Katz's Region Breakdowns: West
Sixteen points on my mind when thinking about the West Regional:
1. Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku's quad injury will be discussed nearly as much as Ty Lawson's toe was last season. Already Sunday night, reports out of Syracuse said Onuaku could possibly miss the two games in Buffalo against No. 16 Vermont and then either No. 8 Gonzaga or No. 9 Florida State. Onuaku can miss the first game without an issue for the Orange. But let's not dismiss either of the potential second-round matchups. Florida State has great size with Solomon Alabi, and Robert Sacre's play in the post for the Zags and their ability to make 3s could be an issue for the Cuse.
2. Gonzaga played its way out of being protected in Spokane as a No. 4 seed or better by losing three games to WCC teams during the season (two in the regular season and one in the conference tournament). Gonzaga coach Mark Few had no issue with being shipped, but he has a right to be a bit dismayed at going to Buffalo. I'll pick up the argument that No. 11 seed Washington got to go to nearby San Jose in the East regional. The Bulldogs also got one of the toughest draws they've had in recent memory, with No. 9 Florida State and then Syracuse.
3. Vermont coach Mike Lonergan was perplexed Sunday night by the No. 16 seed the America East champs got while the NEC champ Robert Morris got a No. 15 seed. Vermont won 13 road games and the Catamounts have a big-time talent in Marqus Blakely, as well as a brotherly connection to the Orange (Vermont's Maurice Joseph and Syracuse's Kris Joseph). However, nothing tops the emotional story behind Evan Fjeld. His mother, Susan, passed away from cancer five days before the America East final against Boston University. Seeing Fjeld's emotional embrace with his father after the win over BU is probably the one memory I will take away from championship week.
4. Butler hasn't lost since Dec. 22 at UAB. The committee was kind to the Bulldogs by awarding them a No. 5 seed, but not so kind in pitting the Bulldogs against No. 12 UTEP. If the Miners had beaten Houston in the C-USA final, they would have certainly been higher than a 12. They have the talent to be multiple lines higher. Butler's Matt Howard could also have issues trying to guard UTEP's Derrick Caracter. As much as you might want to put Butler into the Sweet 16 or beyond in this bracket, the Bulldogs' toughest game might come in the first round.
5. UTEP had such a complete meltdown against Houston in the C-USA final that I have to believe that was more of an aberration than a precursor of the Miners' play in the tourney. If you're looking for a double-digit seed that could get to the Sweet 16 or beyond in this bracket, then it's UTEP. The Miners were my sleeper at the beginning of the season, and I'm not backing off that now. Caracter and Randy Culpepper might be one of the best inside-outside tandems in the field.
6. Murray State won 30 of 34 games this season. The Racers could be a trendy pick to advance as a double-digit seed in the 13-4 game. The Racers have tremendous balance with five double-figure scorers. The problem is they're playing a Vanderbilt team that has quality pieces for a mini-run, with balance inside (A.J. Ogilvy) and out (Jermaine Beal, John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor). Vandy is too talented at key positions to lose in the first round. Right?
7. No team in this bracket has had to deal with more issues than No. 11 Minnesota. The Gophers thought they would have Royce White, Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen the entire season and be a potential Big Ten title contender. But Mbakwe and White never got a chance to play due to legal issues, while Nolen was bumped midway through the season due to academics. Still, the Gophers found a way to bookend the season with an early win over Butler combined with beating all the top Big Ten teams in Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Purdue. No. 6 Xavier is a trendy pick to advance into the Sweet 16, but if I'm looking for a double-digit seed in the bottom half of the West I'm going with No. 11 Minnesota.
8. Pitt's Jamie Dixon can't shake Jim Boeheim's shadow. If it weren't for Boeheim's taking Syracuse to the Big East title, then Dixon would have been Big East Coach of the Year. Dixon lost all but one starter from last season, but that starter, Jermaine Dixon, missed the first semester due to a broken foot. He was without Gilbert Brown (academics) early in the season as well. Yet the Panthers were the No. 2 seed in the Big East. The Panthers are a quiet No. 3 in this region and should beat No. 14 Oakland to set up an interesting matchup with either Xavier or Minnesota. If Pitt gets to the Sweet 16, then there should be a 1A choice for national coach of the year to account for the job Dixon has done.
9. Few players are capable of putting up 49 points in a game. Jimmer Fredette is one of them. He did it in a 30-point rout at Arizona earlier this season. Fredette is one of the best guards in the field and has the ability to carry the Cougars into the Sweet 16 if they could find a way to beat Kansas State in a possible second-round game.
10. There is no better story in this bracket than that of BYU coach Dave Rose. Rose is lucky to be alive after he was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, but his remarkable, summerlong recovery culminated with a clean cancer screen in September. He's due for another checkup after the season, and let's all pray that he gets another clean scan. The fact that he's coaching the Cougs, let alone that they are back in the NCAA tournament, is an unbelievable accomplishment.
11. Florida coach Billy Donovan wasn't so much relieved to finally be in the field after missing it the past two seasons, but said late Sunday night he was so ecstatic for his players to finally get the experience. This group of Gators has had to bear the burden of following back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.
12. Kansas State's backcourt of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente get the much-deserved attention for the Wildcats. But after watching K-State at the Big 12 tournament, the Wildcats' only shot to get to the Final Four will be if players like Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and Dominique Sutton can rebound well and hit timely shots.
13. Kansas State's Frank Martin is clearly the most entertaining coach to watch on the sidelines in this bracket. I'd love to see a CBS camera just stay on Martin during the game with an inset focusing on his every antic.
14. If Syracuse plays either Butler or UTEP in the Sweet 16, it should be one of the tougher tests the Orange face in the entire bracket. Both teams present intriguing matchup problems (Butler's shooting and UTEP's size) for the Orange.
15. It's a big "if" but if BYU can reach the Sweet 16, imagine the home-court advantage the Cougars would enjoy playing in Salt Lake City.
16. West winner: Despite possible potholes along the way, Syracuse is still the best team with two of the top players in the bracket at their respective positions in wing Wesley Johnson and guard Andy Rautins.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- UCLA to replace flooded Pauley Pavilion floor
- Giving back: Hill donates $1.25M to Duke
- Ex-PC starter Fortune heading to Colorado
- Mayo leaves Marquette, pursues pro career