The West Region is where high seeds traditionally go to die. In fact, a lot of teams would gladly sacrifice a high seed in favor playing of playing closer to home. If the Blue Devils were a two seed, they might have found themselves in New Orleans, or their true home base in New Jersey. Instead, if they make it to the Sweet 16, they’ll most likely play San Diego State in Anaheim, California. Enjoy that reward for a successful season.
Team to love: Penn State Nittany Lions
Let’s be clear. I don’t think Ed DeChellis is good enough to even be considered a mediocre coach, and I have no idea why he has been able to hold on to his job after a decade of futility, but I’ll be cheering hard for his team. They play in the middle of nowhere in a half-empty arena on a campus where they are a complete afterthought, despite having one of the best players in the Big Ten in the last decade. Talor Battle makes some baffling decisions, but is usually vindicated by his immense talent in the end. Every player should have the chance to make the big dance, and Battle finally gets to shine on a national stage.
Team to hate: The Cheaters, Connecticut and Tennessee
Which dirty program do you choose. On your left, is Tennessee and Bruce Pearl. Pearl committed recruiting violations, lied about, and then when photographic evidence proved he was lying, he half apologized. Pearl spent a good part of the SEC season suspended, and will be fired after the season, though he will be allowed to coach the rest of the tournament.
Jim Calhoun used an agent to recruit a former player, and that player received illegal benefits during his recruitment. Classy for a coach that brags about running a clean program. If that wasn’t enough, that player was expelled from school after violating a restraining order. If you are going to lie and cheat, at least make it worth while. Calhoun has been suspended for the first three games of next season, when surely his team will struggle to beat Prairie View A&M. At the very least, there will be no appeal of the suspension.
Best Mascot: Vacated due to horrible mascots throughout the region
Worst Mascot: Pretty much everyone
Consider this region the College Insider Tournament of mascots. In the “those animals don’t live there” category, your nominees are the Oakland (suburbs of Detroit) Golden Grizzlies and Bucknell (Pennsylvania) Bison. Nominated for historically inaccurate mascot are the San Diego State Aztecs (apparently Cuyapaipe and Kumeyaay, while actually residing in the San Diego area, don’t roll off the tongue). Then there are the boring: Tigers times two, Bears, dogs, Owls, Wildcats, and two alleged animals that don’t exist. Yikes.
Most Intriguing Game: Cincinatti vs Missouri
Both teams got off to hot starts but have been slip sliding away during the conference season. Missouri will press at every opportunity, and has excellent athletes at every position. Cincinnati is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and will be tested against an up-tempo offense. This game should go down to the final shot.
Game to skip: Penn State and Temple
The Nittany Lions, despite having one of the most exciting players in the tournament, are dreadfully boring to watch. Remember that 36-33 win over Wisconsin? Only four teams in the country play at a slower pace. Temple isn’t going to push the pace, and won’t force many turnovers. They may have to switch out the ball at halftime due to deflation related problems. It still should be a close game though, to the tune of 45-43.
Player to watch that you know: Kyrie Irving, Duke
Maybe it is actually the toe to watch. The freshmen point guard, who realistically may have been the best player in the country before injuring his toe months ago, will finally return just in time to help the defending national champions make another run. It will be interesting to see how the Blue Devils integrate Irving back into the offense, and how the freshman responds after so much time on the bench.
Player to watch that you don’t know: Keith Benson, Oakland
Benson is poised to be the next late first round/early second round NBA draft pick that turns into a perennial all-star. The senior center averages 18 points, 10 rebounds, and more than 4 blocks per game, and shoots 40% from behind the three point line. Those numbers should remind you of a record setting NBA star languishing on a bad team.
Upset Special: Oakland
But Benson doesn’t play on a bad team. In fact, he plays on a battle tested team that has lost once in 2011. The Golden Grizzlies rolled through the Summit League, and played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. They weren’t able to beat any of the murderers row of West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, and Ohio State but they did knock of Tennessee on the road. They won’t be intimidated by Texas, and the Longhorns’ youth and occasional lack of interest in actually winning could catch up with them.
To the Final Four: San Diego State
The return of Kyrie Irving should probably give Duke the edge, but there are too many questions about Irving’s health, how much he’ll play, and his impact on the team. San Diego State on the other hand will essentially have a home game to get to the Final Four, and that home-court advantage will carry them through.