Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March Madness Preview: West Region

Tonight is the play-in-game to see who will be the 64th team in the tournament and earn the right to lose to Duke. That means March Madness has officially begun. I have 2 more regions left to do and I will start right now with the Western Region.

The #1 seed in the West is Syracuse who dominated during the regular season, winning the Big East title and going 11-1 on the road, but look vulnerable right now having lost to Louisville to end the season and Georgetown in the Big East tournament. They also suffered a big hit to their Final Four hopes when power forward Arinze Onuaku went down with a quad injury. His injury is significant as he averages 10ppg and 5 rpg.

Will it be enough to bring down the Orange and send them packing early like in 2005 when they lost to Vermont who was a 13 seed? I don't think so but if he doesn't come back I don't see Syracuse getting past Kansas.

Here are is my pick, sleeper, potential upset and player to watch for the West region:

Sleeper - BYU

Th Cougars have the 2nd best offense in the NCAA scoring 83 points per game and have the ability to score quickly. They have 6 players on their team that average above 40% from 3-point land and 4 players that average at least 10 ppg. They are also one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation and boast 4 players who shoot better than 80% from the charity stripe including Tyler Haws who shoots a godlike 90.9% from the line.

I think BYU will get past Florida no problem and may even be able to knock off a Kansas State that has shown it doesn't like to show up for big games. If the Cougars are going to advance deep into the tournament then they will need Junior guard Jimmer Fredette to continue his monster play. Fridette is averaging 21.7 ppg and is one of the best pure scorers in the tournament. In his last 2 games he dropped 45 points on TCU and then 30 on UNLV and he is deadly from outside and the free throw line. Basically he can hurt you from anywhere.

Potential Upset - 12 UTEP over 5 Butler

The Miners of UTEP are the 14th best defensive team in the country and have two players in Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie that can cause match up problems for Butler. Butler likes to dump the ball inside to Junior forward Matt Howard but Caracter and Moultrie will make that difficult with their size and length. They play smothering defense and if they can get Howard into foul trouble early the Bulldogs will struggle.

While UTEP did lose their conference championship game to Houston they are far and away the best team from Conference USA. Plus remember UTEP has won it all before in Glory Road when Josh Lucas led his all black team to a memorable victory over the racist Jon Voigt and his all white Kentucky team. So there is history to consider.

Player to Watch - Wes Johnson from Syracuse

With the injury to Onuaku there will be added pressure on Johnson to carry the Orange. During the regular season he was a beast averaging 15.7 ppg and 8.5 rpg. He isn't as flashy as a John Wall or as well rounded as an Evan Turner but he is a great player and he will have to be if he wants to ensure that his Orange don't make an early exit. He is an average 3-point shooter (39.1%) and a decent free throw shooter (78.1%) and does everything good but nothing great.

Bracket Winner - Syracuse

Hard to pick against a team that lost only 4 games all season while playing in the toughest conference in the NCAA. Even with the injury to Onuaku the Orange have depth and have a loaded roster of guys that can score and rebound.

They have 5 guys who score at least 10 points a game (Johnson, Onuaku, Joseph, Jackson and Rautins) and they are a good 3-point shooting team. I do worry about them when it comes to free throws as besides Rautins no one really excels at the line. As we saw with Memphis a few years back being able to hit free throws late in the game is so crucial.

Having said that I don't see anyone being that close to them at the end of the game as more often than not Syracuse has a big lead and doesn't give it up. That might have something to do with the fact that they have the best 2-point field goal percentage in college basketball.

The injury to Onuaku is devastating but there is talk he will make it back in time for the Elite Eight and a possible match up with Kansas State. So while the injury is big I can't pick anyone else from this bracket except Syracuse especially since Kansas State already lost to Kansas 3 times this year. Who wants to see another beating?

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