|NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: WEST REGION
March 19, 2008
Larry, SCS.com Staff Writer
Probably the weakest of the four regions, the Midwest features national title contender Kansas as its top seed, followed by Georgetown as the number two. After the top two seeds, viewers will have perhaps the most intriguing opening round game with USC taking on Kansas State. However, this region is wide open. Teams like Vanderbilt have trouble winning on the road, Wisconsin is inept offensively, and Clemson just finally got over the hump of knocking off a top team. The door is wide-open for the lower seeded teams to make a run to the regional final.
(1) Kansas - The Big XII champions are one of the most balanced teams in the tournament and can go eight deep depending on the matchup. Brandon Rush is the type of player who can make a name for himself in big situations.
(2) Georgetown - Steady guard play and bruising defense, that is how the Hoyas have been so successful all season. Center Roy Hibbert is one of premiere big men in the country and will provide an advantage in the paint against most opponents. They were rated as the top number two seed.
(3) Wisconsin - The Badgers may be the best defensive team in the country. Once again Bo Ryan proved to be one of the best coaches in the country in guiding his team to a Big Ten title. They may struggle with more athletic teams, but their toughness will keep them in every contest.
(7) Gonzaga - Gonzaga is as long and athletic as any team in the country. In addition to their size, they can also shoot the lights out. Their first round matchup with Davidson will be one of the first roundís best. On the negative, the Zags have had trouble beating top opponents all season.
(6) USC - They will be just as talented as any opponent they face. The team is led by freshman phenom O.J. Mayo and the team is battle tested after going through possibly the toughest conference in the country. Davon Jefferson and Taj Gibson also provide great depth as this team has a slew of weapons.
(11) Kansas State - They have the best player in the country, and anytime Michael Beasley is on the court, Kansas State has a chance to win. Joining Beasley is Bill Walker, a great defensive player that happens to be the second leading scorer on the team.
(14) Cal State Fullerton - They take on Wisconsin, a team that has trouble scoring for stretches at a time. Fullerton is an up-tempo team that likes to get the score in the 80ís or 90ís. If they can control the tempo to neutralize Wisconsinís size, they will have a legit shot at taking down the Badgers.
Most Over-Seeded Team - Davidson: They are only a 10 seed and they are a good team, but they have beaten no one all season. Teams like Saint Josephís, Kansas State, and Temple all posted better wins this season.
Runner-Up: Vanderbilt: Their best road win this season was at Georgia, not worthy of a protected seed.
Most Under-Seeded Team - Kent State: The MAC champions managed to post a record of 11-3 against the RPI top 100. There are several teams such as West Virginia who went 5-9 against the RPI top 100 who were seeded higher.
Runner-Up: Gonzaga: Having seven wins over tournament teams as a seven seed can be looked at as a raw deal.
Team On a Roll - Kent State: The Golden Flashes rattled off 14 out of 16 wins to end the season on its way to a MAC championship. Along the way, they managed to knock off Akron three times, Western Michigan, and Saint Maryís on the road.
Runner-Up: Cal State Fullerton: They finished off 14-2, which is fantastic no matter what the competition.
Team In a Slump - Kansas State: Kansas State finished the season in a 2-5 slump that barely allowed them to sneak into the field. Also, their two wins in that stretch were against the bottom two teams in the Big XII.
Runner-Up: Villanova: Going 7-9 to close the season is typically not too impressive for an at-large team.
Best First Round Matchup - USC vs Kansas State: The game that everyone is waiting for thanks to the two most heralded freshmen in the country. The winner of this game can also get hot enough to make a run.
Runner-Up: Gonzaga vs Davidson: Gonzaga has more talent, but the game is played in North Carolina.
Best Potential Second Round Matchup - Wisconsin vs USC/Kansas State Winner: USC and Kansas State have the star power, while Wisconsin plays as a team as well as anyone. Any of these three teams are more than capable of knocking off Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen should that matchup occur.
Runner-Up: Georgetown vs Gonzaga: Itís not a lock Georgetown will be in the Sweet Sixteen, especially if Heytvelt pulls Hibbert away from the basket.
Best First Round Coaching Matchup - Lon Kruger vs Jim Christian: Krugerís record speaks for itself as he has made UNLV relevant once again, while Christian has done a great job in replacing two of his top three scorers from last season.
Runner-Up: Bo Ryan vs Bob Burton: Perhaps the greatest difference of playing style in round one.
Best Bet for a First Round Upset - Kent State over UNLV: Itís only a nine over an eight, but Kent State is a very good team that simply has better guard play and more size than UNLV; that usually adds up to a victory.
Runner-Up: Cal State Fullerton over Wisconsin: Wisconsin has to get control of this game early, or it could find itself doing a lot of running.
Best Player You Know All About - Michael Beasley: He is probably the best player in the country and more than likely will be the top pick in the NBA Draft. He combines great touch and handle with a solid inside game.
Runner-Up: O.J. Mayo: Came to USC with a ton of hype and has lived up to the billing.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of - Josh Akognan: The Cal State Fullerton guard can certainly fill it up and he will have to if the Titans want to defeat Wisconsin. He also has international experience playing for Nigeria in the 2006 World Championships.
Runner-Up: Edwin Ubiles: Siena slasher shoots a high percentage from the field and gets to the basket with ease.
Best Name - O.J. Mayo: The name still makes the stomach do cartwheels. O.J. and mayo is just a terrible combination no matter how you break it down.
Runner-Up: Joe Krabbenhoft: Wisconsin starterís name definitely warrants a double-take.
Best Reason to Watch this Region - The potential Kansas versus Georgetown clash could be very interesting. Kansas has one of the best backcourts in the country and Georgetown likes to bang in the paint. The conflict of style could make for a tremendous game.
Runner-Up: Once again, the freshmen duel could be the show of the tournament if both get going early.
G: O.J. Mayo, USC
G: Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
F: Michael Beasley, Kansas State
F: Darrell Arthur, Kansas
C: Roy Hibbert, Georgetown
The Midwest region does feature a nice blend of talent, including the aforementioned freshmen. In addition to Mayo and Beasley, Darrell Arthur has been the best player for a top five team all season, Roy Hibbert has risen to the occasion several times for the Hoyas, and Shan Foster was the SEC player of the year. Just missing the list was Davidsonís Stephen Curry and Georgetownís Jonathan Wallace, both of whom will be extremely important to their teamís tournament success.
Kansas is the clear favorite as Georgetown appears to be the only team able to topple them. The problem is that Gonzaga could potentially be a nightmare for Georgetown in the second round thanks to Heytveltís range and the Zagís ability to shoot the ball; this of course is contingent upon Gonzaga knocking off Davidson. Also, hopefully the scoreboard operator will be on top of his game when Siena and Vanderbilt play. A few last tidbits to watch for are whether Villanovaís guards can handle Clemsonís pressure, Gonzagaís length and athleticism versus Davidson and Georgetown, and should Wisconsin and the Hoyas meet, you may want to have the coffee handy. Final Prediction: Kansas defeats USC in the regional final to move one step closer to a national title.