Arizona was rolling earlier this season until they lost Brandon Ashley to a season-ending injury. It took them a few games to re-format their rotation, but they’ve had things going over their last nine games. The Wildcats aren’t a great shooting team from distance or the foul line, but they rebound, defend, and have multiple offensive weapons. They’ve also got the go-to guy for a game-winning shot in Nick Johnson. The region also sets up pretty well for them with a lesser #2 seed in Wisconsin, the worst #3 seed in Creighton, arguably the worst #4 seed (at least San Diego State plays defense), and Oklahoma as the worst #5 seed. I’d be extremely surprised if Arizona doesn’t make it to Dallas, so that’s why they’re my Final Four pick out of this region.
Wisconsin is their usual self, executing an offense in deliberate fashion. They’ve also got scoring all down the lineup, but lack rebounding punch and athleticism. Sam Dekker, regarded as the best hope for NBA potential, came into the season with All-American hopes and somehow now sits in key moments for Nigel Hayes. (Remember the name because Hayes will be a factor next season.) It would be interested to see Dekker, Hayes, and Frank Kaminsky play together in a taller front line, but coach Bo Ryan doesn’t want to sacrifice outside shooting and quickness at small forward. The Badgers could just as easily make the Final Four as they could lose to Oregon in their second game, so they may worry you a little.
Creighton has the best player in the bracket, but Doug McDermott can only do so much. Providence showed other teams the way with their defense against Doug the other night. Providence played a zone and shaded look, which forced the Blue Jays to shoot 8-30 from three-point range. The Big East was down this year, so Creighton’s success has to be taken with a grain of salt. Either Baylor or Nebraska will cause them trouble in the third round.
San Diego State can defend with the best of them, but their offense struggles to create buckets at time. That’ll be a major issue when they run into Arizona in their third game. Three intriguing teams in this region are Baylor, Oregon, and Nebraska. Both Baylor and Oregon are really good offensive teams and Nebraska has one of the best players in the region with Terran Petteway.
First round upset that will happen: North Dakota State over Oklahoma
It all starts with Oklahoma being overseeded. It continues with North Dakota State having a major rebounding edge, ranking 110 spots higher than the Sooners in rebound margin. The Bison are also very effective on the offensive end, ranking 20th in the country in efficiency. They’ve got the superstar player to lead the way in Taylor Braun and his 18.2 points a game. The senior forward is a lights out three-point shooter and is ready to lead his team to the upset here.
First round upset that won’t happen: BYU over Oregon
We’re all still trying to figure out how BYU made the NCAA Tournament instead of SMU. Not only did they make the tournament, they somehow made it as a #10 seed, far exceeding the cut off for the play-in game. To make matters worse, they just lost their second leading scorer for the season. They’re going to need to be able to keep up in a track meet with Oregon and that’s just not going to happen now. Oregon’s also one of the hottest teams in the country, having won nine of their last 10. They’re back to what we expected them to be at the start of the season.
Best Non-Bracket Bets:
Arizona to win the National Championship (+800) – It’s one of the few bets these days with more betting value than the expected FiveThiryEight.com odds.
North Dakota State +4.5 over Oklahoma – I’m a believer as you can tell by now.
Oklahoma State -2.5 over Gonzaga – The Cowboys have a major athletic edge on the perimeter and Sam Dower can only do so much to keep Gonzaga in the game.
Wisconsin vs. American Under 122 – Both these teams play an incredibly slow style of offense. This would not be the most exciting game to watch this week.
New Mexico State +7 over San Diego State – The Aztecs just aren’t explosive enough to run away and they’ll likely be looking ahead to a better opponent.
[Image via Kyle Terada]