This years West Region has been filled with upsets and almost upsets. The highest seed no longer alive is #2 Duke. The Blue Devils survived a one point win over 15 seed Belmont only to lose to West Virginia in the 2nd round. Even top seed UCLA had to stop (or foul) a driving Donald Sloan in the last seconds to move on to the round of 16. But Western Kentucky and San Diego pulled off the biggest upsets of the bracket as the 12 & 13 seed both advanced to face each other in the 2nd round. In a bracket full of upsets, UCLA could get down to the Final Four without facing any higher than a #7 seed. That must be nice.
#1 UCLA v. #12 Western Kentucky
While this may not be as big a marquee matchup as if UCLA were facing UCONN, but Western Kentucky certainly comes into this matchup having already provided some huge drama in their first round game against the Drake Bulldogs. Ty Rogers hit a 30 foot jumper as the clock expired to lift the Hilltoppers to a 1 point win over the higher seeded Bulldogs.
UCLA comes in with an obvious talent advantage, but W. Kentucky's Courtney Lee is a bonafide NBA draft pick and Tyrone Brazelton dropped 33 points against Drake. This guard combo might give UCLA some troubles on the perimeter. But in this game, UCLA's superior talent is going to win out in the end. Even though A&M brought them down to the wire, the Bruin's defense was still present as they held the Aggies to 49 points. UCLA has big time scorers in Kevin Love, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook. With UCLA's strong defense it just doesn't seem as if the Hilltoppers are going to be able to score enough points to beat the Bruins. Add the fact that the game is being played to a "home" crowd in Phoenix, AZ and you have all the makings of a UCLA trip to the Elite 8.
Predicition: UCLA 78, Western Kentucky 68
#3 Xavier v. #7 West Virginia
The West Virginia Mountaineers were able to beat a Duke team that had little perimeter defense and struggled to shoot the ball from the outside. Quite honestly, most would not even call that win much of an upset, as many thought Duke came into the Tourney with a lot of weaknesses. Xavier on the other hand was able to hold of strong pushes by both Georgia and Purdue to advance to face the Mountaineers.
Xavier is a pretty balanced team as they get great perimeter play from Drew Lavender, Stanley Burrell and C.J. Anderson. Josh Duncan and Derrick Brown provide a strong inside presence. But the Musketeers make their living on the defensive end as they are one of the strongest and most athletic teams on the defensive end. They are led by Burrell who is one of the best all around defenders in the nation. They are going to need all of their defensive efforts as Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff are big time scorers for the Mountaineers. Alexander has come out of almost no where this year to become a top scoring threat in the nation. But since Bob Huggins has taken over, there has been more focus on the defensive end to complement West Virginia's potent offensive threats. Look for Xavier to be just a little too athletic on the perimeter and too strong on the defensive end for West Virginia to handle. This will be a close game, but in the end the Musketeers will make the plays to get them into the Elite 8.
Predicition: Xavier 82, West Virginia 74