Breaking Down the West Region - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

Breaking Down the West Region

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So you're not supposed to take history into consideration when analyzing the NCAA field. Ha! The best part of the NCAA Tournament is watching all of the experts' theories go up in smoke and watching the wallflower in the office take home the pool money. With that in mind, welcome to the West, where history drips from the brackets with seven former champions, who have won 30 of the 68 national championships, preparing to do battle. Will Kansas have to fend off the mid-major challenge of Southern Illinois? Will UCLA coach Ben Howland go against his former team, Pittsburgh, in San Jose? Howland, by the way, opens against Weber State, his alma mater.

Best matchup
Which Wildcats will strike? When this comes down to the wire, watch out for Villanova's top three scorers -- forward Curtis Sumpter (17.3 points) and guards Scottie Reynolds (14.5) and Mark Nardi (12.0) -- to have their hands on the ball. All three shoot better than 80 percent from the free throw line; combined, they have made 83 percent. Kentucky, which closed the season 3-5, has had 6-11 junior Randolph Morris connect on 64.8 percent of his field goals in the past six games.

Most likely first round upset
VCU has the tools in the backcourt to bedevil Duke, which will try to rally around the return of Gerald Henderson from his suspension. The Blue Devils have been eliminated by lower seeds in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments.

Biggest impact player
Julian Wright, Kansas' 6-8 forward, can be streaky but when he's on his game, he'll be the toughest player in the region to stop and it's safe to assume he'll have his attention honed at this time of the year.

Biggest sleeper player
Sophomore guard Eric Maynor of VCU (13.6 points, 6.3 assists) showed in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament that he can make the pivotal plays to turn a game around.

Regional final prediction
Kansas, with so many weapons to turn to and the grit to keep fighting, figures to keep its streak going for three games. Howland will have UCLA out of its mini-funk with his built-for-the-tournament mind-set, although the Bruins won't have an easy road after the first round. When they meet in the Elite Eight, UCLA will be closer to home, but Kansas will have more to say about matters on the floor in a classic offense-vs.-defense clash of wills.

Final Four representative
Assuming Kansas wins the West, the Jayhawks will find battle-tested Florida awaiting their arrival in Atlanta and that's likely where Kansas' run comes to an end.

Most surprising team to make it to the second weekend
With the guard triumvirate of Maynor, B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, VCU is made to add to Duke's struggles this season against strong guard play. The Rams will have to find an answer to surround the Blue Devils' inside game, led by the 6-10 Josh McRoberts. VCU will have a similar task with Pitt's 7-footer, Aaron Gray, in the second round.

Who's hot, who's not
Is anyone in the country hotter than Kansas? The Jayhawks have not only won 11 games in a row, but they stormed back from that 32-10 deficit on Sunday in the Big 12 Conference championship game to defeat Texas in overtime. Kansas has the talent and depth to ward off threats on a consistent basis.

When does a two-game losing streak count as not hot? When you're UCLA, which coughed up a No. 1 seed by losing to under-.500 California in the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinals on the heels of a similarly lackadaisical effort in the regular-season finale at non-tournament Washington. The Bruins must regain their defensive focus that separates them from their opposition.

First round predictions
No. 1 Kansas over No. 16 FAMU/Niagara
No. 9 Villanova over No. 8 Kentucky
No. 5 Virginia Tech over No. 12 Illinois
No. 4 Southern Illinois over No. 13 Holy Cross
No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth over No. 6 Duke
No. 3 Pittsburgh over No. 14 Wright State
No. 7 Indiana over No. 10 Gonzaga
No. 2 UCLA over No. 15Weber State

Phil Collin has covered professional and college sports in the Los Angeles area since 1995 and will be covering college basketball in the West region every week for

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