.

Contenders: UCLA, Pittsburgh. The Bruins have a legitimate gripe for a #1 seed. They had one of the best resumes in the country, but their two-game losing streak to end the season cost them. UCLA plays outstanding defense, and can win the game without a terrific offensive performance. Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo might form the best backcourt in the country. Josh Shipp is also solid. Pittsburgh struggled somewhat late in the year, but they still reached the Big East Tournament finals. They have several options and lots of depth. Aaron Gray is one of the better centers around, and Levance Fields is a very good point guard. Mike Cook provides scoring from the wing. The Panthers play tough, physical defense, and aren’t fun to face on short notice.

Sleepers: Southern Illinois, Virginia Tech. The Salukis won the MVC regular-season championship, but fell in the conference title game, and that might have dropped them a seed line. SIU plays terrific defense, and they really take teams out of their normal offensive sets. Jamaal Tatum is a quick scorer, while Randal Falker is a very good rebounder and shot-blocker on the inside. Virginia Tech is one of the most inconsistent teams in the country—not a good trait for March. They beat North Carolina twice—but lost to North Carolina State three times. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon form a very good senior backcourt, and A.D. Vassallo can shoot the ball efficiently. Deron Washington is an outstanding athlete, and Coleman Collins is solid up front.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Gonzaga, Holy Cross. The Bulldogs are not used to being the underdog again, but they will relish the role this season. Once they got used to playing without Josh Heytvelt, they performed very well down the stretch. Jeremy Pargo is extremely quick, and Derek Raivio is a very good shooter. Matt Bouldin and Micah Downs are solid scorers who produce on the wing. Holy Cross won the Patriot League, and has won 18 of their last 20 games. Keith Simmons is very difficult to guard due to his versatility on the offensive end, while Torey Thomas is quick at both ends, and can create havoc for all 40 minutes. Tim Clifford is a very good inside player. HC likes to get deflections on the defensive end with their multiple defenses.

Upset Pick: VCU over Duke. This is the year to get the Blue Devils in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. They struggle against quick perimeter groups that can spread the floor and attack the basket, and VCU is one of those teams. Eric Maynor will make a name for himself this March, and B.A. Walker can really shoot the ball from deep. Don’t overlook the Wright State-Pitt battle either.

Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. Arron Afflalo, UCLA
2. Brandon Rush, Kansas
3. Zabian Dowdell, Virginia Tech
4. Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh
5. Eric Maynor, VCU

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