NCAA hoops: West Region analysis: Surprises may be in store for teams from power conferences
By Blair Kerkhoff
Call it the Cinderella bracket.
Teams from outside the power conferences could make noise here. Fifth-seeded Butler put together an impressive resume that includes a victory over Ohio State. The Bulldogs have reached the Sweet 16 twice since 2003.
Sixth-seeded Xavier has become an NCAA Tournament nightmare for majors, advancing to a regional final in 2008 and Sweet 16 last year.
And this is the regional of nonpower-conference patron saint Gonzaga, the No. 8 seed.
At least Syracuse will be well-rested, and the Orange needed the extra time for center Arinze Onuaku to heal.
The top-seeded Orange was knocked out in the Big East tournament quarterfinals by Georgetown and lost Onuaku to a knee sprain in the game. The injury to the post man got considerable attention by the selection committee.
“Whenever there’s an injury, especially one of that magnitude, we endeavor to get as much information as we can,” selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero said. “In that case, the reports we received were very positive in that regard.”
But the committee gave the Orange a bit of the willies by setting up a first-round match with No. 16 seed Vermont. In 2005, the Catamounts scored the biggest hoops victory in their history by knocking off Syracuse in the first round.
Syracuse got the final No. 1 seed, which points to Kansas State as the tournament’s top No. 2 seed.
The Wildcats, who finished second in the Big 12 and runner-up to Kansas in the conference tournament, have set a school record with 26 victories and have their best-ever seed.
It’s the regional of two teams whose inclusion looked shaky before the weekend, No. 10 Florida and No. 11 Minnesota. The Golden Gophers probably wouldn’t have made the field without reaching the Big Ten championship game.
No. 5 Butler vs. No. 12 Texas-El Paso
The Miners seem underseeded, but Butler is carrying a 20-game winning streak. The teams have a common opponent in Alabama-Birmingham. The Miners swept the season, and the Bulldogs fell to the Blazers.
No. 13 Murray State over No. 4 Vanderbilt
Vandy hasn’t been dandy lately, losing two of its last three. At 30-4, Murray State knows how to win.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson
Johnson, the Big East player of the year, has been a difference-maker all season, though his productivity fell off late in the season because of a hand injury.