South region reset: Duke seems to have clearest path to Final Four
The first weekend of the NCAA tournament is in the books, and 16 teams are still dancing. At the end of this weekend, we'll have our Final Four. Here's a look at how the West region fared in the Rounds of 64 and 32—and what to expect in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. You can also read about the East, Midwest and West regions.
Strongest Final Four contender: Duke
The Blue Devils are the second most talented team in this tournament behind 36-0 you-know-who, and they cakewalked through the opening weekend without the ghosts or Lehigh or Mercer haunting them. They were never really challenged by Robert Morris or San Diego State, meaning that Duke looked a lot like the Duke of old, buzzing unconcerned through its first two games with an average margin of victory of 24 points per game.
Against a rugged and defensive-minded San Diego State team, the Blue Devils coasted on offense. Freshman center Jahlil Okafor poured in 26 points on 16 shots, showing the efficiency he’ll need to maintain for Duke to go on a national title run. Fellow freshman Justise Winslow also showed some of the dominant flashes he’d displayed in spurts this season, finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds. The Blue Devils have a nice balance of talented youth and veteran leadership, as senior guard Quinn Cook has emerged as the consummate floor general and the perfect complement to talented freshman Tyus Jones. Few programs had less drama on opening weekend than the Blue Devils, which bodes well for the regional.
Potential upset: UCLA
Look for No. 11 UCLA to give Gonzaga a handful in the regional semifinal. The Bruins entered the NCAA tournament as the team no one wanted in the field. But now that they’re in the Sweet 16, there’s a reasonable chance that they keep advancing. UCLA has never lacked talent this season, evidenced by the emergence of Tony Parker. A highly regarded recruit from Atlanta, Parker’s production had never alligned with his potential in his first three seasons. But the 6’9" 260-pound forward, feasted on UAB’s frontline for a career-high 28 points and 12 rebounds. Parker picked a good time to play his best game and UCLA will need him this weekend against No. 2 Gonzaga’s frontline that includes 7'1" Przemek Karnowski and 6'10" Domantas Sabonis.
Sleeper team: Utah
The Utes were a popular pick to get knocked out in their opening game of the NCAA tournament against Stephen F. Austin. Instead, Utah controlled the tempo and grinded out a 57-50 victory. (That’s a more impressive win considering it played against the Lumberjacks without steady center Dallin Bachynski). The Utes also pulled away from Georgetown for another solid win. They haven’t had any buzzer beaters or high wattage games, and that's fitting, considering they’ve won all season because of their defensive pressure and grueling style. If Utah is going to beat the Blue Devils it will need a huge effort from senior guard Delon Wright, who averages 14.7 points per game and is considered a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft.
Player to Watch: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
After shooting a scorching 62% against Iowa, it’s hard to single out a Gonzaga player. Wiltjer is the pick because his 24 points came on 10-for-12 shooting, the kind of performance that, if repeated over this weekend, could put the Bulldogs in their first Final Four.
It’s hard to go against Duke here, especially considering Gonzaga’s propensity to wilt in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils are healthy, fresh and talented enough to breeze through this weekend and potentially play foil to Kentucky in the national title game.