Just as we expected, the West Region was full of upsets, as the 1, 2, and 6 seeds were the only higher seeds to win their first round games. Between the slew of first round upsets, and the surprise outcomes that continued in the West during the second round, there’s a unique mix of teams still alive heading into the tournament’s second weekend. Let’s take a look at what transpired this past weekend out West and what’s ahead this weekend in Los Angeles.
Top-seeded Gonzaga is already out, becoming the first 1 seed to be eliminated in this year’s tournament. The Bulldogs survived a scare from 16 seed Southern in the first round, but they weren’t so lucky in the second round, as their weak schedule and mediocre defense left them unprepared to win NCAA Tournament games against tough teams. New Mexico, the 3 seed and a trendy sleeper pick out of the Mountain West Conference, was knocked out in the first round by 14 seed Harvard, as the Crimson shot 52% against the Lobos, whose guards were out-classed by the young Harvard backcourt.
The 4 and 5 seeds, Kansas State and Wisconsin respectively, were also knocked out in the first round by double-digit seeds. The Wildcats couldn’t crawl out of a 19-point hole they dug for themselves, while the Badgers were uncharacteristically spotty from beyond the arc and out-manned inside by a bigger and more physical Ole Miss team.
The 2 seed Ohio State is the highest seed remaining with Gonzaga being eliminated. After taking care of Iona, the Buckeyes needed a buzzer beater from Aaron Craft to avoid an upset against Iowa State in the second round, as Ohio State let a sizeable lead disappear down the stretch against the Cyclones. Despite being a trendy pick to make an early exit, the 6 seed Arizona Wildcats have made it to the second weekend for the second time in the last three years. Sean Miller’s team was impressive defensively against a quality Belmont team in the first round, but lucked out to a certain extent by playing Harvard in the second round. The 9 seed Wichita State will also be making the trip to Los Angeles.
After the Shockers handled perpetual disappointment Pittsburgh in round one, they knocked out top-seeded Gonzaga using their tough and physical defense, as well as timely outside shooting, making 14 of their 28 three-point attempts. Last and least in the West Region is 13 seed LaSalle. The Explorers reached the Sweet 16 the hard way by winning three games in six days, beating Boise State, Kansas State, and Ole Miss. LaSalle has showcased an impressive offensive prowess throughout those three games, and that has carried them into the tournament’s second weekend.
Who’s playing who:
The top two seeds remaining in the West will meet in one regional semi-final, as Ohio State takes on Arizona. Xavier transfer Mark Lyons is the offensive leader for the Wildcats, but the Buckeyes will look to slow him down with Craft, one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. If Ohio State can take Lyons out of the equation, Arizona will have to lean on Solomon Hill. On the other side, Ohio State has just one player that averages double figures, and that’s Deshaun Thomas, who averages over 19 points per game, but has scored more than 20 in each of the first two games of the tournament. If Thomas can continue to score at a high rate and Craft can slow down Lyon, the Buckeyes will be tough to beat, although the Wildcats are far more talented than the average 6 seed, and they’ve caught fire at the right time, much like they did in 2011 when they knocked off top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16.
In the other game, 9 seed Wichita State will face 13 seed LaSalle, with one of them earning a spot in the Elite Eight. This will be a clash of styles, much like both teams faced in their previous game; Wichita State is a big and physical team that will look to exploit its size advantage inside, while LaSalle plays a small lineup that is quick and skilled on the offensive end, but sacrifices a lot of size on defense. It’s the classic matchup of power vs. quickness, with the Shockers having the power and the Explorers having the quickness. Whichever team gets the better of that matchup will win the game and be one game away from the Final Four.