Official Tournament Preview: West Regional

West Regional (Glendale, Ariz.)

Theme: Lacking Luster
As would be expected, a bunch of boring teams clumped together makes for a boring region. The best team appears to be either Memphis or UConn, neither of whom is going to win the whole shebang. The first round features milquetoast matchups like Maryland-Cal and Purdue-Northen Iowa. BYU-Texas A&M? Yeesh.
Mirage: Mississippi State
Every year some left-for-dead team wins its conference tournament and becomes a popular dark horse. This makes two years in a row the darling is coming out of the SEC after Georgia beat the odds last season. The Bulldogs are the 2009 flavor of the month. Don’t get suckered. Why base your assessment on three or four games played under unique circumstances when you have an entire season to go by?

Tough Break: Marquette
The Warriors–er, Golden Eagles–were playing like a Final Four contender prior to Dominic James sustaining a broken foot. Forget that. Don’t underestimate this gritty team, though. Marquette showed a lot of heart in coming back from 16 down in the second half of its Big East Tournament game against Villanova. Utah State will be a tough opener, but Marquette is going to push through and possibly upset Mizzou.

No Respect for a Reason: Memphis
Yes, the Tigers have won 22 games straight. Steamrolling through Conference USA that way isn’t quite the same as doing it in the Big East, but it’s still saying something. On the other hand, Memphis didn’t exactly blow Homerism away in nonconference play. Wins at Tennessee and Gonzaga are impressive, but losses to Syracuse, Georgetown and Xavier prove this is not a one seed, or a Final Four team.

Best Bet of First Round: Cal. State Northridge +20
Average Joe seems to have fallen in love with Memphis in this spot, drawing nearly 80 percent of the bets, according to Right now, that makes the Tigers covering the strongest consensus of the first round. I’ll buck the conventional wisdom, thank you.

Name This Team’s Leading Scorer: Missouri
Homerism had to look it up, and I’m a Big 12 guy. The answer is DeMarre Carroll. I know nothing about this team, and chances are that you don’t either. Seems pretty strange for a three seed to be so anonymous. Is this a good thing? Actually, I don’t think it means anything.

Winner: UConn over Memphis
Everyone gave up on the Huskies way too quickly after Jerome Dyson went down for the season. UConn still has plenty of weapons, with reliable scorers all over the roster. Hasheem Thabeet isn’t all that good on the offensive end, but his interior defense will be a major asset in this region. Playing two point guards so extensively also should help coach Jim Calhoun’s team keep its collective head on straight.

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