Bracket Breakdown: West Regional

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By: David Kay

Synopsis
For some reason, Syracuse just dropped below Duke and earned the fourth #1 seed in the tournament pitting the West Regional against the Midwest Regional in the Final Four.  Jim Boeheim has said injured center Arinze Onuaku is NOT expected to play during the first rounds which makes the ‘Cuse more vulnerable.  If they survive and Onuaku is back for the second weekend, the Orange are definitely the team to beat.  Other than that, there is really nothing surprising about this bracket as most of the seeds went to teams deserving of that spot (except maybe Florida’s 10-seed which was certainly a bit eye-raising when it was announced.)

Best First Round Game: #4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State

Not very often will a 4/13 match-up earn this spot but the underdog Racers won 30 games this season and are as balanced as a team gets having six players who average between 9.5-10.6 points per game.  I haven’t been all that impressed by Vandy this season but they do have a size advantage over Murray State.  With the four seeds across the board not being all that intimidating, I think this year’s 4/13 match-up could be what the 5/12 match-up has been to the tourney in recent history.

Early Out: #6 Xavier

Outside of wins against Cincinnati and Florida, Xavier was very beatable in non-conference games by tournament caliber talent; losing to Marquette, Butler, Baylor, Kansas State, and Wake Forest.  Yes, the Musketeers did put together a successful run in a competitive, but overrated Atlantic 10 Conference.  Their first round opponent is Minnesota, the classic example of a team needing to get hot in the conference tournament to get into the dance and doing so.  I think the Gophers defensive pressure can cause problems for Xavier in the first round and Minnesota has the size to battle with the Musketeers’ bigs.  If they are able to avoid the upset, I don’t see Xavier getting past a very well-coached Pitt team.

Sleeper: #8 Gonzaga
With Onuaku unlikely to play this weekend, the Zags could be poised to send the Orange home early.  They are battle tested having played an extremely challenging non-conference schedule including games against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Duke, Wake Forest, Memphis, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Cincinnati so they won’t be afraid of the big bad wolf.  Plus, Gonzaga has size and experienced guard play which are two valuable assets for a team looking to make a run in the tourney.

Player to Watch: Jimmer Fredette, #7 BYU

This season, Fredette has dropped single game scoring totals of 49 and 45 points while pouring in at least 30 points in five other games.  He is shooting a ridiculous 45% from distance and defenses need to account for him as soon as he steps across half-court.  If the Cougars get of past the first weekend and make it to Salt Lake City for the Sweet 16, Fredette could be to the 2010 NCAA Tournament what Stephen Curry was to the Big Dance in 2008.

Regional Final: #1 Syracuse over #2 Kansas State
I know, how boring that I am picking another #1 versus #2 in the Elite 8.  But assuming Onuaku returns for the second weekend, I don’t see ‘Cuse being up-ended in the Sweet 16 or by Kansas State.  Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen can chuck it from three, but I am not sold on the surrounding Wildcat talent being able to solve the outstanding Orange 2-3 zone.

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