West Regional Preview: Ohio State leads region of surprises

The biggest story: Heading into the NCAA tournament, the West Regional looked ripe with potential upsets. But this? Having just one of the top five seeds still alive in the field? Having either a 13 seed or a nine seed in the Elite Eight? No one expected all these surprises. Top-seeded Gonzaga went down at the hands of Wichita State, while La Salle won three games in five days. More impressively, the most popular upset pick at the start of the tourney was No. 11 seed Belmont, which was trucked by Arizona in the Round of 64 and left without much of a sound.

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It’s been the most unpredictable of the regions thus far, and is probably the weakest group left in the field. The regional semifinals will feature a showdown on one side of the bracket with Ohio State and Arizona, but the other side has nine seed Wichita State and 13 seed La Salle battling. Do either of those teams have one more potential upset in the Elite Eight up its sleeves.

The best possible game: We’re getting the best game in the regional semifinals, when No. 2 seed Ohio State takes on No. 6 Arizona. The underdog Wildcats have been one of the more impressive teams throughout the first weekend, dominating upset-minded Belmont and Harvard. Meanwhile, Ohio State needed a last-second 3-pointer from Aaron Craft to advance past Iowa State. Now in the Sweet 16, whichever team wins will be the heavy favorite to advance to the Final Four. 

Sean Miller and Thad Matta are very familiar with each other, from their days together on the Xavier staff. The matchup between Craft and Mark Lyons could be key, while Arizona also needs to find a player who can match-up with Deshaun Thomas. Another thing to watch could be the crowd -- will Arizona have a big advantage due to location?

The three best players remaining

  • Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State): One of the best scorers in the country, Thomas is able to get points in a variety of ways. He totaled 46 points in the first two NCAA tournament games, and is averaging 19.7 points on the season.
  • Aaron Craft (Ohio State): Craft bounced back from a rough second-half stretch against Iowa State to hit the game-winning 3-pointer -- he averaged 11.0 points and 6.5 assists in the first two games. He’s also a lockdown defender.
  • Ramon Galloway (La Salle): I pegged Galloway as the unknown player who would break out in the NCAA tournament -- and he’s averaging 21.3 points through three games in the big dance. He’s been a catalyst for the Explorers.

Ranking the remaining four teams

  1. Ohio State
  2. Arizona
  3. Wichita State
  4. La Salle

Ohio State will get to Atlanta because … the Buckeyes have been playing some of the best basketball of anyone in the country lately. They have reeled off 10 wins in a row, including two victories over Michigan State and one over Indiana -- the latest win coming in the final seconds over Iowa State. Deshaun Thomas can carry them offensively, and Aaron Craft can make the big plays. Thad Matta and Ohio State should be headed back to the Final Four. 

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