MBB West Region Preview: Who’s the fastest draw in the wild West?

David Cassilo

The West region of this year’s NCAA tournament is full of history and tradition, as it features six teams that have been to an NCAA final in the last 10 years. Such an amazing statistic might persuade you to believe that the region would be considered stacked, but the reality points to quite the contrary. The majority of these programs are either in a down year or have been so cold lately that they barely live up to the name on the front of their jerseys. However, lucky for them, it only takes six good days to win a championship. Backing your way into a tournament may seem like the best way to ensure an early exit, but that is not always the case. Obviously, it didn’t hurt the St. Louis Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. Will we see the same thing in March this year?


No. 16 NIAGARA – The play-in game is a hoax created by the NCAA to give small schools a tournament “win” before they get slammed by a No. 1 seed. Niagara won’t celebrate for long when they see that Kansas is waiting for them.

No. 15 WEBER STATE – Once upon a time, Weber State pulled off one of the greatest upsets in tournament history by beating North Carolina. The Wildcats should cherish that memory because they won’t get another one against UCLA.

No. 14 WRIGHT STATE – The Raiders were able to win the Horizon League’s automatic bid by beating nationally-ranked Butler twice within a month. However, a short stay is likely without any player over 6 feet 8 inches on their roster to match up with Pitt’s Aaron Gray, who is due for a bounce-back game following a horrendous Big East final.

No. 13 HOLY CROSS – Holy Cross has come close to major upsets twice before because Ralph Willard is one of the best coaches in game preparation in the nation. This game could be a classic, and it would not be a shock to see Holy Cross win. However, Southern Illinois is too good defensively to let it happen.

No. 12 ILLINOIS – It’s quite possible that the Fighting Illini are the worst team from a major conference in the field this year. Their pathetic 62.6 percent free-throw shooting may prove to be the main reason that Illinois will fail to advance.

No. 8 KENTUCKY – I’m not just being a homer here and picking Villanova to beat Kentucky. Tubby Smith’s team has been inconsistent all season and sputtered down the stretch, winning only four of its final 10 games. Kentucky needs a big day from center Randolph Morris to even keep this close.

No. 7 INDIANA – The reason why Indiana will fall to Gonzaga for the second straight postseason is more about the opponent than themselves. Mark Few and the Bulldogs seem to excel in the underdog role and following a season of suspensions and adversity, they find themselves there again.

No. 6 DUKE – Despite a down year, Duke was still able to gain a sixth seed in the region. However, the Blue Devils will be wishing they were placed anywhere else when their season comes to an end at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth. Enjoy the game while it lasts, because it may be a long time before Duke goes one and done again.


No. 10 GONZAGA – The Bulldogs played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country this season. Playing teams at such a high level will prepare Gonzaga for a game against the experienced UCLA squad. An upset is very possible, but the Bruins will find a way.

No. 9 VILLANOVA – A loss to Kansas will be nothing for the Wildcats to hang their heads about. The Jayhawks are an offensive juggernaut, and Villanova has struggled with guard-oriented teams this season. The glimmer of hope for Wildcats fans is that Kansas has been an awful tournament team in recent years that has lost despite superior talent. If Villanova is able to pull off the upset, the rest of the bracket is weak enough to make the Final Four a definite possibility.

No. 5 VIRGINIA TECH – The problem with Virginia Tech is that it has no tournament experience on its roster. The only thing that will propel the Hokies into the Sweet Sixteen is a huge tournament from their star guard Zabian Dowdell.

No. 3 PITTSBURGH – The Panthers have struggled against mid-majors in tournament play, losing to Bradley and Pacific the past two years. VCU will be the latest team to upset Pittsburgh in what should be a frustrating game for the overrated Aaron Gray.


No. 11 VCU – The Rams, who beat George Mason in their last game, are this year’s version of that team. They have the three characteristics of every Cinderella: great free-throw shooting, great 3-point shooting and a strong finish. Their run will come to an end, though, in the Sweet Sixteen.

No. 4 SOUTHERN ILLINOIS – Like VCU, Southern Illinois is a power conference team that just happens to play in a mid-major league. It excels on the defensive end of the court, and experienced leaders Jamaal Tatum and Randal Falker are tough matchups on the offensive side. The Salukis’ downfall will be that they do not have enough offensive firepower to stay with Kansas’ high-powered offense.


No. 1 KANSAS – Man for man, the Jayhawks are the most talented team in the region. Winning its last 11 games also makes it the West’s hottest team. What makes them so dangerous is that even with five players that can all have huge offensive games, the Jayhawks don’t sacrifice anything defensively. This team has Final Four talent but is too inexperienced to beat the region’s champion.


No. 2 UCLA – The Bruins are that team I eluded to earlier. Losing its final two games of the season cost them a No. 1 seed, but this team is as capable of winning the championship now as it was when it was the No. 1 team in the nation. Location, defense and experience will be the determining factors that get UCLA back to the Final Four.