WEST REGION BREAKDOWN


FIRST-ROUND GAMES

Thursday at Oklahoma City

2. Kansas State vs. 15. North Texas

7. Brigham Young vs. 10. Florida

Thursday at San Jose, Calif.

4. Vanderbilt vs. 13. Murray State

5. Butler vs. 12. Texas-El Paso

Friday at Buffalo, N.Y.

1. Syracuse vs. 16. Vermont

8. Gonzaga vs. 9. Florida State

Friday at Milwaukee, Wis.

3. Pittsburgh vs. 14. Oakland

6. Xavier vs. 11. Minnesota

THE PARTICULARS

MOST OVERSEEDED: This is going to take awhile, 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 Southeastern Conference 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 below 100 in the RPI, including one loss to a team below 200. UTEP has just two RPI top-50 wins, both over Alabama-Birmingham. The Miners played a weak schedule, especially during the nonconference portion of their season.

MOST UNDERSEEDED: No one can complain about their seeding in this region, though Syracuse could complain about being shipped to the West.

BEST PLAYER: Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson. Orange coach Jim Boeheim raved about Johnson in the offseason, and Boeheim's prediction of stardom came true. 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: Vermont forward Marqus Blakely. Blakely, a 6-foot-5-inch 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.

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. Gonzaga is another team that wants to run, and defense-minded FSU will want to slow it down. FSU has trouble scoring, but its size could pose 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. … Syracuse leads the nation in field-goal percentage, at 51.6. Gonzaga is sixth in that category, at 49.4. … 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.

MIKE HUGUENIN/RIVALS.COM

 

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