The West Region has some squads at the top with elite talent, but Duke is likely to be viewed as a favorite based on their title in 2010. #2 San Diego State has no real history of tournament success, while #4 Texas is entering the tournament on a lull after looking like a #1 seed a month ago.
Best first-round matchup: Cincinnati vs. Missouri. Despite being the lower seed, Missouri is either a slight favorite or a pick em for this game. Cincinnati looked like a paper Bearcat for much of the season, building an early gaudy record against no quality competition, but turned it on late, winning 5 of 6 to end the season to go from an #11 seed to a #6. Missouri went the other direction, from a projected #6 a few weeks ago to a #11 with a late swoon. Cincinnati relies on the offensive boards, something that should be available against Missouri.
Look at the NBA talent!: #1 seed Duke has Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler (Kyrie Irving maybe coming back as well), #2 San Diego State with Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker with Connecticut, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton for Texas, and projected top 5 pick Derrick Williams of Arizona.
Darkhorse in the bracket: Cincinnati. They lost to Connecticut at home, and would get the Big East tourney champs if they win. They have a reasonable tough matchup despite being a #6 seed, so very few people are picking them. Is a #6 seed too high for a darkhorse? I think enough people are discounting the Bearcats that you can get value here.
Veteran Coaches, New Places: Steve Fisher is back in the tournament as a high seed with San Diego State, John Beilein is in with Michigan, and has several good tournament performances on his resume. Sean Miller, not exactly an old soul, but is in with Arizona for the first time, after an Elite 8 run with Xavier. They join five other coaches who have been to an Elite 8 or further in recent years.
Really, Committee?: Texas as a 4 seed seems like quite a drop. Yes, they went 4-4 down the stretch, but they advanced to the Big XII championship game, so it’s not like they came in with a bad conference tourney loss, were 27-7 in the 3rd rated conference, with a good non-conference schedule, and were in the mix for a #1 seed as of three weeks ago. They were 11th in RPI, 4th in Pomeroy, and 7th in Sagarin, ahead of #3 seeds Purdue (who did lose to Iowa and Michigan State in final week), Syracuse and Connecticut in all three ratings.
Stat That May or May Not Interest You: Over the last decade, #2 seeds have won the West more than any other (5x), while a #1 seed has won the region only twice. A #3 (Maryland), #4 (Louisville) and #5 (Butler last year) have also won it. The last two national champs to come from the West region? Connecticut, as a #2 in 2004 and as a #1 seed in 1999.
Really, Committee? part II: I know that there were 11 Big East teams, and you were going to have to have some potential matchups by the Sweet 16. Still, Cincinnati with Connecticut as the two highest seeded teams in a pod seems lazy. Would the brackets have been worse off if they switched Georgetown for Texas A&M (#6 for #7) and Georgia for Marquette(#10 for #11)? Then they could have had only one Big East team in each sub-group after exchanging Cincinnati with Xavier.
Heart Says: Missouri goes on a magical run through the Big East teams, after coming into the tournament playing poorly and getting seeded lower than the talent dictates, just like when they came out West as a #12 seed in 2002. Oakland gets the boost from playing out West (kidding! though how many random office pool people will pick them because of that) and pulls some upsets of Texas and Arizona. San Diego State proves the doubters wrong and shows they were one of the best teams in the country.
Head Says: The chalk should prevail in this region. If Texas gets past Arizona, that Sweet 16 matchup will be a monster. San Diego State and Connecticut will meet in the other side.
Prediction: Duke or Texas? I think the winner of that game beats Connecticut, who survives San Diego State, a team who’s inconsistency from the outside concerns me as they get deeper in the tournament. I’ll go with Duke.
[photo via Getty]