Mark Lyons and Arizona are underseeded and dangerous. - Jeff Gross
The West Region is loaded with familiar names, a mercurial star, and a team that is just going to shoot, and shoot, and shoot.
Our regional previews are designed to get you the information you need to help with filling out a bracket (of course) but also to highlight a few specific things in each region. We'll have a look at the teams in the wrong seeds, who to watch, who to like, who to hate, a dangerous team, the best matchup, and a player to keep an eye on. If you disagree, feel free to tell us here or on Twitter @BannersParkway. Grab a bracket here, and also take the opportunity to join our first ever $10 gift card bracket challenge.
Out in the West Region the action starts at 1:40 on Thursday the 21st. The West is home to plenty of names familiar to Xavier fans: Thad Matta, Sean Miller, Mark Lyons, and last year's victim Notre Dame all landed in the same bracket. Gonzaga grabbed the one seed despite playing in the WCC and not having faced a legitimate contender in well over three months. Ohio State, New Mexico, and Kansas State round out the top four.
Overseeded: #4 Kansas State. The Wildcats have been a basketball power for a decade now, but this seed reflects an over-reliance on the eye test and the anachronistic RPI. 30th in KenPom and 30th in the BPI, K-State probably rode their rep to land this seed line. The Wildcats beat Florida in December and OK St twice, but missed every other chance for a good win. That doesn't mean the Wildcats completely dodged a bullet here. Teams that shoot well and frequently from deep give K State issues. Both La Salle and Boise St. fit that billing.
Underseeded: #6 Arizona. 19th in the KenPom ratings and 14th in ESPN's BPI, Arizona somehow dropped all the way down to the number six line. That seems all the more off base when you see VCU as a five seed and Marquette as a three. Sean Miller could not have been happy when his saw his Wildcats slighted to such a great degree. Arizona drew Belmont, a team that could cause their turnover happy guards some problems.
Easy to like: #5 Wisconsin. It was always going to be Wisconsin. Bo Ryan just keeps running the Swing, the Badgers just keep winning, and people just keep ignoring them. If you like teams that play solid defense, cherish the ball like it is their mother's virtue, and play patient offense, this is your squad. If you like teams that beat Ohio State by 22, beat Indiana on the road twice, and has the offense to break 80, this is also your team. Fundamentally sound, not a lot of flash, just a solid, solid team.
Fun to watch: #12 Ole Miss. One of the unfortunate things about the tournament is that it lacks sentimentality. For that reason the one man sideshow that is Marshall Henderson and the high speed Rebels squad lands solidly against another team to like, Wisconsin. Mississippi runs (12th in the nation in tempo), crashes the boards, pressures, and just generally play with a good deal of kinetic energy. The one thing they will not be is dull.
Easy to hate: #2 Ohio State. Before even touching on Greg Oden and that intentional foul, there are still things to dislike about OSU. Deshaun Thomas is a brooding gunner, reluctant to play defense, hustle, or do anything other than shoot. At one point in a recent game against Michigan, Thomas ended up on the floor and simply sat there rather than try to get back. Aaron Craft, meanwhile, is the most overhyped player this side of Adam Morrison. Craft ranks 101st in steals percent, which you make recognize as being 100 places short of public perception. The fact that Columbus radio stations tout him as a lottery pick just makes things are the more annoying.
Danger team: #10 Iowa St. The Cyclones are going exactly as far as their three point shooting takes them. They shoot 37% from deep, take 44% of their attempts from behind the arc (9th in the nation), and and get 37% of their points from three. Those numbers, coupled with a turnover rate of just 18.6% and a tempo of 69.3 (34th nationally), mean that the Cyclones are capable of piling up the points if they get hot. Only three of Iowa St.'s losses came to teams not in the NCAA, and three of those 11 came against Kansas.
Best Matchup: #5 Wisconsin v. #12 Ole Miss. This is going to come down to whether the Badgers outside defense can contain Marshall Henderson. Henderson is going to shoot from downtown no matter what (he took double digit threes in 23 games, including a glorious 3-18), but he can be goaded into shooting his team right out of a game. On the other hand, he can catch fire and win a game. Keep an eye on Buckner and Holloway down low as well as both hammer the offensive glass. If Wisconsin gets too focused on Henderson and loses those two, bad things could happen.
Player to watch: Mark Lyons. There is no question that Arizona's guard has a difficult to replicate flair for the dramatic. Cheeks three point percentage is down eight points to 32%, but he can still get his when the time calls for it. More than that, his assist rate and total shooting percentage are both quality enough to have him ranked nationally.