The West Region is the cause for millions of brackets being busted. With No. 1 seed Gonzaga, No. 3 seed New Mexico and No. 4 Kansas State all eliminated, Ohio State is the only team that has held its seeding and reached the Sweet Sixteen. If the referees didn’t blow the block/charge call late against Iowa State, it is likely that Ohio State would be done for the season.
With play shifting to the Staples Center on Thursday, expect the upsets to continue and Arizona to knock off Ohio State on its way to the Final Four.
Here are five reasons why the Wildcats will win the West and reach Atlanta.
*** *** ***
1. THE BUCKEYE BRICKLAYER
He covered his ass with the game-winner, but Aaron Craft struggled mightily down the stretch against Iowa State as the Buckeyes blew a 13-point lead. Craft missed three free throws in the last five minutes of the game, including the front end of a pair of one-and-ones. With the hitch in his shot, it is no secret why Craft can’t shoot. His decision to take the last shot was also misguided. Craft lucked out that Iowa State’s Georges Niang gave him too much room when his only option was to shoot. Ohio State only has one standout scorer in Deshaun Thomas (19.7 a game) and Arizona will be able to focus its defense on stopping him. Although Craft is an excellent, maybe the best, on-ball defender in the country, his inability to score will ultimately come back to bite the Buckeyes in the you-know-where.
2. OTHER HALF OF THE REGION
Although Wichita State and La Salle are legitimate teams, they aren’t on par with the competition Arizona faced during the Pac-12 regular season. Neither team faced opponents with the kind of elite athleticism that Arizona has. Plain and simple, Arizona is much more talented than both of its potential Elite Eight foes. The law of averages says that both teams will come back to earth from their electric starts to the tournament, particularly Wichita State. The Shockers shot a lights out 14-for-28 from beyond the arc in their upset of Gonzaga, which they aren’t likely to repeat when the spotlight starts to shine brighter in Hollywood.
The Wildcats’ starting lineup follows the NBA trend of playing a small forward at power forward to exploit mismatches. At 6-7, senior Solomon Hill can hold his own defensively and use his versatility to give defenses nightmares. Against Harvard, Hill posted up against smaller defenders and flashed a fall-away baseline jump shot that is virtually unguardable. He isn’t just a bruiser, however, as he also shot 38.9 percent from three-point land during the season. Playing Hill alongside three guards in Mark Lyons, Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom gives them some of the best floor spacing in the country. The trio of Lyons (15.4 points per game), Hill (13.3) and Johnson (11.6) gives Arizona a balanced offensive attack. The reason they can play such a small lineup is their big man Kaleb Tarczewski.
4. “YOU CAN’T TEACH SIZE”
Tarczewski is a presence on both ends of the floor, and is the literal pillar of Arizona’s defense. He is a 7-0, 255-pound force down low and, although he doesn’t block many shots, his presence changes how opponents attack the hoop. Unlike most college big men, Tarczewski is already built like a house and can handle the paint by himself. Because of his dominant size, Tarczewski has mismatches down low. Against the remaining teams in the West, he will continue to have his way in the paint.
5. SENIOR LEADERSHIP
In the era of one-and-done players, Lyons and Hill are rarities in that they have been this deep in the tournament before. Lyons had success with Xavier and made it to a pair of Sweet 16s and Hill was a starter on the Derrick Williams-led Arizona team that reached the Elite Eight in 2011. With last-year’s Kentucky team as the exception to the rule, upperclassmen win championships. The argument could be made that Ohio State’s Craft and Thomas have the same kind of experience, but theirs was more dependent upon Jared Sullinger than anything else. The experience that Lyons and Hill have accumulated over their past tournament runs will be vital this coming weekend in Los Angeles.
Which team will come out of the West to make the Final Four?
Follow Paul on Twitter at @ppalladino21.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.