Overview: Syracuse fans may complain about their team being sent way out west, but it may work out for the Orange since there just aren't a ton of heavy hitters in that region.
Sure, Jim Boeheim's team will be tested, maybe as early as the second round against either Gonzaga or Florida State. However, this region isn't loaded.
Kansas State is a strong No. 2 seed, but No. 3 Pittsburgh and No. 4 Vanderbilt aren't exactly overpowering. Neither is Butler at No. 5. What you have here are some terrific coaches, though.
I could see some upsets with a couple of surprises advancing to the Sweet 16. Xavier plays Minnesota in the first round in a matchup that could go either way, and I'm not sold that Pittsburgh is a lock to beat Oakland and then get past the winner of the Xavier-Minnesota game.
Best first-round matchup: No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State - Two extremely talented teams go up against one another. The 'Zags have veteran guard Matt Bouldin and freshman forward Elias Harris, while the Seminoles boast a big-time trio in Solomon Alabi, Chris Singleton and freshman Michael Snaer. This one could go either way.
Best potential matchup: No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Kansas State - This would be a fantastic game between two of the elite teams in the nation. Frank Martin's Wildcats shoot it well enough and have a couple of tough and athletic guards in Jake Pullen and Denis Clemente who can get into the 2-3 zone.
Upset special: No. 12 UTEP vs. No. 5 Butler - Tony Barbee's UTEP team is big, strong and athletic and the Bulldogs have had difficulty with that kind of team. Butler's Matt Howard will have to play extremely well for the Bulldogs to have a shot.
Cinderella? UTEP - The Miners are as talented as plenty of BCS teams out there. They have a terrific guard in Randy Culpepper who can shoot it from the perimeter, a couple of talented bigs in Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie and enough depth.
My pick: Kansas State - The Wildcats have all the pieces. Tough and experienced guards, a plethora of frontcourt guys and also the chip on their shoulder needed to play hard each and every game.
Top Story Lines: How healthy is Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku. The senior suffered a quad injury in the Big East tournament and no one truly knows how effective he'll be in the Big Dance. Billy Donovan's Florida Gators return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence. Will they be a one-and-done or be able to get past BYU? The Pittsburgh Panthers have overachieved this season, but can they make some noise in the tourney? I don't see them getting past the Sweet 16. Will Syracuse be tested in the second round? It could be either a Gonzaga team that has some perimeter shooting or one of the biggest front lines in the nation in Florida State. If BYU could somehow get past both Florida and likely Kansas State in the second round, the Cougars could be playing the regionals in nearby Salt Lake City. Top Players to Watch: Wesley Johnson, 6-7, 205, SF, Jr., Syracuse
Denis Clemente, 6-1, 180, Sr., Kansas State
Matt Bouldin, 6-5, 220, G, Sr., Gonzaga
Gordon Hayward, 6-8 ½, 210, F, Soph., Butler
Jimmer Fredette, 6-2, 195, G, Jr., BYU
Jordan Crawford, 6-4, 195, G, Soph., Xavier
Best Player You've Never Heard of: Randy Culpepper, 6-0, 165, G, Jr., UTEP
Overrated: No. 3 Pittsburgh
Underrated: No. 12 UTEP