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BYU's Tyler Haws, left, passes off the ball against Gonzaga's Drew Barham in the first half of the NCAA West Coast Conference tournament championship college basketball game, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Kragthorpe: BYU, SLU and other ‘most intriguing’ teams
NCAA Tournament » Also keep an eye on UCLA, Wichita State and Gonzaga
First Published Mar 17 2014 10:38 am • Last Updated Mar 17 2014 11:20 pm

The NCAA Tournament field seemingly always includes a team with a losing record (Cal Poly), a school with a cool nickname (the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers) and a team with a 7-foot-5 center (New Mexico State).

Beyond those novelties, here are my five most intriguing teams in the field — the ones I’m very curious about how they’ll perform:

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• Saint Louis: The 2013-14 Billikens are the official Rick Majerus Legacy Team. The former Utah coach, who died in December 2012, long ago pointed to this season as the arrival point of his SLU program.

The team features five senior starters, and four of them played regularly as freshmen during the only losing season of Majerus’ career. The Billikens have grown into an Atlantic 10 power, spending much of this season in the Top 25.

SLU wobbled lately, losing to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 tournament quarterfinals. The Billikens earned a decent No. 5 seed, but after meeting North Carolina State or Xavier, they would have to play defending champion Louisville.

• UCLA: The Bruins are much better than the team that appeared at the Huntsman Center in mid-January, losing to Utah. In the Pac-12 tournament, they dominated Oregon and Stanford and then outlasted an Arizona team that had appeared untouchable.

Now, it gets interesting. Steve Alford lost to No. 14 seed Harvard in Salt Lake City in his last game as New Mexico’s coach. The No. 4 Bruins drew Tulsa, coached by ex-Jazz forward Danny Manning.

In 25 of the past 29 years, at least one top-four seed has lost its first NCAA game. The Bruins should rise above any kind of Alford curse and advance to a Sweet 16 meeting with Florida.

• Wichita State: It is amazing to think that the Shockers have lost only one game since they came to EnergySolutions Arena last March, and that required an epic comeback by Louisville in the Final Four.

Wichita State (34-0) received a No. 1 seed, a year after knocking off No. 1 Gonzaga at ESA. But in a loaded Midwest Region, the Shockers probably have to go through Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan just to return to the Final Four.

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• Gonzaga: The Bulldogs always drive interest from Utahns because of John Stockton’s ties, especially now that they compete with BYU in the West Coast Conference. That’s even more true this season, with guard David Stockton having become a vital player.

Stockton was outstanding in the WCC tournament, but the Bulldogs face a nearly impossible task in trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. No. 8 Gonzaga meets Oklahoma State, then would face Arizona.

• BYU: The shock of the Cougars’ No. 10 seed may reflect the cultural impact of Bracketology, as much as anything. If not for Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm listing BYU as the last at-large team in the field as of Sunday morning, maybe the NCAA committee’s treatment of the Cougars would have seemed less revolutionary.

Most of us figured BYU’s seeding would be affected by Kyle Collinsworth’s knee injury, and that obviously didn’t happen. I mean, could the Cougars have been placed any higher, with a healthy Collinsworth? Not likely.

In the initial surge of betting, the line went from two points to 6.5 points in Oregon’s favor, according to Pregame.com. Only the Arizona-Weber State line, which somehow started at only 14.5 points and moved to 20.5, made a bigger jump.

BYU coach Dave Rose once won two NCAA games without Brandon Davies, but that was with Jimmer Fredette — and against Nos. 14 and 11 seeds.

If Rose can upset Oregon without Collinsworth, he’ll have produced the greatest one-game coaching job in BYU’s tournament history.


Twitter: @tribkurt

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