The road to the 2014 Final Four that comes from the West will go through Anaheim, as the 16 teams placed in the West Regional will play for the chance to get to SoCal next weekend. Here’s a concise look at all the teams in this quarter of the NCAA Tournament, their personnel and notable aspects of their regular season performance…
#1: Arizona—For most of the year it’s been presumed Arizona would end up in this seed position. They didn’t lose until February 1 and even with four losses overall, still won eight of the last ten. Arizonas was hurt by the loss of forward Brandon Ashley in January, but they’re still a potent team up front with freshman Aaron Gordon and big center Kaleb Tarczewski. The backcourt is well-balanced with 16-ppg scorer Nick Johnson and playmaker T.J. McConnell.
#2: Wisconsin—Another team that started faster than they finished, the Badgers rolled through a non-conference schedule that included Florida, St. Louis and Virginia, all league champions. Wisconsin finished 12-6 in the Big Ten and has a balanced attack led by Frank Kaminsky, who can score in the post and behind the arc. Sam Dekker is an effective driver and most of this team shoots the three-ball well.
#3: Creighton—Doug McDermott is looking like a lock for Player of the Year (announced in early April) with his 27 points/7 rebounds per-game average and shooting 45 percent from behind the arc. Ethan Wragge is an even better three-point shooter, while Grant Gibbs and Austin Chatman keep the ball moving on offense. Creighton finished on a ho-hum note, splitting their last six games and coughing up the Big East regular season race to Villanova and the tournament final to Providence.
#4: San Diego State—The Aztecs have aggressive forwards in Josh Davis and Winston Shepard, but the best player is guard Xavier Thames, who averages 17 ppg and does everything well. San Diego State won at Kansas, knocked off Creighton and played competitively in a loss to Arizona. Steve Fischer’s team outlasted New Mexico for the outright Mountain West regular season championship.
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#5: Oklahoma—Very quietly, the Sooners put together a second-place finish in the Big 12 thanks to five players averaging in double-digits. Buddy Hield is the best of the group and the 6’4” sophomore went for 17 a night and hits over 40 percent from trey range. Ryan Spangler, who gets nine rebounds a game, will be important to any NCAA Tournament success.
#6: Baylor—A strong non-conference run included wins over Colorado, Dayton and Kentucky. Then the Bears went 2-8 to start Big 12 play and looked finish. Another drastic swing followed, they won seven of eight to close the regular season and then reached the final of the Big 12 tournament. Corey Jefferson is a solid forward, averaging a 14/8 and Brady Heslip is lights out from downtown.
#7: Oregon—The Ducks swept a soft non-conference slate whose best win was BYU—ironic, given that’s who they’ll play on Thursday. Joseph Young leads up a productive backcourt that includes Jason Calliste and ball handler Jonathan Loyd. It’s a small trio, with heights going from 5’8” to 6’2”. Oregon got needed frontcourt help from UNLV transfer Mike Moser and his 14/8 average. The Ducks were up and down in conference, going 10-8 in the Pac-12.
#8: Gonzaga—For a 28-6 season it was pretty ho-hum for the Zags. They lost to Dayton, Memphis and Kansas State but beat everyone they should. Gonzaga had some embarrassing slip-ups in conference play, but still won the West Coast Conference, both regular season and tournament. They’re led by sharpshooter Kevin Pangos outside and 6’9” senior Sam Dower inside. Gonzaga gets good ballhandling from David Stockton, son of NBA legend and Zags alum John Stockton.
#9: Oklahoma State—This is a team that can explode, although whether the explosion is good or bad is the real question. Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash combine for 49 points/17 rebounds per night, with Smart being the most explosive of the group. He’s also been suspended for losing his cool with fans (albeit ones who were race-baiting him and deserved it). The Cowboys managed to lose seven in a row in Big 12 play, but somehow righted the ship and got to 21 wins and an NCAA bid.
#10: BYU—The Cougars stepped out and played good competition. They beat Stanford and Texas, while losing to Iowa State, Oregon and Wichita. Tyler Haws is a big-time scorer, averaging 23 ppg from the wing, while 6’6” sophomore Kyle Collingsworth averages 14 points/8 rebounds/5 assists. Matt Carlino is another good scorer in the backcourt.
#11: Nebraska–Terran Petteway put the Cornhuskers on his back and give the good people of Lincoln something to cheer about during basketball season Petteway averaged 18 ppg. There’s no strong inside presence, but Nebraska went 11-7 in Big Ten play and finished fourth in the toughest league in the country.
#12: North Dakota State—Taylor Braun is a 6’7” senior and averaging 19/6/4 is sort of a poor man’s Doug McDermott. Another top player from one of the Plains States, has to carry a heavy load and is of Euro-American descent (it was either me say it or Charles Barkley).
#13: New Mexico State—This team has some serious height, starting with 7’5” sophomore Sim Bhuller. Yes, that’s seven feet and five inches. And 6’10” Tshilidz Nephawe is pretty imposing itself. Together, they get 16 rebounds per game and you wonder why it’s not more.
#14: UL-Lafayette—Two great players in 6’3” junior Elfrid Payton and 6’9” sophomore Shawn Long, each of whom averages 19 ppg, make ULL a threat.
#15: American—They went 7-8 in non-conference play and the only NCAA team on that slate was Ohio State and the only other opponent even notable was St. Mary’s.
#16: Weber State—Joel Bolomy is a nice rebounder and Davion Berry an entertaining scorer, but no under-the-radar non-conference result that offers any hope for an upset.