Sun Mar 13 11:01pm EDT
The Dagger previews the West Region of the 2011 NCAA tournament. Read our previews of the South, East and Midwest regions.
Three who can carry their teams:
• Nolan Smith, G, Duke
• Kemba Walker, G, Connecticut
• Derrick Williams, F, Arizona
Most intriguing first-round matchup: No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 Memphis
Second-year Memphis coach Josh Pastner's first NCAA tournament game as a head coach will come against a program with which he's very familiar: His alma mater. The 12th-seeded Tigers will meet Pac-10 regular-season champion Arizona, the program where he served as somewhat of a player-coach from 1996 to 2000 and then worked as an assistant coach under Lute Olson until 2008. "I think that's cool. That's neat," Pastner told The Associated Press. "Arizona, obviously, is my alma mater, but I bleed blue and gray."
Best potential second-round game: No. 4 Texas vs. No. 5 Arizona
If the Longhorns survive Oakland and talented center Keith Benson and the Wildcats turn aside Memphis' highly touted crop of freshmen, this second-round matchup could be one of the most intriguing of the tournament. Texas has as much young talent as any team in the nation, but Rick Barnes' teams have a reputation for underachieving in the postseason and his starting backcourt has been known to shoot the team out of games. If Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown force shots and don't defend consistently, Arizona and star forward Derrick Williams are good enough to take advantage.
Ripe for an upset: No. 3 Connecticut
In a region that looks as though it could go mostly according to form in the opening two rounds, the high seed that may be somewhat vulnerable is Connecticut. Not only are the Huskies coming off a marathon Big East tournament run in which they won five games in five days, they're also more reliant on one player than any other team in the region except perhaps Arizona. Before Kemba Walker's brilliant five-game stretch at Madison Square last week, he shot poorly in the second half of the Big East season as the Huskies lost seven of 11. How he plays this weekend could determine whether the Huskies survive their second-round game against either Big East foe Cincinnati or enigmatic Missouri.
Bound for the Final Four: No. 1 Duke
Unlike last March when Duke received by far the cushiest draw of any No. 1 seed, the committee did the Blue Devils no favors this year shipping them West and putting dangerous foes Tennessee, Texas and Arizona in their half of the bracket. The first two games look manageable, especially since Duke will play them in nearby Charlotte. If Kyle Singler can emerge from his late-season slump and if the Plumlees, Mason and Miles, can provide an interior complement to Nolan Smith and Seth Curry in the backcourt, the Blue Devils might also be able to survive two potentially challenging games in Anaheim. And if by some chance freshman Kyrie Irving returns at anywhere close to top form, look out.
Possible Dark Horse: No. 2 San Diego State
It's rare for a No. 2 seed to be a dark horse, but consider that the Aztecs have never won an NCAA tournament game and never received better than a No. 11 seed prior to this year. Furthermore, consider the favorable draw San Diego State received. Not only are Northern Colorado, Temple and Penn State all teams that certainly won't intimidate the Aztecs, they could play the West Regional in Anaheim less than 90 minutes from their campus if they make it through the first weekend unscathed.