NCAA West Region preview

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

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Did you know ...

Long Island has the nation's second-longest home winning streak?

The Blackbirds (25-8), seeded No. 16 for the second straight year, have won 27 in a row at home. Only Kentucky has a longer streak. Two of the starters for the Blackbirds are from Silver Spring's Springbrook High. Forward Jamal Olasewere (16.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and guard C.J. Garner (12.5 ppg), both juniors, helped LIU rank third in the nation in scoring (81.9 ppg).

Key opening matchup

No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia

In the round of 64, there are only three matchups of power conference teams. This may be the best as fading Virginia (22-9) and Florida (23-10) try to get it together and earn a shot at No. 2 Missouri. The Cavaliers, who have lost six of their last 10, rank 11th in the nation in 3-point defense (29.5 percent). The Gators have made the most 3s in the nation and are 21st in accuracy (39 percent).

The favorite

No. 2 Missouri Tigers

Big Ten champion Michigan State (27-7) is the No. 1 seed in the West, but the selection committee may have gotten carried away with strength of schedule ratings. The slot could have gone to No. 2 Missouri (30-4). With senior wings Marcus Denmon and Kim English and sophomore point guard Phil Pressey, the Tigers have the backcourt that typically thrives in the tournament. Troubling, however, is the Tigers' frantic pace. Such teams often have trouble establishing it in the NCAAs.

The contender

No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles

Losing to Louisville in its Big East opener gives No. 3 Marquette (25-7) plenty of rest for its opening game against play-in survivor Iona or BYU. The Golden Eagles are short but have plenty of physical presence. Only one player weighs less than 200 pounds. Marquette made a splash last year as a No. 11, upsetting No. 6 Xavier and No. 3 Syracuse to reach the Sweet 16. This year as a No. 3, the path is easier.

One and done

No. 4 Louisville Cardinals

Coming off its success in the Big East tournament, Louisville is an unusual pick here. But the Cardinals suffered just as unlikely a defeat last year, falling to No. 13 Morehead State. This time the unlucky No. 13 is Davidson, conqueror of Kansas three months ago. In their last NCAA appearance (2008), the Wildcats pulled off upsets of No. 7 Gonzaga, No. 2 Georgetown and No. 3 Wisconsin before falling to No. 1 Kansas 59-57.

Cinderella

No. 6 Murray State Racers

Murray, Ky., is 228 miles away from Louisville. But playing in the KFC Yum! Center in its basketball-crazed home state still will be a huge advantage for the Racers (30-1), who have the best record in the tournament and are the only team in the nation without a road or neutral site loss. Murray State reacted well to its lone loss, reeling off seven straight wins. Junior Isaiah Canaan (19.2 ppg) controls games at the point.

The Examiner predicts ...

No. 8 Memphis Tigers

Picking a team from the West is a dicey proposition. The region is balanced and loaded with hot teams. Ten are conference tournament champions. No other region has more than seven. Vastly undervalued is Memphis. The Tigers were ranked eighth in November before disappearing under the radar and losing two rotation players to season-ending injuries. Memphis has recovered, winning its last seven games, none by fewer than 12 points. They're hot and talented enough to be a Final Four team.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner