Sweet 16 Regional Reset: Ohio State likely the team to beat in West
The main storyline in Los Angeles will be how the region's bracket blew up, with the 1-, 3-, 4- and 5-seeds all having lost, and the seed disparity in the two semifinals. In one corner, there's a really sexy blueblood matchup between Ohio State and Arizona. In the other, scrappy-but-talented underdogs Wichita State (the 9-seed) and La Salle (the 13, via the play-in round) square off. The winner of the former will be expected to handle the winner of the latter, but nothing has gone to form so far in this region.
To add to the intrigue, there are some nice coaching sidebars, as well. Arizona coach Sean Miller was an assistant under Thad Matta when Matta was in charge at Xavier, and then took over the program when Matta left for Ohio State. Gregg Marshall's name may very well come up in some of the high profile job searches as pieces start to move around. Dr. John Giannini, one of two Division I head coaches with a doctorate, has led the Explorers to their first NCAA wins in 23 seasons.
La Salle. The only team left from the Atlantic 10, and the lowest seed remaining in the region, although the Explorers' quickness could cause a lot of trouble for the Shockers in their matchup. Winners of three games in five days to get to this point, they now get a bit of rest to prepare before they attempt to match current Atlantic-10 brethren VCU in making the Final Four after starting in the First Four. The Rams turned the five-wins trick in 2011 as an 11-seed. They also played an upstart in the Sweet 16, as 10-seed Florida State was their opponent.
Can Arizona's multiple ballhandlers defuse the impact of Aaron Craft? All season long, the Wildcats have had some struggles with turnovers and with cleanly executing halfcourt offense, in part because their bigs are freshmen and in part because they don't have a pure point guard running things. In this matchup, though, the Wildcats can have whichever of Mark Lyons or Nick Johnson is not being guarded by Craft bring the ball up and take their chances against a secondary Buckeyes defender. If Craft is forced to defend more off the ball, the Wildcats should have a better time running their stuff.
Deshaun Thomas. The best pure scorer in the region, he could be involved in a couple of games that really suit his liking in terms of tempo (if La Salle advances). He's really the only guy in the regional you could see dropping 30 on someone, although several of the La Salle slashers may argue that. He was an efficient 16-for-26 from the floor for 46 points in the Dayton subregional against Iona and Iowa State and has scored in double figures in every game this season. If the Buckeyes need him to go big, he's certainly willing and able to shoulder a heavier shot load. Thomas didn't score more than 19 points during the eight-game winning streak coming into the NCAAs, but he had 22 and 24 over the weekend.
Ohio State vs. Arizona. There's the coaching relationship, as each guy will know the other fairly well, but there's more intrigue in some of the lanky, athletic guys on each team. The two highest-seeded teams left also know they would be reasonable favorites in the regional final against either opponent, so the pressure of opportunity is there.
None, really. La Salle and Wichita State are freerolling at this point, even though both have to believe they have very legitimate shots at Atlanta. Arizona has several freshmen who should constitute the core of another very good Wildcats team next season. This was supposed to be a bridge year of sorts, and they're peaking at the right time. By process of elimination, that leaves the Buckeyes, the 2-seed and presumed favorite, but even they have a ton of their roster expected to come back next season and some younger players who are just starting to find themselves.
30. That's the total of the seeds in this regional (2, 6, 9, 13), which is four short of the highest all-time total. A total of 34 happened twice, first in the 1986 East regional (1-seed Duke, 7-seed Navy, 12-seed DePaul and 14-seed Cleveland State) and then again in 2011 in the Southwest (1-seed Kansas, 10-seed Florida State, 11-seed VCU and 12-seed Richmond). (h/t @JohnWillmott)
Ohio State. I had the Buckeyes coming out of this region before the tournament started. They're the most polished and accomplished team left. They have an excellent coach and staff, probably the best pure scorer in the region, the best on-ball defender in Aaron Craft, X-factor guys like Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross, and are comfortable playing bigger or smaller and uptempo or slower. That's a good thing because the potential opponent in the regional final couldn't vary more between Wichita State and La Salle. The Buckeyes have to get past Arizona first, but the Wildcats were handled often in league play by the top of the Pac-12, and the Buckeyes are a level above that, in my opinion.
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