Previewing the Pods: West Edition

The West Region of the 2009 NCAA Tournament contains just one Big Ten team...


Purdue


Northern Iowa
The Panthers were a surprise regular season co-champion of the Missouri Valley, but only made the NCAAs by winning an overtime thriller to get the auto-bid. Northern Iowa has a solid offense (57th nationally) that is basically perimeter-oriented except for two excellent inside scorers - 6'8'' 245 Adam Koch and 7'1'' 280 Jordan Eglseder. Koch is the team's leading scorer and kills teams at the foul line (5th nationally in FT Rate and shoots 77%), while Eglseder is an outstanding rebounder and shotblocker and also hits 62% from two (while taking a whopping 31.6% of the team's shots while he's on the floor). Make no mistake, Eglseder is a dominant big man when he's on the floor, but he's played just under half of the available minutes this season. The other leader on this team is PG Kwadzo Ahelegbe - the physical sophomore shot 36.5% from downtown and also gets to the line often. Most of the remaining rotation consists of three-point specialists, except for 6'6'' bruiser Lucas O'Rear. Defensively, the Panters are mediocre, but they do a great job of limiting second chances (8th nationally in opponent OR%).

Washington
Another surprising regular season champ - this time from the Pac 10 - the Huskies play very fast but actually have the nation's 11th best defense. They don't stand out in any one defensive category, but are solid across the board and feature one of the nation's best rebounders in 6'7'' 255 Jon Brockman. Offensively, Washington thrives on offensive rebounding and free throws - they're actually a mediocre shooting team and rarely attempt threes (only Evansville takes a fewer percentage of their shots from downtown). Their backcourt is extremely small - the top three guards (Isaiah Thomas, Justin Dentmon, and Venoy Overton) are 5'8'', 5'11'', and 5'11'' - but, amazingly, they all get to the foul line frequently and all shoot at least 48% from two. The only legit three-point threat in the regular rotation is Dentmon at 42.2%. This is an unconventional team - short and fast-paced but excellent in the paint.

Mississippi State
The Bulldogs stole a bid by running the table at the SEC Tournament (4 wins in 4 days), but this isn't a bad team either. Their defense is anchored by the nation's best shotblocker, 6'9'' 210 Jarvis Varnado, who's also an efficient scorer and good rebounder to boot. Unfortunately, Varnado doesn't get much help on the glass, so Mississippi State is frequently outrebounded on both ends. Their decent offense is driven by lots of threes - 40% of their shots are from downtown, and they convert at a 36% clip, led by 6'7'' Ravern Johnson and 6'2'' Barry Stewart. It should be a fast-paced, short vs tall matchup when the Bulldogs face Washington - except the tall team shoots a lot of threes and the short one hardly takes any. This is a game I'm definitely interested in watching.

Purdue has a pretty tough draw for the first two rounds. Northern Iowa isn't as good as the Boilermakers, but the Panthers will actually have an inside size advantage and could hope to get Purdue into foul trouble early. I still like Purdue in this matchup, but honestly wouldn't be shocked in Northern Iowa gave them a scare. Washington would likely be the second round matchup, and Pomeroy puts the Boilers and Huskies at 14th and 16th nationally - in other words, both teams are good enough to play in the Sweet 16 but would instead meet in the round of 32. Add in the fact that Washington is playing a lot closer to home (Portland) and it's clear that it will be no easy task for Purdue to emerge from this pod.