|2007 NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW - WEST REGION
March 14, 2007
Ben, SCS.com Staff Writer
How about a region that has perennial college basketball powerhouses such as Kansas, UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, and Gonzaga? What’s more is that a certain coach from Kentucky is trying to keep his job, UCLA is trying to reach its second straight Final Four, and Gonzaga is stepping out of the spotlight. This region will be very fun to see how it is all played out, and I think up to about seven different teams could take it out alive. Who that one will be, though, is still very much up in the air heading into Thursday.
Kansas - The Jayhawks are red hot. Their star players Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and Sherron Collins have Kansas looking like they can make a serious run at the NCAA title. As long as the Jayhawks don’t meet a mid-major “B” team (such as Bucknell and Bradley the past two years), then they should be safe.
UCLA - Though they slumped a little late in the season, the Bruins still have one of the easiest roads to Atlanta, even as a 2 seed. UCLA will not have to leave the state of California until they reach the Final Four. With big-name players such as Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo controlling the ball, the Bruins should be able to make their second straight Final Four.
Pittsburgh - The Panthers have choked in key games lately, but they are still a major contender in the San Jose region. They will need help from their big man Aaron Gray to knock off teams such as Duke, UCLA, and Kansas.
Duke - No, Dick Vitale did not pay me to put Duke as a sleeper. With all the hype about this is not being the Duke of old, I think Coach K will have his boys red hot and ready to play. I can see them knocking off VCU and then Pitt to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Gonzaga - Josh Heytvelt is gone. Now that the Zags are out of the spotlight, they still find themselves in the NCAA Tournament, and now is their chance to shine. Mark Few will have his team ready, and he will need to, as their first two games will be against Indiana and UCLA - in California.
Most Over-Seeded Team - Duke: For a team that lost its last three games, and 7 of its last 11, it's clear that the only reason Duke got as high as a six is because of their reputation. No team that has double-digit losses should get higher than an 8 seed (unless, of course, you’re Virginia - please do not ask me how that happened).
Runner-Up: - Kentucky: The Cats have lost 6 of their last 9 games, and are clearly not the Kentucky of the past. A double-digit seed would’ve been more appropriate.
Most Under-Seeded Team - Villanova: The Wildcats had won 8 of their last ten before just falling to Georgetown in the Big East tournament. They have impressive wins over Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Texas.
Runner-Up: VCU: The Rams went 27-6, including a 16-2 record in the CAA. They should’ve been no worse than a 9.
Team On a Roll - Kansas: The Jayhawks have won 11 in a row, and have beaten Texas twice in that impressive run.
Runner-Up: Holy Cross: The Crusaders started the season at 7-6, but since then they have gone 18-2.
Team In a Slump - UCLA: The Bruins looked like they were going to roll right into the NCAA Tournament with the overall 1 seed, but have lost their last two games to non-tournament teams Washington and Cal.
Runner-Up: Virginia Tech: The Hokies have lost 3 of their last 4, and are 5-5 in their last ten games. Some of their losses are just ugly, such as Clemson, and NC State 3 times.
Best First Round Matchup - Kentucky vs. Villanova: Kentucky is looking to keep their coach, while Villanova looks to prove that they are legit. By the way, the winner gets top-seeded Kansas.
Runner-Up: Indiana vs. Gonzaga: A great matchup of powerhouse Indiana versus mid-major Gonzaga. The winner gets a chance at knocking off UCLA.
Best Potential Second Matchup - Kansas vs. Kentucky: Two of the biggest teams in college basketball could face off in the second round. There is talent galore in this game, such as Brandon Rush and Randolph Morris.
Runner-Up: Southern Illinois vs. Illinois: I’m not sure how this game got set up as a second round matchup, but the Salukis have a shot at knocking off their in-state rival.
Best First Round Coaching Matchup - Indiana’s Kelvin Sampson vs. Gonzaga’s Mark Few: Sampson is in his first year at Indiana and believes he can get his team to Atlanta. Few’s team is finally out of the basketball spotlight and has a great chance at knocking off powerhouses Indiana and UCLA before they even reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Runner-Up: Kentucky’s Tubby Smith vs. Villanova’s Jay Wright: Smith is trying to keep his job alive, while Wright looks to get his team back on track.
Best Bet for a First Round Upset - Gonzaga over Indiana: Once again, the Zags are out of the spotlight, and look ready to make a serious run. Indiana comes first for them.
Runner-Up: Villanova over Kentucky: Villanova just looks like the better team at this point.
Best Player You Know All About - Arron Afflalo, UCLA: The Bruin’s guard averages 17 points per game, and knows what to do in the NCAA Tournament, as he led his UCLA squad there last year.
Runner-Up: Julian Wright, Kansas: The Jayhawks’ power forward can play both sides of the ball very well, and is a natural leader.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of - Dashaun Wood, Wright State- The Raiders’ point guard averages 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. He has the ability to change the game with just one touch of the ball.
Runner-Up: Charron Fisher, Niagra- The shooting guard puts up 20+ points every night, and brings down 8 boards a game as well.
Best Name - Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, UCLA: Please just humor yourself and try saying that name five times fast.
Runner-Up: Lukasz Obrzut, Kentucky: Don’t ask me how you say it.
Best Reason to Watch this Region - How about UCLA vs. Kansas in the Elite Eight? This could’ve easily been the championship game if these two teams were on different sides of the tournament field. This game, in California, would be an all-time classic.
Runner-Up: Will this be Tubby’s last run? Tubby Smith’s career at UK looks all but over. If he wants make one more name for himself, there’s no better time than now.
G: Zabian Dowdell, Virginia Tech
G: Arron Afflalo, UCLA
F: Curtis Sumpter, Villanova
F: Julian Wright, Kansas
C: Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh
This was a hard region to pick only 5 players to make up a team. You could easily take the starting five from Kansas or UCLA and have an all-region team. Instead, I went with one from each team that seemed to lead their squad more than others. Honorable mention goes to D.J White from Indiana, Jamal Tatum from Southern Illinois, and Dashaun Wood from Wright State.
This will definitely be one of the best regions to watch since it’s completely wide open. However, I don’t see many upsets happening throughout the San Jose region. I like Kansas to make the Sweet Sixteen by defeating Kentucky, Virginia Tech to make it with a win over Southern Illinois, Duke to reach the Sweet Sixteen over Pittsburgh, and UCLA over Indiana. I then will have to go with UCLA making their second straight Final Four with a win over the Jayhawks in the regional final.