NCAA field full of intrique and star power

David Cassilo

Most of the regular season was spent praising the Big East, and when the field was set on Sunday, the conference’s amazing season was rewarded with three No. 1 seeds. Although Louisville, Pittsburgh and Connecticut headline the field, the rest of the matchups present an many entertaining games in the bracket.

Midwest Region

Best Game of the First Round:

(7) Boston College vs. (10) USC

A close look at the Boston College schedule reveals that it is possibly the most exciting team in the NCAA tournament to watch. They may not have the best players, but they consistently play close games. Twelve of the Eagles’ last 15 games have been decided by 10 points or less.

They will face the red-hot USC Trojans, who used a Pac-10 tournament title to secure a bid in the NCAA tournament. They are winners of their last five games, which included UCLA, California and Arizona State.

The winner will likely be determined by which team’s star player has the better game. Boston College senior guard Tyrese Rice is one of the most explosive scorers in the nation and will be a tough matchup for the Trojan defense. USC will live or die by the performance of freshman forward DeMar DeRozan, who has come on strong down the stretch.

Player to Watch:

Terrence Williams, F Louisville

Williams, Louisville’s talented senior forward, is one of the few players in the nation that can beat a team without scoring. During the Big East tournament, he averaged seven points per game, eight rebounds per game, 5.3 assists per game and 4.7 steals per game.

Although they are not the loudest numbers, they show that Williams is one of the best all-around players in the country. In many ways, he is like Jason Kidd in that he will find a way to beat your team.

Cinderella Watch:

(13) Cleveland State Vikings

After beating nationally ranked Butler to win the Horizon League, Cleveland State gained the attention of many college basketball fans. But the win was just the culmination of what has been an extremely successful season. The Vikings won 25 games in the year, including a win against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

Led by senior forward J’Nathan Bullock, the Vikings find themselves with a first-round matchup against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons’ players and head coach have no NCAA tournament experience, so they may be as star-struck as their opponent.

West Region

Game of the First Round:

(7) California vs. (10) Maryland

The inconsistency of both these teams makes it tough to get a read on who will win this game. California started off hot with a 15-2 record but sputtered down the stretch with bad losses to Stanford and Oregon State. Their opponent, Maryland, struggled early, losing to Georgetown, Morgan State and Miami (Fla.), but the Terrapins showed they belonged in the field with late-season wins against North Carolina and Wake Forest.

For the Terps to win, they must somehow slow down the high-scoring California offense. The Bears averaged 75 points per game and shot 48.5 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Player to Watch:

Robbie Hummel, F Purdue

Out for parts of the season with a back injury, Hummel never really got healthy until the Big Ten tournament. Three of Purdue’s nine losses came in the games that Hummel missed because of his back injury. It is no coincidence that when he was at full strength, the team won the tournament by defeating Ohio State.

When on the court, Hummel can be a dominating player. He leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game and has scored at least 20 points four times.

Cinderella Watch:

(11) Utah State Aggies

Of all the teams in the West region, only Memphis and Utah State have won at least 30 games. Although they have not beaten many good teams (their best win was against Utah), the Aggies are still one of the best mid-majors in the country.

They get the benefit of playing a Marquette team that is currently reeling, losing five of its last six games.

East Region

Game of the First Round:

(6) UCLA vs. (11) VCU

There aren’t many better individual matchups in the first round than UCLA senior point guard Darren Collison taking on VCU senior point guard Eric Maynor. Both players are the generals of their respective offenses, and each team’s performance relies on the ability of these players to make plays.

Collison, who has been to the Final Four three times, averages 14.5 points per game and 4.9 assists per game, both of which lead the Bruins. His counterpart Maynor leads the Rams with 22.4 points per game and 6.2 assists per game. It may seem too simple, but whichever guard has a better game will be the determinant of who wins the game.

Player to Watch:

DaJuan Blair, F Pittsburgh

It has been well-documented that as long as Blair stays out of foul trouble, the Panthers are perhaps unbeatable. The sophomore forward has fouled out of three of his team’s four losses. In games where he has three fouls or less, the Panthers are undefeated.

When he is on the court, the co-Big East Player of the Year is almost an impossible matchup for any opponent. He has 19 double-doubles in 37 games, including two contests where he had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. As long as he is on the court, Pittsburgh will continue to win.

Cinderella Watch:

(11) VCU Rams

A lot has already been said of why Maynor makes VCU one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament, but he is not the only reason the Rams have been so successful this season.

Perhaps the second biggest factor has been the development of sophomore forward Larry Sanders. Enjoying a breakout season, Sanders leads the team with 8.5 rebounds per game and 2.7 blocks per game. He is also the only other Ram besides Maynor to average in double figures.

The Rams also get the benefit of playing a UCLA team that is having a down year.

South Region

Game to Watch:

(6) Arizona State vs. (11) Temple

Although he may be better known for the puns that can be used with his last name, Temple senior guard Dionte Christmas is one of the most talented players in this region. He is an electrifying scorer who plays best in big games, as shown by his 35 points against Tennessee and his 29 points in the Atlantic-10 title game.

However, Arizona State has a player just as talented in sophomore guard James Harden. The Pac-10 Player of the Year has raised his game to an even higher level in his second season, improving his averages in points, rebounds and assists.

Although, both teams have a lot of talent, whoever wins this matchup will determine which team advances to the second round.

Player to Watch:

Josh Heytvelt, F Gonzaga

The senior forward may not have lived up to the expectations set for him when he first came to Gonzaga, but he is still the player most capable of dominating a game on the Bulldogs. Averaging 14.9 points per game, Heytvelt teams up with sophomore forward Austin Daye to make one of the best frontcourts in the nation.

Cinderella Watch:

(12) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Just like last season, the Hilltoppers find themselves as a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That year they were able to knock off Drake and San Diego before falling to UCLA in the Sweet 16.

This year they may be in position for a similar run. Their opponent, the Fighting Illini, have very little tournament experience, and the injury to senior guard Chester Frazier makes them a vulnerable team right now.