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March 17, 2015

March Madness 2015: Breaking down the West Region

Can T.J. McConnell and Arizona take down Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers?

College Basketball March Madness
031715_Arizona_AP Rick Scuteri/AP

Arizona guard T.J. McConnell

Yesterday, we broke down the East and Midwest Regions, and came to the conclusion that the two No. 1 seeds, Kentucky and Villanova, would advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis. 

Today, I'll take a look at the West Region, and although there's a lot of chalk along the way, there won't be a one-seed advancing out of this section of your bracket. That will, in my opinion, belong to Arizona. 

But before we get into any individual games, let's take a look at some things to watch for along the way.

What to watch for out West


No. 11 BYU over No. 6 Xavier -- In each of the last four years, since the NCAA decided to expand the field to 68, one of the teams from the First Four has advanced to at least the Round of 32. Two teams made it to the Sweet 16 (La Salle in 2013 and Tennessee in 2014) and one made it all the way to the Final Four (VCU in 2011). I don't have one making it that far this year, but I do think there are a pair of teams that can make it past the second round. Boise State is one of those teams. BYU is the other.

Coincidentally, both teams face potential second-round matchups with Big East teams (Xavier and Providence). Perhaps it's because I've seen more Big East action than I have of the Mountain West and West Coast Conferences combined, but I don't think too highly of any Big East teams this March, with the exception of Villanova. Even then, I didn't pick the Wildcats to advance past the Sweet 16. It's just not the same Big East.  


D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State -- A 6-foot-5 combo guard, Russell is a lot of fun to watch. He's got a filthy handle, makes one-handed bounce passes from out near mid-court, and can just plain ball. Oh, and he's only a freshman.

Take a look at some of his highlights: 

Russell is averaging 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. He shoots 41.6 percent from three and has scored in double figures in every game but one this season. He can, however, play  somewhat recklessly, as he averages about three turnovers per game.

If he can keep that turnover number down, he should be a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately for Russell and his Ohio State Buckeyes, they have a tough second-round matchup with VCU followed by a potential third-round game against Arizona, one they will likely lose. It's also an unfortunate situation for fans, because Russell's style of play is exactly the kind fans enjoy most in March, and he's one of the guys who could take over a game and single handedly will his team to victory. I just don't see Ohio State getting past the Wildcats.

If the Buckeyes do, my bracket will be ruined. But I'll be able to get over it if Russell puts on a show in what would be a huge upset of Arizona.

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin -- Kaminsky, a candidate for National Player of the Year, is averaging 18.2 points and eight rebounds per game. He's scored in double figures every game but one this season, and like Russell, that game came way back in November. Unlike Russell, however, Kaminsky is a very efficient scorer, shooting over 55 percent from the field. The senior forward is also shooting a career-high 39.5 percent from three.

And did I mention he's seven-feet tall?

He's so important to the Badgers that one of their three losses this season came in the one game Kaminsky missed. And it was to Rutgers, which finished the season 10-22. Since that game, Wisconsin has won 16 of 17 games, including eight against teams in the tournament field.


No. 2 Arizona -- Despite all that praise for Russell, I don't think Ohio State will be able to stop Arizona. In terms of average point differential, the 'Cats are right up there with Kentucky at 17.8 PPG. They're 3-0 against top 25 teams this season, beating Gonzaga once and Utah twice. They've also beaten Oregon three times and also have a win over San Diego State, another NCAA tourney team.

The potential Wisconsin-Arizona matchup in the Elite Eight would be a tremendous game. Still, I like the Wildcats to advance. They're just a sound team from top to bottom. And if they can contain Kaminsky, the Badgers won't stand much of a chance.

And now to see just how Arizona got to the Final Four, here's a game-by-game breakdown of the West Region:

• First Four •

No. 11 BYU (25-9) vs. No. 11 Ole Miss (20-12)

Considering that my upset pick is BYU over Xavier, you already know who I like in this one. Ole Miss isn't a bad team, but BYU can score, and score in bunches. The Cougars are second in the country in points per game and thanks to having played an extra game, they're first in total points scored. They're not the most efficient team, but they are in the top 30 in three-point field goal percentage at 38.8 percent.


• Second Round •

No. 1 Wisconsin (31-3) vs. No. 16 C. Carolina (24-9)

This won't be the year a 16-seed finally beats a No. 1. Nothing to see here.

WINNER: Wisconsin

No. 8 Oregon (25-9) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma St. (18-13)

Will Chip Kelly be in attendance, scouting for possible talent? Doubtful. He's been busy lately. Oregon's size, or lack thereof, will hurt them greatly in this one. I'm banking on the fact that Oklahoma State's recent struggles -- they lost six of their last seven regular season games -- won't linger into the tournament.

WINNER: Okalahoma State

No. 5 Arkansas (26-8) vs. No. 12 Wofford (28-6)

I could certainly see this being an upset, but you can say that about almost any 12-5 matchup. Arkansas is the better team, however, so I'm going to stick with it here. The Razorbacks tend to beat the teams they're supposed to, and Wofford is one of those teams.

WINNER: Arkansas

No. 4 UNC (24-11) vs. No. 13 Harvard (22-7)

Had it not been for UNC's recent run in the ACC tourney -- it lost to Notre Dame in the title game after beating Virginia in the semis -- I might have been tempted to go with the upset here. However, I have a hard time betting against Roy Williams in March, at least this early on.


No. 6 Xavier (21-13) vs. No. 11 BYU

Here's that upset game we talked about earlier. I really like the Mormons to take down the Jesuits in this one. Sorry, Sister Mary Francis.


No. 3 Baylor (25-9) vs. No. 14 Georgia St. (24-9)

Georgia State is intriguing. The Panthers will be much talked about leading up to the game, mainly because their roster includes a familiar name: Kevin Ware, the former Louisville player who suffered a gruesome broken leg during their National Championship run in 2013. He's far from their best player, as he averages just over seven points per game, but he will be the one getting all the attention on Thursday. Still, I think Baylor gets the best of them.

WINNER: Baylor

No. 7 VCU (26-9) vs. No. 10 Ohio State (23-10)

Upset alert. Shaka Smart and VCU used to be the ones slaying giants, but now the roles have reversed. I like Ohio State, mainly because of D'Angelo Russell, and I'd like it to go a lot further this year, but it faces a potential matchup with Arizona, my pick to advance to the Final Four, in the third round.

WINNER: Ohio State

No. 2 Arizona (31-3) vs. No. 15 Texas So. (22-12)

Sorry, Texas Southern. You're not this year's Florida Gulf Coast. More importantly, Arizona is not the 2013 Georgetown team. This one shouldn't be close.

WINNER: Arizona

• Third Round •

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Oklahoma St.

Kaminsky, Wisconsin roll past Oklahoma in this one. It won't help the Cowboys' chances that they'll be coming off what I expect to be a tightly contested, fast-paced matchup against Oregon, while Wisconsin should cruise in its first game.

WINNER: Wisconsin

No. 4 UNC vs. No. 5 Arkansas

ACC > SEC. At least in this one. The Tar Heels should advance to the Sweet 16 with a win over the Razorbacks. 


No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 11 BYU

I wouldn't normally have Baylor advancing this far, but I think the path sets up nicely for the Bears with BYU upsetting Xavier in the previous game. If a double-digit seed is going to advance to the Sweet 16 from this region, I could see it being BYU. However, I like Baylor in this one.

WINNER: Baylor

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 10 Ohio State

Ohio State had a great run, but it comes to an end against an Arizona team that is as good as any in the country. Not even D'Angelo Russell can save them in this one.

WINNER: Arizona

• Sweet 16 •

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 UNC

UNC is one of the best teams at guarding against the three, but what about when a seven-footer is launching them up? I think Kaminsky presents a matchup problem for his opponent, and the Badgers advance. 

WINNER: Wisconsin

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 3 Baylor

Arizona could win this one in a big way. As I said before, the only reason I see Baylor making it this far is because of the way they were set up to succeed. I don't think they're nearly as good as they'll look in the tournament, but once they reach this game, you'll see what they really are.

WINNER: Arizona

• Elite Eight •

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 2 Arizona

While Kaminsky is one of the two best players in this region, I don't think he'll be enough to get the Badgers past Arizona. Both teams are defensively sound and offensively efficient, so it should be a very tight game. Still, I'm going with Arizona.