The field of 65 has been picked, the regional brackets are set, and all the teams have been seeded so let the madness begin! Starting on Tuesday with the play-in game between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop, the march to this year’s Final Four in Indianapolis gets underway.
With 64 games to go before we crown a new National Champion there are bound to be some ugly blowouts, close calls, and shocking upsets before we find out which two teams will play for the title on April 5th. Here is a brief preview of some of the teams to watch coming out of the West Regional along with their current odds to win it all.
Final Four Favorites
Up until a week ago, the Orange (28-4) appeared to be the only team in the country, other than Kentucky that could give Kansas a run for their money. Since then there is some cause for concern after losing their last two games; 68-78 to Louisville in their regular season final and 84-91 to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.
Of more concern is the fact that they most likely lost their starting C-F Rinse Onuaku with a strained quad for at the very least the first two rounds of this tournament. With players like junior F Wes Johnson (16 points and 8.4 rebounds per game), senior G Andy Rautins (11.7 points per game), and sophomore F Kris Joseph (11.3 points and 5.4 rebounds) this team still has enough talent to beat most teams in the field but they will need a healthy Onuaku to make a run at the title.
If the Wildcats (26-7) did not have to play Kansas three times this season, they would have probably been a number one seed in this tournament. They did have an ugly 82-85 OT loss to Iowa State late in the regular season, but for the most part they are as solid as any of the other top seeds.
Their leading scorer is junior G Jacob Pullen, who is averaging 18.9 points per game, but they have a well rounded starting five with three other players averaging double figures. If they can successfully navigate their way through the first few rounds, they will most likely have to get by Syracuse in the Elite 8 to get a fourth shot at the Jayhawks.
The quality of play in the Atlantic 10 was high this year and 6th seeded Xavier was right in the thick of it all season long. They finished 24-8 overall and 14-2 in the conference with their only losses coming on the road to No. 13 ranked Temple and Dayton. They made it all the way to A-10 Tournament semi-final before losing to Richmond 85-89 in OT.
Xavier is led by pair of sophomore G’s Jordan Crawford, who leads the team with 19.7 points per game and Terrell Holloway, who is averaging 11.8 points. If these two get hot, they can carry the Musketeers deep into this tournament.
I am surprised they even had odds for this 13th seed from the Ohio Valley Conference, but one thing that stands out about the Racers, is they know how to win. While you may question the level of competition they faced, any team that wins 30 games in a season (30-4) and goes 17-1 in their conference must be doing something right. They are 21-1 since losing to Western Kentucky back in late December and they have six players that are averaging double figures. This tells me they can give any team they face trouble, including Vanderbilt in the first round and most likely Butler in the second.