NCAA tourney West region preview: Wisconsin feeling good with 1-seed
The NCAA tournament field has been announced and now it's time to begin filling out brackets. To download a printable bracket, click here. Also read our previews for the East, Midwest and South regions.
State of the No. 1 seed
[daily_cut.college basketball]Based on the sight of Frank Kaminsky trying to catch confetti on his tongue like a snowflake after the Big Ten title game, and wearing a GoPro camera strapped to his chest for the championship ceremony and NCAA tournament selection show? We’d venture to say Wisconsin is feeling pretty good. The Badgers proved what they needed to prove to the committee to snatch a No. 1 seed away from Virginia, and now they enter the bracket as the favorite to come out of the region. It is the best group coach Bo Ryan has had, brilliant offensively (No. 1 nationally in efficiency at an absurd 124.7, per kenpom.com) and more-than-adequate defensively, ranking 30th in efficiency. Kaminsky (18.1 points, 8.1 rebounds per game) drives everything. But complementary parts like Nigel Hayes (25 points in the Big Ten title game) and Bronson Koenig (16.3 points per game in the league tournament) are trending upward. The state of point guard Traevon Jackson—out since Jan. 11 with a foot injury—is the huge question. To win a national title, the Badgers might need the veteran guard in at least a viable backup capacity.
Upset pick: BYU
There aren’t too many upset picks that leap out from the West region, and this one requires the Cougars surviving a First Four game in Dayton before hauling to Jacksonville for Round of 64 play. But BYU has a potent offense, ranking ninth in efficiency (116.7) heading into the tournament, an attack led by prolific 6’5” shot-maker Tyler Haws (21.9 points per game).
Xavier’s defense isn’t awful, but it isn’t asphyxiating, ranking 55th nationally in efficiency. Opponents shoot 48.9% from two-point range against the Musketeers. Xavier's roster, led by true freshman Trevon Bluiett, doesn't boast much experience in the Big Dance; sophomores Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds have only a First Four loss to N.C. State last year as tournament tests. BYU may be warmed up and catch Xavier a bit rusty and flat-footed.
Sleeper team: Baylor
There is nothing spectacular-looking about Baylor, but to disregard the Bears for their lack of flash is foolish. Maybe the names don't jump off the scoresheet, but this is a balanced, efficient team on both ends of the floor when it is at its best. An offensive nosedive doomed it in the Big 12 semifinals, but Baylor nevertheless remains the best three-point shooting team in the league (37.7% from beyond the arc) and has the nation's 13th most efficient attack, per kenpom.com. It has the No. 33 defense and takes care of the glass at an elite rate, ranking eighth nationally by snatching 55.7% of all available rebounds. It takes care of the little things and has four players averaging double figures. If the long-range shooting fails the Bears, they won't make noise. But if they shoot reasonably well, they are equipped to grind out wins against anyone in the region.
If you were looking for a breakthrough season for the 6’9” junior, you might have come away slightly disappointed. Averages of 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game aren't bad, and his 4.4 Win Shares ranked second only to Marcus Paige (5.0) on the Tar Heels, but he was expected to do more this season. Lately, he appears ready to meet those expectations. He posted at least 17 points in four of his last five games, including 22 against Louisville in the ACC tournament opener and 20 against Notre Dame in the tournament final loss. The only blip, in fact, was an efficient 5-of-7 shooting, 13-point, six-rebound night against Virginia, which will drag down the pace and an opponent’s overall numbers anyway. Johnson has to be a matchup problem in the post for North Carolina to have upset hopes against Wisconsin and Arizona; he has to make the talented frontcourt players on the other side work, and work hard.
There are some teams with sleeper potential in this region—North Carolina, Baylor and VCU come to mind—but this seems destined for a Wisconsin-Arizona rematch from last year’s Elite Eight. The Badgers needed overtime to win that one. Expect another tight game with the same result.