West region reset: Are Arizona and Wisconsin still on a collision course?
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 South regions.
Strongest Final Four contender: Arizona
In the larger picture, there is still little separation between the second-seeded Wildcats and No. 1 seed Wisconsin. But if we’re taking into account the first weekend of tournament play, Arizona made a bigger statement with two double-digit wins, including a total shut down of Ohio State freshman sensation D’Angelo Russell (3-of-19 shooting against the Wildcats), than the Badgers did by getting pushed late into the second half before beating Oregon in the Round of 32. The Wildcats also got to the free throw line 51 times in two games and point guard T.J. McConnell is setting a terrific tone (19 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals against the Buckeyes). In no way is Wisconsin spiraling, but the Badgers shot a middling (for them) 43.1% against the Ducks and were tied with the No. 8 seed with five and a half minutes left. “We know we can play better,” guard Josh Gasser said after the victory over Oregon. “Really, we know we’re going to have to play better if we’re going to beat teams coming up.”
Potential upset: North Carolina over Wisconsin
To be clear: The likeliest scenario is another Elite Eight showdown between Wisconsin and Arizona, a rematch of their 2014 meeting in the same round. But the Tar Heels do have the size, athleticism and offensive firepower to top a Badgers team that allowed 46.2% shooting in Omaha last weekend, including 48.4% from three-point range.
Sleeper team: Xavier
In the regular season, the Musketeers beat their last four ranked opponents not named Villanova. They have held their last five foes to fewer than 70 points. In two NCAA tournament games, they’ve hit 17 three-pointers, and they shot an insane 81% in the second half against Georgia State. Quietly, Chris Mack’s crew might be on an uptick. And in the Sweet 16, Mack will be facing the man he once worked for at Xavier, Arizona coach Sean Miller. Both sides should be familiar with each other, which could lead to a defensive contest that goes down to the wire.
Player to watch: Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina.
The 6’9” sophomore suffered a knee injury in a Round of 32 win over Arkansas and is questionable for the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels need Meeks’ size (285 pounds) against the formidable frontlines of Wisconsin and potentially Arizona. If he’s doesn't play it will be a problem for UNC.
In our pre-tournament West region preview, the pick was Wisconsin to win a tight Elite Eight meeting with Arizona, just as the Badgers did a year ago. But playing in their own time zone, with their elite defense and better tournament momentum thus far, it will be the Wildcats that emerge and get Miller to his first Final Four.