NCAA Outlook - West Regional
pblackwell, Wed, March 18th, 2009
This overview of the NCAA Tournament field concludes in the West, where it's said the roster is top-heavy and the top two seeds could have swapped without any real change in the order of things.
Still, it's Connecticut with that no. 1 bulls-eye. The Huskies had the team to beat to win it all until Jerome Dyson went down with that knee injury. Since then, UConn has been far from great, and even with Hasheem Thabeet blocking shots and A.J. Price running the show, the Huskies have done nothing in March since that loss to George Mason three years ago.
With a full week to recuperate from the six-overtime marathon with Syracuse, UConn starts out Thursday in Philadelphia against Chattanooga, who won the Southern Conference after Stephen Curry and Davidson got bounced. Even with its pluck and grit, the Mocs are overmatched here as the Huskies set out with a whole lot to prove.
Texas A&M meets BYU. Except for the fact that it's in Philly, not Anaheim, it's the exact same match-up as in the '08 first round, when the Aggies prevailed. A&M tore down the stretch to get its bid, while the Cougars were steady and productive behind Lee Cummard and Jimmer Fredette, the pride of Glens Falls. It's about time BYU slipped past the first round, and its scoring power might finally do the trick.
Beware Purdue, the Big Ten tournament champs, who are back at full strength (Robbie Hummel returning from a back injury) and feature the kind of defense, precision and patience that can drive an opponent mad. Northern Iowa is not as strong as past Missouri Valley Conference entries, so the usual 5-12 upset theory might not apply here, as the Boilermakers are not known for early NCAA exits.
Picked for the second division, Washington instead won the Pac-10 regular-season title, got a no. 4 seed and will play in Portland in front of plenty of purple-clad partisans. These Huskies get Mississippi State, who had to win the SEC Tournament to Dance. That inside battle between Jon Brockman and Jarvis Vanardo should be fun, but a freshman named Isaiah Thomas might make the difference for Washington.
No team in the country suffered more from an injury than Marquette, who was threatening Big East supremacy until Dominic James broke his foot a month ago. Without him, the Golden Eagles are quite vulnerable to Utah State, who won 30 games and the WAC title and will have plenty of support in Boise. Maybe the Aggies weren't tested enough in the regular season, but they can certainly give anyone a good fight.
Missouri, like Washington, defied every expectation and eventually won the Big 12 Tournament title on its way to a no. 3 seed. Mike Anderson's Tigers will press and push tempo from tip-off to buzzer, something repeat Ivy League champ Cornell has to avoid at all costs. Having been here before will help the Big Red for a bit, but if it can't slow things down, the stay will be a short one.
Walking a season-long tightrope, Maryland had to beat North Carolina and Wake Forest late in the season to get here. Meanwhile, Mike Montgomery, who brought Stanford to prominence, came back to the Bay Area and made California a winner again. The tough sturdy Golden Bears will not fear the turtle in any way, as Cal and Maryland engage in a first-round game as tough to call as any on the board.
Memphis, winners of 25 in a row, didn't need any motivation, but a no. 2 seed is, to them, disrespect, so any future opponent better look out. No one in the country is playing better defense than the Tigers these days, as it goes to Kansas City to face Cal State-Northridge, who overcame a lot of turmoil to take the Big West crown. The Matadors will find that Memphis is tougher than any bull could be.
Each of the top four seeds are poised to get to the Sweet 16. UConn has too much for any early foe, Washington will defy skeptics and get past Purdue, Memphis will simply shut people down and Missouri will run and gun its way to Glendale.