In the second of our regional breakdowns, we head out West. If the East is the toughest region, there is no question that the West is the second best.
All data from Ken Pomeroy. Teams listed in order of best to worst within each category. National rank for each category in parentheses.
|1||Indiana (9)||Kansas (1)|
|2||Pittsburgh (10)||Illinois (3)|
|3||Kansas (14)||Duke (4)|
|4||Kentucky (16)||UCLA (12)|
|5||UCLA (18)||Southern Illinois (14)|
|6||Villanova (31)||Villanova (19)|
|7||Gonzaga (32)||Pittsburgh (26)|
|8||Va Commonwealth (33)||Kentucky (30)|
|9||Va Tech (35)||Va Tech (33)|
|10||Duke (38)||Indiana (43)|
|11||S. Illinois (86)||Holy Cross (47)|
|12||Illinois (104)||Wright State (71)|
|13||Niagara (119)||Gonzaga (80)|
|14||Wright State (143)||Va. Commonwealth (130)|
|15||Holy Cross (177)||Weber St. (185)|
|16||Weber St. (195)||Niagara (240)|
|17||Florida A&M (221)||Florida A&M (292)|
This might the toughest region. The East has the powerhouse teams like North Carolina, Georgetown, and Texas, but the West is loaded seeds 1 – 9. According to Pomeroy’s overall ratings, the West has seven of the top 20 teams overall and six of the top 20 defensive teams. Pundits were screaming about Duke as a #6 seed, but they are rated as the 10th best team in the country. Also, take a look at the strength of the 8/9 matchup between Kentucky as the 18th rated team and Villanova as the 19th rated team.
UCLA is the real #1 seed. Despite dropping their last two games, the Bruins were slotted as the top rated #2 seed and kept very close to home. For the second straight year as a two seed, UCLA could advance to the Final Four without having to leave California. Last year they played their opening games in San Diego before advancing to Oakland. This year they will play in Sacramento for the first two rounds before possibly advancing to San Jose. Kansas is the #1 seed on paper, but this draw heavily favors the home state Bruins.
Holy Cross has a shot at the upset. Southern Illinois is fantastic on the defensive end but they can’t score. The Salukis rely heavily on their defense to create easy points off turnovers. If the Crusaders can protect the basketball, there is no way they get blown out. Even though Holy Cross hasn’t beaten a quality opponent all year, if this game stays in the 50s, Holy Cross has a decent shot.
The first halves in Lawrence and Dallas are even more impressive. The Longhorns trashed the #1 rated adjusted defense in the country for the first 20 minutes in both meetings with the Jayhawks. In the end, our defense wasn’t able to get the stops we needed to hold on in either game. But the way Texas was able to run its offense against Kansas bodes well for the Horns’ tourney chances as they face less stout defensive clubs.
Best First Round Game: (6) Duke vs (11) Va. Commonwealth The Dukies’ struggles are well documented: losers of their last four and seven of their last 11 games including a first round loss in the ACC tournament. Will they be able to bounce back against a team with exactly the type of athletic guards who protect the basketball and can knock down the three-pointer that have burned them all season? I don’t know but betting against Coach K in the early rounds is usually a bad idea.
Lowest Seed Most Likely To Make Noise: Indiana The Hoosiers’ resume doesn’t exactly jump off the page at you. However, they are extremely efficient in the half court and DJ White could become a tournament star against two teams that are more talented on the perimeter than in the post. Beating the Bruins in Sacramento will be tough but in a grind it out, physical game anything can happen.
Scariest Team In The Region: Villanova The Wildcats are probably a top 25 team that drew a #9 seed. When they protect the basketball, Scottie Reynolds and Mike Nardi (if healthy) are as dangerous as any two guards in the country. Add in talented senior Curtis Sumpter with his mid-range game and Dante Cunningham, Will Sheridan, and Shane Clark on the glass and the Wildcats can match up with anyone in the country. Jay Wright’s club has already beaten Texas, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Syracuse this year. Kansas better not look past this talented and well coached team.
Final Four Favorite: Kansas The Jayhawks are as talented as any team in the country, including Florida and North Carolina. Yes, KU and Bill Self have been bounced in the first round in each of the last two tournaments, but neither of those teams had the talent nor the experience that this one does. There are four potential lottery picks on the Jayhawks. KU has the top defense in the country, the ability to score inside and out, and seems to be peaking at the right point in the season. KU has won 11 straight games and I won’t be shocked if they win six more.