Here’s the region most of you are looking forward to, as UCLA headlines this region. No. 2 Duke and No. 4 UConn also bring the West star power.
This region should be a UCLA walk in the park. If I’m a Bruins fan, I’m chestbumping everyone I see, as this region seems to set up perfectly for a third straight Final Four. With the first two games virtually at home at Honda Center, UCLA should have a relatively easy walk into the Sweet 16. The region’s No. 2 seed, Duke, is a perfect matchup for the Bruins. Although the Blue Devils have plenty of guards that can hit the open three, UCLA’s backcourt is much more athletic and can lock down on defense. Duke also will have a problem with Love and Mbah a Moute inside.
The only team I really see that can knock off UCLA is Uconn. The No. 4 Huskies have good guard play in A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson and an intimidating shot blocking presence in 7-foot-3 sophomore Hasheem Thabeet. If anyone poses a threat to UCLA, its the Huskies.
Watch out for: West Virginia
I will admit that I’m not 100 percent on this pick, just because Bob Huggins had questionable tournament success with some pretty darn good teams at the end of his Cincinnati run. But the Mountaineers, albeit under former coach John Beilein, have had some great runs lately, going to the Elite 8 in 2005 as a No. 7 seed and coming a buzzer-beating Texas 3-pointer short of repeating the feat in 2006.
There are some remnants from that team, but the real reason I like the Mountaineers is junior forward Joe Alexander. Alexander is on a serious roll right now, averaging 25 points per game over the last eight games. He’s definitely a guy who can take over games against No. 10 Arizona and No. 2 Duke in the first two rounds. With a jumble of No. 3 Xavier, No. 6 Purdue and No. 11 Baylor awaiting in the Sweet 16, it could be WVU awaiting the Bruins in the regional final.
Stay away from: Xavier
The Musketeers are probably one of the weaker No. 3 seeds I’ve seen in a while. At 27-6, they have a gaudy record, but the majority of their work was done earlier in the season. With a red-hot No. 14 Georgia team fresh of a historic SEC tournament champ, the Muskies could be done pretty early.
I personally think Xavier will take Georgia, but I don’t have them surviving the winner of the game between Purdue and Baylor. I feel Purdue, while young, is more battle-tested and I feel that Baylor could be the bubble sleeper. So while I apologize to my cousin Chuck for dissing his alma mater, stay away from Xavier.
High risk, high reward: Drake
Where is Drake you say? Apparently its in Des Moines, Iowa and it’s the alma mater of actor Jeremy Piven, best known for his role of Ari Gold in Entourage (he’s also awesome in PCU, but that discussion is for another day). The Bulldogs (I had to look that up) are in the tournament for the first time in 37 years, but don’t let that fool you. The No. 5 seed can ball.
Drake won the always-tough Missouri Valley Conference (best known as the home of the Southern Illinois Salukis) with a 28-4 record and can flat out shoot the ball. They even have a Korver, as Klayton Korver shows the same shooting touch as his older brother Kyle, a standout on the Utah Jazz. With their shooting, Drake can hang with pretty much everyone.
But as with any shooting teams, especially ones that aren’t overly athletic, they are vulnerable if there’s a lid on the rim. With No. 12 Western Kentucky looming in the first round, the Bulldogs’ stay could be brief. But if the 3-ball is going down, Drake could be darlings.
Upset special: No. 11 Baylor over No. 6 Purdue, first round
I have a soft spot for the Bears. Maybe its because my sister went there. Maybe its because its located in Waco, Texas, the home of Dr. Pepper and the Branch Davidians. Maybe its because of the unspeakably horrible tragedy that affilicted the program five years ago. Either way, I’m down with the Bears.
But its not just emotional. Baylor has an experience point guard in Aaron Bruce and two other guards in Curtis Jerrells and Tweety Carter than can flat out score. Add in forward LaceDarius Dunn, and the Bears can kill you on the perimeter.
Purdue is a good team, having taken second in the Big Ten. But they are a younger team and don’t have the inside strength to counteract Baylor’s perimeter game. I see the Bears winning this, and beating the Xavier-Georgia winner.
Lead-pipe lock: That there will be lot of complaining about biased refereeing.
This region has two of the heavyweights when it comes to opposing fans complaining about preferential referee treatment – Duke and UCLA. The bellyaching about Duke has taken place since the Danny Ferry/Christian Laettner era, as Coach K and his assortment of clean-cut white boys have always been an object for frustrating fans.
The UCLA thing is more recent. The Bruins have gotten the benefit of the doubt on questionable calls lately, with the “phantom” foul on Darren Collison by Stanford allowing the Bruins to tie and the Cal fiasco – where Ryan Anderson was allegedly fouled on an in-bounds attempt where the ball was deflected out-of-bounds to UCLA despite seeming to go off the Bruins. That doesn’t even mention Josh Shipp’s totally awesome, but maybe illegal, over the backboard game-winning shot. To make a short story long, expect a lot of whining in this region.