NCAA Basketball

2011 College Basketball March Madness Preview: West Reigon

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A is for “Arizona.”

The Wildcats are back, and possibly relevant again. After missing the NCAAs for the first time in 25 years last season, Sean Miller has ‘Zona returning to the Big Dance with a regular season Pac-10 title, their first one of those since 2005. The Wildcats feature the Pac-10 Player of the Year in sophomore F Derrick Williams, a bona-fide superstar averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 boards a scrap.

B is for “Bucknell Bison.”

The hottest team in the region is the Bison of Bucknell. Winner’s of ten strait and 19-of-20 games coming in, they have a monster underneath in 6′ 10″ Sophomore F-C Mike Muscala. Muscala is averaging 14.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a game. His play and studies earned him Patriot League Player of the Year, league tournament MVP, first-team all-league and all-academic honors. The previous two trips for the Bison they won their first round game (2006 as a 9-seed over Arkansas, and 2005 as a 14-seed over Kansas).

C is for “Colorado.”

At least the Northern part of the state. Northern Colorado is appearing in its first ever NCAA Tournament, and they did it with players recruited by former coach Tad Boyle. That name may sound familiar, he’s now the coach of Colorado, a team many have taken major issue with their non-inclusion in the Dance.

D is for “Defending Champion Duke Blue Devils.”

After throttling North Carolina in the ACC Tournament Final, the Blue Devils were rewarded with a 1-seed in their quest to repeat. They have a serious shot at doing so just with seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, but if freshman Kyrie Irving is able to return we might have to watch Coach K and the Dukies cutting down the nets for a fifth time…

E is for “East.”

As in BIG EAST. The BIG EAST Conference got 11 teams into the Dance, but only two of them find themselves among their West Region brethren: Cincinnati and Connecticut. And should those two teams win their first round games (or second round or whatever) they will square off against each other for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

F is for “First Four.”

The West Region is the only region without a “First Four” play-in, first round game – or whatever the official name of them are. So it looks like no one, five or six-seed will get the advantage of playing a team on short rest as they will in other regions. So. Stupid.

G is for “Gay.”

D.J. Gay is the second seeded Aztecs of San Diego State’s floor general. He leads the team in assists (3.2) and is third in scoring (11.2). Gay, along with senior forward Malcolm Thomas, are the only two Aztecs to start in all 34 games this season. Gay isn’t flashy (oxymoron?) and plays a smart game with minimal mistakes made. He hit the game winner in the Mountain West semis against UNLV on his way to a spot on the All-Tournament Team.

H is for “Hampton.”

Hampton returns to dance for the first time since 2006. They will be faced with the task of becoming the first ever 16-seed to knock off a one. That is unlikely as the Pirates played just one team from a power conference this year (Wake Forest – the worst team in the ACC) and lost 63-56. Hampton thrives on defense, allowing just two opponents all season to shoot better than 50 percent from the field. They’ll need to hold the Blue Devils (10th in the nation in scoring) to about 10 percent shooting if they hope to have a chance.

I is for “Idiots.”

Which is exactly what the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee members are. IDIOTS!!! There are no egregious errors in the West Region, but definitely some head scratchers. Texas a 4-seed? Cincinnati a 6-seed? Missouri an 11-seed (?) – remember when they were given a 12-seed with Clarence Gilbert and Kareem Rush? Kim English and Marcus Denmon will try and replicate that teams’ Elite Eight run. Duke as presumably the fourth 1-seed getting the Aztecs as the two? IDIOTS!!!

J is for “Josh Pastner.”

Pastner is the head coach of the Memphis Tigers. Last season, Pastner’s first as head man at Memphis, was the first time in his 15 years as a player, staffer and assistant coach he did not get to go to the Big Dance. Now he’s back and gets to go up against his alma mater, the University of Arizona Wildcats. Pastner was a member of ‘Zona’s 1997 Championship squad and an assistant there for six years..

K is for “Kemba and Kawhi.”

Yes he is a showboat, chest pounding and smiling after every made basket – even to put his team up 6-4 just 90 seconds into the game – but he is really, really good. In what might have been the only conference tournament the Selection Committee watched, or even paid attention to, UConn’s Kemba Walker led his Huskies to five wins in five days and the BIG EAST Championship. Kemba is averaging 23.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game for the third seeded Huskies.

Kawhi Leonard leads the second seed Aztecs with 15.4 points per game, 10.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He is also second in assists, dishing out 2.5 a scrap. He is currently projected as the #13 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

L is for “Losing Streak.”

Temple’s Fran Dunphy is just looking for a win. Dating back to his time at Penn, Dunphy has lost 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament games (0-3 with the Owls) and his 1-12 record and .077 winning percentage is the all-time worst for a coach with at least eight games coached. He’ll have to coach his team to score at least 37 points if he hopes to beat the Nittany Lions of Penn State.

M is for “Mizzou.”

The Tigers of Missouri got an at-large 11-seed, which I think means they were one of the last teams considered. They can score (ninth in the nation at 81.4ppg) but can do little else. If they can figure out the Nasty ‘Nati’s defense, they have a chance to advance – but likely not very far.

N is for “Nasty ‘Nati.”

