NCAA tournament West Region Breakdown
MOST OVERSEEDED: This is going to take a while, as a case can be made that Florida, Minnesota and UTEP don’t belong in the field. The Gators have three RPI top-50 wins, with just one since December. Florida comes in having lost four of five, with the only win over SEC bottom-feeder Auburn. In addition, they are three games under .500 against teams in the RPI top 50. Minnesota appears to have played itself into the field with its performance in the Big Ten tournament, though the Gophers lost by 29 in the final. Minnesota has five RPI top-50 wins, with two coming in the league tournament. The Gophers also have four losses to teams ranked below 100th in the RPI, including one loss to a team ranked worse than 200th. UTEP has just two RPI top-50 wins, both over UAB. The Miners played a weak schedule, especially the non-conference portion. Want more? Florida’s RPI is 56th and Minnesota’s is 62nd; those are the two worst at-large RPIs in this season’s field.
MOST UNDERSEEDED: No one can complain about their seeding in this region, though Syracuse could complain about being shipped West.
BEST PLAYER: Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson. Orange coach Jim Boeheim raved about Johnson in the offseason, and Boeheim’s prediction of stardom was borne out. Syracuse has a lot of good talent, but Johnson stands out. He is the Orange’s leading scorer and rebounder, and shoots better than 49 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range and 78 percent from the line. He also is a good passer, shot-blocker and defender.
FIVE OTHERS TO WATCH: Gonzaga guard Matt Bouldin, Xavier guard Jordan Crawford, BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, Butler forward Gordon Hayward and Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen.
BEST PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF: Marqus Blakely, Vermont. Blakely, a 6-5 senior who was the America East player of the year, is the only player in the nation who leads his team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He also gets to the line often; he is third in the nation in free-throw attempts with 297.
FIVE OTHERS TO WATCH: Oakland center Keith Benson, UTEP guard Randy Culpepper, Gonzaga forward Elias Harris, Xavier forward Jason Love and Butler guard Shelvin Mack.
NUMBERS GAME: There are five conference tournament champions in the region – Vermont (America East), Butler (Horizon), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Oakland (Summit) and North Texas (Sun Belt); that’s the fewest of any region. There are seven Big Six conference schools in the region, plus one from the Atlantic 10 and one from the Mountain West.
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS: The 5-12 matchup between Butler and UTEP is an interesting contrast of styles. UTEP is all about forcing the tempo and trying to quicken the pace. Butler has no problem playing a game in the high 50s or low 60s. The 8-9 game between Gonzaga and Florida State also is intriguing, as all the 8-9 games are this season. Gonzaga is another team that wants to run, while defense-minded FSU will want to slow it down and turn it into a slugfest. FSU has trouble scoring, but its size could pose some problems for Gonzaga.
THE BUZZ: The last time Vermont made the tournament was in 2005, when the Catamounts shocked Syracuse in the first round as a No. 13 seed. … Gonzaga is making its 12th consecutive NCAA appearance. The school had made one appearance, in 1995, before starting this run. … Florida State averages 16.8 turnovers per game, the most of any Big Six conference school in the nation. In fact, only one team in this season’s tournament (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, at 16.9 per game) turns it over more. … Syracuse is No. 2 in the nation in assists per game, with 19.4. No. 1 is Sam Houston State, which is seeded 14th in the South Region. The Orange lead the nation in field-goal percentage, at 51.6. Gonzaga is sixth in that category, at 49.4. … Vermont starting forward Evan Fjeld lost his mom to cancer five days before the America East tournament final. He fouled out late in the Catamounts’ victory over visiting Boston University and received a standing ovation from the crowd. Fouling out, by the way, isn’t that big a deal for Fjeld. He has committed 122 fouls this season, fourth-most in the nation. … BYU leads the nation in free-throw percentage, at 78.7. The Cougars also are second in 3-point field-goal percentage, at 41.9. … Kansas State is fourth in the nation in offensive rebounds, at 15.2 per game. … Vanderbilt’s campus in Nashville is about 90 miles southeast of Murray State’s campus in Murray, Ky. They play in a first-round game in San Jose, which is about 1,950 miles from Nashville. … Oakland – which is located in the northern suburbs of Detroit – is making its second NCAA appearance. … BYU hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1993; this will be the Cougars’ eighth appearance since then. … Florida has a streak of 12 consecutive NCAA tournament victories after winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and ’07; the Gators didn’t make the past two NCAA tournaments. … UTEP is making just its third NCAA appearance since 1992. In that tournament, the ninth-seeded Miners shocked top-seeded Kansas in the second round in Dayton, Ohio. UTEP then lost to eventual national semifinalist Cincinnati by two in the Sweet 16. That was the last NCAA appearance for legendary Miners coach Don Haskins. … Butler is making its ninth appearance in the past 14 seasons. The Bulldogs had been just once in school history before this run, in 1962 under Tony Hinkle - for whom their arena is named.