Top Seeds: (1) Arizona, (2) Wisconsin, (3) Creighton, (4) San Diego St.
The #1 seed in this region is Arizona, who were winners of the regular season in the PAC-12, but fell to UCLA in the PAC-12 finals. Arizona is an intriguing team, one in which playing defense is priority number 1,2,3,4, and 5. Arizona is the top team in adjusted defense according to kenpom.com, and although they lost Brandon Ashley against Colorado, they are still one of the best teams when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. Since the Ashley injury, Arizona has still only allowed 60.6 points per game. Where Brandon Ashley's injury hurts the Wildcats is in their offensive game. Ashley's stat line isn't very impressive on it's own (11.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg), but he gave Arizona a 1-2 punch inside with Aaron Gordon. With Ashley done for the season, the Wildcats only have one legitimate option inside with Gordon. Can the Wildcats provide enough offense to make a run at the Final Four?
Wisconsin comes in as the 2 seed, losing in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan State. This is a Wisconsin team that is very un-Bo Ryan-esque. Instead of being a very good defensive team, Wisconsin has arguably the best offense in all of college basketball (thought I never would say that). Wisconsin is 5th in adjusted offense, but also played the 3rd-hardest defensive Strength of Schedule according to kenpom.com. At it's most basic, everybody on the Badgers can step out and make the 3 ball. However, the Badgers can also score inside with Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Big Ten 6th man of the year Nigel Hayes. Also, Wisconsin leads the nation in fewest turnovers per game, which IS a very Bo Ryan-esque stat. I have two problems with Wisconsin. the first one consists of their defense, which I find average in athleticism. I think any team with good to great speed can get around the Wisconsin defense and score at will. The other problem consists of their offensive focus. If Wisconsin has an off-night shooting, you can say goodnight to their tournament run. Can Wisconsin overcome there problems and reach the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan?
The 3 seed is Creighton, who DOES have Doug McDermott (if you've been keeping up, you know what I'm referencing). Creighton lost the Big East tournament final against Providence. Obviously, Creighton has Doug McDermott, or McBuckets as he has been declared. We all know his scoring abilities, putting up 45 against Providence in the regular season and his two magnificent games against Villanova, a stout defensive team. I have two problems with the Bluejays as well. The first is can anybody step up outside of McDermott and give Creighton that second option on offense? Creighton's second-leading scorer is Ethan Wragge, who averages 10.5 points per game. That's not threatening to other teams who want to focus merely on shutting down McDermott. Secondly, this team cannot play defense. Actually, The Bluejays are ranked 134th in adjusted defense while playing the 72nd-toughest offensive Strength of Schedule. Can Creighton overcome it's defensive shortcomings and ride Doug McDermott into the Final Four?
San Diego State is the 4 seed in the West Region. A team that plays suffocating defense, the Aztecs were 2nd in points allowed this season (56.6 ppg allowed). Ken Pomeroy, who runs kenpom.com, has the Aztecs ranked 7th in adjusted defense. The Aztecs are also led on offense by Winston Shepard and Xavier Thames, who provide a solid inside-outside combination in terms of scoring. My problems with the Aztecs are as followed
1. Can San Diego State continue their strong play on defense? The Aztecs only played the 90th-toughest offensive Strength of Schedule. Can they play defense on some of the most potent offensive teams in the country?
2. Can San Diego State find that 3rd option on Offense. I know they have Thames and Shepard, but I think the Aztecs need to find a solid third option on offense in order to force match-up problems on other teams.
Considering these problems, can San Diego State use their suffocating defense to reach the Final Four?
