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Breaking Down the Brackets: West Regional Preview


West Regional General Information:

Regional Site: Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City

Conference Tournament Champions: 5

At Large Teams: 11

Power Conference Teams: 7

Mid Majors: 9

Pods: Buffalo, NY, San Jose, CA, Milwaukee, WI, Oklahoma City, OK

Interesting Facts: 

  • The West has the most at large bids and the most mid majors of any regional.
  • The West Regional only includes three teams from west of the Rocky Mountains and 2 teams from the west coast.

Team Capsules

#1 Seed Syracuse Orange

Bid: At-Large Big EastLhf2fxwjfmysj71nzmqw_medium

Location: Syracuse, NY

Record: 28-4

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 9th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 20th

Key Offensive Stat: FG%: 51.6 (1st nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 39.9 (33rd nationally)

Player to Know: Wesley Johnson

Syracuse's progression in the NCAA Tournament hinges on one thing - the health of senior center Arinze Onuaku.  Onuaku is the strongest of the strong post players in the country and the biggest body of the Syracuse regulars.  While he doesn't play the most minutes or have the highest of numbers of the Syracuse bigs, his ability to play above his size due to his strength makes him the most valuable.  The latest word out of New York is that he could miss the first weekend, but be ready to go after that.  Wesley Johnson, the 6'7" swingman, can score inside or out.  And, Andy Rautins is one of the best pure shooters in the country, nailing just under 40 percent of his three point shots on the season.


#2 Seed Kansas State Wildcats

Bid: At-Large Big 122508_medium

Location: Manhattan, KS

Record: 26-7

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 16th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 19th

Key Offensive Stat: Off. Reb. per game: 15.2 (4th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. Def. Reb. Pct.: 59.2 (6th nationally)

Player to Know: Jacob Pullen

We all know about Kansas State.  We know about their beastly offensive rebounding numbers.  We know about the dynamic guard duo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente.  We know that their frontline production is what either puts them over the top or holds them back.  We know that they can't beat Kansas.  But, what we do not know is how they will respond to the pressures of not only being in the NCAA Tournament for the second time since 1996, but also being one of the highest ranked seeds in the tournament.  They showed that they had it in them to do themselves proud as a 2-seed in the Big 12 tournament.  Can they do the same again in The Big Dance?


#3 Seed Pittsburgh Panthers

Bid: At-Large Big EastWrvfcu5gwma4v22cyof6_medium

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Record: 24-8

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 41th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 34th

Key Offensive Stat: Assist to turnover ratio: 1.29 (23rd nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. turnovers per game: 10.6 (339th nationally)

Player to Know: Ashton Gibbs

When you think of Pittsgburgh basketball, you think of big, strong post players like Dejuan Blair and Sam Young and the great guard Levance Fields.  Or, at least I do.  Well, those household name players are gone.  So, that leaves this year's Pitt team as a bit of a mystery, with having stayed under the radar much of the season due to multiple higher ranked teams in the Big East.  They were the first team to beat Syracuse this year, so there's that.  They also sport home wins over West Virginia and Villanova.  Beat the top three teams in the Big East - check.  Protecting the basketball is their forte.


#4 Seed Vanderbilt Commodores

Bid: At-Large SECOz59klw60uzer5pralxhznrl1_medium

Location: Nashville, TN

Record: 24-8

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 25th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 64th

Key Offensive Stat: Points per Possession: 1.10 (33rd nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 41.1 (69th nationally)

Player to Know: Jermaine Beal

Vanderbilt has all the pieces of a complete team - a plethera of 6'3" or 6'4" guards, a couple swingman guards and a 6'11" mountain on the backline.  The piece of a complete team that they don't have is consistency.  A.J. Ogilvy, the 6'11" monster spoken of, is either good for a dazzling 25 point performance with 8 rebounds or 2 points and 4 rebounds.  He did each multiple times this season.  Their biggest win of the season is Tennessee at home.


#5 Seed Butler Bulldogs

Bid: Horizon League Champions6824_medium

Location: Indianapolis, IN

Record: 28-4

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 55th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 15th

Key Offensive Stat: Points per Possession: 1.08 (55th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. Off. Reb. per game: 8.8 (12th nationally)

Player to Know: Gordon Hayward

While Butler is still considered a mid-major, they, along with Gonzaga, are the two real pioneers of mid-majors making the effort to become majors in the college basketball world.  Their first tournament win since 1962 came in 2001 as a 10-seed over Wake Forest, and they were considered on the map.  Two years later, they made real noise when advancing to the Sweet 16 where they were knocked out by the Sooners of Hollis Price and Kevin Bookout.  Well, now the role is reversed.  They find themselves the 8th ranked team in the country and a tournament 5-seed.  6'9" sophomore Gordon Hayward shoulders the scoring and defensive load, while also being the best free throw shooter on the team.  Only foul trouble and injury have slowed Hayward down this season.


