Close to home, Arizona got no favors. Its opening round matchup with Utah State features many of the issues that potentially present problems for the Chicago Region's No. 3 seed. Utah State is a ball-control team with strong fundamentals. It commits just 12 turnovers a game, and has the added luxury of playing within five hours of its home base. That said, the Aggies have as many problems with the UA as Arizona does with them. USU hasn't come across a team with this kind of athleticism, and doesn't appear to have good counters for Salim Stoudamire, Channing Frye and Hassan Adams. The way in which the UA utilizes its quickness could be the key.
A second-round matchup with LSU or UAB appears to better benefit the Wildcats. UAB loves to run, which is Arizona's forte, and while LSU has a couple bruisers on the inside, it might not have the ability to ultimately match buckets with the UA's high-octane offense.
Yet, even if Arizona is fortunate enough to survive the opening weekend, the long-term prognosis is shaky. A possible matchup with Oklahoma State has struggle written all over it. Even if the UA moves through, dealing with Illinois in Chicago two days after enduring OSU's physical play makes the Wildcat road to St. Louis a daunting one indeed.
As usual, the region that features Arizona appears to be the one most likely to stay true to form. Southern Illinois is talented, but probably not at Oklahoma State's level. Illinois might be tested to some degree in that second round game, but appears to have too much athleticism for Texas or Nevada. Boston College has a chance to play with a chip on it shoulder, but it has faded of late. Alabama, in the five, could be a bit of a darkhorse.
Chicago survivor: Illinois
Possible big upsets: Utah State over Arizona; Wisconsin-Milwaukee over Alabama
The Albuquerque Region is wide open. The difference between top seed Washington and fifth seed Georgia Tech is miniscule, and every entry 1-5 plays basically the same style. Louisville got hosed at the four seed, and has an opportunity to show the committee it's legit. Texas Tech is interesting at the six inasmuch as its deliberate offensive approach could make many of the teams in the region work, but it got a brutal first-round draw in UCLA that tends to surprise people upon first watch with its athleticism.
Albuquerque survivor: Gonzaga
Possible big upsets: George Washington over Georgia Tech; Pitt/Pacific winner over Washington
No feel at all on the Syracuse Region. North Carolina and Kansas can be in the mix if they're healthy. UConn is seeded too high as the two, but it might not have the consistency to get out alive. Florida has been playing of late, but its recent tournament history is shaky at best.
Syracuse survivor: North Carolina
Duke earned its top seed in Austin, but it's not the best team in the region. That goes to Syracuse. The Blue Devils have had a superb regular season, but depth could be a major issue. From the "Stick a Schu In Your Mouth" award category, for months on the Wildcat pre and postgame show on 1290 AM The Source, I've been saying Duke would have a great regular season, but wouldn't survive the second round because of its lack of depth and inside presence. I guess that means I have to pick Stanford or Mississippi State for the huge upset. Somehow, I'm a bit concerned that's going to happen, although both teams present interesting matchup issues: MSU on the inside, and Stanford with its heady guard play, especially with true point Chris Hernandez running the show, and the presence of Rob Little and Matt Haryasz.
UTEP has a shot at making a Sweet 16 run. It is deceptively athletic and will have the benefit of a rabid bunch of Miner fans in attendance at McKale.
Austin survivor: Syracuse
Possible big upsets: MSU/Stanford winner over Duke; UTEP over Utah and Oklahoma; Old Dominion over Michigan State; Vermont over Syracuse
Final Four matchups:
In this scenario Illinois, North Carolina, Gonzaga and Syracuse face off in St. Louis. It's hard to imagine Gonzaga holding its own against Illinois, and North Carolina probably has a bit too much firepower for Syracuse, but since I can't pick a Roy Williams team to win a national title until a Roy Williams team actually wins a national title, I guess that leaves me with Illinois, even though picking the prohibitive favorite seems 1. lackluster, 2. boring, and 3. unlikely.
I'm glad I don't play these things anymore.