Look to Boise for the West's best first round matchup. Marquette has played six games since losing Dominic James for the season with a broken foot, and five of them have been very exciting, competitive games. Expect more of the same out of this matchup. Utah State is one of just two teams to win 30 games before the NCAA tournament (Memphis is the other).
Sure, they racked up more than half of those in the one-bid WAC. But winning 19 games in a row, regardless of league, is pretty impressive.
The Aggies don't overwhelm opponents with size, which bodes well for undersized Marquette. The Golden Eagles will also be playing with a certain sense of desperation, as starters Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews and Dwight Burke are all seniors. They won't want to lose in the first round for the third time in their careers.
On top of all that, Utah State should have some pretty good crowd support, as their Logan, Utah campus is just a four-and-a-half hour drive from Boise.
Put it all together, and Marquette-Utah State should be the best first round game in the West region.
- Ben Voelkel
Who is the Cinderella?
Non-BCS - Utah State
When do the horses become mice? Sweet Sixteen. Utah State is definitely the fashionable pick for the double-digit upset. I didn't even have to know they already amassed 30 wins, the fact of the matter is the mascot has some balls. If things get tough, give Big Blue a Ben Franklin and he'll get the crowd back into the game. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check this out.
In all reality the following link is the real reason they could win their pod.
Go ahead and play with that for a while. Throw in the fact that the other pod has all but the 13 seed at a 24+ hour drive away, and you've got youselves a few more home games for the Aggies (who were, coincidentally, 17-0 at home).
BCS - Purdue (25-9, 11-7 Big Ten)
When does the carriage return become a pumpkin? Depends on the Detroit traffic.
While you might say Purdue is no Cinderella, think about this. How many people outside of central Indiana have them playing at Ford Field? While I haven't filled out a bracket yet, there will be some consideration as to how far the Boilers go. Can they beat Northern Iowa? I'd hope so. Washington? I'd give them the nod on the "upset." Then comes the big tests. UConn? Can't say they are the favorite. Memphis? Looking at the possible upsets in that side of the bracket, they could catch the Tigers off guard as Calipari and the boys wouldn't have had a tough opponent since Gonzaga in early February.
From there, its anyone's guess as to who they will be playing. All I know is that seeing the first half of the Illinois game in the Big Ten Tournament from behind the awestruck Illini bench convinced me that Purdue has finally broken over the hump and is ready to do some damage.
- Brad Fedie
Most Underrated: No.7 California (22-10, 11-7 Pac 10)
I'll admit, I have something of a Midwestern-coast bias (Mississippi River bias, maybe?). Until the bracket came out, I really never paid much attention to California. At first glance, its game with Maryland seemed like a nice 7-10 upset pick. But then I started looking a little deeper. What I found impressed me. Cal can absolutely fill it up on offense (the Bears are the 11th-most efficient offense, according to KenPom.com). The Bears played a top-30 schedule and came away with seven wins over tournament teams.
Cal struggled a bit down the stretch, finishing 2-4 in its last six games, but that included four in a row against tournament teams to close the regular season (went 2-2). Maryland and Gary Williams are the known ACC commodity, but they're going to run into the most underrated team in the West region.
- Ben Voelkel
Most Overrated: Texas A&M (23-9, 9-7 Big XII)
How the Aggies snagged a nine seed is a mystery. Texas A&M won exactly zero notable road games this year, but did close the season with six consecutive victories. That was followed up, however, with a terrible loss to Texas Tech, a three-win team in Big 12 play, in the first round of the conference tournament.
The Aggies aren't all that efficient on offense and absolutely average on the defensive end of the court. Home wins over Texas and Missouri surely caught the selection committee's eye, but the fact is the Aggies are done playing in College Station. Texas A&M could crash back to Earth in Philadelphia as the most overrated team in the West region.
- Ben Voelkel
Best bet for an upset: No. 11 Utah State over No. 6 Marquette
The Golden Eagles have taken on the look of another Wisconsin team in the recent past…let's see, who was that again … Ooh! Ooh! Yes! The 2006-2007 Wisconsin Badgers, who were having a dream season right up until the moment Brian Butch was lost for the season with a grotesque dislocated right elbow in late February. The Badgers had just reached the No. 1 ranking, but including that Ohio State game in which Butch was hurt, Wisconsin limped to a 4-4 finish and bowed out quietly in the second round to UNLV.
Look at Marquette: looking like world-beaters for much of the season, the Golden Eagles have suffered a terribly-timed, season-ending foot injury to point guard Dominic James. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews are great scorers, but the Golden Eagles just haven't had enough time to get used to Maurice Acker as their quarterback. Throw in the long trek to Boise for Marquette versus the short drive for Utah State, and the 19-game winning streak the Aggies put together earlier this season, and we've got ourselves a potential big-time downer for Wisconsin's biggest rival.
When you look a little later in the draw, watch out for Purdue, which has a great chance to get past Connecticut. With everybody healthy, the Boilermakers are playing like we all thought they could, and that's better than a five seed, that's for sure. As for Connecticut, missing point guard Jerome Dyson still hurts, and all it takes to knock down the Huskies is getting Hasheem Thabeet in a little foul trouble. If Purdue can use JaJuan Johnson effectively, that might be easier done than said.
- Aaron Brenner
Region Winner: Memphis (31-3, 16-0 C-USA)
One year after finishing national runner-up, John Calipari has his Memphis Tigers poised, focused and ready to not take no for an answer. Memphis won its fourth straight C-USA title and clinched its 22nd NCAA tournament bid by dominating its conference opponents.
The Tigers have won 25-straight games, the longest in the nation, 61-straight league games and gave up only 43.0 points per game to set the Conference USA tournament record and haven't lost since Calipari moved freshman Tyreke Evans to the point.
Evans leads Memphis with 16.6 points per outing, but the Tigers are far from a one-man group. Memphis has four other players averaging over 8.6 points per game and is 11-1 on the road. Of course, Memphis won't be playing too far from Tennessee, playing its opening round games just up the road in Kansas City and the Regional in Arizona.
It should be Connecticut and Memphis in the finals and I think UCONN playing without guard Jerome Dyson will eventually catch up with the Huskies.
- Benjamin Worgull