Commentary

Bulldogs are the Cinderella stories of the West, but chalk may reign

Updated: March 17, 2008, 7:40 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Andy Katz breaks down the four regionals. Check out his East, South and Midwest breakdowns.

West Regional


WHO'S HOT
No. 1 UCLA: The Bruins are coming off wild end-of-game finishes against Stanford and Cal to claim the Pac-10 regular-season title and last-possession wins over USC and Stanford to capture the Pac-10 tournament title.

No. 14 Georgia: It may be that no team is on as much of a thrill ride as the Bulldogs, winners of four games in four days to win the SEC tournament title. The Bulldogs had to play a day-night doubleheader Saturday because of the tornado that hit Atlanta on Friday. Georgia has the athletic talent to withstand fatigue and should be playing just as loose this week.

No. 5 Drake: The Bulldogs easily won the Missouri Valley regular season and then cruised through the conference tournament, blowing out second-place Illinois State in the final. Few lower-profile teams have come into the field as scorching as the Bulldogs are this season.

No. 13 San Diego: The Toreros won the WCC tournament by beating Saint Mary's (in overtime) and Gonzaga. Those just happened to be the two top teams in the WCC all season long. The problem was that both of those games were at the Slim Gym (i.e. the Jenny Craig Pavilion). The NCAAs are not.

WHO'S NOT
No. 10 Arizona: The Wildcats would be in the above category if they were playing Oregon State. Arizona blew out Oregon State twice in the past two weeks. The problem was the Wildcats also lost to Oregon and Stanford in the other two games they've played during that time. And prior to that four-game stretch, they lost a homestand to USC and UCLA.

[+] EnlargeJoe Alexander
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIKeep an eye on West Virginia's Joe Alexander. If he has a big NCAA tourney, he may consider testing the NBA draft waters.

BEST PLAYER:
• Well, the best player in the region not named Kevin Love is West Virginia junior Joe Alexander.

Alexander lit up Connecticut for 34 points in a Big East quarterfinal win last week. He is a smooth operator who can score in a variety of ways. Already, there is buzz about him as a potential draft pick, and if he shines in the NCAA tourney, don't be surprised to see him test the draft process.

BIGGEST INJURY CONCERNS:

UCLA coach Ben Howland said Sunday night that junior forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is questionable for Thursday's game against Mississippi Valley State with a sprained left ankle. Howland is hopeful Mbah a Moute will be able to play Saturday, assuming the Bruins advance to the second round. Meanwhile, Love suffered back spasms in the Pac-10 tournament title win over Stanford. He has been icing his back but his mobility was affected during the win over the Cardinal.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Drake's shooting: Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said he's never seen a better shooting team -- ever.

Hasheem Thabeet's presence: The Connecticut center is playing in his first NCAA tournament and could be a shot-blocking menace.

Duke's advancement: It will be a story if Duke can't get out of the first weekend for the second year in a row. Duke's excellence has made the Blue Devils' expectations rise every year.

Robbie Hummel: He had a sensational freshman year for Purdue. Not sure if everyone in the country had a chance to see it. If Purdue advances, they will.

CINDERELLA:
• There are two here, and only one is from a lower-profile conference: Drake and Georgia. Yes, Drake would be a great story since it has been more than 30 years since the Bulldogs from Des Moines have been in the field. But it's hard not to pull for the Bulldogs from Athens after what they just pulled off in the SEC tourney.

CHALK:
UCLA versus Duke.

If it happens in Phoenix with No. 1 versus No. 2, it would certainly drive TV ratings.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com