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West Regional breakdown

West Regional breakdown

West Regional breakdown
Jeff Goodman / 

Overview: The top three seeds are high-powered with Kansas, UCLA and Pittsburgh. The Jayhawks are loaded and were the Big 12's top club, the Bruins won the regular-season Pac-10 crown and Pittsburgh is still a Big East power.

People will overlook Southern Illinois as a No. 4 seed and maintain the region isn't that difficult, but it's the toughest one at the top. Then you've got Duke as a No. 6 seed. Duke may not be Duke, but teams still don't want to face the Blue Devils.

Throw in Indiana, Kentucky, Villanova — a trio of programs who have won national titles — and this is an intimidating region.

Best first-round matchup: No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Villanova. Tubby Smith's Wildcats and their big man, Randolph Morris, will go up against another Wildcat program — Jay Wright's. 'Nova is led by versatile senior Curtis Sumpter and emerging freshman guard Scottie Reynolds.

Best potential matchup: No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 2 UCLA in the Sweet 16. This one would feature UCLA coach Ben Howland against his former protégé, Jamie Dixon. It would also feature one of the top teams on the west coast against one of the elite on the other side of the country.

Upset special: No. 6 Duke over No. 3 Pittsburgh — This is a second-round upset. Everyone is down on Coach K's team, but the Blue Devils will still be a tough matchup for the Panthers.

Cinderella? Gonzaga — It's hard to call the 'Zags a Cinderella any more, but Mark Few's team struggled this season and barely got into the Big Dance. However, they have enough to knock off the Indiana Hoosiers.

My pick: Southern Illinois — I went back and forth between the Salukis and Kansas on this one, but Chris Lowery's team could really out-tough the Jayhawks if the two teams hook up.

Story Lines:

The potential Sweet 16 matchup between Ben Howland's UCLA team and his best friend in the business and protégé, Jamie Dixon, of Pittsburgh.

A year ago, Villanova's Jay Wright was rumored to take over at Kentucky if Tubby Smith was fired. Now Wright's Wildcats could be the final game for Smith in Lexington.

Can Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils make any noise in this year's tourney?

Five Players to Watch:

Julian Wright, Kansas
Josh McRoberts, Duke
Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh
D.J. White, Indiana
Arron Afflalo, UCLA

Best Player You've Never Heard of:

Jamaal Tatum, Southern Illinois

Overrated: No. 7 Indiana
Underrated: No. 14 Wright State

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