WEST REGION PREVIEW:
The West has the best matchup looming, assuming of course we actually get the matchup everyone is awaiting. The NCAA Tournament has a funny way of making mincemeat of the best intentions, but an Elite Eight rematch of Arizona and Wisconsin would be fantastic. These two played one of the best games of last year’s tournament with Wisconsin winning in the opposite seed positions. This year, Wisky is the number one, but with the possible game being played in the Staples Center, it’s hard to not see Arizona as the slight favorite in the region.
These two are the only two interesting teams in the loaded West. Baylor has a tantalizing mix of athleticism and experience and North Carolina certainly has the talent to make a run. Did you see Marcus Paige this last week?!? It is clear the plantar fascitis that slowed him down is gone and he could very well be the best point guard in the nation right now. Add in Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell looming as the most individually dominant scorer in the field and some talented double-digit seeds like Harvard and Georgia State and you have the making of a fun region.
So who’s cutting down the nets?
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Wisconsin (19/10) – It’s hard to argue with the toughness and veteran savvy of the Badgers. Start with one of the two best big men (and co-favorite for the Wooden Award) in Frank Kaminski and his running mate (and possibly even better pro prospect) Sam Dekker and you have a formidable squad. The key to the Badgers might just be backup point guard turned starter and star, Bronson Koenig, who might just be basketball’s Cordelle Jones, and you have one heckuva tough tournament out.
Arizona (8/5) – This might be a little bit of chalk, but I’m going with Arizona. In my season preview I had Kentucky, Gonzaga and Arizona as my top three and after the season has run its course, I’m back in the same spot. Arizona has the best starting five in the country (yes, even better than UK) and they are orchestrated by senior point guard TJ McConnell. They are slightly more athletic than Wisconsin, and they have the advantage of staying home in the West region. I’ll roll with the Cats getting Sean Miller to his first Final Four after a few near misses.
North Carolina (10/1) – I flirted with taking UNC all the way to Indy, but backed off with a close loss to Wisconsin. Marcus Paige has a real chance to being the breakout star of this tournament and UNC certainly has enough McDonald’s All American talent to rise through the bracket. I’m not real wild about Baylor (and I’ll elaborate further later) who feels a line overseeded at #3 while Maryland is a #4, and I can’t see Ohio State scoring enough to beat Arizona, even if Russell runs wild.
BYU (40/1) – This team can score in bunches and plays with a furious tempo. They can also shoot the three from nearly every position on the floor, which bodes well for springing an upset or two. I think they handle Ole Miss easily tomorrow night and wouldn’t be surprised if they knock off Xavier on Thursday. From there, Baylor doesn’t scare me a bit either. I can’t see them beating Arizona, but if you can get a 40/1 team into the Sweet Sixteen, you can start some hedging possibilities.
My biggest longshot flyer is Georgia State over Baylor. Yes, their 38-36 Sun Belt championship game was an abomination, but they will certainly have some great crowd support with Sun Belt tourney MVP Kevin Ware making his return to the NCAA Tournament after two years ago’s horrific injury when he was still at Louisville.
I’ve already made the BYU case, so assume that upset pick still is on my favorite list. My last potential upset is Wofford being able to slow the tempo enough to outshoot Arkansas, though in past games against bigger schools, they have failed to win the all-important tempo war.