The West region still has a little bit of everything: defense (Wisconsin), a rematch of a single-digit game in November (Arizona-San Diego State), and a team that ended Doug McDermott’s college career (Baylor). It starts back up on Thursday, so here is a breakdown of the two matchups:
(6) Baylor (26-11) vs. (2) Wisconsin (28-7)
Thursday, March 27, TBD 7:47 PM, Anaheim, CA; TBS.
Background: Baylor made the Elite 8 in 2010 and 2012, so they hope to stick to the script in 2014. The Bears have won 12 of 14 including a pair of tourney game by an average of 22 points. Wisconsin began last week with a 40-point win over American, then fell behind to Oregon by double-digits in the 1st half before turning it on after halftime en route to an 8-point win. The Badgers are 0-3 in the Sweet 16 since 2008, but this year’s edition is much more effective on the offensive end. Neither team will enjoy a home-court advantage out in Anaheim after having very supportive crowds in their first two games in San Antonio (Baylor) and Milwaukee (Wisconsin), respectively.
Difference Maker: The Baylor backcourt of Kenny Chery and Brady Heslip, specifically their three-point shooting. It will be very interesting to see which tandem shows up: the one that scored 20 points on 3-14 field goals (including 0-7 3PM) with two assists and four turnovers against Nebraska, of the one that scored 31 points on 10-17 FG (including 9-12 3PM) with six assists and two turnovers against Creighton.
Baylor wins if: they continue to get balanced scoring (four players with double-digits against the Huskers and 5 players with double-digits against Bluejays).
Wisconsin wins if: they continue to make shots from behind the arc (10 against the Eagles and 11 against the Ducks).
Prediction: Wisconsin did not lose to a single non-conference opponent this year, and I think their streak will live on if they can defend the three point line.
(1) Arizona (32-4) vs. (4) San Diego State (31-4)
Thursday, March 27, 10:17 PM, Anaheim, CA; TBS.
Background: Xavier Thames showed why he was named Mountain West POY by scoring 23 points against New Mexico State and 30 points against North Dakota State. Pac-12 POY Nick Johnson is averaging 17.5 points in a pair of wins over Weber State and Gonzaga. Aztec coach Steve Fisher is trying to make his 1st Elite 8 in 20 years, while Wildcat coach Sean Miller is shooting for his second Elite 8 in the past four years. Arizona beat San Diego State by nine points back in November, but Brandon Ashley played in that game and Dwayne Polee did not, so this could be a whole new ballgame in the only Sweet 16 game featuring a pair of 30-win teams. Even though the Aztecs have the shorter commute to Anaheim, both teams will enjoy plenty of on-site support from their boisterous fan bases.
Difference Maker: San Diego State forward Josh Davis. He was my difference maker twice last week and responded with 14 rebounds against the Aggies and 13 rebounds against the Bison. He only had two points and four rebounds in his previous meeting against Arizona, but with Ashley out due to a broken foot you should expect Davis to be all over the boards at both ends of the court.
Arizona wins if: they continue to play elite defense (allowed 59 points on 30 FG% to the Wildcats and 61 points on 41 FG% to the Bulldogs).
San Diego State wins if: they continue to get some offense from their bench (23 points against New Mexico State and 20 points against North Dakota State).
Prediction: Arizona by single-digits in a relatively low-scoring affair, but if the Aztecs can hold onto the ball then it should go right down to the wire.