The West region has a lot intrigue, from great coaching to great teams with history. Duke is the top seed, but it was not given any favors by being shipped out west, and some can argue Duke is not deserving of a top seed because of its lack of quality wins. If the top seeds advance to the regional final in Anaheim, Calif., Duke would be playing San Diego State, which is only a short two-hour drive up the coast, compared to the cross-country jaunt that Duke would make. Before we get that far ahead, let’s take a look at the teams in the West region and what they offer.
Five players to watch
• Kemba Walker, UConn
Kemba Walker is a National Player of the Year candidate, and his run with UConn during which the Huskies won five games in five days included a game-winner over top-seeded Pitt in the quarterfinals. Walker can take over a game and take the big shot, each of which is needed to make a deep NCAA tournament run. Walker also is the nation’s fourth leading scorer at 23.5 points per game.
• Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
The running joke out in the Mountain West is to look at the size of his hands, so that is something to look forward to. Leonard has an NBA-ready body and is a force down low as he averages a double-double per game. Leonard is a big-time player because when he faced the top three teams in Mountain West he averaged four more points per game than his season average.
• Derrick Williams, Arizona
He is an athletic future NBA lottery pick and his biggest strength is getting to the free throw line which he leads the nation in doing. He is by far Arizona’s best player scoring just under 20 points per game and eight boards. If Williams has an off night then Arizona could have issues.
• Keith Benson, Oakland
The 6-11 Benson has won the Summit League player of the year the past two years and would have gone to the NBA last year if not for a thumb injury he suffered last April. Benson is a beast as he scores 18 per game, 10 rebounds per game and 3.6 blocks per game. If Benson can lead Oakland past Texas he will certainly become a household name.
• Nolan Smith, Duke
Nolan Smith has taken over ever as Duke’s top player since Kyle Irving has been out since December, and Smith took over the void since Irving has been out. Smith played a key part in last years title team and is even better this year scoring over 20 points per game.
Potential first round upset:
• No. 13 Oakland over No. 4 Texas
Texas has been inconsistent the past few years and that includes the past month of this season. This game will be a battle of Oakland’s high-paced offense against Texas’ defense. Oakland will need Keith Benson to be his usual dominant self, but he will have a challenge when he takes on freshman Tristan Thompson.
• No. 11 Missouri over No. 6 Cincinnati
The Big East is a great league, but Missouris fast-pace offense will cause Cincinnati trouble. Missouri appears to be better then their 11 seed since they were ranked in the top-25 most of the year, but MIssouri stumbled down the stretch losing four of their last five games. For Missouri to pull of the minor upset they will have to revert to their recent slide over the past two weeks.
First round projections:
No. 1 Duke over No. 16 Hampton
No. 8 Michigan over No. 9 Tennessee
No. 5 Arizona over No. 12 Memphis
No. 13 Oakland over No. 4 Texas
No. 11 Missouri over No. 6 Cincinnati
No. 3 Connecticut over No. 14 Bucknell
No. 7 Temple over No. 10 Penn State
No. 2 San Diego State over No. 15 Northern Colorado
Second round projections:
No. 1 Duke over No. 8 Michigan
No. 5 Arizona over No. 13 Oakland
No. 3 Connecticut over No. 11 Missouri
No. 2 San Diego State over No. 7 Temple
Sweet 16 projections:
No. 1 Duke over No. 5 Arizona
No. 2 San Diego State over No. 3 Connecticut
No. 2 San Diego State over No. 1 Duke
The pick of choosing San Diego State over Duke is a risky one since the Aztecs have never been ranked in the top 25 prior to this year and they have never won a NCAA tournament game. So, to say they will make a Final Four appearance in the same year they get their first NCAA tournament takes a special team, and the Aztecs have proved that by ending the season at 32-2.
Duke has made it to this position before and they are the reigning national champions and have the more experienced coach with Mike Krzyzewski but Duke could be ushering in Kyle Irving which cold cause some chemistry issues. The Aztecs are an experienced team and play a physical brand of basketball with Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas who will be tough for Duke, or any team in the tournament to handle. While Duke has the player experience, the Aztecs coach Steve Fisher has been to multiple Final Fours from his Michigan days and could possibly be the biggest reason the Aztecs are to perform well in this tournament.