There have been some who have called the Midwest bracket in which undefeated Wichita State sits as the bracket of death because the top-seeded Wheat Shockers have to contend with Kentucky (8). Michigan (2), Louisville (4), St Louis (5) and Duke (3) on the road to the Final Four, but analysts have been mum regarding the relative ease with which head coach Sean Miller's University of Arizona Wildcats could reach the NCAA championship game on April 7. The Pac-12 regular season champions are sitting about as pretty as a cocoa buttered HBCU sorority sister at spring break shindig, but they have gone unnoticed by many prognosticators as a Final Four lock.
Nothing is for certain when it comes to March Madness, but Arizona’s path is arguably the easiest of all four top seeds. Sorry, Weber State. This will not be the first year a 16 seed beats the 1 seed. Some are looking at a potential second round matchup against the Marcus Smart-led Oklahoma State Cowboys (9) as a potential indicator of a pending upset. While I will concede that the Cowboys’ rough-and-tumble defensive prowess could spell doom for the Wildcats, I simply don’t see them being able to score enough points to defeat Arizona- a team that is more versatile on the offensive end than OSU. They can speed it up, they can slow it down, they can pound it inside to Aaron Gordon or they can stretch the floor with Nick Johnson and Gabe York.
Marcus Smart is capable of turning it up on the offensive end, but he’d need to be Jordan-esque for that to happen. Also, who’s to say Oklahoma State will get past the 8th-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs? They’re not exactly chopped liver. The length, athleticism and coaching (Steve Fisher) of the San Diego State Aztecs (4) could pose some significant problems for Arizona down the road but their ticket to Anaheim is almost assured if someone does them a favor and bumps the Aztecs off early. Sorry New Mexico State, it won’t be the 13th seeded Aggies. I’m looking at you North Dakota State. Yes, you’re a 12-seed but I feel like your green and yellow-clad Bisons can put up some points and are 3rd in the nation in total offense.
The 5th-seeded Oklahoma Sooners, on the other hand, aren’t particularly good at defense. That could spell bad mojo for Coach Lon Kruger and company. The guard play of Buddy Hield (16.8 ppg) and Cameron Clark (15.3 ppg) is key for a Sooners team that is adept at shooting the three-pointer. Their saving grace could be rebounding, something they do very well. The Creighton Bluejays (3) will face an athletic Louisiana Lafayette (14) in the second round. How all-everything forward Doug McDermott and company deals with that athleticism will be telling as the tournament progresses. However, if they don’t fall to the Ragin’ Cajuns, other lengthy, springy teams like Baylor and Oregon loom in the distance. Even Nebraska (11) would pose an interesting matchup for Creighton should they advance instead of Baylor. Versatile forward Petteway can be a matchup nightmare at small forward and both guard positions as well.
People are probably wondering why I didn’t mention the second-seeded Wisconsin Badgers. Well, that’s likely because I don’t think much of their chances to get to the Sweet 16. Hold on Big 10 apologists. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful. Yes, they can score with efficiency and had a killer strength of schedule, but losses to Michigan, Nebraska and a more recent loss to Michigan State in the Big 10 tournament are glaring to me. It seems when the bullies come out to play the Badgers go home and sit on the porch. They had better enjoy that almost certain victory of American University (15) as it might be their only victory.
The Oregon Ducks feature junior guard Joseph Young and scored over 80 points per game as a team during the regular season. Should the two teams meet I don’t see how the Badgers keep pace other than muddying things up and making the game as ugly as possible. It could happen that way, but I doubt it. Arizona will play San Diego State in the West Regional Semifinals while the Nebraska Cornhuskers could run up on Oregon in the other semifinal game. Arizona and Nebraska will make it to the Regional Finals with Arizona moving on.