Upset Special: (10) BYU over (7) Oregon
Oregon has been a very trendy pick to not only defeat BYU, but also take out Wisconsin in the round of 32 and make the Sweet Sixteen. Well, I'm here to tell you that BYU is going to take out Oregon immediately in the Round of 64. BYU is one of the best offensive teams in the tournament, but so is Oregon. This match-up is as simple as one team is going to score more points than the other. This is going to be a game where the first team to 100 points is going to win (just like the regular season meeting, where Oregon defeated BYU 100-96 in OT). Both teams rank in the top 30 in adjusted offense (Oregon is #12, BYU is #26), and outside the top 90 in adjusted defense (Oregon is #92, BYU is #98). I know that BYU guard Kyle Collinsworth is out for the tournament, and that he was the team's second-leading scorer, but I think this is a mental game for BYU. I think BYU feels it should be in the tournament, and I know there are a lot of naysayers who think BYU shouldn't have made the tournament. I think this gives BYU fuel to stay on their A-game against Oregon. On top of that, BYU still have 3 players that average more than 10 points per game in Tyler Haws (who averages 23.7 ppg), Matt Carlino (13.7), and Eric Mika (11.7). I think BYU will outscore Oregon in this one, and pull off the upset.
Sweet Sixteen: (1) Arizona, (2) Wisconsin, (3) Creighton, (4) San Diego St.
I think that the Sweet Sixteen is actually going to be chalk out of the West Region. But there are a couple of games that could go either way, and would not shock me to see either team win these games.
The first game is Arizona vs. Oklahoma State (Who I have beating Gonzaga). Oklahoma State is by far the strongest 9-seed in this entire tournament, and is becoming a quiet final four contender. Marcus Smart and Markel Brown lead one of the best back courts in the entire tournament. On top of that, the Pokes have Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte III, who can complement the back court with their own scoring abilities. However, I think Arizona is going to slow down Marcus Smart enough to give themselves the chance to win the game without having to score many points. On top of that, I think Arizona is going to use Aaron Gordon in the post and dominate the Pokes in the paint, creating open opportunities for threes later in the game. I see Arizona taking this game from Oklahoma State.
The other game that could go either way is Creighton vs. Baylor. A lot of people like Nebraska to defeat Baylor in the round of 64, but I think Baylor will prove too much for the Huskers. Watch out for the Huskers though, that is a program quickly of the rise. But moving on to this match-up, Baylor can flat out score (7th in adjusted offense, played the 19th hardest defensive Strength of Schedule). Baylor has 4 starters averaging 11 points or more and can attack you either inside with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin, or attack you outside with Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery. However, I think Creighton is going to produce enough offense behind Doug McDermott and win this game against Baylor.
West Region Champion: Wisconsin
I think that Arizona is going to be able to squeeze by San Diego State because they can beat the Aztecs at their own game. Arizona plays the exact same way as San Diego State, and I think this will be a game where the first team to 50 points will win the game. I think Arizona has enough weapons with Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson to overcome the Aztecs.
I think that Wisconsin vs. Creighton will be another one of those first to 100 wins kind of games. However, I think Wisconsin wins, and wins rather convincingly. After watching Badger basketball back in Beloit for the past 8-10 years, I've learned that Wisconsin guards superstar players the same way every single time. Wisconsin always let's the superstar get his, and shuts down every other player on the team. With this in mind, Creighton will not be able to win this game solely behind McDermott, and Wisconsin knows this. Creighton also cannot defend as stated earlier, and on a team that has played some of the best defenses in the country (Virginia, Saint Louis, Ohio State all in the top 10 in adjusted defense), Wisconsin is going to find it to easy to score against Creighton. I have Wisconsin winning that game by a comfortable 15+ point margin.
This leaves an Elite Eight match-up against Arizona and Wisconsin. This is where I think Brandon Ashley's injury is going to cost the Wildcats. The Wildcats are a very stout defensive team, but they just aren't a great offensive team. Although Wisconsin isn't the defensive team it has always been (59th in adjusted defense, the lowest rating since 2006), they can still guard enough to let their offense keep them in any game. I think that Wisconsin can spread Arizona out in many ways, especially with every starter having the ability to hit threes (every starter has a 32% three-point rating or higher). Surprisingly, the lowest rated three-point shooter is Sam Dekker, who has a .325% rating from downtown. I think that with the Badgers' ability to shoot the three, Arizona is going to creep up to the three-point line, setting up the Badgers with many opportunities in the paint with Kaminsky and Hayes. I think Wisconsin can win and will win against Arizona, and advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.