March 17, 2004
The bracket formally known as the West is home to duel powerhouses and legitimate title contenders in Stanford and Uconn. Stanford (29-1, 16-0) has just completed one of the most successful regular seasons in recent history. With the return of bruising power forward Justin Davis, the Cardinal is finally completely healthy for the first time all season.
Uconn entered the year with high expectations and a ranking that could go no higher. Although Emeka Okafor established his dominance in the college game, the Huskies have been plagued by injuries and have struggled to gel as a team. Still, Uconn is more than just Okafor and proved that by winning the Big East Tournament without his services for most of the tournament.
The rest of the bracket may be a little thin, although it does feature defending national champion Syracuse, the sizzling Terps, and steady N.C. State. Teams such as Southern Illinois, DePaul, Alabama and Dayton have been overlooked by the national media but all have had exceeded expectation and play team ball.
Uconn's expected success this season was Stanford's reality. Ironically, these teams met in the second round last season and Uconn walked away with it. Both teams are pretty much intact and if they do eventually meet up in the Elite Eight look for the result to be much of the same. We can only imagine how Calhoun's New Englander Drawl will sound in a land of Texas twang.
|Team To Root For|
|No. 13 - UTEP|
|Coach Billy Gillispie has done a remarkable job turning this program around in only his second year. Last season the Miners were dismal and won only six times. This year they quadrupled that win total, which was just good enough to earn the last at-large invitation to the dance. The Miners like to get out on the break and run and shoot. They are lead by Puerto Rican sparkplug Filiberto Riveria who is the key to their offensive continuity. UTEP has its toughest test of the season in the first round against Maryland, but might be able to throw a scare into the inconsistent Terrapins.
This is a heart-warming story considering UTEP great basketball tradition. UTEP (once known as Texas-Western) will forever be entrenched in history for defeating Kentucky in 1966 to win the national title. Legendary Coach Don Haskins' team featured five African-Americans in the starting lineup and defeated an all-white Kentucky team who was led by a coach that didn't believe that black athletes were worthy to play college basketball.
|No. 11 - Western Michigan|
|Western Michigan (26-4, 15-3) has collected a MAC title and quality non-conference victories against UAB, Arizona State and USC. Steve Hawkins' has an experienced crew that will get after a team with pressure defense, aggressive rebounding, and creating turnovers. Forward Mike Williams had breakout senior season that earned him Player of the Year honors and he teams with Anthony Kann and Levi Rost to form a formidable frontcourt for a mid-major.
The Broncos are the best team in the MAC, a conference that often has great success in knocking off favorites from bigger conferences. A match up with Vanderbilt, a team with no tournament experience and a suspect backcourt is an upset begging to happen.
|No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 2 Uconn (Regional Final)|
|Stanford and Uconn could easily match up in the finals if they were on different sides of the bracket. They both feature deep squads that have imposing front lines and sharpshooters on the wing. Stanford may play at a bit slower pace, but seems to have better chemistry than the Huskies. Look for this to be a close contest, with both teams going deep into their benches. The winner of this game may become the favorite to win it all. Josh Childress and Josh Boone share the same first name but differ when it comes to their funky follicles.|
|Emeka Okafor, UConn|
|Okafor is a dominant defensive presence who clogs the lane and should be considered the Housing Commission if Shelden Williams defensive prowess dubs him the nickname of Landlord. His ever-improving offensive repertoire and his ability to run the floor make him the ideal big man. The only thing that can stop Okafor is his grandma back which acts up more than a hyperactive fourth grader at recess. He is clearly a different player when his back is hurting and a comfortable hotel mattress and warm arenas might be the key to Okafor, and Uconn's success.|
|Best Kept Secret|
|Delonte Holland, DePaul|
|The Blue Deamons forward and leading scoring (16.8) has a talented offense game that allows him to bang inside as well as use his sweet stroke to nail open shots from the perimeter. Holland gets his points while staying within the flow of the game. Holland also understands a concept that most JUCO transfers don't comprehend; defense. DePaul may be without guard LeVer Seals (suspension) which means that Holland must step up for DePaul to advance past Dayton.|
Coach Jim Calhoun and the Huskies are coming off a Big East Tournament Championship.