#6 Seed Xavier Musketeers

Bid: At-Large Atlantic 10Gu91r3bdgxhl86grimwxcplcz_medium

Location: Cincinnati, OH

Record: 24-8

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 15th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 50th

Key Offensive Stat: Points per game: 80.0 (10th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 41.1 (69th nationally)

Player to Know: Jordan Crawford



#7 Seed BYU Cougars

Bid: At-Large Mountain WestEfnqkk2chj4wpq7qgjscsqgvx_medium

Location: Provo, UT

Record: 29-5

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 12th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 21st

Key Offensive Stat: Points per Possession: 1.17 (1st nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. Points per Possession: 0.92 (18th nationally)

Player to Know: Jimmer Fredette

BYU is an extremely efficient, yet still explosive team.  They scored more points this season than anyone else, (2,821) made the second most field goals (971) and shot the second best from three. (41.9 percent)  Those are the explosive stats.  They also shot best from the free throw line in the country, (78.7 percent) were 14th nationally in assist to turnover ratio (1.38) and shot 48.5 percent from the field. (13th nationally)  The Cougars made their way into the polls back on January 4 and it's been a steady climb into the top 15 ever since.  They also have one of the best players you haven't heard of - Jimmer Fredette.


#8 Seed Gonzaga Bulldogs

Bid: At-Large West Coast ConferencePxl1fzxrw8lbt04ci2mo4kk0p_medium

Location: Spokane, WA

Record: 26-6

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 44th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 67th

Key Offensive Stat: FG%: 49.4 (6th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. Points per Possession: 0.95 (46th nationally)

Player to Know: Elias Harris

Back in mid-January when I first started to become sporadically active on Twitter, I happened to catch a late night matchup between the Zags and St. Mary's, now the biggest rivalry in the WCC, and was totally caught off guard by the great play of Gonzaga's 6'8" freshman Elias Harris.  What doesn't the guy do?  He's 54.4 percent from the field, is very active on the glass to the tune of 7.2 rebounds per game and shoots the occasional three point shot at 46.8 percent.  At the time of watching that game, I declared Harris as my "new favorite player outside of Kansas" and that statement still holds true now.  This tournament could be the coming out party for a very good, young player.  The thing they lack most - a consistent pure shooter from the outside to stretch the defense for Harris.


#9 Seed Florida State Seminoles

Bid: At-Large ACCSeqwwgbjf0ihqeeu7w8i95s5g_medium

Location: Tallahassee, FL

Record: 22-9

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 119th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 1st

Key Offensive Stat: FG%: 45.5 (69th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 37.4 (1st nationally)

Player to Know: Chris Singleton

10-6 in the ACC is a heck of a season, unless of course, you are Virginia Tech.  That's what Florida State accomplished this year with marquee wins over Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech (twice) and Wake Forest.  Sophomore center Solomon Alabi is one of the better (and bigger) players you probably don't know.  Standing at 7'1", Alabi offers the shot blocking presence of a Cole Aldrich with similar offensive post moves - raw and unrefined.  After making their first tournament appearance since 1998 last year, the Seminoles are well on their way to building a stable, tournament-regular program.  Recruiting has stepped up and they even snagged a Kansas target this past year in 6'5" freshman guard Michael Snaer, one of the better young players in the country.  He has the ability to score when his team needs a big bucket, but is still prone to silly freshman mistakes, resulting in less minutes and just now cracking the starting lineup.


#10 Seed Florida Gators

Bid: At-Large SECBe5cf8elejg8ha3fsgfo6gis2_medium

Location: Gainesville, FL

Record: 21-12

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 34th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 70th

Key Offensive Stat: Off. Reb. per game: 13.2 (55th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 42.9 (164th nationally)

Player to Know: Erving Walker

Wins over then-number 2 Michigan State and Tennessee highlight the Gators' tournament résumé.  They are the picture perfect example of an up-and-down team.  Florida went 1-8 this year against the RPI top 50 and only 5-6 away from home, where they were 14-4.  This much is for sure about the Gators - if you have a one possession lead in the last seconds, don't let Chandler Parsons touch the ball.  Reason AReason B.


#11 Seed Minnesota Golden Gophers

Bid: At-Large Big TenR8cdw98hpgz0sevha7ejthble_medium

Location: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Record: 21-13

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 23rd

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 43rd

Key Offensive Stat: 3 pt. FG%: 40.4 (7th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 40.2 (42nd nationally)

Player to Know: Lawrence Westbrook

Minnesota is another extremely efficient team in the West Regional.  As you can see above, they shoot better as a team from thee than their opponents do from the entire floor.  Think about that.  And, all of the key team stats that you look for come tournament time - assists per game, assist to turnover, field goal percentage, three point field goal percentage, field goal percentage allowed - they rank in the top 40 nationally.  That doesn't come as much of a surprise with Tubby Smith as head coach.  If Xavier lets them hang around for too long and blow chances to put them away, Minnesota's efficiency will continue to show and Xavier could easily be out in the first round.  Beating Pittsburgh in a potential second round matchup wouldn't shock me in the least bit, either.


#12 Seed UTEP Miners

Bid: At-Large Conference USA2711_medium

Location: El Paso, TX

Record: 26-6

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 78th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 14th

Key Offensive Stat: FG%: 47.6 (25th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 39.0 (14th nationally)

Player to Know: Randy Culpepper

Before their loss to Houston in the Conference USA finals, the Miners hadn't lost since losing to the same Cougars team on January 13, a streak that spanned 16 games.  Randy Culpepper is one of the more explosive scoring guards in the country.  As he goes, so does the team, generally.  UTEP's last tournament win, you ask?  A 66-60 defeat of Kansas in the second round of the 1992 tournament.


#13 Seed Murray State Racers

Bid: Ohio Valley Champions1hgv642y6b0pe0md2e0lfuipf_medium

Location: Murray, KY

Record: 30-4

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 68th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 45th

Key Offensive Stat: FG%: 50.3 (3rd nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. Points per Possession: 0.88 (1st nationally)

Player to Know: Issac Miles

Looking at the numbers, I've fallen in love with the Racers of Murray State.  The numbers presented above are the biggest reasons why.  Also, throw in their opponent's field goal percentage of 38.6 percent, which is 11th nationally, and their own 1.13 points per possession, which is 13th nationally.  Seeing how Murray State is on completely opposite ends of the number spectrum in those two categories, they are a far better team than their 13-seed ranking lets on.  Beyond those obiously outstanding numbers, Murray State turns you over a ridiculous amount (17.3 opponent turnovers per game - 14th nationally) and rebounds 39.6 percent of their missed shots, (mind you, which are less than 50 percent of shots taken) so in the rare even they do miss a shot, they get it back and get another one.  Vanderbilt, look out.


#14 Seed Oakland Golden Grizzlies

Bid: Summit League ChampionsW50gsthqohtyde0vt5nqokrcl_medium

Location: Rochester, MI

Record: 26-8

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 98th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 212th

Key Offensive Stat: Offensive Reb.%: 37.9 (31st nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 45.0 (274th nationally)

Player to Know: Keith Benson

The Golden Grizz come in riding on an 11-game wining streak, so there are few teams in better recent form than Oakland.  And, outside of their lone conference loss, it has been since December 22 when they traveled to play Syracuse since they've lost a game.  In a league that is truly considered to be towards the bottom of Division 1 basketball, 6'11" junior Keith Benson is truly considered to be a high-end Division 1 basketball player.  Again, the shot blocking tendencies of Cole Aldrich, yet slightly more refined and smooth offensive moves.  5'11" senior guard Johnathon Jones is considered one of the best players in Oakland history and runs the team accordingly.  They will score points, but also let the other team get their fair share, too.


#15 Seed North Texas Mean Green

Bid: Sun Belt Champions980hikdm0dgzf75gxnuy_medium

Location: Denton, TX

Record: 24-8

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 157th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 180th

Key Offensive Stat: FT Made: 639 (3rd nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opponent FG%: 43.1 (173rd nationally)

Player to Know: Tristan Thompson

The Mean Green (one of the collest nicknames ever) come into the tournament on an equally impressive 11-game winning streak as Oakland.  This is the third ever tournament appearance for North Texas, the other two coming in 2007 and 1988.  George Odufuwa does the dirty work on the inside while point guard Josh White runs the team and Tristan Thompson fills up the basket.


#16 Seed Vermont Catamounts

Bid: America East ChampionsEe4ske40eafxpaaeiexfegdf1_medium

Location: Burlington, VT

Record: 25-9

KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 140th

KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 135th

Key Offensive Stat: FT Made: 634 (4th nationally)

Key Defensive Stat: Opp. FG%: 39.7 (24th nationally)

Player to Know: Marqus Blakely

Vermont is your typical mid-major conference champion with a lack of size - no one over 6'8" playing regularly - who overcomes the lack of size with great discipline and and pestering defense.  They won't shoot a ton of three pointers and they won't make a bunch of them, either.  It's all about the dribble-drive and motion offense with the Catamounts.  If you keep guards Maurice Joseph and Garvey Young out of the lane, you'll take them completely out of their game.


