NCAA Tournament: Breaking down West Region
Best team: Missouri (30-4)
The Tigers can do everything offensively. Five players have hit 24 or more three-pointers on the season, led by Marcus Denmon, who might be the best guard in the Big 12. Missouri doesn't have a lot of depth in the paint, but its versatile play on the perimeter compensates for its lack of punch inside. Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 ppg, 7.5 reb) is a solid post player and gets help from 6-9, 275-pound Steve Moore. If those two are productive, the Tigers will be in the Final Four.
Best big man: Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
He isn't the most explosive offensive player, but he makes a big difference on the floor with his shot blocking and rebounding. The 6-11 sophomore from Senegal averaged 9.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game and can singlehandedly lock down the paint area. Remember, big men are supposed to have an impact on both sides of the ball. He's the best two-way big man in the West Region.
Best guard/playmaker: Scott Machado, Iona
Everyone in the Northeast region -- fans and media -- knows how valuable Scott Machado is to Iona. Now he'll be able to prove it to the country. The senior guard averaged 9.9 assists per game running the nation's highest scoring offense. Considering how much he handles the ball, you have to be impressed with his assist to turnover ratio of 3.08 to 1.
Best player you've never heard of: Julian Boyd, LIU Brooklyn
Julian Boyd (17.4 pts, 9.5 reb), the NEC Player of the Year, has been a major factor for the Blackbirds since his freshman season. At 6-7, 240 pounds, he's big enough to bang with post defenders. He had 14 double-doubles, including 18 points and 10 rebounds in the NEC Tournament final against Robert Morris. The reason why he's so difficult to guard is because he's expanded his game. The senior forward hit 42 percent of his three-point attempts this season.
Best go-to guy: Jae Crowder, Maquette
Jae Crowder's stat line the last seven games of the season was absolutely scary. The 6-6, 235-pound senior averaged 22.5 points and 9.5 rebounds during that stretch. The Big East Player of the Year plays both sides of the ball and averaged 2.4 steals per game.
Best bet to spring an upset: No. 13 Davidson over No. 4 Louisville. Watch out Louisville. Davidson was terribly underseeded. Bob McKillop's crew won at Kansas, lost by four to Vanderbilt and had a lead on Duke in the second half before fading late. Davidson will need to keep an eye on Louisville center Gorgui Dieng. He's not a prototypical back-to-the-basket center, but if you let him loose, he'll put up a 16-point, 15 rebound type of game. The Wildcats boast five players scoring in double figures and shoot nearly 45 percent from the field and will be a handful for the Cardinals.
Best matchup: BYU vs. Iona (Tuesday, first-round game)
Iona's faithful has been sounding off for several months about deserving a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Whether the committee made the right choice or not, the Gaels will get a chance to prove they belong on Tuesday. Iona, the nation's highest-scoring team (83.3), gets a BYU team that can also put points on the board and averages 78.3 points. The first to 80 wins.
Best coaching matchup: Rick Pitino (Louisville) vs. Bob McKillop (Davidson). Rick Pitino is a legendary figure in college basketball. He's taken three different schools to the Final Four and has built Louisville back into a perennial tournament team. Bob McKillop doesn't scare easy, though. He was on the doorstep of the Final Four a few years ago and has had his share of big wins recently.
Final Four predictions:
Missouri has firepower, Florida State plays its best on the big stage and Kansas has a tremendous inside-out game. That notwithstanding, Kentucky has at least two NBA lottery picks and plays great defense. The Wildcats will win their eighth national championship.