Wednesday, March 19, 2008

West Region Preview


The West Region might be the least enticing of all the regions – and the clearest path for any of the No. 1 seeds. UCLA is at the top, but this region might be home to the weakest No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the bracket in Duke and Xavier, respectively. Throw in the only mid-major in the top-five seeds in Drake, and this seed does not have many potential pitfalls for the Bruins. Inconsistent Connecticut sits at No. 4. As for sleeper mid-majors, there’s not much in this region, either, outside of Western Kentucky. The second-round match-ups could be good, though.

Favorite: UCLA. With clearly the easiest path of any No.1 seed, the Bruins should roll to the Final Four without much competition from anyone. They are definitely the safest pick. Kevin Love leads the way on the interior; he is one of the best scorers and rebounders in the country. Darren Collison is one of the best point guards in the country, and Russell Westbrook is extremely athletic. Josh Shipp is a scorer, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can pitch in everywhere.

Contenders: Duke, Xavier, Connecticut. The Blue Devils struggled down the stretch but still managed to get a No. 2 seed. They have plenty of talented perimeter players, led by wings DeMarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson and point guard Greg Paulus. Kyle Singler is one of the most difficult match-ups in the country due to his inside-outside ability. Their lack of a big guy down low, though, could hurt them. Xavier is one of the most balanced teams in the country, with six guys capable of going for a big game on any given night. The Musketeers execute their offense very well, making them even more difficult to defend. Drew Lavender is an outstanding point guard, while Derrick Brown and Josh Duncan are a very solid forward tandem. B.J. Raymond can really shoot the ball. Connecticut was playing some of the best basketball in the country late in the year, but the Huskies became somewhat inconsistent down the stretch. A.J. Price is an excellent point guard, and can carry the Huskies late in games. They have one of the best frontcourts around, led by the developing Hasheem Thabeet and Stanley Robinson, and double-double lock Jeff Adrien.

Sleepers: West Virginia, Arizona, Baylor. The Mountaineers are coming off of a great run in the Big East Tournament, and showed their potential. With all of their shooters combined with tourney-tested coach Bob Huggins, they can compete with anyone in the country. Joe Alexander is playing some of the best basketball in the country, and he can be enough to carry them to a couple of wins. Yes, Arizona is playing the West Virginia team I just talked about. Still, they have a ton of talent, and one of the best perimeter duos in Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger. Throw in Jordan Hill inside, and this team is a tough out. Nic Wise came back late in the season, and the Wildcats immediately improved under his guidance. Baylor could easily make a run to the second-round or Sweet Sixteen. The Bears were one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament, but they will make the most of it. They have an outstanding perimeter group, led by Curtis Jerrells, and also get production inside from forward Kevin Rogers.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Drake, San Diego. The Bulldogs were one of the best teams in the country all season long, even going on the road and defeating Butler in the Bracket Busters. They are terrific from beyond the arc, led by athletic wing Josh Young and scorer Leonard Houston. Adam Emmenecker is one of the best all-around points guards in the country, and is a great story to follow. As for San Diego, don’t sleep on them. The third West Coast Conference team in the field, the Toreros will put a scare into UConn in the first-round. The Huskies are inconsistent, while San Diego is hot. Brandon Johnson is a tremendous player in the backcourt.

Upset Pick: Western Kentucky over Drake. Every bracket needs a 12-over-5 upset and this could be the big one. Both teams love to shoot the three, and whoever is hitting them more consistently will win. Furthermore, the Hilltoppers are battle-tested and have played against stiff competition. Courtney Lee is one of the best players in the country, at any level, while Ty Brazelton is a very good shooter and point guard. If they play their game and knock down shots, they will win.

Top Five Players (only one per team):

1. Kevin Love, UCLA
2. A.J. Price, Connecticut
3. Joe Alexander, West Virginia
4. Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
5. Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky

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