Mar 20, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; A general view as the Gonzaga Bulldogs gather at mid court after their practice the day before the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Tournament: West Regional Preview

That crazy time of year that us hoop junkies look forward to all year is upon us. It’s time for the single greatest spectacle in sports. The Western regional is perhaps the most interesting in this year’s tournament. Gonzaga comes in as the #1 seed in the region after years of being called a “sleeper.” Then you have major powerhouse programs like Ohio State, Kansas State, Wisconsin, and Arizona to fill out the star power in the region. Those are the teams that people will pick to win games but just who are Belmont, Ole Miss, and La Salle. Good thing I have some answers for this.

Favorites:

Gonzaga – The Zags have captured a #1 seed for the first time in program history and are currently ranked as the top team in the nation according to media polls. Gonzaga is the top dog but is it deserved? They only lost five games all season but  many question the level of competition that the Bulldogs faced. However if you look at Gonzaga’s schedule a bit closer, they faced eight teams that will be appearing in the NCAA tournament this year. The Zags went 8-2 against those teams. They beat the likes of Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma while defeating Saint Mary’s three times. In their marquee wins, Gonzaga won by an average of 13.75 points-per-game. This is a team that arguably has the easiest path to the final four with the only true threat being Ohio State.

Ohio State – Along with Gonzaga, the Buckeyes are the class of the West region. Despite some inconsistent play throughout their non-conference schedule and early Big Ten schedule, Ohio State is on top of their game as they enter the tournament this year. They captured the Big Ten tournament crown and have won their last eight games including victories against Indiana, Michigan State (twice), and Illinois. The Buckeyes are absolutely battle-tested and boast a pretty talented squad that could go far in the NCAA tournament. DeShaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are quite a combination that pace the Buckeyes. Thomas is a do-it-all forward that averaged 19.5 ppg this season and is shooting nearly 44 percent from the field on the season. On the other hand, Craft is saavy point guard that has excellent court vision (4.6 assists-per-game). The Buckeyes have the firepower to head to the Final Four and could be on a collision course to face Gonzaga in the regional final.

Match-ups:

(5) Wisconsin vs. (12) Ole Miss – This is arguably the most intriguing matchup in this region. Ole Miss is riding the wave as they’re fresh off their SEC tournament championship. The Rebels are led by oddball guard Marshall Henderson who averages 20.1 ppg and helped take down Florida in the SEC title game. People may be familiar with Henderson and his interesting behavior but may not know just how good Ole Miss really is. The Rebels can flat out score the rock. They rank 7th in the nation points-per-game as they average 78.2 per contest. They possess an inside-and-out game with Henderson thriving shooting the ball from the outside and they also have an inside presence. Senior forward Murphy Holloway (9.4 rpg) leads the way for a team that ranks 19th in rebounding, averaging 38.8 per game. On the other hand, the Badgers aren’t quite as offensively gifted. They’re a team that thrives on defense but only averages 66.2 ppg and don’t have a player averaging more than 11.2 ppg (junior guard Ben Brust). This is probably the easiest upset pick as the Rebels could easily have their way with the Badgers, especially if Henderson is on.

(6) Arizona vs. (11) Belmont – If you’re an avid fan of the NCAA tournament, you recognize Belmont and know that they’ve been here numerous times in the last several years. Despite their recent tournament appearances, the Bruins 0-5 with losses to Georgetown and Wisconsin in the past two seasons. They did almost beat Duke back in 2008, only losing by a point. However, this may be a different Belmont team. As is the trend in the West region, the Bruins are a very high-powered scoring team as they rank 15th (77.2 ppg). In only five of their 26 wins, did Belmont win by single digits. The case can be made that the competition that they faced wasn’t very strong. But, they blew out their opponents and you can only play who is on your schedule. The game is going to come down to what Arizona guard Mark Lyon does with the ball in his hands. The Wildcats are certainly vulnerable to an upset.

Potential Match-up:

(1) Gonzaga vs. (2) Ohio State – The top two seeds in the region may be on a collision course to meet for a shot to go to the Final Four. The Zags won’t face a ton of resistance in their path and have the scoring to get it done. It would be mighty interesting to see two of the top players in the country go at it in DeShaun Thomas and Kelly Olynyk. Gonzaga faced one Big Ten opponent in Illinois this year and came out on the losing end. It’ll be interesting to see a hungry Gonzaga squad that has never reached the Final Four.

Cinderella:

La Salle – After winning their play-in game against Boise State, the Explorers are set to face Kansas State in the second round. The Wildcats have been a tough team all year and pose a legitimate threat to La Salle. However, the Explorers have the guards to get the job done. The trio of Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, and Tyrone Garland. Garland was sensational against Boise State. He’s a quick guard that can make any defender look foolish. If La Salle gets off to a quick start, they can definitely pull off the upset.

Players to Watch:

I’ve already mentioned Kelly Olynyk and DeShaun Thomas. Olynyk would’ve been a contender for National Player of the Year if he was on a mainstream team.

Marshall Henderson – By now, people are aware of the sensation that is Marshall Henderson. He may have been an unknown to start the season, but has taken the nation by storm. This kid can flat out shoot. When he’s on and Holloway is banging around in the low post, the Rebels are a force.

Ramon Galloway – Galloway is a guy that not many people around the country know. If you follow the Big 5 in Philly, you know what he can do. Galloway is a senior guard that averages 17 ppg and can score at will. He also is a good rebounder (4.5 rpg) and has good size at 6-3.  If Galloway and the rest of the trio of Explorer guards can get going early, La Salle can win a game or two.

Pick:

This is a region that only has a few heavyweights but a lot of solid teams that could do some damage. Despite Gonzaga coming into the tournament extremely hot, I’m going with the Ohio State Buckeyes to represent the West region in the Final Four. I do think that Gonzaga may stand in their way and would make for a fantastic match-up. The combination of Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas will be too much for the Zags. Make sure you keep an eye on teams like Ole Miss and La Salle who I feel are more than capable of pulling an upset or two.

 

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Tags: 2013 NCAA Tournament Aaron Craft Arizona Wildcats Belmont Bruins DeShaun Thomas Fansided Gonzaga Bulldogs Kansas State Wildcats Kelly Olynyk La Salle Explorers Marshall Henderson Murphy Holloway Ohio State Buckeyes Ole Miss Rebels Ramon Galloway Tyrone Garland West Region Wisconsin Badgers

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