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Bracket Analysis: West Region

Nigel Hayes
A Big Ten regular season title and tournament championship was enough to give Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers a No. 1 seed, although the committee did match them up with perhaps the toughest of the four regions. A possible Sweet 16 meeting with North Carolina is a cause for concern while second-seeded Arizona and third-seeded Baylor are two dangerous teams. Even so, the Badgers appear destined for a strong showing. Senior center Frank Kaminsky is the real deal, a mobile center who so few can guard because of his mix of size, strength and shooting ability. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes offer more size (along with greatly improved Duje Dukan), while Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig are studs in the backcourt. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Wisconsin is that they have had so much success without the guidance of senior guard Traevon Jackson. Koenig has taken over the reigns of the offense and run it wonderfully, but the Badgers could become even more dangerous if Jackson takes over fully healthy. The senior is more of a natural point guard than Koenig and guided Wisconsin to within an inch of a National Championship appearance a year ago. The Badgers won't turn the ball over very much, limiting opponents opportunities in transition and also are one the biggest teams in college basketball, only Kentucky is bigger. Although that possible Sweet 16 meeting with the Tar Heels is scary, the Badgers have a ton of the pieces back from a team that was a Final Four squad a year ago. If they are healthy, they should win the West, and possibly the whole thing.

The midyear injury to Briante Weber, the stud senior guard who perfectly exemplified their "Havoc" defense, threatened to derail VCU's hopes. The Rams slipped to a five seed in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament and while not on the bubble, were certainly heading in the wrong direction. But, a strong showing in the conference tournament that culminated in a championship victory over Dayton, reassured many that the Rams and their infamous defense will become a major threat in March. Weber will not be back and his time at VCU is sadly over, but the Rams still have a load of weapons on both sides of the ball. Treveon Graham has taken over as the Rams' main source of offense. The talented wing is averaging 16.3 points per game and seven boards per game and is sure to give Ohio State, their second round meeting, quite the challenge. Mo-Allie Cox is a superb athlete who gives teams matchup problems to all different teams and guard Melvin Johnson is a playmaker. And, of course the scariest thing about VCU is their full-court, unrelenting "Havoc" defense which can cause panic for any type of offense. While Ohio State is a very tough matchup in the first game, VCU and Shaka Smart are sure to make some noise and possibly pull off a major upset in the third round against Arizona.

The Rams got an awfully tough draw with Ohio State, who dropped to a 10 seed after a less-than-stellar showing in the Big Ten Tournament. D'Angelo Russell has to be one of the most intriguing players in this tourney and the Buckeyes have to be one of the most interesting teams. Russell can take over games at times but can also run extremely hot or extremely cold and he won't be the primary ball handler against the Rams' trap. Russell can score in bunches and make some dazzling plays but can he lead a deep to a deep tourney run like Shabazz Napier a year ago? Russell will need more help from fellow backcourt partner Shannon Scott and he needs his big men to help him out some more, the Buckeyes have gotten very little production underneath. VCU is an extremely small team so using big men to get easy buckets will be extremely important. Ohio State will need someone to step up down low to beat VCU and also to move on. Arizona has some great size, including Kaleb Tarczewski and stretch four Brandon Ashley and the Buckeyes could struggle against them. Still, few teams have a freshman that can go for 30 every single game. If Russell goes off, Ohio State would wreak some serious havoc.

Although they fell apart in the ACC Championship Game, UNC still played strong enough in the tournament to earn a four seed and possibly do some damage. They have one of the nation's best guards in junior Marcus Paige and an amazing assortment of big men, and the smooth transition offense that can get easy buckets. But, what they do not have is shooting, they struggle to space the floor very well which doesn't help their bigs get space and make plays. Still, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson and more are a stocked front line and should give any team they face some serious issues. Jackson especially has stepped up in clutch time. Already gifted with great size and tremendous athleticism, Jackson has been able to hit some threes and help space the court for North Carolina, which has clearly benefitted their offense. While the Tar Heels are hot and have weapons that they didn't have as a six seed a year ago, they are also extremely young and could have moments where they just can't score or defend. Their second round game is daunting, a meeting with 13-seeded Harvard. Tommy Amaker's club has pulled off upsets the past two years and have a roster full of experience. Though, if North Carolina can get through the first game they will be an extremely dangerous team down the stretch and could make some serious noise out West, Wisconsin should definitely be nervous.

Arizona seems to be forgotten about in all of the talk about Kentucky and the ACC. The Wildcats dominated the Pac-12 all season and it culminated in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship, with the convincing victory over the blazing hot Oregon Ducks. Although he didn't win Pac-12 Player of the Year, T.J. McConnell still might have been the conference's best player. The former Duquesne transfer is now orchestrating the Arizona offense, and has plenty of weapons surrounding him. Big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley are enough to give anyone problems but the toughest thing about the 'Cats is their athleticism on the wings. Sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can rebound and play great defense, while true freshman Stanley Johnson can score in a variety of different ways. The Wildcats also have impressive depth and plenty of experience on their roster. Plus, they have a motivation factor. Despite being one of the strongest programs in country the past few years, the Wildcats still haven't made a Final Four under Sean Miller despite being so close last season. With the weapons they possess, and an easier road to the regional finals than Wisconsin (Baylor is an easier team than North Carolina most likely) the 'Cats are sure to make a deep run and have a legitimate shot at ending that Final Four drought.

West Picks
Second Round

1 Wisconsin over
16 Coastal Carolina

8 Oregon over
9 Oklahoma State

12 Wofford over
5 Arkansas

4 North Carolina over
13 Harvard

11 Ole Miss over
6 Xavier

3 Baylor over
14 Georgia State

7 VCU over
10 Ohio State

Third Round

1 Wisconsin over
8 Oregon

4 North Carolina over
12 Wofford

3 Baylor over
11 Ole Miss

2 Arizona over

Sweet 16

1 Wisconsin over
4 North Carolina

2 Arizona over
3 Baylor

1 Wisconsin over 2 Arizona

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