The 32-win Kentucky Wildcats have a tough road to the Final Four as the top seed in the East Region. How tough? Before the weekend is over, John Calipari and his super freshman squad could be playing a Texas team which opened up with seventeen straight wins. From (2) West Virginia on down to the (14) seeded Montana, the East Region is filled with landmines looking to knock off Kentucky.
From the Atlantic-10 come the Temple Owls (5), heading into the tournament on the heels of nine straight victories the (5) seed Owls are looking to make some noise. Temple has one thing that you look for in a sleeper, veteran guard play. The Atlantic-10 Conference champion Owls are lead by senior guard Ryan Brooks, a 3-year starter whose developed into one of the best guards in the conference. Just how good is Temple? They're a 29-win team with a victory over Villanova, a (2) seed in this tournament and a 1-point loss to Georgetown a (3) seed. Landmine 1.
Winners of 15 of their last 16, the Lobos of New Mexico (3) are locked and loaded headed into the tourney. The Lobos have won some games, a couple wins against BYU, Texas Tech, and California to name them. One win shy of a 30-win season, New Mexico is led by junior guard Darington Hobson whose peaking at the right time. Over the last three weeks, Hobson has averaged over twenty points a game and he's ripping down close to ten rebounds a game as well. Can the Lobos make some noise in this tourney? Of course. Landmine 2.
Then there are the Marquette Golden Eagles (6), Big East tested, Marquette is a tough out for anyone and Washington is about to experience that. Marquette has notched big time victories against conference foes Villanova and Louisville, and they've also taken Georgetown and Syracuse to the brink before losing close games. Just 12-8 at the end of January, Marquette would go 10-3 in their remaining games punching ticket tourney ticket, and it was that Villanova win that sealed the deal in the Big East Conference tourney. Look toward junior guard Jimmy Butler to advance Marquette, averages nearly seven assists a game and doesn't turn the ball over. Landmine 3.
Can the Ivy League really show up here? Is Cornell the sleeper (12) seed? For starters, I don't buy it. They've got to open against Temple who as I just wrote, is legit. Furthermore, their next game would most likely be against the Wisconsin Badgers (4), who are going to show up in a big way. The Badgers beat Purdue with Robbie Hummel. They beat Michigan State when the Spartans were ranked #5 in the country. Early in the season Wisconsin went east and dropped Maryland before pinning a loss on Duke, a top seed in this tournament. Every year Wisconsin brings it in this tournament, that's why they are dangerous. Landmine 4.
Finally, Kentucky's biggest challenge is going to be West Virginia (2) and head coach Bob Huggins. Why? Because they're that good. The Mountaineers came to play in the Big East tournament and went out and took the championship back to Morgantown. Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia's senior horse is carrying them to this tournament. Winners of eight of their last nine games, Butler is averaging twenty points a game and steering them in the right direction. Atheltic enough to take on Calipari's bunch, West Virginia has got a deep squad. This month alone, West Virginia has banged up Georgetown not once but twice. They put enough points on the board to beat anyone in the country. Landmine 5.
The Kentucky Wildcats are as advertised, between freshman John Wall (16.9 ppg. & 6.4 assists per game) and DeMarcus Cousins (15.3 ppg. & 10.1 rebounds per game) they are as bad as they want to be. The SEC regular season and conference tournament champions continue to battle and make their way to the top of the mountain. What started off a brash cocky team which everyone thought would eventually come down to earth as developed into a title contender and more. The biggest example of that previous statement is their 29-point smackdown of Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, the same Tennessee team which handed them their second loss of the season just two weeks prior. Think the big stage is the right place for Coach Calipari and his freshman phenoms? You bet.