NCAA West Region 2
by Adam Reich
A potential second round match-up between Arizona and Gonzaga
in this bracket have fans anxiously awaiting the weekend.
3-seed Arizona vs. 14-seed UC Santa Barbara
The Wildcats head into the tournament after defeating USC for the Pac-10
title. Arizona is versatile at every position, and thrives in up-tempo games.
Junior point guard Jason Gardner creates havoc with his ability to push the
ball up the court. Forward Luke Walton ranked among the conference’s top 10
in points, rebounds and assists. Although a very deep team, Arizona does
lack size on the interior, and could struggle against a physical opponent.
Santa Barbara knocked off Big West favorite Utah State to earn their berth
in the field of 65. They run a balanced halfcourt attack led by forward Mark
Hull (15 ppg) and guard Branduinn Fullove (14 ppg). The Gauchos shoot 39 percent
from 3-point land, and play solid defense on the other end. Not afraid to
play up-tempo, the Gauchos could be in trouble if they try and run with
Arizona is just too deep and talented for Santa Barbara. If Arizona plays
the game at their pace this one could get real ugly real fast.
Prediction: Arizona 85, UC Santa Barbara 58.
6-seed Gonzaga vs. 11-seed Wyoming
Champions of the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga may once again have
something to prove after being dealt a 6-seed in this year’s tournament.
The Zags can beat you inside and out. Senior guard Dan Dickau, the
conference player of the year, hits for 21 points per game and converts on
45 percent of his trifectas. The Zags also have a talented frontcourt duo in Zach
Gourde and Cory Violette, as they combine for 26 points and 15 boards per
game. Not only does Gonzaga shoot the ball well, 48 percent as a team, they also
hold opponents to 38 percent shooting.
Wyoming went 11-3 in the Mountain West conference en route to winning the
regular season title. The Cowboys have terrific balance on offense, with
four players averaging double figures, and six players who tally eight or
more per contest. Wyoming plays best in transition, where they can take
advantage of their superior quickness. Senior Josh Davis and junior Uche
Nsonwu-Amadi can score inside, but the Cowboys are at their best when either
junior swing man Marc Bailey or freshman point guard Jason Straight has
the ball in the open court.
Both Gonzaga and Wyoming will welcome an up-tempo game, as each team has
depth and quickness up front. As it usually does in the tournament, guard
play will determine the outcome of the game. Here, the Zags have the decided
edge with Dickau, the senior leader, while freshman Jason Straight handles
the rock for the Cowboys.
Prediction: Gonzaga 81, Wyoming 74
2-seed Oklahoma vs. 15-seed Illinois-Chicago
One of the hottest teams in college basketball heading into the tournament,
the Sooners ended the regular season winning 9 of 10, and won the Big 12I
conference tournament by defeating No. 1 Kansas in the final. The Sooners
hit the boards hard and play tenacious defense. On the offensive end,
Oklahoma can score both the inside and outside. Forward Aaron McGhee
gets it done on the offensive glass, while the trio of Hollis Price, Ebi
Ere and Jason Dedrick can all stroke the 3 and get to the hoop.
The Horizon conference champions, Illinois-Chicago is a very athletic team
that can create match-up problems for slower, bigger opponents. The Flames
spread the court and open up driving lanes for point guard Martell Baily
and swing man Cedrick Banks. On the wings, the Flames have two long-range
snipers. Jordan Kardos shoots 47 percent from beyond the arc, and Jonathan
Schneiderman hits 45 percent of his long distance attempts.
In this match-up, Oklahoma will have too much strength on the inside.
The Sooner guards are also quick enough to neutralize the Flames’ drive
and kick offense.
Prediction: Oklahoma 80, Illinois-Chicago 59.
7-seed Xavier vs. 10-seed Hawaii
Winners of the Atlantic 10 tournament and regular season crown, Xavier beats
opponents with a mix of potent offense and physical defense. The Musketeers
will go only as far as powerful center David West (19 ppg and 9 rpg) can take
them. On the wing, Romain Sato can fill it up from three point land, while
point guard Lionel Chalmers will look to penetrate the defense. Xavier has
had trouble taking care of the ball, and may have problems with Hawaii’s
Hawaii took the Western Athletic Conference title because of one reason:
defense. The Rainbow Warriors ranked 24th nationally and first in the WAC in
defense, giving up just 63 points per game. Hawaii gets the majority of their
offense from a very talented backcourt. Guards Pedrag Savovic (20 ppg), Carl
English (16 ppg) and Mike McIntyre (10 ppg) can all shoot the 3, as well as
create off the dribble. Hawaii lacks size inside, but creates match-up problems
with their three guard line-up.
Hawaii’s defensive pressure will force turnovers, while Xavier’s superior
size will give them a significant rebounding edge. If Hawaii can create
an up-tempo game, Xavier won’t be able to keep up.
Prediction: Hawaii 73, Xavier 67