How The West Is Won

The Blue Devils open defense of their NCAA Championship on Friday afternoon in Charlotte. In order to get back to the Final Four, however, the Blue Devils are going to need to navigate the West Region. TDD takes a closer look at the teams standing between Duke and Houston.

Best Team (other than Duke): Texas. The Longhorns are ranked among the top 10 teams in the country and sport a frontline that can lock down the painted area, and a backcourt that has proven extremely explosive throughout the season. Ken Pomeroy's statistical measurements have the Longhorns rated as the fourth best team in the country, and the Horns did make the Big 12 title game before being trounced by Kansas. Texas has posted an 8-3 record against top 25 opponents this season with wins over Kansas, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Michigan State, and Missouri sticking out.

Toughest First Round Draws: Again, Texas. The Longhorns did get eaten alive by the Jayhawks and now have to regroup and face a tough out in 13th seeded Oakland. The Grizzlies know how to score the basketball, and force tempo as well. Oakland averages a whopping 73 possessions per game and nab an offensive rebound on 36 percent of their misses from the field. Additionally they can shoot from there perimeter (38 percent) and hit 58 percent from inside the arc as a team. For the season Oakland is averaging 85 points per game. It's a potentially bad match-up for the Longhorns who have struggled at times on defense - especially during the last few weeks of the season where Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas all had an easy time putting up points. Given the Grizzlies style of play, the Horns cannot afford to give Oakland any additional possessions and will need to cut down on their negative season turnover margin.

Best Players You've Probably Never Heard Of: Keith Benson (Oakland). At 6'11 and 230 pounds, Benson averages a double-double (18.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks) - while failing to hit double figures in scoring just three times this year. Sure he plays in a non-power conference, but he's also performed when the Grizzlies have had a shot at the big boys. He went for 22 points and 15 boards against West Virginia, 16 and 14 against Purdue, 17 and 12 against Michigan State, and torched Tennessee for 26 points and 10 boards.

Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State). One of the Aztec's many long and athletic forwards, Leonard is a bit of a tweener at 6'7 and 227 pounds, but overcomes that in the college game thanks to his athleticism and warrior-like mentality. Like Benson he's averaged a double-double (15.4 and 10.7), and could very well be a high draft pick in June. Against BYU he averaged 19.7 points and 12 rebounds per game. Outside of the Cougars, the Aztecs didn't play a hugely tough or noteworthy schedule, but Leonard did post 18 and 12 against Gonzaga, and 20 points against Cal. He also averaged 15.7 and 11.6 rebounds against UNLV.

Best Player: Kemba Walker (Connecticut). Averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, Walker has been as good as anyone throughout the season. And he's done it in the Big East. He doesn't shoot high percentages all the time, and at some point you wonder when fatigue is going to catch up with him, but for our money Walker is one of the three best players in the country.

Best First Round Game: Arizona and Memphis. There are plenty of story lines for the Wildcats and Tigers. Memphis coach Josh Pastner got his start in Tuscon, and has led the overachieving Tigers to the NCAA despite an up and down season in which Memphis was actually out-scored by its Conference USA opponents. Arizona has a top 10 pick in Derrick Williams and has also, arguably, overachieved this year by winning the Pac 10 under head coach Sean Miller. Both teams have a number of high major athletes and this game should be a high-flying affair.

Potential Bracket Wreckers: Missouri and Oakland. If the Grizzlies get past Texas early, Oakland could certainly give Arizona fits in the second round. Similarly the Missouri Tigers are a trendy pick in some brackets. Beating Cincinnati in the opening round wi[ll be a tall task, but if the Tigers can get past the Bearcats, they should be able to throw a number of high major, long athletes at Walker and the Huskies.

The Picks: 1st Round: Duke over Hampton; Michigan over Tennessee; Arizona over Memphis; Texas over Oakland; Missouri over Cincinnati; Connecticut over Bucknell; Penn State over Temple; San Diego State ove UNCO.

2nd Round: Duke over Michigan; Texas over Arizona; Connecticut over Missouri; San Diego State over Penn State.

Regional Semi Finals: Duke over Texas; San Diego State over Connecticut

Regional Finals: Duke over San Diego State

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