Tuesday, March 17, 2015

West Regional Preview

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is my favorite sports championship. When comparing it to baseball and football, in my view basketball is the best sport for a tournament format. The one-loss-and-go-home rule in college basketball's championships always seems to make a few players do things they probably didn't know they could do ... before they had to invent something to win and advance.  

While the highly-regarded teams usually win the last game of the NCAA's, along the way underdogs inevitably have their moments in the bright lights. Longtime VCU fans still talk about a game-winning shot by Rolando Lamb that beat Jim Calhoun's Northeastern team in the 1984 tournament. 

It's always fun to see a team that's won a lot of games in a supposedly weak conference prove to the fans who expect power conference members to have an advantage that some teams are just good at winning, no matter who they face. Only one squad will finish the whole shebang without a loss. 

The top two seeds of the West Regional, Wisconsin and Arizona, seem quite capable of going all the way, if you think anybody can beat Kentucky. The third seed, Baylor, is certainly good enough to reach the Sweet 16. The fourth seed, North Carolina, has the talent to play with anybody, but there's a softness about the Tar Heels collective team personality this season that I suspect will betray them.

Below I've listed the four teams I think are most likely to win the regional to appear in the Final Four; they are listed in my perception of the order of their likelihood. All four should win their first games. So, with my prejudice for VCU showing, I think the Fearsome Four schools in the West Regional are: 
  • #1 Wisconsin (31-3). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 4. Conference: Big 10. Best wins: Oklahoma and Michigan St. at neutral sites. Worst losses: Duke at home and Rutgers on the road.
  • #2 Arizona (31-3). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 5. Conference: Pac-12. Best wins: Gonzaga at home and Utah away. Worst losses: Oregon St. and UNLV both away.
  • #3 Baylor (24-9). Last five games: 3-2. RPI: 10. Conference: Big 12. Iowa St. and W. Va., both on the road. Worst losses: Kansas St on the road and Oklahoma St. at home.
  • #7 VCU (26-9). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 15. Atlantic 10. Best wins: No. Iowa at home and Dayton at a neutral site. Worst losses: La Salle at home and St. Bonaventure away. 
The most likely Cinderellas to stage upsets in their first games are #12 Wofford (vs. #5 Arkansas) and #13 Harvard (vs. #4 UNC). Should I be right about VCU and wrong about UNC, it sure would be fun to see them play at the Elite Eight level, with the winner Final Four bound.

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