This is the third of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.
Energy Solutions Arena Hosts the West Regional
Favorite: Syracuse, #1 seed, 29-4. Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange is the favorite in this region by a good margin. His team has lost their last two games and there are whispers that center Arinze Onuaku may not be available for the first two rounds, but SU is talented enough to survive the first weekend without him (as a comparison, UNC didn’t have Ty Lawson at full strength for the first weekend last year). K-State is realistically the only team in this region capable of standing toe-to-toe with Syracuse in terms of relative talent, but they play too loosey-goosey to actually beat the Orange.
Should They Falter: Kansas State, #2 seed, 26-7. Should Syracuse get upset, K-State is in position to take advantage. With a dynamite backcourt of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen capable of going off in bunches, the Wildcats could make a run to their first Final Four since the mid-60s. The quality of talent in this region just isn’t very deep, so outside of Syracuse or K-State, who else could realistically win the requisite four games?
Grossly Overseeded: Vanderbilt, #4 seed, 24-8. A team that lost to Western Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State, none of whom are Tourney teams, should not have gotten a protected seed with only a couple of marquee wins this year.
Grossly Underseeded:UTEP, #12 seed, 26-6. The Miners really didn’t start rolling until they integrated Derrick Caracter into the lineup, but they’ve been fantastic since then. At worst, this team should have been in the #8-#10 range. Instead, they’ll get an opportunity to prove themselves against the annual public darling #5 Butler, where Vegas has UTEP as only a 2.5-point underdog.
Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): UTEP. For the same reasons as above, once UTEP beats Butler, they will also be able to get past #4 Vanderbilt who is probably overseeded, or #13 Murray State, a team they’re simply better than.
Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): BYU, #7 seed, 29-5. This is an easy one. Everyone knows that BYU is murder to play at home, and if the Cougars can get past their first two opponents (Florida and K-State), then they will have as partisan a home crowd as possible in Salt Lake City to play two eastern teams, either Pitt or Xavier and Syracuse. The problem for BYU will be getting there. They’ve had NCAA first round problems for the better part of two decades, and even though they’re much better than their initial opponent Florida, they’ll need to play really well to beat Kansas State.
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