Throughout the season, the No. 1 seed Wisconsin Badgers and No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats were both considered potential top seeds. Well, great news, fellas. You. Are. Both. In. The. Same. West. Region. Yay!!!
Last season, Wisconsin and Arizona played one of the best games in the NCAA tournament in the Elite Eight. And now, the two teams are on a collision course for a rematch in Los Angeles. (But the selection committee doesn't care about matchups.)
That's not a guaranteed affair. The West Region features a variety of intriguing teams. The Baylor Bears (No. 3) finished strong in the Big 12. After losing Briante Weber to a horrific injury, the VCU Rams (No. 7) struggled but recovered in time to win the Atlantic 10 tournament title. The Rams open up the NCAA tournament with a matchup against future lottery pick D'Angelo Russell and the Ohio State Buckeyes (No. 10). The North Carolina Tar Heels are a 4-seed with a top seed's talent. The Oregon Ducks, who beat the Utah Utes in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, are an 8-seed. The Texas Southern Tigers, the 15-seed facing Arizona in the opening round, have wins over Michigan State and Kansas State.
The West might be the best.
Five players to watch
Frank Kaminsky -- If Kaminsky (18.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.6 BPG) fails to win the Wooden Award, the committee should just stop distributing it after this season. The Wisconsin star is the best player in America. America, folks. He's a 7-footer from Lisle, Illinois, who plays like he learned the game in some Lithuanian basketball academy. He's made 39 percent of his 3-pointers this season, too. Kaminsky does it all for Bo Ryan's program.
Joseph Young -- The talented guard is the hardest-working man in the Pac-12, and maybe the entire country. Per kenpom.com, he’s played 90.6 percent of his team's available minutes. He's averaging 20.2 PPG and he's a 92 percent free throw shooter. Young hit the game winner in his team’s win over Utah in the Pac-12 tournament semis. Oregon is in the NCAA tourney because Young carried the Ducks there.
Stanley Johnson -- Here's the issue with the one-and-done rule. Players such as Johnson, who won four state titles in California, are essentially forced to play a season of college basketball. Great for Arizona, bad for America. The 6-foot-7 specimen is one of the most NBA-ready players in the country. He's ranked fourth in offensive efficiency in the Pac-12 among high-usage players, per kenpom.com. He's averaging 14.1 PPG and 6.6 RPG. He's also averaging 1.6 SPG and connecting on 37 percent of his 3-pointers. He's the kind of young man who embraces the spotlight, too.
D'Angelo Russell -- Russell is one of the most talented players in the country. Ohio State has had its share of struggles this season, but Russell might be the 2015 version of Shabazz Napier. He's averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. He's a solid defender, too. Russell is the kind of guy who'll shred your bracket. He's a matchup nightmare as a big, strong, confident guard who draws double-teams and creates defensive voids around the court. Russell is a star. Think James Harden with better court vision.
Le'Bryan Nash -- This season, Nash stepped into a starring role a year after Marcus Smart played that part for Oklahoma State. He's averaging 17.1 PPG for the Cowboys. The team has been lukewarm in recent weeks, so Nash has to shine if his squad intends to pull off an upset against a hot Oregon team in the first round. The big man has the versatility that creates matchup problems for most opponents.
Dark horse: Shaka Smart's squad is not the same team that was led by Weber, who suffered a season-ending injury earlier this season. But the Rams' run to the Atlantic 10 championship was proof the program is still an elite squad that swarms teams and disrupts offenses (ninth in defensive turnover rate, per kenpom.com). Treveon Graham scored 20 points in that win over Dayton. The Rams are dangerous and capable of ruining dreams in the West. A lot of dreams.
Upset alert: Georgia State over Baylor in the round of 64. Baylor might be nervous about an opening-round matchup against the Panthers. Georgia State standout R.J. Hunter is a legit NBA prospect. Former Louisville guard Kevin Ware had 18 points in Georgia State's Sun Belt tournament championship game. Ryan Harrow, if healthy, can be dangerous, too. Ron Hunter's squad, ranked 58th in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive ratings, could be a handful for some of the teams in this region.
Team/coach/player with most to prove: Travis Ford. Oklahoma State's coach looked like the Big 12 coach of the year for a stretch, but the season did not end well for the Cowboys, who have lost six of their past seven games. An early loss could be problematic for Ford, who has been considered a coach on a warm seat in the past. A poor outing in the NCAA tournament wouldn't cool things down in Stillwater, Oklahoma, entering 2015-16.
Matchup we'd love to see: Wisconsin-Arizona in the Elite Eight. We don't have to discuss this, right? Arizona fans are still frustrated by a controversial foul call against Nick Johnson in last season's Elite Eight matchup between these two teams. Wisconsin would love to shut those folks up with another win over the Wildcats and a second consecutive trip to the Final Four. We need this rematch in our lives.