|Buzz Williams is the only coach in the West who hasn't reached a Final Four -- or won a national title. (US Presswire)|
The West was the region we thought could/should have the most havoc. In a way, it did. Norfolk State won us over last Friday ... until Lehigh one-upped it later that night. We get to Phoenix with a one, a three, a four and a seven. The seven: familiar Florida, which made the Elite Eight last season.
Overall, the region remains very enticing. Marquette-Florida could easily be the most entertaining off all the regional semifinals, and no coaching matchup produces more Sweet 16s (20) or Final Fours (11) than Tom Izzo vs. Rick Pitino.
Here's your primer on the four teams and three games coming to you from the middle of Arizona on Thursday and Saturday.
Three storylines dominating Phoenix
1. Is Tom Izzo headed toward his seventh Final Four appearance?
2. Will Buzz Williams, the only coach without a Final Four, beat out his terrific contemporaries?
3. Will Louisville, the surprise winner of this year's Big East tournament, turn into 2011 UConn, which made the Final Four (and of course won a title) after winning the 2010 Big East tournament?
How They Get to New Orleans
No. 1 Michigan State: Draymond Green plays on a level that's worthy of being the Player of the Year. Anthony Davis is going to take most of those in the next two weeks, and if he doesn't, Thomas Robinson is sure to pick up the rest. But Green has been great -- so great -- all season long, and his play was again an absolute delight to watch when he 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in MSU's 65-61 win over Saint Louis.
The Spartans are more than just Green, but he's really the most vital. If he isn't playing well, the team will be done. Simple as that. However, Green alone can't carry the Spartans to NOLA. Michigan State isn't great at turning teams over; that's probably going to have to change in the next one or two games, specifically Louisville. MSU is one ofthe best field-goal defensive teams in the country (43.2 eFG%), which is why they'll, at worst, be in every game with four minutes to go (unless it's up 15).
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Marquette gets to New Orleans if: Jae Crowder and DJO stay out of foul trouble; the team actually gets some defensive rebounds (35.7 D rebound rate is in bottom 25 percent nationally); continues to get to the line (good foul-shooting team); and Buzz Williams' wardrobe doesn't clash with checkers on stripes. The last one is the toughest challenge.
No. 4 Louisville: Peyton Siva must channel Kemba Walker. Louisville a good team, not a great one. It's a fun group -- very loose. In that way, it reminds you of last year's Huskies, but let's stop the comparisons there. The only way the Cardinals are navigating this field is if Siva doesn't get turnover-happy, Gorgui Dieng not only stays out of foul trouble, but continues to get better and better down low (what an improvement he's been), and Kyle Kuric remains a threat from deep.
The Cardinals seem like the longest shot to survive here. They've won six straight, but does the offense stick around long enough to keep them going? Louisville's the second-best defensive team in the country, allowing .85 points per possession. D won't be the issue. Size and scoring will.
No. 7 Florida: There are a lot of ways we can go here with Florida. Patric Young has to play like a lottery pick. So does Bradley Beal. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker have to shoot the eyes out of the ball. This is going to be some team to watch. Both of those guards can and will shoot without abandon, Beal has flashes of brilliance, and Young turns into Voltron about once every two weeks, it seems.
Florida is very different from, say, Louisville. Scoring isn't a problem -- mainly because it's shooting a healthy 38.3 percent from deep. The droughts can come, though. This is a team that's lost to Tennessee twice and fell at Rutgers. The Gators are so talented that I feel like they can overcome two blown fuses, but nothing more than that. You can't have the backcourt shoot 40 percent from the field and Young only go for 11 points and seven boards. Have your talent play up to its skill level, and you'll take a third trip in six years to the Final Four, Florida.
Phoenix's five best players
1. Draymond Green: I think I've said all I need to on Day-Day. He's just a blast to watch play. So dynamic; the best big man in Michigan State threads since Magic. If you missed it, I recently wrote a post comparing him to Davis and Robinson.
2. Jae Crowder: Crowder is beast. Scores 1.3 points per possession, can guard all five positions almost anywhere on the floor. He wasn't the team's best player at the start of the year, but he is that now. Insanely valuable and has turned into a really good NBA prospect.
3. Peyton Siva: Slippery point guard who's got a dazzling ability. At his best, he'll be the most entertaining and deadly guard in this region. At his worst? Passes that make you grab your hair. Also: his dad is almost as entertaining.
4. Bradley Beal: Was tough to pick out a player from Florida, because they're all good but have deficiencies. Beal's: We're just waiting for him to elevate to the next level, sort of like with UNC's Harrison Barnes. I'm putting him here due to his ceiling. When he's at his best, Florida can beat almost anybody. Will be a very good shooting guard at the next level. Give us some aggression, Bradley!
5. Darius Johnson-Odom: Tough as Montana stone. DJO isn't afraid of anyone on Earth. He gets more touches than anyone on Marquette, and the team's identity is formed by how he plays the game. He scores -- not shoots -- well and gets to the foul line a lot. Opponents dread having to play against him because he'll punish you every minute.
The Golden Eagles will get Buzz Williams to his first Final Four because they have the most consistent team, the most reliable options on offense and defense, and wouldn't it be too appropriate to see Buzz's baptism come by way of defeating some other current legends in the game? Marquette's program is a top-20 one nationally, and it's been nine years since it made a Final Four. The drought ends now.