Bracket Prep: West Region AnalysisPosted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 17th, 2014
Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).
You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.
Favorite: Arizona, #1, 30-4. The Wildcats are the nation’s best defensive team – this is beyond debate. In 34 games to this date, they’ve allowed teams to score better than a point per possession just six times all year (and seven times they’ve held their opponent to less than 0.8 points per possession). They’ve got freshman Aaron Gordon, who is on the short list of most versatile defenders in the nation, capable of guarding players from power forward to point guard. Likewise, guys like Nick Johnson, T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are terrific athletic defenders, while sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski is a rugged rim protector. Point is that it is going to be very hard for any opponent to score consistently on this team. Throw in the fact that the Wildcats are a quality offensive team as well (only six times all season have they scored less than a point per possession in a game) and that they’re playing arguably their best ball of the season at the right time for rising star Sean Miller, and the West is theirs to win.
Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #2, 26-7. Aside from a head-scratching downturn in the middle of the season when the Badgers lost five out of six games, Bo Ryan’s squad has been excellent. Only once in the last 12 seasons has Wisconsin had a more efficient offense (2011, and even then, it is a razor-thin margin), but what is different about this team is an increased tempo, a sparkling shooting percentage, and a complete avoidance of turnovers. However, all of this offensive wonderment does not come without a price, as this is also the worst Badgers team on the defensive end in those same dozen years, with the team – especially in that bad stretch in January – failing to contain dribble penetration and regularly getting scorched. This happened again this past weekend against Michigan State, so the Badgers are not here without concerns. But in a region where there are few teams without some blemishes, the Badgers are the safest bet – beyond Arizona – to wind up in Dallas.
Grossly Overseeded: BYU, #10, 23-11. Let’s just refer back to 2012 in the West region and read what I wrote then. Sure, some of the details have now changed, but the gist of this is the same: Why is BYU in the field again? They’ve got a solid win over Gonzaga, they beat Stanford and Texas in the non-conference. Sure. But all of those good spots are balanced out by atrocious losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. There aren’t a ton of other great options to go into BYU’s spot, for sure, and rewarding them for playing a tough non-conference slate is fine. But if anything, the Cougars should have to win their way into the field of 64 by getting through the First Four in Dayton.
Grossly Underseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 21-12. The seed the Cowboys earned here is fair, but then again, so are most of the other seeds in this region. But, I have to pick somebody here, so we’ll go with Travis Ford’s squad on the basis of their ability to play much better than your typical #9 seed. They had that seven-game slide in the middle of the season that coincided with Michael Cobbins’ season-ending injury, Stevie Clark’s dismissal and Marcus Smart’s meltdown. But since that period, they’ve won five of seven games; they’ve knocked off Kansas once and lost to them once in overtime; and have begun to get used to their life with their new roster. The Cowboys may never live up to their preseason expectations, but this is a dangerous seed.
Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): New Mexico State, #13, 26-9. The biggest team in the nation, thanks in no small part to 7’5” behemoth Sim Bhullar, the Aggies could prevent quite a challenge to first round opponent San Diego State. Bhullar is most famous for little more than being big, but the sophomore has begun to develop into a quality player, as evidenced by this weekend’s selection as the Most Outstanding Player in the WAC Tournament. Coupled with 6’10” Tshilidzi Nephawe and 6’10” Renaldo Dixon up front, the imposing frontcourt helps the Aggies get after the glass on offense and get to the line with regularity, while the trio of junior guards Daniel Mullings, DK Eldridge and K.C. Ross-Miller (expected to be back from suspension for the NCAA Tourney) gives the squad plenty of punch. San Diego State and potentially Oklahoma await, but these relatively undersized teams could struggle with the Aggies’ length.
Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): Oregon, #7, 23-9. Aside from a stretch from January 5 to February 8 where the Ducks lost eight games in a 10-game span, Dana Altman’s team has lost exactly once this season. When clicking, they’ve got one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, with guys like Joseph Young and Jason Calliste in particular examples of hyper-efficient offensive players; both of them shoot at least 41 percent from three, 52 percent from two and 85 percent from the free throw line. Plug in a couple of talented point guards in Jonathan Loyd and Dominic Artis, some athletic slashers (Damyean Dotson, Elgin Cook) and senior Mike Moser, who is finally beginning to look like the guy who dominated at UNLV two seasons ago. What’s more, the bracket seems to open up pretty nicely for them. They should be able to beat BYU in the opener, then they could be an athletic match-up problem for Wisconsin in the round of 32. If Creighton is around for the Sweet Sixteen, the scoreboard operators will need to be rotated out at every media timeout, but really, that’s a game that could go either way. And then there is this simple truth: When the Ducks are really shooting the ball well, they can play with anybody in the country.
Carmelo Anthony Award. Doug McDermott, Creighton (26.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 60.5% eFG) – Complete no-brainer. With every passing game, McDermott seemingly moves past another all-time great on the career scoring list – he’s currently fifth with a chance to move up as high as second, depending on his production and his team’s success over the coming days and weeks. And, the fact is, as McDermott goes, so will go the Bluejays. If you can find a way to slow him down, as very few teams have done this year or really at any point in McDermott’s career, you’ve got a very good chance at stopping them. But, quite simply, good luck. He’ll score on you in the paint; he’ll get to the line and drill 86.6 percent of his attempts there; and he’ll knock in about 45 percent of his three-point attempts on the way to ruining all of the great plans you came up with to disrupt him.
