Previewing the West Regional of the NCAA tournament with the reasons why Arizona, North Carolina, Xavier and Wisconsin will and won't make the Final Four.
You may not have watched every game of the NCAA tournament, but don’t worry: We did. We’ll tell you how each team got to the Sweet 16 and why they will or won’t make the Final Four. You can also read about the East, Midwest and South regions.
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 North Carolina
Thursday, 7:47 p.m. ET on TBS
Why they’ll make the Final Four: Wisconsin is on top of the West Region for a reason. This is the best team of the four remaining, and one of the very best in the country. While the Badgers struggled with Oregon, they also showed their versatility in that game. Frank Kaminsky got shut down for a large portion of the game, but forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes carried Wisconsin to a win. It’s just that sort of multi-pronged attack that will help the Badgers take care of North Carolina. From there, they’ll be favored to beat either Arizona or Xavier. Assuming it’s the Wildcats, Wisconsin will end Arizona's season in the Elite Eight for the second straight year because of an offense—the most efficient in the country, according to kenpom.com—that’s too good to shut down. Meanwhile, the Badgers' best defense is their offense. By controlling the pace and protecting the ball, they’ll advance to Indianapolis.
Why they won’t make the Final Four: Oregon just gave all of these teams the blueprint for beating Wisconsin. The Ducks took Kaminsky out of the game by throwing a double team at him as soon as he put the ball on the floor. Despite scoring 16 points, Kaminsky was clearly uncomfortable, and failed to find a scoring rhythm in that win. The Badgers were able to muscle their way past Oregon, but they won’t be able to do the same against teams like North Carolina and Arizona. Even with players like Dekker, Hayes and point guard Bronson Koenig around Kaminsky, Wisconsin won’t go deeper into this tournament without big performances from its national player of the year candidate. You can bet Roy Williams will show his Tar Heels the tape of what Oregon did to Kaminsky.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Why they’ll make the Final Four: There’s no doubting that this team measures up to any other in the West Region on talent, and that’s what usually rises at this stage of the tournament. With Paige and forwards Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, there just aren’t many teams that can match the Tar Heels’ pure ability or athleticism. What they lack in long-range shooting, they more than make up for in offensive rebounds, ranking fifth in the country at cleaning up their own misses. Paige is healthy after dealing with plantar fasciitis for most of the season and capable of erupting at any time, as he did when he scored 20 points in the second half against Arkansas. North Carolina can also handle the Badgers on the glass, just as the Ducks did in a losing effort. The Tar Heels would be a comfortable favorite against Xavier, and matches up well with Arizona, given the way it can get so many extra possessions with offensive rebounds and match the Wildcats' size. That ultimately could put Carolina in the Final Four for the first time in six years.
Why they won’t make the Final Four: The Tar Heels have been maddeningly inconsistent against top competition this season. Even after beating Louisville and Virginia at the ACC tournament and Arkansas in the NCAAs, they’re 8-10 against quality teams this season. They’re a fine defensive team, but they don’t do anything really special on that end of the floor, especially when it comes to forcing turnovers or dominating the glass. That means they’re going to have to be flawless on offense to beat Wisconsin. On top of that, a Wisconsin team that limits possessions and doesn't turn the ball over could be a terrible matchup for the Tar Heels, especially if Meeks can't play because of a knee injury he suffered late in the game with the Razorbacks. Should North Carolina meet Arizona in the Elite Eight, the Heels' aforementioned inconsistency makes it hard to have much confidence that they could beat a second elite team in as many days.
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 6 Xavier
Thursday, approx. 10:07 p.m. ET on TBS
Why they’ll make the Final Four: Only two teams in the country are in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. One of them is Kentucky. The other is Arizona. This is a well-rounded team that can win in multiple ways, and that’s crucial for any team that makes a run to the Final Four. With wings Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Wildcats have two of the best players remaining in the tournament, as well as two potential first-round picks (Johnson will be a lottery pick) in June’s NBA draft. Arizona is very good inside the arc offensively, ranking 19th in the country in two-point percentage. Xavier, meanwhile, is 212th in two-point defense. The Wildcats should be able to control the pace in their Sweet 16 matchup with Xavier. No matter if they play Wisconsin or North Carolina, they’re going to be the best defensive team on the floor. They proved in their early-season win over Gonzaga that they can handle top-level offenses. Arizona has been one of the best teams in the country over the last two months. They could keep that rolling right into April.
Why they won’t make the Final Four: As good as this team is, it is still prone to scoring droughts. That would be bad news against either Wisconsin or North Carolina, and the Wildcats are going to have to go through one of those teams in make it to Indianapolis. If their offensive woes show up in that Elite Eight game, it won’t matter how well they play defensively. And while its 33 wins are impressive, Arizona's three losses—to non-tournament teams UNLV, Oregon State and Arizona State—remain concerning. They’ll be stepping up in weight class against both Xavier and the Wisconsin/North Carolina winner.
How they got here: Xavier rode a huge game from Matt Stainbrook in its 76-57 win over No. 11 seed Mississippi in the Round of 64, and then kept everyone’s favorite Cinderella, No. 14 seed Georgia State, at arm’s length, winning 75-67.
Why they’ll make the Final Four: The Musketeers are the last Big East team standing, with Villanova, Georgetown, Butler and Providence all going down in the Round of 32. That may have seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago, but they had a friendly path to the Sweet 16. Having said that, this team has the chops to win two more games and get to Indianapolis. They’ve been at their best late in the season, knocking off the Bulldogs and the Hoyas late in the regular season and then doing so again en route to the Big East tournament final. Stainbrook, a 6'10" senior center, is one of the best post scorers remaining in the tournament, and senior point guard Dee Davis gives the Musketeers a steady hand in the backcourt. Easy buckets for Stainbrook will allow the Musketeers to get Arizona out of its rhythm.
Why they won’t make the Final Four: The Musketeers may rank 21st in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, but they aren't a particularly good shooting team. Remy Abell is the only player in the rotation who makes better than 40% from behind the arc, but he’s also just fourth on the team in attempts. If an opponent can shut down Stainbrook, which a big team like Arizona can, it can make life very tough on Xavier on the offensive end. The Musketeers are just average in turnover rate and offensive rebounding rate, so they give away too many possessions and don’t get enough second chances. They’re going to have to be nearly perfect to win two games in Los Angeles, and there’s very little evidence, based on what they’ve done this season, to suggest they can do that against this level of competition.