Commentary

Katz's Regional Breakdowns: West

Updated: March 16, 2009, 11:52 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

What's to like?

The dream matchup of the Elite Eight would be No. 1 Connecticut against No. 2 Memphis. The coaches -- UConn's Jim Calhoun and Memphis' John Calipari -- are two of the most outspoken in the game. There is no love lost between the two dating back to when Calipari was at UMass. The game, the pregame and the postgame news conferences would be ratings hits.

Here's your Sweet 16 on the West Regional:

Most dominating player: When Hasheem Thabeet focuses, he can change the entire game.

[+] EnlargeHasheem Thabeet
Rich Kane/US PresswireHasheem Thabeet will be the player to watch for top seed UConn.

UConn's 7-foot-3 center can block, alter and scare teams away from taking shots. Thabeet has had moments when he has looked like an offensive threat. If he can call for the ball and give the Huskies the necessary offensive balance, they can win the title.

Best defensive team: Hard to argue against Memphis right now. Sure, the Huskies have Thabeet, but the Tigers are absolutely locking down teams. Tulsa scored 39 points, Houston 49 and Tulane 41 against them in the Conference USA tournament.

Most entertaining: Missouri. This version of the Tigers is playing the fastest 40 minutes in basketball. Coach Mike Anderson, who could be coveted by Alabama, has made the Tigers a must-see when they're clicking at a fevered pace.

Toughest competitor: Sometimes it's hard to single out just one player, but Washington's Jon Brockman deserves his due. He hunts down rebounds, especially on the offensive glass. He received little pub the past two seasons but deserves plenty of praise for leading the Huskies to the Pac-10 regular-season title.

Unknown stud: Purdue's JaJuan Johnson has produced well under the radar. He scored 16 points in the Boilermakers' Big Ten title win over Ohio State, helped beat Illinois in the semifinals with 20 and is capable of 30, which he put up in a loss at Ohio State in early February.

High seed at a major disadvantage: Marquette. The Golden Eagles once were atop the Big East with Louisville, Pitt and Connecticut before Dominic James broke his foot. The Eagles slid, and so did their seed. Marquette got shipped to Boise, Idaho, as a No. 6 and must play basically a road game if Utah State's fans make the easy drive to their neighboring state.

Game-changing 3-point shooter: Cal's Jerome Randle. The diminutive Randle (5-foot-10) stands tall as a 3-point threat. He made eight 3s in a 31-point effort in a win at Arizona on March 5, made four in a win over Washington State on Feb. 7 and made four or more in five other games.

Revenge factor: BYU drew Texas A&M in the first round for the second straight season. This happened because of a quirk in the bracketing process. NCAA tournament staff members said repeat games aren't against the principles of bracketing, but they do try to avoid them. The committee got boxed in during bracketing and couldn't move BYU, which has to play in a Thursday-Saturday first-and-second round that feeds into a Thursday-Saturday regional because of rules against playing on Sunday at the LDS-sponsored school. Texas A&M beat BYU in the first round in Anaheim, Calif., last season.

Josh Carter
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMITexas A&M's Josh Carter isn't afraid to take -- and make -- big shots.

Money shooter: Get a clip of Texas A&M's Josh Carter beating Nebraska on a last-second 3-point shot in late February. That shot might have earned the Aggies a bid. Carter did it once, and if the game is tight, he surely will have the confidence to do it again.

Most emotional player: Greivis Vasquez. The Maryland point guard doesn't shy away from showing his emotions on the court. Gee, I wonder who else at Maryland does that? Coach Gary Williams and Vasquez are a perfect fit.

Team with the most plays: Utah State coach Stew Morrill loves his cards that show plays. Not sure he even knows how many plays the Aggies have in their book. Assistants have to be quick to get the cards ready to ensure the Aggies can keep the opposing defense off balance.

Well-tested team: Northern Iowa played in four overtime games this season, splitting the four and winning the last two. If the Purdue game gets tight, the Panthers should be well prepped on how to handle the extra frame.

Freak of nature: Thabeet is 7-foot-3 and can block plenty of shots. But Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado might be a more athletic shot-blocker. He is as long as any player recently, and when he runs the floor and finishes, you best get out of the way.

No love for the Ivy: Cornell did get a 14 seed. But the Big Red were sent from Ithaca, N.Y., to Boise, and I'm not sure you can get there in even two stops. The Big Red, who can shoot, might have a hard time trying to control the tempo against the fastest 40 minutes in basketball.

Best bench scorer: Cal State-Northridge senior Rodrigue Mels has started only three games this season. He scored 28 off the bench in the Big West semifinal win over UC Santa Barbara and 23 in the final win over Pacific.

Conference dip: The Southern Conference. A season ago, Davidson was a 10 seed and got to the Elite Eight. This season, Chattanooga won the conference tournament at home, received a 16 seed and drew top-seeded Connecticut.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com