John Feinstein's West Region Analysis

In Salt Lake City, BYU could hold court vs. Orange

Monday, March 15, 2010

While you are writing Syracuse into the second round without even a second thought, remember this: The last time the Orange played Vermont in the NCAA tournament, the Catamounts won. That was five years ago in Worcester, Mass. Then again, if Dean Smith were here, he would say Syracuse has a huge psychological advantage because of that game.

Okay, the Orange will beat Vermont. The second round won't be as simple because Gonzaga can shoot and Florida State can't. Playing the Seminoles is water torture, which is why they may beat the 'Zags. In the end, neither team likely can beat the Orange in balmy Buffalo, even if Syracuse is without Arinze Onuaku.

Interesting that the committee put Gonzaga and Butler, traditionally the two toughest mid-majors in the country, in the same region. They're even in the same half of the bracket because who would want to see them meet in a region final? Butler has a much better chance to at least make the round of 16, but UTEP is a difficult first-round matchup: The Miners only lost once in Conference USA before the conference championship game. But if the Bulldogs get past that game they have a great shot to beat Vanderbilt, an up-and-down team if there has ever been one. Murray State is just the kind of team that could give the Commodores first-round problems.

Either way, Butler has an excellent chance to get to Salt Lake City, where it might give Syracuse fits, although the Orange should wear down the Bulldogs over 40 minutes and get to their first region final since their national title run in 2003.

The bottom half of this draw is wide open, although Kansas State has flown under the radar for the simple reason that it played in the same conference with Kansas. The Wildcats could be in trouble in the second round, though, against Brigham Young or Florida. One's instinct is to pick BYU in that game, although Florida has a penchant for last-second wins. In fact, when Chandler Parsons hit the 75-footer to beat N.C. State, it inspired the best line of the season from Gators assistant Larry Shyatt: "The kid isn't very coachable: We told him to bank it."

If BYU does upset K-State, it gets to go to Salt Lake City. Its likely opponent there is Xavier, with all due respect to Pittsburgh. Jamie Dixon's team has had a remarkable season, but so have the Musketeers, who traditionally play one of the toughest schedules in the country-- including a last-second loss at Butler.

Xavier should get past Minnesota and rates a slight edge in a second-round matchup with Pitt. All of which means that a Syracuse-BYU region final isn't out of the question. It's kind of hard not to pull for that game. The thought of listening to Jim Boeheim talk about playing the Cougars in Salt Lake City is almost too good to be true.

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