The year was 2011, and the location was Benet High School’s gym, north of Chicago in Lisle. Ranked 2nd in the state at the time, Benet was thrashing my Marian Catholic Spartans, led by then freshmen, and current Kentucky Wildcat, Tyler Ulis. Most surprising wasn’t the margin, but the 7 footer running the point for Benet, throwing dimes, draining threes, and bringing down the whole building with a monstrous put back dunk. Although extremely talented, nobody could predict his recent takeover of the Big Ten. And now, with the #1 seed in the West bracket, Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin are ready to take over the NCAA, and achieve immortality.
Big Ten teams carry with them the myth that they play slow, low scoring basketball, partially due to Big Ten football’s history of brute, hard-nosed football. Just like Ohio State did this last football season , the Badgers break that mold, to an extent. Although in the bottom 5 of the country in possessions per game, the Badgers average right around 72 points per game. Put those two stats together, and you the efficiency of their offense, 2nd in the nation behind Duke. Couple that efficiency with the 9th best scoring defense nationally, the top 3 scorers (Kaminsky, Decker, Hayes) shooting over 50% from the field, and a team free throw percentage of 76% (11th in the country), and Wisconsin’s attack defines “potent”. Their biggest fault, though, comes in their lack of depth. With only a 7 man rotation, 4 Badgers are averaging over 30 minutes per game, making fatigue a factor. Eventual matchups against Arizona or Kentucky (neither have a player with >30 minutes per game) could prove exhausting.
Believe it or not, there are more teams in this bracket than Wisconsin, including two big sleepers ready to fit into Cinderella’s slipper. Moving straight down the bracket, we break down the rest of the matchups from the West region (sorry Coastal Carolina , I’m not wasting my time with y’all):
Oregon vs. Oklahoma State
Not a strong matchup here. Oregon’s offense keeps them in ball games (75.6 ppg), but their unimpressive defense breeds a lack of multiple quality wins. Granted, they defeated a good Utah squad only a month ago, but still hold losses to Washington State and Washington. 1-5 against top 25 teams won’t have the Ducks quacking loudly into a potential matchup with Wisconsin.
Oklahoma State (cheap shot at Marcus Smart on the click-through, I know. But it’s good not to forget our past) probably shouldn’t be in the tournament. Someone had to say it. Since February 14th, they only have one win. Not all the losses are bad, including ISU, WVU (2x) and Oklahoma, but one against TCU and another against TTU show the writing on the wall. That being said, Le’Bryan Nash finishes at the rim. As well, the Cowboys rank top 26 nationally in both steals and blocks per game. Gaining points off turnovers will be Ok St.’s best chance at a win.
Bottom Line: Oregon by 8
Arkansas vs. Wofford
Another weak matchup. Arkansas made their run to the SEC tourney, eventually falling to Kentucky, their last chance for a quality win before the tourney. Similar to Oregon, the Razorbacks score in bunches, and play defense like a bag of bricks. SEC player of the year Bobby Portis has exceptional talent (17.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg), and should carry them.
Wofford just sounds bad. Harsh words, and a horrible basketball analysis, I know. Looking at their schedule, though, reiterates that. There aren’t any quality wins, and the terriers even played two teams that ESPN doesn’t have pages for (Florida National and Ohio Valley??). Sprinkle in losses to Chattanooga, The Citadel, and William and Mary, and you’ve got a mediocre team with slim chances to advance. Crazier things have happened though.
Bottom Line: Arkansas by 12
North Carolina vs. Harvard
Finally we come to a strong matchup. Or so people want to think. Last year, the Crimson defeated Cincinatti, and were then narrowly outed by Michigan State. This makes them a popular pick going into this year’s tourney. The 12th ranked defense keeps them in ball games, and NBA prospect Wesley Saunders gives them a legitimate scoring option that can size up with North Carolina. However, the only real measure of Harvard playing elite talent was a December 21st matchup against Virginia. In that matchup, they only scored one first half field goal, and lost by a final score of 76-27. Yikes.
