NCAA March Madness Preview: The West Region

March 18, 2009

Now that the Big Dance of 64 Teams is set to begin The Daily Sports Herald will preview each of the regions. First up, let's see how the West will be won.

No. 1 Connecticut (27-4) vs. No. 16 Chattanooga (18-16)

UConn spent most of the season as one of the few favorites to win the National Championship. However, a knee injury to starting shooting guard Jerome Dyson has raised questions about how far this team can go. Still, with two seniors starting in the backcourt, A.J. Price (14.0 ppg, 40.8% from 3) and Craig Austrie, the Huskies will have some experience to mitigate the loss. Price's shooting in particular will definitely be needed for a long tournament run.

While it has been pointed out that they now have no backcourt depth and play a 7-man rotation, this is largely an overrated concern. Many good teams can survive without great depth in the postseason, both in college and professional basketball. But it depends on the quality of the rotation, and without Dyson, the Huskies are that much more dependent on 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet.

Thabeet is a dominant college defender in the post but his offensive skills have been inconsistent. While he shoots 64.3% from the field, he averages only 13.6 points per game. 6-7 Forward Jeff Adrien, who averages a double-double, will also be called upon to maintain the frontcourt edge the Huskies enjoy against almost all of their opposition.

Chattanooga is a tyical first-round team that finished under .500 in the regular season before winning the Southern Conference tournament. Allowing 76 points per game in a weak conference suggests this team doesn't play great defense. Nicchaeus Doaks is a solid big man and senior guard Stephen McDowell is talented, but they should be no match for UConn.

No. 2 Memphis (31-3) vs. No. 15 CS Northridge (17-13)

Memphis has surprised many people with its success after the loss of guards Derek Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts from last year's team. They have been able to do this because of the play of freshman sensation Tyreke Evans, who leads the team averaging 16.6ppg. Memphis has depth at the guard position but isn't particularly strong inside, although senior forward Robert Dozier has improved his game considerably.

Bobby Braswell is a terrific coach and his team always plays hard. But the loss of leading scorer Deon Tresvant due to his arrest and suspension and the car accident injury to point guard Josh Jenkins will be too much to overcome. Memphis should roll in this game.

No. 3 Missouri (28-6) vs. No. 14 Cornell (21-9)

The Tigers are back in the tournament for the first time since 2003 and will go as far as their frontcourt senior duo of Demarre Carroll (16.8 ppg) and Leo Lyons (14.2 ppg)takes them. In the backcourt, guard J.T Tiller was the Big 12 co-defensive player of the year. The Tigers like to push the ball and rely on their defense to create a lot of turnovers (nearly 20 per game).

As the Ivy League Champions, Cornell is entering the tournament for the 2nd straight year. Ryan Wittman (son of former NBA player Randy Wittman) is the main offensive threat averaging 18.5 ppg while shooting nearly 42% from 3. The lack of athleticism should catch up to Cornell in the second half and the Tigers should take over.

No. 4 Washington (25-8) vs. No. 13 Mississippi State (18-16)

As the winners of the Pacific 10 Conference Washington was rewarded with a "home game" in Portland. More importantly, their superior talent should be the key factor as the Huskies have skill people inside and out. Senior center Jonathon Brockman (14.9 ppg) is a solid pro prospect who consistently hits the boards (11.2/game). Senior guard Justin Dentmon (15.0 ppg) is a clutch player and freshman backcourt mate Isiah Thomas (15.4 ppg) almost lives up to the name.

Mississippi State is travelling a long way but hopefully they brought their defensive skills with them. 6-9 Center Jarvis Varnado was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and leads the nation in blocked shots. However the Bulldogs have inexperienced guards who must hit the 3 if they are to stay with Washington. In the end, their lack of firepower will allow Washington to move on.

No. 5 Purdue (25-9) vs. No. 12 Northern Iowa (23-10)

The Big Ten Tournament Champs are a talented team who has performed below expectations. 5-9 Freshman guad Lewis Jackson has allowed the Boilermakers to pick up the tempo so forwards JaJuan Johnson (13.2 ppg) and Robbie Hummel (12.7 ppg) can flourish. Backcourt mate E'Twaun is another offensive weapon who leads the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg.

Northern Iowa has won its last 5 games and is a hot team right now. 7-1 Center Eglseder could create some matchup problems for Purdue. The Panthers shoot the ball well and are also a good road ream as evidenced by their 11-4 record away from home. I expect Purdue to continue to disappoint and lose this game down the stretch.

No. 6 Marquette (24-9) vs. No. 11 Utah State (30-4)

Marquette is led by its stellar backcourt of Jerel McNeal (19.7ppg) and Wesley Matthews (18.4 ppg). Forward Lazar Haywood (16.1 ppg) is another solid producer. A season-ending injury to starting point guard Dominic James has raised questions about how far the Golden Eagles can really go, but this teams still has talent.

Utah State shoots 49.8% from the field and 39.8% from the 3-point line. This is a well-disciplined and fundamentally sound team that didn't win 30 games by accident. They are a tough first round matchup because of their shooting and their ability to limit turnovers. Nonetheless, I see Marquette getting enough good guard play to pull this out.

No. 7 California (22-10) vs. No. 10 Maryland (20-13)

Mike Montgomery has revitalized Cal as a basketball program and the Golden Bears were surprisingly good this year. This is largely due to perimeter play of Jerome Randle (18.4 ppg), Patrick Christopher (14.6 ppg), and Theo Robertson (12.8 ppg). Cal leads the nation is 3-point shooting and will go as far as their outside shooting takes them. Jamal Boykins and Jordan Wilkes are both serviceable frontcourt players.

Maryland is led by guard Greivis Vasquez (17.2 ppg) and has faced some tough competition coming out of the ACC. Vasquez has received help at times from from fellow guard Eric Hayes (10.2 ppg) and forward Landon Milbourne (11.6 ppg) but not on a consistent basis. Maryland does not have the size to take advantage of Cal and the Bears should win with better overall guard play.

No. 8 BYU (25-7) vs. No. 9 Texas A&M (23-9)

BYU has not won a tournament game since 1993, but their guard play this time might do the trick. Guards Lee Cummard (16.8 ppg) and Jimmer Fredette (16.2 ppg) lead the team in scoring and must hit the 3 if they are to advance. The Cougars have no frontcourt depth and center Chris Miles cannot afford to get into foul trouble.

Texas A&M starts 4 Junior and a senior, Josh Carter, who leads the team in scoring (14.1 ppg). The Aggies are in the tournament thanks to an at-large bid and they are respected for their solid defense, led by forward Bryan Davis and 6-10 center Chinemelu Elonu . However, they lack many scoring threats and the Cougars are not a good matchup for them. BYU's outside shooting and perimeter play should offset any production by Carter and earn them the victory.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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