Now that the bracket has been released, and everyone's had a night to percolate, its time to begin breaking down each region. This is my take on the West Region.
I would rank the West as the third toughest region. The West is not top heavy like the Midwest with Kansas, Ohio State, and Georgetown, or the East with Kentucky and West Virginia, but the West does have Syracuse. They also have a bunch of quality teams that are playing great basketball.
A few players to look out for in the West Region: Wesley Johnson (Syracuse), Ashton Gibbs (Pitt), Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), Jimmer Fredette (BYU), Jermaine Beal (Vanderbilt), Matt Bouldin (Gonzaga), and Derek Caracter (UTEP).
Other things to look out for: Plenty of upsets, Kansas State Coach Frank Martin's bug eyes, and Arinze Onuakus free throw shooting.
Check out my five bold predictions for the West Region.
There are five reasons why I believe the Oakland Golden Grizzlies will take down the Pittsburgh Panthers.
1—It is an understatement to say that Oakland is on a roll. They have won 11 in a row and 20 of their last 21 games. In their conference tournament, they won all three games by double digits. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the most dangerous team in the tourney is the team that’s playing their best ball.
2—Oakland will not be overwhelmed by the talent of the Pitt Panthers. Pitt is not the first power conference team the Grizzlies will have seen this season. In fact, Oakland played an impressive non-conference schedule that included games at Wisconsin, Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Oregon. While they came up short in each of those contests, they gained valuable experience.
3—The Grizzlies will not feel the pressure of the NCAA tournament. One of the things to look for in a “Cinderella” team, is experience. Experienced teams play smarter and don’t buckle under the pressure. They can handle 10-0 runs without letting the game get away. Oakland’s top five scorers are two seniors and three juniors. They have been there before, and they know what to expect.
4—Pitt has a tendency to take these first round matchups too lightly. Last season, as a No. 1 seed, Pitt escaped East Tennessee State by a mere ten points, 72-62. All other No. 1 seeds won their games by 20 or more points, UConn won by more than 50.
5—Oakland is the type of bigger team that gives the Panthers trouble. Pitt couldn't handle Louisville's Samarado Samuels, or Yancy Gates of Cincinnati, and I have a strong feeling that Oakland's 6'11", 221 pound center, Keith Benson, is going to give Pitt fits.
Oakland wins in a close game 74-72.
Xavier is the most underrated team in the West Region and one of the more unappreciated teams in the entire tournament.
Xavier was the highest scoring team in the Atlantic-10 conference, and is led by sophomore phenom Jordan Crawford. He averaged 19.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. I fully expect the nation to fall in love with Crawford by the end of March.
As a team, Xavier was second in rebounding, had the conferences best field goal percentage, second best free throw percentage, and best three-point percentage.
Also, like Oakland, Xavier is entering the tourney at the top of its game. Before falling to Richmond (which is also underrated) in the Atlantic-10 tournament, the Musketeers had won eight straight, and 16 of their last 19.
Another similarity they have with Oakland is that this Xavier team is experienced, returning six members from their 2009 Sweet 16 team.
After BYU beats a Florida team that did not deserve to make the tourney, and Kansas State makes quick work of North Texas, the two teams will meet in the Round of 32. I am going to tell you why BYU will win this matchup.
Firstly, if you haven't noticed, a major theme of this article is that its quite important to be playing your best ball as you enter the tournament. Unfortunately for Kansas State, they are entering March Madness having lost three of their past five games, including a home loss to lowly Iowa State. On the other hand, BYU has won seven of their past nine.
Secondly, and the next thing that jumps out at me in this game, is how disciplined BYU is compared to Kansas St. This season, BYU had an assist/turnover ratio of 1.4/1. That was not only good enough to be the tops in the Mountain West Conference, but it also would have been the best in the Big-12. The Cougars averaged three less turnovers per game then the Wildcats.
Thirdly, the Cougars match up very well with the Wildcats. The biggest fear that Cougars fans have is running into a bigger and more physical team. K State is not this type of team. Of Kansas State's top five scorers, at 6'8", Curtis Kelly is the team's most dominating presence.
Finally, BYU is more efficient on the offensive end of the floor. They averaged 83 points per game, to K-State's 79.6. When it comes to field goal percentage, the Cougars shot 48 percent, compared to the Wildcats, who shot 45 percent.
Three-point percentage? Yes, BYU has the edge their as well, 41 percent to 35 percent.
In a very tight and exciting game, I like the Cougars, 80-77.
The country is only days away from being introduced to the Murray State Racers, an efficient, balanced, unselfish, and fast team.
What makes them dangerous is that they are virtually unknown and will be taken for granted. Trust me, this team should not be taken for granted.
Not one of the Racers top eight scorers is over 6'9", making them a very small team.
Their top five scorers all average more than 10 points, and as a team, they shoot better than 50 percent from the field.
They also share the ball better than any team in the Ohio Valley Conference, averaging 15.6 assists per game.
Defense? Yes, they have that as well. Murray State led the Ohio Valley Conference in rebounds, blocks, and steals, averaging an impressive 10 a game.
At this point I may sound like a broken record, but as opposed to Murray State, which has won 21 of its last 22 games, the Vanderbilt Commodores enter the tourney losing two of three. I can't stress enough how important it is for a team to be playing well entering March Madness.
Most importantly, I do not believe that Vanderbilt matches up well with Murray State. In order for the Commodores to hang with the Racers, they will have to go small. This will mean that one of the Commodores most important and best players, A.J. Ogilvy, will be sitting on the bench next to the coach.
Murray State wins this one with ease, 88-78.
The Syracuse Orange earned the No. 1 seed in the West Region for good reason. They are the most talented, complete, consistent, and best team.
They can go big with Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku, and just as easily go small with Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, and Wesley Johnson.
As they have shown, having averaged 81.5 points per game this season, they can score with anyone.
With a field goal percentage of 51.6, on the offensive end of the floor, Cuse is one of the most efficient teams in the country. They also average 19.4 assists per game, which is tops in the Big East.
The only concern is the injury of Onuaku, which I don't expect be an issue. Cuse could sit him for the first two rounds and still coast to the Sweet 16. Their second five could handle Vermont, and neither Gonzaga nor Florida State have the personnel to match up with the Orange.
So, I ask you, will the Orange win the West Region? Will they even be tested before the Final Four?