Sweet Sixteen Preview: West
#9 Wichita St. vs. #13 La Salle
Let's just get this out of the way right now, this regional makes no sense, so don't expect logical outcomes. Wichita St. dispatched Big East member Pittsburgh and then made Gonzaga the first #1 seed casualty of this tournament. La Salle on the other hand had to advance through their First Four game just to get the opportunity to play Kansas St. Once they discarded the Wildcats, they had to face a red-hot Ole Miss team. After sending the Rebels back home, they are now set to square off against the Shockers.
The Shockers are led by Cleanthony Early, a 6-8 junior, Carl Hall, a 6-8 senior, and 6 foot guard Malcolm Armstead who all average double-figure scoring. They'll square off against La Salle's talented quartet of double -figure scorers Ramon Galloway,6-3 senior, Tyreek Duren, 6-0 junior, Tyrone Garland, 6-1 junior, and Jerrell Wright, a 6-8 sophomore.
The teams can both get hot from the outside. The Shockers shoot a pedestrian 33.7% from three (about average in college basketball) while La Salle puts a heavy emphasis on the outside shot on both ends, shooting 37.7% while severely limiting outside looks for opponents. Wichita St, coming off a game against Pitt in which they only managed 2-20 shooting from downtown, stunned Gonzaga by knocking down 14 of their 28 three point attempts.
Wichita St. will look to lock down La Salle on defense. They're 42nd in division one in points against per game and they are much more comfortable in a slow it down, grind it out affair. This represents a stark contrast from their round of 16 opponent, who wants to focus on putting points on the score board and hoping the opponent can't keep up with them. Wichita State represents a more balanced team. They have skilled, effective players both on the perimeter and inside where as La Salle relies heavily on their veteran guard play.
If Wichita St. can take advantage of their size inside with guys like Early (37 points this tournament)and Hall (21 points) they can get easy buckets in the paint against an undersized Explorers team. The Shockers' balance could be the difference in them advancing to the elite eight and booking a return flight to Kansas on Friday. They have the ability to go inside and score, or knockdown jumpers the way they did against Gonzaga.
Bottom Line: The key for La Salle will be Jerrell Wright (the only player over 6-5 to get meaningful minutes in each game of the tournament for the Explorers) staying out of trouble. Without Wright, it would be virtually impossible to stop the Shockers inside. This game will come down to what team can force their opponent to play their style of game and play at their tempo. La Salle will look to make it into a run and shoot, guard-oriented game while Wichita St. will look to make it a grind. Prediction La Salle 68 Wichita State 61.
#2 Ohio State vs. #6 Arizona
While the other west regional game pits a pair of mid-majors against each other, this one is a pair of major conference schools. Ohio State represents the Big Ten, who has been the consensus top conference all year long. Arizona represents the suddenly powerful Pac-10.
The Buckeyes' biggest problem is finding a consistent second scorer to help Deshaun Thomas. Aaron Craft stepped up and rescued them (with the help of an extremely questionable call) in the contest with Iowa State. Ohio State is cognizant of the fact that they are extremely limited in offensive options, and that's why he attempted the fourth most shots in division one basketball this season (only Lamont Jones of Iona attempted more among tournament teams). Ohio St. knows that if they're going to score enough points in their methodical way of playing, they have to maximize his attempts.
Defensively the Buckeyes rely on Aaron Craft to disrupt the others teams offense and create turnovers and steal opportunities. He is considered the elite defensive player in the Big Ten along with Victor Oladipo. His defensive abilities could cause problems for Arizona's lead guard, Mark Lyons. If he can disrupt what Arizona wants to do it could have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
Arizona is a bit more balanced on offense. They have Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Nick Johnson who can all put the ball in the basket. If they can get added production from Kaleb Tarczewski and Kevin Parrom they will be extremely hard to beat. Lyons has been on a role for them, leading the team and averaging 25 points per game in the tournament. Arizona should also have an advantage on the boards, as they've outrebounded Belmont and Harvard by a margin of 81-46. That rebounding advantage should be evident against a team that got outrebounded by the Cyclones by 15.
Bottom Line: This game could very well be decided by what big scorer has a big day and how much help the role players provide. Deshaun Thomas and Mark Lyons can absolutely fill it up and the defenses will be geared toward slowing them down. If Ohio State's big men can hang with the Wildcats' frontcourt in regards to rebounding they'll be in good shape, but that's an awful lot to ask for.
Final Four Prediction
Arizona blows by a La Salle team that isn't equipped to handle the big bodies Arizona can throw at them. Mark Lyons is a handful for them and despite the Explorers having great guard play, Lyons is the best guard on the floor. Arizona is just too skilled and has too many physical advantages over the Explorers to be denied a trip to Atlanta.