Arizona, Defensive Beasts: The Arizona Wildcats earned their No. 1 seed on defense, leading the nation in effective field goal percentage. The Wildcats have a big front line of 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski to go with Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. They have aggressive defenders at guard with Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell, and they have made life difficult for all opponents. Teams have a hard time making shots, but also cannot create second chance opportunities against Arizona (6th in defensive rebounding rate).
If they have one potential area of concern, it is the depth. After the injury to Brandon Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson stepped in, but the three front line guys are the only ones really in the rotation. When they need a break, Arizona goes a little (emphasis on “a little”) smaller by moving Nick Johnson over while Gabe York is on at a guard position, or grabbing a few minutes with 6’5″ Elliott Pitts at small forward. Arizona is basically a 6 man rotation with Pitts adding a handful of minutes. The television timeouts should keep them fresh, the concern will be Gordon or Tarczewski getting in early foul trouble.
Best First Round Matchup in the Second Round: Oklahoma vs. North Dakota State. Yeah, it’s a 5 vs. 12. How many of those matchups, though, do you have the small school seed have a front line that more than matches up with the big school high seed? I love Ryan Spangler of Oklahoma, hard worker, battler. He’s going to have his hands full with the Bison trio of Conference Player of the Year Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, and TrayVonn Wright. Spangler needs to be on the court and cannot get into foul trouble.
Oklahoma can shoot, and they have guards that can get out in transition. Meanwhile, North Dakota State is really good at a couple of things: not turning the ball over, getting good shots, and limiting second chance points. Oh, and free throw shooting. I expect this to be a battle.
Future NBA Talent: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, decided to come back for another year. It was uneven, and he will be in the draft this time around. Doug McDermott, Creighton, you might have heard of him? Aaron Gordon of Arizona would be a first round pick. Nick Johnson (Arizona), Terran Petteway (Nebraska), Xavier Thames (San Diego State) and Cory Jefferson are all guys that could get into the first round with good showings.
Seven Footers Galore: This is a region of big guys. Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin, Kaleb Tarczewski of Arizona, Isaiah Austin of Baylor, Przemek Karnowski of Gonzaga are all at 7 feet or taller. None is bigger, though, than Sim Bhullar, the 7’5″ 360 pound big guy from New Mexico State.
Double-Digit Dark Horses to Watch: North Dakota State at #12 was covered above. You can also add Nebraska at #11, who came on strong to finish fourth in the Big Ten and surprise everyone. If Baylor comes out and does not play smart, the Cornhuskers will capitalize.
Frivolous Fact: Five of the top 13 teams in Ken Pom’s offensive efficiency rating will be in this region, trying to get past Arizona’s daunting defense. Those teams are Creighton (1st), Wisconsin (5th), Baylor (7th), Oregon (12th), and Oklahoma (13th). North Dakota State also checks in at 20th.
Upset special: North Dakota State over Oklahoma in Spokane. I know most won’t consider an 8 over a 9, but many are penciling in Oklahoma State over Gonzaga and playing Arizona in the next round. I like Gonzaga.
Heart Says ____ in the Regional Final: Creighton over Arizona
Head Says ____ in the Regional Final: Arizona over Creighton
Regional Winner: Arizona