Stephen Curry Award. Tyler Haws, BYU (23.4 PPG, 88% FT, 41.1% 3FG – As penance to Cougars fans for saying their team doesn’t deserve to be here, let’s also stipulate that they’re here now; and behind efficient junior wing Tyler Haws, they can score enough to make things uncomfortable for a lot of teams – namely that Oregon team they will see in the first round. Haws has scored in double figures in all 32 games he’s played this year; he’s scored over 20 points 21 different times; over 30 seven times, and once he busted for 48 (in triple-overtime against Portland). Only five times all year has he turned in a sub-100 ORtg in an individual game. And with third-leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth out for the season, head coach Dave Rose is going to need to rely on Haws for even more production in the tournament. He can score inside, he scores a ton in the mid-range, and he can drill from deep.
Home Cooking: Wisconsin, #2, 79 miles – For the opening weekend of the tournament, Badgers fans have a quick jaunt across I-94 to support their team at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. With everyone else in Wisconsin’s pod needing to take a plane to get to the game, expect the venue to be Wisconsin-heavy. But, then again, don’t discount BYU fans’ willingness and ability to travel to support their team.
Can’t Miss Second Round Game: Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State, 3/21. This one could seem like a game from further on down the road in the tournament. Coming into the year, would you have been surprised if these two teams wound up meeting in a #4/#5 round of 32 game? Or even a #2/#3 Sweet Sixteen match-up? Well, we’ll have to take what we can get, which is a fascinating clash of styles. Oklahoma State’s primary advantage is a pair of physical guards in Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, but the team is limited up front with nobody along the front line taller than 6’8”. This could be a problem for the Cowboys, as Gonzaga features a bruising interior, highlighted by Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. Many are picking Oklahoma State to cause problems for Arizona in the round of 32, but they’ve got to get past a tough initial match-up first.
Don’t Miss This One Either: Creighton vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 3/21. – Why? Because, at most, you’ve got six more chances to watch Doug McDermott play in a Creighton uniform.
Lock of the Year: Arizona = Elite Eight. Stopping just short of sliding this team right into the Final Four, but while their round of 32 matchup will be compelling, there is nobody in that top half of the bracket that is balanced and athletic enough to give the Wildcats problems. Whoever comes out of the #4/#5 pod in Spokane will make this difficult for a time, but nobody there has the horses to really challenge Arizona. Which puts the Wildcats in the regional final, with somebody like Wisconsin or Creighton or Oregon or Baylor awaiting. Even there, the ‘Cats are going to be a significant favorite over any of those teams.
Juiciest Potential Match-up – Purists: Arizona vs. Creighton, Regional Final. Just imagine this: The best defensive team in the nation against the best offensive team. The best four-year college player we’ve seen in god knows how many years in McDermott, checked by freshman Aaron Gordon, one of the best defenders in the nation. Well respected but Final Four-less head coach Sean Miller vs. a coach in Greg McDermott on whom the jury is still very much out. There are so many intriguing match-ups here, but it all really boils down to a test of the age-old cliché that defense wins championships; Creighton will certainly test that.
Juiciest Potential Match-up – Media: Arizona vs. San Diego State, Regional Semifinal. Almost inarguably the two best programs on the West Coast in recent years meeting for a chance to advance to the regional final in Anaheim, a rematch of a battle from way back in November that had the nation captivated. Two elite defensive teams; two highly respected coaches; two long and insanely athletic teams. This is the type of match-up that would satisfy media members as well as purists looking for compelling battles.
We Got Screwed: San Diego State, #4, 29-4. The seed is plenty fine, but man, was it ever a bad year to host a first weekend of games. As a result, the Aztecs were ineligible for placement in the San Diego pod and got shipped to Spokane. If going to Spokane wasn’t bad enough (I kid, I kid), into their place at the San Diego pod slides Southern California rival, UCLA. So not only do the Aztecs get shipped 1300 miles north, but their intra-regional adversary gets an easy trip down south in their stead.
Strongest Pod: Oklahoma/North Dakota State, San Diego State/New Mexico State. It’s not that there are teams here that could be around for an Elite Eight or a Final Four, but that each one of these teams could realistically foresee a scenario where things break just right and they come out of this pod to face Arizona. We’ve talked about New Mexico State as a possible sleeper above, but San Diego State makes things uncomfortable for their opponents on the regular by dominating defensively; Oklahoma is an elite offensive team (13th in KenPom) with a whole host of guys who can stroke it from deep and North Dakota State has a tough one-two punch in seniors Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund who can certainly beat a lot of different teams in a one-game scenario.
Wildcard: Baylor/Nebraska. These are the two best teams in this bracket that haven’t been mentioned yet, and they’ll meet up in the round of 64 in San Antonio. Former Big 12 rivals, each of them have been hot down the stretch, as Baylor has won 10 of its last 12 games and Nebraska 11 of 15 in order to turn around their respective seasons. Sitting in the head coaching seat for both programs are two guys with reputations. By and large, Scott Drew is considered (fairly or not is a debate for another time) to be a coach lacking in-game acumen, regardless of the manner in which he has turned around a Baylor program that had less than zero success prior to his arrival. Meanwhile, Tim Miles is in the process of beginning a similar turnaround at Nebraska, as he previously did at Colorado State and North Dakota State, and is almost universally loved by college basketball followers. Throw in a battle with strength-on-strength match-ups (Baylor’s offense is very good, but so is Nebraska’s defense, while Baylor’s D and Nebraska’s O tend to struggle) and this could be a compelling game. The winner of this game is capable of giving Creighton a tough game over the weekend, so this is another match-up to keep an eye on.
So-Called Experts: CBS Sports says that Arizona has a clear path to the Final Four, while Rob Dauster at NBC Sports says the ‘Cats probably weren’t all that happy to see Oklahoma State awaiting them in the round of 32. Meanwhile, Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star reports on the television analysis offered following the announcement, with Jay Bilas calling the potential Arizona/Oklahoma State game a “very difficult match-up” and Digger Phelps pronouncing Oklahoma State as a potential Final Four team.
Vegas Odds To Win Region: