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Scouting the NCAA tournament: The West Region
At first glance Welcome to the knuckle-sandwich region, which likely will test Gonzaga's ability to play in the half-court and bang underneath...
At first glance
Welcome to the knuckle-sandwich region, which likely will test Gonzaga's ability to play in the half-court and bang underneath.
The region includes the finalists in the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State and Wisconsin, plus Big East grinder Pitt and perennially rugged Missouri Valley entry Wichita State.
No. 3 seed is New Mexico, regular-season and tournament winner in the tough Mountain West this year, and the choice of a lot of folks to work its way to the Final Four. But one of the obstacles would be No. 6 seed Arizona, in what could be a sizzling third-round matchup in Salt Lake City with undertones of the teams' rivalry in the old Western Athletic Conference.
If Gonzaga gets to the Sweet 16, by seed favorite it would face the winner of Wisconsin-Kansas State. The Badgers have a pair of victories over Indiana this year, and feature bigs who can shoot the three.
By the numbers
2 Southern is runner-up nationally in field-goal percentage defense at 36.4.
3 Wisconsin's defensive ranking, adjusted for tempo, by hoops analyst Ken Pomeroy.
10 Gonzaga's national rank in rebound margin (7.4).
OHIO STATE: The No. 2-seeded Buckeyes just won the Big Ten tournament and have big-time NCAA experience, having reached the Final Four last year. Point guard Aaron Craft is considered the best on-ball defender in the country.
WISCONSIN: Badgers aren't terribly aesthetic, just effective. They commit fourth-fewest turnovers in the nation (9.6) and own two victories over Indiana.
IOWA STATE: Cyclones score on just about anybody (79.6 ppg) and lost two overtime games to Kansas, the second on controversial officiating down the stretch.
NEW MEXICO: It might be a reach to call the third-seeded Lobos a sleeper, but for a school with a lot of basketball passion, it's been forever (1974) since they've been to the Sweet 16. If they get there, a .388 field-goal defense will carry them.
ARIZONA: The Wildcats have had an uneven season, going from undefeated in January to a No. 6 seed. The Wildcats have been vulnerable to the three-point shot, allowing .360, and unsung Belmont is 12th nationally in made threes a game (8.5).
Nobody is getting as much pub these days as Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, a national player-of-the-year candidate whose face has recently been on the cover of USA Today, on major websites, and who is due to be on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated this week.
DeShaun Thomas, a 6-foot-7 Ohio State forward who averages 19.7 points a game (19th in the country) was a first-team All-Big Ten choice by coaches and media.
Wisconsin's Bo Ryan espouses something called the "swing" offense and has the Big Ten's No. 2 winning percentage in conference games at .706 (144-60).
Ask Indiana about Ryan; the Hoosiers have lost 12 straight in their series with the Badgers, including the past four times they came into the matchup as a ranked team.
Best players you might not have heard of
KENDALL WILLIAMS: New Mexico's 6-4 guard averages 13.5 points, including 46-point effort at Colorado State.
WILL CLYBURN: Iowa State's top scorer (15.0), 6-7 forward attended Utah before transferring after a coaching change.
MARSHALL HENDERSON: Ole Miss' 6-2 gunner never met a three he didn't like, firing 367 of them, scoring 20.1 ppg.
And the winner is ...
GONZAGA: There are multiple hurdles ahead, but the Zags appear to be the most multifaceted team in the West.