NCAA Regional Reset: West RegionPosted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 25th, 2014
Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. The South Regional Reset published earlier today and the East and Midwest Resets will release tomorrow. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.
New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 32-4. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Wildcats looked a little shaky in what turned into just a nine-point win in their round of 64 game against Weber State, but they really did little this weekend to change the popular notion that the Wildcats are not only the strong favorite in this region, but a legitimate contender for the national championship.
Horse of Darkness: Wisconsin, #2, 28-7. The Badgers took a 12-point deficit into the half against Oregon in the round of 32, getting lit up to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.48 points per possession by a great offensive team for 20 minutes. But coming out of the locker room, they made a commitment to getting the ball inside on offense and getting back and challenging jump shooters on the defensive end. The adjustment turned into less than a point per possession in the second half for the Ducks, while the high-scoring Badgers were the one that turned in 1.5 points per possession. The Badgers have proven their ability to score in bunches this season, but if they can play defense like they did in the second half against Oregon, they’re going to be a real tough out.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Creighton Getting Demolished. The simple fact that Baylor advanced over Creighton isn’t all that shocking. But the manner in which it happened was stunning. Creighton shoots five-of-24 from three against the Baylor zone? A sketchy Baylor defense hold the nation’s best offensive team below a point per possession? Doug McDermott’s college career ends with just a 15-point performance? Stunning.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Mostly Chalk. Three of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and the one upset based on seed-line probably isn’t that much of an upset at all, as Baylor crushed Creighton to earn its 12th win in the last 14 games.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: I called out that pod in Spokane with San Diego State, New Mexico State, Oklahoma and North Dakota State as wide open, where anybody could advance. So, what did we get? North Dakota State topped Oklahoma in overtime in the round of 64 prior to the Aztecs needing overtime themselves to get by New Mexico State, before order was restored in the form of a blowout SDSU victory to get to the Sweet Sixteen.
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: If anybody listened to me and carved out a patch of time in their busy schedules to watch Gonzaga/Oklahoma State, I apologize. Well, really, I apologize on behalf of the three officials who took what was a fine first 25 minutes of action and turned it into a slog-fest of free throw shooting for the final 15 minutes, en route to a record number of fouls in a regulation NCAA Tournament game (61).
First Weekend MVP: Xavier Thames, San Diego State, 26.5 PPG, 5.0 APG – Thames didn’t shoot a particularly great percentage this weekend, but for an Aztecs team that can struggle to score, the senior point guard made sure that wasn’t an issue. Coupled with his continued stellar defense and big plays down the stretch, in all likelihood, the Aztecs would be done for the year without Thames.
Breakout Star: Isaiah Austin, Baylor, 15.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 67.8% eFG – You probably know Austin as that big Baylor guy with the goggles in the day-glo uniforms who floats around the perimeter too much and plays soft. That wasn’t him this weekend. He got to the line regularly; he challenged shots; he corralled rebounds; he even scored in the paint. If Austin continues to play like he did over the weekend, he gives the Bears an added dimension. And, just as importantly, he may begin to deliver on his vast potential.
More Home Cooking: San Diego State, 92 miles. The Aztecs missed out on even better geographical placement this past weekend, due to their terrific hosting of the opening weekend at Viejas Arena. But San Diego State faithful are rewarded for their patience this week with a quick jaunt up I-5 to the Honda Center in Anaheim, where the Aztecs have played a game in each of the last two seasons. The only bad news may be that when they show up for their Thursday night game, they find that the regularly traveling Arizona fans could still wind up with more people in the building.
Best Regional Semifinal Game: #1 Arizona vs. #4 San Diego State, 3/27. A rematch of tremendous basketball game that took place way back in the first week of the season; a clash between two long and athletic teams that feature some of the best defenses in the nation; Sean Miller vs. Steve Fisher; a battle of two of the West Coast’s premier basketball programs and their highly supportive fan bases in a location that is a manageable drive for both. I mean, what is there not to like about this match-up? One other bit of fun: the last time a regional was held in Anaheim, both of these two teams were there as well. Unfortunately for each, Kemba Walker and Connecticut was there as well. San Diego State gave the Huskies everything they wanted in the Sweet Sixteen before fading in the final minute, while the Wildcats gave Kemba’s group even more trouble in the regional final. A clean Jamelle Horne three at the buzzer rimmed out and UConn went on to win the national title.
Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Arizona vs. #2 Wisconsin. Such a match-up could very well devolve into a down-tempo, half-court battle with both teams trying to impose their wills upon each other. And you know what, that would be perfectly fine with me. Whatever match-up we get on Saturday evening, it seems clear that it will be a story of a primarily great defensive team (either Arizona or San Diego State), or a primarily great offensive team (either Wisconsin or Baylor).
Top Storyline: Sean Miller’s Quest For a Final Four. There aren’t many knowledgeable basketball fans who regard Sean Miller as anything but a fantastic basketball coach. But, despite a decade as a head coach and eight trips to the NCAA Tournament, he’s still looking for his first trip to the Final Four — he’s logged five Sweet Sixteen appearances, two of which turned into Elite Eights, but hasn’t yet broken through. In a year where he and his brother Archie – the head coach at Dayton – find themselves both in the Sweet Sixteen at the same time, this would be a particularly satisfying year for Miller to get this particular monkey off his back.
Top Storyline for Contrarians: Scott Drew is a Terrible Coach. I’m not entirely sure where this particular idea began, but it has been out there floating around for some years now: Scott Drew is an awful basketball coach who can’t game plan, just rolls the ball out there for his players, and his teams constantly underachieve. Problem is that he’s now taken a Baylor program that was worse than nothing when he got there (not only did it have no positive history, the negatives that occurred just before he got there comprised among the worst scandals in college sports history) to the highest levels of the sport. He’s made four NCAA Tournaments in the last seven years. He’s now gotten to three Sweet Sixteens in the past five years, and is threatening to turn that into three Elite Eights in five years. In a region where Sean Miller (and even Bo Ryan) is looking to shake off the tag of best coach never to make the Final Four, Scott Drew would gladly be called by a small but vocal group of college basketball fans the worst coach to make the Final Four.
Revised Vegas Odds to Win Region: