In my opinion, this is the weakest of the four regions. But that doesn’t mean the region is weak at all. There are a lot of question marks with the teams in the region, but someone has to come out on top. With a ton of great matchups from beginning to end, it will be a dog fight for the team that earns their spot in the Final Four.
Favorite: To me, the favorite in this region is Arizona. Nick Johnson, Gabe York, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski are all great players, but what makes this team special is the chemistry between them. Usually, I hate picking one-seeds to win the region because I’m all about the upsets, but Arizona can prove me wrong. Arizona certainly has the easiest path of the four one seeds, but the team that will give them the most trouble down the line is Wisconsin.
Sleeper: I had a tough time picking just one sleeper, but the team with the best chance is Nebraska. Swingman Terron Pettaway stepped up during conference play, and playing in the best conference in the country (no, the ACC still won’t be better even with Louisville next year) makes this team poised for a deep run. I’m not saying they will go Florida Gulf Coast on us (miss you Lob City), but this team won at Wisconsin, at Michigan State and home against Ohio State. This team knows what to do to get the job done, and they’ll prove it to the country one last time.
Best 1st Round Game: Sick of the Nebraska talk yet? So is Baylor, who will give the Cornhuskers a run for their money. Baylor is a team that is getting hot at the right time, just like Nebraska. Isaiah Austin is the rim protector that every team dreams of having, but little do people know is that Austin has a good offensive touch and can hit some deep shots.Cory Jefferson is another offensive stud for the Bears. Both teams can play well on the offensive end, but Nebraska’s experience in the Big Ten forced the Cornhuskers to defend well, and that’s exactly why I’m picking Nebraska to upset Baylor on Friday.
Best Potential 2nd Round Game: Arizona versus Oklahoma State will be a game full of highlights on the offensive end. Two of the top players in the country will square off when Marcus Smart and Nick Johnson take the floor. Despite Smart’s late-game antics against Texas Tech and his up-and-down season, the sophomore guard can flat out take over a game at will. But it’s not just Smart, as LeBryan Nash, Markel Brown and Phil Forte III, who all average double-digit points per game, are all great compliments to Smart. What people may overlook in this game is that despite all the firepower on offense, both teams have a defensive player that can shut down his defender. I’m still picking Arizona to win because of Gordon and Tarczewski. Yes, Oklahoma State can minimize their productivity, but down the stretch, Arizona’s talent will overcome adversity for the Wildcats to make it to another Sweet 16.
Player to Watch: Doug McDermott. The senior stole the show all year and will make the tournament his farewell tour. I think Creighton is an exciting team that can shoot the ball exceptionally well, but they’d be nothing without McDermott, who is fifth all-time in points in NCAA history with 3,105. Yeah, that’s pretty good. McDermott will put the team on his back once again, and I expect Creighton to reap the benefits. And if you’re curious as to how McDermott can be the all-time scoring leader in NCAA history (Pete Maravich set the record at LSU with 3,667 points), the senior would need to score more than 93.6 points per game and Creighton would need to make it to the championship game, though if he scored 93 points by himself, it’s a safe bet that Creighton would win. When McDermott saw the number, he took to Twitter as to what he thinks of that record.
Pick: Yes, Arizona is strong, McDermott is a beast, and Nebraska can shock everyone. But my pick? Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin does not beat themselves (average 8.1 turnovers a game, which seems impossible as a Maryland fan) and force opponents to play at their own pace, which can be, well, boring at times. Nonetheless, Wisconsin is a team that is dangerous and has beaten some really good teams this year, including UVA, Florida, Michigan State, and Iowa. 6’11” Frank Kaminsky leads this squad with 13.6 points per game and hits 39% of his three-point shots, but Kaminsky is not the only stud on this team. Senior guard Ben Brust is a facilitator at the point and gets all of his teammates great shots. This team is extremely balanced and deep, and in case you forgot: Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan. Wisconsin to the Final Four.