The West Region of the NCAA Tournament will, in my opinion, be the craziest region with the most first-round upsets. The #1 seed Syracuse Orange has a relatively easy road to Indianapolis. They’ll potentially face some good, but not great teams.
Some more about the Orange. They of course live in the Big East, the best conference in the country. Some people are making a big deal of them losing in the first round of the Big East Tournament, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. It’s not like they had a horrible loss to a team like St. John’s or DePaul. They lost to Georgetown, who I think has a reasonable shot to get to the Final Four.
They play that vaunted 2-3 zone, and most agree it’s the best it’s ever been. Andy Rautins is a senior guard (sensing a theme here?) who is the unquestioned leader of the Orange. He plays on the top of the zone, and is ridiculously quick in it. He also is a lights out shooter. Common basketball sense says that to beat the 2-3, get the ball in the middle of the zone and pass off that. Well, Syracuse is successful with their zone because they know how to prevent that from happening.
If the Orange can get out in transition, they are extremely tough to stop. They shoot it well and can finish inside too. If they’re on, they’re the best team in the country.
What might bring them down, though, is their lack of depth. They only go seven deep, and an injury to Arinze Onuaku could challenge that depth. The thinking is that they might be able to make it to the second week of the tournament without Onuaku in the lineup, but I think the Orange and their fans would feel more comfortable if he were playing.
Can anyone peel the Orange? I think a team like Minnesota could get it done. One of the last teams in the Tournament, the Gophers are the highest scoring team in the Big Ten. They have a good balance of size and speed, and several guys who can really shoot it from behind the arc. Oh yeah, they also have a guy named Tubby Smith on the sidelines. Everyone knows the soft spot of a 2-3 zone is the wings, and if Minnesota or anyone else can bury some open looks, the Orange could go down.
Pittsburgh is a team that keeps getting better and better. Despite losing several great players, Jamie Dixon found a way to coach the Panthers to a #3 seed. Nevermind the loss to Indiana, Jermaine Dixon played only 12 minutes. They swept the aforementioned Orange of Syracuse, and have also beaten Villanova, West Virginia, and Louisville.
Kansas State is no slouch either. They’re a few years removed since Michael Beasley, but Frank Martin has done a great job of coaching them to a #2 seed. Their normal intensity is what they’ll need in the NCAA Tournament. They excel at offensive rebounding, another vital Tournament stat. Some might feel they’re overrated with a #2, but they’ll look to prove otherwise.
Brigham Young may be the best team that nobody knows about. Jimmer Fredette may be the best player that nobody’s heard of.
I think Syracuse comes out of this region*, but don’t be surprised if it’s Pitt or Kansas State.
*Dependant on Arinze Onuaku’s health.