Mick Cronin finally has the Bearcats of Cincinnati into the Tournament – their first appearance since Bob Huggins left following their 2005 appearance. They lost their last game by FORTY-FIVE POINTS (!) to Notre Dame in the BIG EAST Quarterfinals, and face a Missouri team that can score points. Whether or not Cincy is victorious will depend on if their defense shows up. The Bearcats limited opponents to just 59.2 points per game during the season.

O is for “Oakland.”

The Golden Grizzlies are located in Rochester, Michigan and I have no clue as to why they are “Oakland”. The Grizz earned their second strait appearance in the Tournament and third overall. They are 1-2 in their previous two showings.

P is for “Penn State.”

They scored 36 points and beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten (Small 11) Tournament, a win that preceded a win over Michigan State that solidified their at-large berth. I repeat, they scored 36 points. AND WON! Louisville’s own Jeff Brooks (Doss High School) is the Nittany Lions’ leading rebounder (6.5) and shot blocker (1.4), and is second on the team in scoring (when it does) at 13.3 points per contest. The school’s all-time leading scorer Talor Battle has led them to the Tourney for the first time since 2001. That year Penn State faced… Temple! The Owls knocked the Nittany Lions out with an 84-72 win in the South Regional semifinal.

Q is for “Questions.”

We all have them. Who will win it all? Who will wear Cinderella’s slipper the longest? Who? What? When? Why? The greatest thing about March Madness is that NO-ONE has any answers to these questions. And whoever thinks they know what’s going to happen should apply for a spot on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Because, like them, they’re all IDIOTS!!!

R is for “Randall.”

Temple’s Scootie Randall will be returning to play following breaking his foot back on February 17th. The 6′ 6″ junior is one of five Owls averaging in double digits (11.6) for Temple. Scootie was the Owls’ number one threat from downtown, making 1.8 three-point buckets a game.

S is for “San Diego State.”

Steve Fischer’s Aztecs went 32-2 with their only blemishes against a pre-sexual relations BYU squad. They are the two-seed and will get to play in Anaheim should they win their first two games. However, this is a program that has exactly “0″ NCAA Tournament wins in six previous appearances. Arizona-Santa Clara anyone???

T is for “Tristan Thompson of Texas.”

The Longhorn big man was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. He was the Longhorns’ second-leading scorer and rebounder in conference play, and if he brings it Rick Barnes and the Longhorns have a very legitimate shot at playing in Houston for a championship.

U is for “Ugly Orange.”

Face it, Tennessee has the worst team colors maybe in all of sports. And Bruce Pearl insists on wearing blazers and suspenders of that color, possibly as a strategy to create an eyesore so appalling it distracts the opposing team.

V is for “Valentine.”

Not the Saint for whom February 14th is named, but for Drew Valentine, the sophomore forward for the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Valentine started 27 of 34 games, playing 24.4 minutes a game while shooting 55.9% from the field, 41.8% from downtown, and averaging 7.9 points, 5.6 rebounds (third on team) and 1.2 steals (second on team). Valentine scored a career-high 24 points to go with 11 boards in the conference semis to lead the Grizz to the Summit league ‘ship.

W is for “Wolverines.”

The back-court of Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway, Jr. have led a young Michigan squad (19th youngest in the nation) back to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines won eight of their final 11 games following a 1-6 Big Ten Conference start and will face the Volunteers of Tennessee in the 8-9 matchup. This is the program’s second appearance in the last three years, as well as in the last fifteen. John Beilein appears to have righted the ship in Lansing.

X is for “Xavier and Xzaivier.”

I didn’t get lucky enough to have the Musketeers in my region, so instead I’m going with the only two players on all 16 teams’ rosters whose first or last name begins with “X”. Xavier Thames is a member of the San Diego State Aztecs, but is sitting out this season after transferring from Washington State. Xzaivier (props to the alternate spelling) James plays for the Northern Colorado Bears. Thames, a 5′ 9″ freshman, has appeared in just seven games this season, totaling 17 minutes on the floor. He made the only shot he attempted (a three pointer on November 27th against Bethune Cookman) and is 1-for-2 from the free throw line for the final of his four points scored this year. He also has three boards (all defensive) one assist and one personal foul.

Y is for “Yancy.”

Cincinnati’s beleaguered big man Yancy Gates. The 6′ 9″, 265 pound junior forward is the team’s leading scorer at 11.8 points a scrap and leading rebounder, pulling down 6.8 boards a game. Gates leads the team in blocks (1.3) and among the Bearcats who see significant playing time, leads the team in field goal percentage (50.7%). Yancy was suspended for the ‘Nati’s game at Pittsburgh earlier this season for attitude problems, but since his reinstatement and consequent return to the starting lineup (after five games coming off the bench) he has been playing beastly – averaging 15.0 points (on 61% shooting), 7.4 boards and 1.6 blocked shots a game.

Z is for “Zack Novak.”

Junior forward Novak is the leader of the Baby Wolverines, a team with no seniors. He has started in all 33 games this season, and at just 6′ 4″ tall, leads the team in rebounds with 5.7 a game. Novak along with junior guard Stu Douglass are the only players on the Michigan roster with NCAA Tournament experience. They both played in the 2009 Tourney as true freshmen.