The Matchups

#1 Syracuse vs. #16 Vermont

What To Watch: How Syracuse handles missing Onuaku.  They've lost two in a row, missing him in both games.

Syracuse Will Win If: Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph pick up Onuaku's slack inside.

Vermont Will Win If: Syracuse can't buy a basket and the Catamoutns shoot lights out from three - not their strong suit.

Player(s) to Watch: Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph.  Not to sound too much like a broken record, but Onuaku missing hurts bad.  If he can't come back the second week of the tournament, that could be a real problem for the Orange.

#8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State

What To Watch: Chris Singleton vs. Elias Harris.  Watch those two bang with each other down low and follow each other to the perimeter because they can both shoot it.  They will likely offset each other in production, so whoever's supporting cast steps up most will win, but this will be a fun battle to watch.

Gonzaga Will Win If: They get good perimeter shooting.  They lack a consistent perimeter shooter to open up the defense for Harris in the middle, so someone stepping up and hitting shots will be key.

Florida State Will Win If: Michael Snaer prevents mistakes and scores to his potential.

Player to Watch: Michael Snaer.

#5 Butler vs. #12 UTEP

What To Watch: The pace.  UTEP wants to be over 70 while Butler would rather be closer to 60.  Missed shots lead to fastbreaks and an up-tempo pace, which would favor the Miners.

Butler Will Win If: Gordon Hayward gets lots of easy looks at the basket.

UTEP Will Win If: They can somehow limit Hayward's easy looks at the basket.

Player to Watch: Gordon Hayward.  Surprised?

#4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State

What To Watch: The first big upset of Thursday afternoon.  Murray State got no love with their 13-seed.

Vanderbilt Will Win If: A.J. Ogilvy is closer to 25 and 8 than 2 and 4.  And, they don't turn the ball over.

Murray State Will Win If: They play like Murray State.  That is to say offensive rebounds, high field goal percentage, low opponent field goal percentage and limiting points per possession.

Player to Watch: Ivan Aska.  He will be asked to contend with the bigger Ogilvy.  If he is successful, so too will be the Racers.

#6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota

What To Watch: Efficiency.  Minnesota is one of, if not the, most effinicient teams in the country.  There are very few wasted possessions for them, yet many for opponents.

Xavier Will Win If: They force Minnesota out of their safe, controlled tempo type game.  The Golden Gophers won't turn the ball over unless they are rushed.

Minnesota Will Win If: They can slow the game down.  As said, they are extremely efficient and will frustrate their opponent.

Player to Watch: Damian Johnson.  Minnesota's inside force must stay out of foul trouble and all over the glass.

#3 Pittsburgh vs. #14 Oakland

What To Watch: How Oakland uses Keith Benson and how Pittsburgh game plans for Benson.

Pittsburgh Will Win If: They can just not let Benson kill them.  Outside of Benson, they Pittsburgh is superior everywhere and should outplay the Grizz.

Oakland Will Win If: Benson gets the Pitt frontline in early foul trouble and commands a double team, leaving Johnathon Jones and Derick Nelson open.

Player to Watch: Keith Benson.  Again, surprised?

#7 BYU vs. #10 Florida

What To Watch: The quality of shots BYU allows Florida.  Their 0.88 points per possession indicates they won't allow many easy ones.

BYU Will Win If: They make the Florida guards' lives hell and force them to pass it around the perimeter all day.

Florida Will Win If: BYU has a total lapse in defensive tenacity and allow them easy looks.  This game really does solely come down to BYU's defense.

Player to Watch: Jimmer Fredette.  He could go for 30 against this Florida defense.

#2 Kansas State vs. #15 North Texas

What To Watch: The first five minutes.  At that point, it should be Kansas State by a dozen.  If Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente are smart, that should be just the start to an easy opener.

Kansas State Will Win If: They are ready to play.  They are far superior and should have little trouble with the Mean Green.

North Texas Will Win If: The Wildcats are still reeling from a third loss to Kansas and come out lethargic.

Player to Watch: Dominique Sutton.  It is my long-standing belief that 'one player can score all he wants, two guys can give you hell, but it takes three to be successful against an equal or better opposition.'  Sutton is the wild card for Kansas State.


RCT Predictions

Most Likely to Pull an Upset: Murray State

Most Likely to Pull a Surprise Run: Minnesota

Final Four Favorite: Syracuse

Underseeded: Minnesota

Overseeded: Vanderbilt

Best Team No One Knows About: Murray State