Overview: This may be the weakest overall region due to the fact that Purdue received a No. 4 seed and just isn’t the same team it was when it had Robbie Hummel. That bodes well for the Duke Blue Devils, who earned the No. 1 seed in the South. However, Duke will still have to go up against either Mike Montgomery’s Cal team or Rick Pitino’s Louisville club in the second round.
Don’t sleep on a pair of Big 12 teams in the region: No. 3 Baylor and No. 5 Texas A&M. The Bears are super athletic and can really put points on the board and are improved on the defensive end with the addition of 6-foot-9 shot blocker Ekpe Udoh.
Mark Turgeon’s Texas A&M team was counted out after Derrick Roland went down with a season-ending knee injury back in December, but these guys play hard and play together.
Article continues below ...
There’s also some interesting mid-majors with No. 7 Richmond facing No. 10 Saint Mary’s in a first-round matchup, to go with No. 11 Old Dominion and No. 12 Utah State.
Best first-round matchup: No. 8 California vs. No. 9 Louisville — Louisville coach Rick Pitino loves guys who can shoot the ball. Well, he’s going to go up against one of the best shooting teams in the nation in the Bears. Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson can all make shots from deep.
Best potential matchup: No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 2 Villanova — This would be fast and entertaining with all the big-time guards in the mix. Baylor has Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn, while ‘Nova has guys like Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes.
Upset special: No. 13 Siena over No. 4 Purdue — I know it’s obvious, but the Boilermakers aren’t the same without Robbie Hummel. This will be low-scoring, but I like the Saints due to balance and experience. Cinderella?: No. 11 Old Dominion — This is a team that knocked off Georgetown on the road earlier this season and won the Colonial regular-season and tournament titles. Gerald Lee’s the star, but this team is deep and knows its roles.
My pick: Villanova — The Wildcats have struggled the last month or so, but Jay Wright’s team has the experience and terrific guard play, two things that are extremely important this time of year.
Duke hasn’t gotten past the Sweet 16 in five years. Can Mike Krzyzewski’s club make a deep run this season as a No. 1 seed?
Purdue still earned a No. 4, but the Boilermakers are extremely vulnerable without Robbie Hummel. Can Matt Painter’s team do anything, or will it get knocked out early?
No team’s made a bigger move than Notre Dame over the past month. Luke Harangody’s back after missing time due to a knee injury, but will the Irish continue this ride?
Can Villanova get its swagger back? The Wildcats have struggled lately, but Jay Wright certainly has enough talent to make a deep run.
Top Players to Watch
Jon Scheyer, 6-5, 190, G, Sr., Duke
Scottie Reynolds, 6-2, 195, G, Sr., Villanova
Ekpe Udoh, 6-10, 240, C, Jr., Baylor
Jerome Randle, 5-10, 175, PG, Sr., California
E’Twaun Moore, 6-4, 185, SG, Jr., Purdue
Kyle Singler, 6-8, 215, F, Jr., Duke
Samardo Samuels, 6-9, 260, C, So., Louisville
Best Player You’ve Never Heard of: Kevin Anderson, 6-0, 175, Jr., G, Richmond Overrated: No. 4 Purdue Underrated: No. 13 Siena