North Carolina carries a swagger into games that only elite teams can, and deservedly so. A down season for the Tar Heels still means a 5 seed in the tourney, which most teams would take any year. NC’s offense scores at a high rate, with Marcus Paige playing very well, but the difference maker here will be rebounding. Along with free throw shooting and three point shooting, rebounding remains a deciding factor in matchups. Taking away second chance opportunities, and giving yourself second chance opportunities, gives the edge needed. The Tar Heels rank in the top 5 in rebounding, and outsize the Crimson.
Bottom Line: Tar Heels by 7
Xavier vs. Ole Miss
Let me start by saying I really wish BYU knew how to hold onto a 17 point lead in the second half. But, we’re stuck with Ole Miss now. Stephen Moody steps up when he’s needed, it’s undeniable. Early on against BYU, I thought he got a little shot happy. But as the game went on, it came clear that they need that, or else they wouldn’t have reached 50 points that game. Reminds me a lot of Jordair Jett from my SLU Billikens (on our way to the tourney next year), just with a 48 inch vertical.
First things first, shout out to Xavier big man Sean O’Mara, the man in the featured image for this article (in red, myself in white). Xavier’s a team I like, mainly because they’re not afraid to get physical. Big Matt Stainbrook (part-time Uber driver, full time manly-man) balls out for the Musketeers. Looking at the resume, there’s quality wins (Butler 2x, Georgetown). However, there are trip-ups against Long Beach State, UTEP, and Creighton. A very interesting matchup, to say the least, and my toughest to pick so far. Originally, I had BYU beating Xavier. And since Ole Miss beat BYU…
Bottom Line: Ole Miss by 1
Baylor vs. Georgia State
Oh mama, the best potential first round matchup in the West. Baylor lacks a bad loss, but has a plethora of impressive wins (ISU 2x, WVU 2x, Texas). Rico Gathers makes his own rules out there, and takes what he wants. He’s the size of Lebron, with about 50 extra pounds. Powerful, and something Georgia State doesn’t have an answer for.
This isn’t the NBA, where nearly every team has a player with a championship ring. Thus, that experience can’t be overlooked. Transfers Ryan Harrow (yes, that Ryan Harrow) and Kevin Ware (yes, that Kevin Ware) both packed their rings. Along with Sun Belt player of the year RJ Hunter, they have the most underrated backcourt in the NCAA. Oh yeah, and they shoot 48% (!!!!!!) from the field as a team. Another favorite Cinderella, the Panthers are giving their measurements for that elusive slipper. Ryan Harrow’s hamstring could cancel those plans though, the guard is listed as questionable.
Bottom Line: Georgia State by 6, in OT
VCU vs. Ohio State
Painfully overrated matchup. Every time I turned on ESPN, both remained in the top 25 despite their unimpressive resumes. Not to beat up on my Billikens too much, but it took a game-winning shot for VCU to beat them. From the eye-test, Shaka’s team this year doesn’t hold a candle to previous years. Simply not as skilled. Especially now, without Briante Weber, they don’t have what it takes.
Luckily for the Rams, they’re playing Ohio State, who’s still struggling to find their identity. One thing is for certain, though, and I think it’ll decide the outcome. D’Angelo Russell, flat out, is a top 10 player in the nation. Scoring, rebounding, and assisting, the man comes to play every night. He’s willing them to victory, by a wide margin.
Bottom Line: OSU by 15
Arizona vs. Texas Southern
Here’s a stat for you. 10 of Texas Southern’s 12 losses came in the 2014 portion of the season, and only 2 in the 2015 portion. Interesting, but unimportant. Not going to spend 100s of words with this matchup. Arizona’s extremely talented.
Bottom Line: Arizona by 30
That wraps up our analysis of the West’s round of 64. Check back later for the round of 32 analysis. For now, I leave you with Frank Kaminsky dancing to Taylor Swift (previewed earlier in gif form):
(skip to 1:51 for dancing)
Written by Paul Lamb