As strong as the Eastern region is, the West is just as weak. There is little debate that the 2, 3, and 5 seeds in the West are the weakest of the four regions, and UCLA as the 1 is certainly not the strongest top seed considering the injury woes the Bruins bring to the tourney and any potential curses.
But back to seeds 2-5. I would consider Georgetown, Texas, and Tennessee as stronger 2's than Duke in the West. Give me Louisville, Stanford, and Wisconsin as 3's over Xavier, especially if Lavender is dinged. Losing twice to St. Joe's in the last two weeks, are you kidding me? As for the 4's, I like UCONN over all but Washington State, with Pitt a close third and Vandy bringing up the rear. On the 5 line, in order of strength I would say it's Notre Dame, Clemson, Michigan State and then Drake out of the West.
So what you have in the West is a bracket with the weakest 2, 3, and 5 and arguably the weakest 1 in UCLA. Logic would indicate that UCLA would have a cake walk right on down to the River Walk, but I'll argue differently in the prediction section, given UCLA's poor play down the stretch and injury issues with two key players.
Thabeet's size will create problems for the Bruins.
If you like upsets, and who doesn't, then you'll enjoy this region ripe with potential for a couple high seeded heart breakers.
14 Georgia Bulldogs vs. 3 Xavier. The fourteenth seeded Georgia Bulldogs have an excellent chance to knock off Xavier. The Musketeers have sputtered down the stretch losing two games out of their last four after diminutive point guard and McDonald's all-american Drew Lavender injured an ankle. If he's dinged vs. Georgia, who's to say that the Bulldogs won't be able knock off XU and continue on the wave of momentum that helped them capture the SEC title.
12 Western Kentucky vs. 5 Drake. WKU has a solid chance to defeat mid-major darling Drake. The Hilltopers blew out Michigan and beat Nebraska. They played toe to toe with Tennessee at Knoxville and lost by 3 at Gonzaga. I doubt they’ll be intimidated by a Drake team who's hallmark is playing efficient, turnover free offensive basketball and stingy man-to-man defense. WKU has a shooter's chance in this game, and should be in it the entire 40 minutes.
UCLA getting to the Sweet Sixteen game seems to be a near certainty at this point. BYU doesn't have the inside presence to slow Kevin Love and TAMU will be lucky to get to 60 against any Ben Howland coached team. UCLA skates to Phoenix, where they meet a young UCONN squad confident after shellacking USD and Western Kentucky.
On the bottom side of the bracket I fully expect Duke to take care of Arizona, exposing them as a team that doesn't belong. Sorry, but Duke has plenty of answers for an Arizona inside game that consists of Jordan Hill. Duke gets to the Sweet Sixteen and faces a Purdue club that was the beneficiary of Georgia upsetting Xavier. Georgia's luck runs out as the Boilermakers Matt Painter the hell out of the Bulldogs up and down the floor. If you're not familiar with being Matt Paintered it's very similar to being Tony Bennett-ed or Bo Ryan-ed. Consider your ass guarded for 40 minutes, so you better have some talented folks that can get their own shots consistently or have the patience of a Tee Ball coach on offense. The Bulldogs have neither.
The first round of 16 matchup will be Duke vs. Purdue. Purdue's youth will be exposed here on offense, falling into the Devil's tempo trap tempting the Boilers to take quick shots that they're not accustomed to taking. Duke can control tempo because their five out style of offense is perfect against Painter's wing denying pressure man to man. Duke's offense will quickly find a dribble driving matchup to its liking and punish the lack of helpside defense until the Boilers adjust. Once they do, available 3 balls will become a dime a dozen. Ding dong Purdue's out. Like a Gene Keady combover.
The second matchup in the regional semi-final pits UCLA vs. UCONN. This will be a classic battle of interior players as the three headed block party monster of Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson, and Jeff Adrien try to neutralize super frosh Kevin Love. The trio held DJ White to 13 points in Bloomington, a game in which the Huskies controlled the paint winning 68-63 eventhough the Hoosiers shot 11-20 from 3 land.
Expect to see Thabeet play Kevin Love with virtually no help which will neutralize the freshman's ability to find open teammates as well as putting additional pressure on Bruin perimeter players that are struggling shooting the rock. Simply find and close out on Darren Collison and you've stymied UCLA's deep attack. Offensively, the Huskies will be right at home with the physical play of UCLA's defense. This UCLA team isn't one of the better defenses Howland has coached and players like AJ Price and Jerome Dyson could have success driving the basketball creating easy looks and offensive rebounding opportunities for Thabeet and Adrien. If players like Love and Mbah a Moute are dinged, the Huskies will see even less resistance from the Bruins on the defensive end.
I'm calling my shot. I think the Bruins have been flirting with a loss for about a month now, and the Huskies playing free and loose will give it to them.
Duke gets UConn and it becomes a classic game of strength vs. weakness. Can Kyle Singler pull Thabeet away from the goal, or will UCONN zone? Can Duke effectively pressure the Huskies' young guards and neutralize their ability to involve Adrien and Thabeet in the paint? Or will Duke have to zone? I really have a hard time seeing Duke win this game unless they shoot 40% or better from deep. Hell they were out-rebounded by 18 vs. Pitt, and UCONN is simply bigger, deeper, and better inside.
UCONN to my final 4. Call me crazy.