Contenders, pretenders, best players and more: What to look for in the West Regional

first_imgContendersWisconsinThe Badgers come into the tournament as Big Ten regular season and tournament champions. They also boast the country’s most efficient offense, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, and, without a doubt, have the talent and experience to make a run at this year’s national championship.Big Ten Player of the Year and potential National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky is at the head of UW’s talent, averaging 18.2 points and 8.0 rebounds on the year. He is one of the few players in the country who can single-handedly take over a game, and just as he did last year, Kaminsky will be looking to carry Wisconsin to their second consecutive Final Four.ArizonaThe Wildcats appear to be the only team in the country that can stop Wisconsin from reaching the Final Four. Arizona plays some of the best defense in the country and will be a tough matchup for Wisconsin’s efficiency on offense. According to Pomeroy, Arizona has the third most efficient defense in the country behind Virginia and Kentucky.They also have plenty of talent offensively, led by freshman phenom Stanley Johnson, who is scoring a team-high 14.1 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field. But Arizona’s most important player is senior guard T.J. McConnell, the heart and soul of the team who provides the leadership a contender needs if they want to make a run at the national championship.PretenderArkansasWhile the Razorbacks come into the tournament boasting a generous five-seed, they are the most likely candidate to lose in the first round.This is not because their opponent, Wofford, is anything special, but because Arkansas hasn’t been tested much this year, and when they have, they have been fairly unsuccessful. The Razorbacks have played three ranked teams this year — Iowa State once and Kentucky twice — and have lost all three games by a combined 50 points.Although Arkansas has SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis on their team, who is averaging 17.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, as a team, Arkansas is too prone to mistakes. They are averaging 11.7 turnovers per game, which is good enough to be tied for 87th in the country. Those mistakes, along with Arkansas’ lack of consistency in scoring the basketball, could ultimately doom them to an early exit in this year’s tournament.CinderellaWoffordThe Terriers finished in first place in the Southern conference and also won the conference tournament. They are a Cinderella candidate, not so much for their talent as a team, but because of their road to the Sweet 16.Wofford’s Karl Cochran won Southern Conference Player of the Year, averaging 14.6 points per game with 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Cochran is deadly from beyond the arc as well, as he broke the program record for threes in a season (96) this season and set the record for most threes in a career (310).Wofford will play Arkansas in the first round and then likely play North Carolina in the second. Both teams are two of the worst in the tournament field at taking care of the ball, with Arkansas ranking 87th nationally and North Carolina 189th. If the Razorbacks and Tar Heels both struggle to take care of the ball, they may struggle to get to Los Angeles and allow Wofford to make their way to the Sweet 16.Players to Watch (Not named Frank Kaminsky)Marcus Paige – Junior Guard, North CarolinaPaige is one of the nation’s best point guards and best clutch players. He has hit his fair share of big shots and is definitely the Tar Heels’ best player. He is, however, a very streaky shooter. When his shot is on, it’s really on, but when it’s off, it’s really off. It will be interesting to see what Paige shows up for North Carolina in the first weekend of the tournament because if it’s the Paige that is going to shoot 25 percent from the field, the Tar Heels may be in trouble. But if the Tar Heel’s best player plays like the best player, Paige could lead North Carolina on a deep run in the tournament.D’Angelo Russell – Freshman Guard, Ohio StateRussell has played in the shadow of Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor all season, but has still been one of the best players in the country. Averaging 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season, Russell has done everything he can to keep an underachieving Ohio State team relevant. Russell and the Buckeyes will go up against VCU and their “havoc” approach to defense in their first game. The pressure of VCU will definitely be a tough test for Russell, and it is a very intriguing matchup for the All-American, who may struggle to get open looks and show off his flashy passing in the outing.Joseph Young – Senior Guard, OregonYoung is the Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaging 20.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists on the year. He is one of the most exciting players in the tournament field for his ability to hit big shots and single-handedly win games for his team. If Young and the Ducks can get out of the first round, they will likely play Wisconsin. It will be very interesting to see how Young will fair against the Badgers this year after torching them for 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting in last year’s third round matchup in Milwaukee.Brandon Ashley – Junior Forward, ArizonaAshley will be on a mission in this year’s tournament after missing the final two months of last season with a broken foot. His absence was a big reason why Arizona fell to Wisconsin, as Ashley is long enough and quick enough to guard Kaminsky out to the perimeter. Ashley’s impact on the Wildcats will be something to watch all tournament, but if Wisconsin and Arizona meet up in the Elite 8 like they’re supposed to, Ashley vs. Kaminsky will definitely be among the most intriguing player matchups in the tournament.Best Potential Matchups Per RoundSecond RoundNo. 7 VCU vs. No. 10 Ohio StateThis will be a fun game to watch for the reason we mentioned above — it will be D’Angelo Russell against one of the scariest full-court presses in the country. Seeing how arguably the nation’s best point guard fares against a team known for forcing teams into turnovers will definitely be interesting.Third RoundNo. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 5 ArkansasTwo teams that love to push the tempo and struggle to take care of the ball will make for a fast-paced game with plenty of fast breaks. Not to mention these are also two of the most athletic teams in the country, so while the quality and efficiency may be missing at times, the excitement will definitely be there.Sweet 16No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 3 BaylorThe Baylor Bears have gone a bit under the radar this season, but have pulled out seven wins against ranked teams in the Big 12. They also have plenty of length and run a zone defense that can give teams trouble on offense if they aren’t great at shooting from the outside. Arizona is that team, as they shoot just 36 percent from three, and if Baylor’s zone can force the Wildcats to take outside shots, this game will be a lot closer than most think. Conversely, Arizona has a vaunted defense of their own, which Baylor may struggle against as well.Elite 8No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 2 ArizonaThis may be the most intriguing potential matchups in the entire tournament. This game would pit the country’s best offense against one of the best defenses, Frank Kaminsky against a pair of tough Arizona forwards and the athleticism of Sam Dekker against Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It has the makings of being an even better game than last year’s overtime thriller, as only one of these Final Four favorites will be able to advance.last_img

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