2015 NCAA Tournament Predictions: West Region

March 17, 2015

If things go as planned, then the reward for making it out of the West Region will be a date with Kentucky in Indianapolis.

Things don’t often go as planned in the NCAA Tournament, but many fans are already analyzing which squad out of this region has the best shot to take down the Wildcats.

Here are my predictions for the West Region.

Second Round Games to Watch

#5 Arkansas vs. #12 Wofford (Thursday, approximately 9:50 PM ET)

Wofford has become something of a gold standard in the Southern Conference, punching its fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in six years. The Terriers may have their best shot at winning their first tournament game in 2015 as well. Arkansas is an athletic five seed, but questions about their consistency and mental toughness make this game one of the more interesting second round matchups across the entire bracket. The Razorbacks may not impress everyone with their discipline, but there are no questions being asked about athleticism or talent on this team. Bobby Portis is a man down low and is a likely candidate to end up on SportsCenter for a thundering dunk thrown down at some point during this game. Along with junior guard Michael Qualls, Arkansas should be able to put a lot of pressure on Wofford defensively.

The Terriers may be the more methodical and disciplined basketball team, but that isn’t to say that they are pining for talent. Senior guard Karl Cochran is a handful and is one of the most underrated players that plays outside of the Power 5 conferences. He could keep Wofford in this game by himself, but that isn’t how he plays. The Terriers share the ball well, take good shots and perhaps most importantly, don’t turn the ball over often. This is the kind of game where coaches everywhere are going to be rooting for a team that does the little things right, while another set of fans will be cheering for high flying athleticism. We’ll have it both here and either team could come away victorious.

#7 Virginia Commonwealth vs. #10 Ohio State (Thursday, 4:40 PM ET)

On January 31, VCU’s season took a turn for the worst. It’s point guard, best defensive player and vocal leader, senior Briante Weber, tore his ACL and was lost for the season. The Rams looked lost, losing six games between that time and March 5. But then the Atlantic 10 tournament arrived and the team found its stride again, capturing an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after reeling off victories over two fellow tourney teams in Brooklyn. Now Shaka Smart’s squad must take on an inconsistent Ohio State team with one of the best young players in the entire country. The Buckeyes are led by freshman D’Angelo Russell, although “led” may not be a strong enough word to describe what he is capable of doing. Russell has essentially put the team on his back at times this season, and might have to do so again if Ohio State wants to avoid being knocked out in the second round in consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Ohio State is at its best when it is hitting shots outside of the key, which statistically it would appear as though the team does that very well. The Buckeyes have the 11th best shooting percentage in the nation, yet have lost more than a handful of games this season thanks to not being able to find the bottom of the basket. Luckily for Thad Matta’s crew, the Rams don’t have a lot of height that can exploit Ohio State’s lack of support on defense from the big men. But the Havoc defense and general confidence gained from winning the A-10 tourney will be tough for the Buckeyes. Expect a hard fought, close battle that could come down to the final possession.

Team That Could Make a Run

North Carolina

It will be more of a surprise than anything else if the Tar Heels don’t at least make it to the Sweet 16, but where it really becomes interesting for North Carolina is during the potential second weekend. A battle with Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 would seem likely in that scenario, and this team is one of the few in the West Region that appears to have the ability to take down the favored Badgers. North Carolina rebounds as well as anyone in the country and will not be bullied by Frank Kaminsky or anyone else down low. The Tar Heels are also one of the few teams that have a player long enough and athletic enough to switch to Kaminsky when he is out on the perimeter in J.P. Tokoto.

Roy Williams has to be pleased with the way the first weekend could shape up for the Tar Heels, because based on talent and recent results North Carolina should have no problem continuing its tournament run into the second week. But this is also a team with some internal motivation. Only the four seniors on the team have experienced anything beyond the third round in the NCAA Tournament. From 2007-2012, North Carolina played in five Elite 8s, two Final Fours and won a national title. These Tar Heels do not want to continue the streak of relative mediocrity over the past few seasons. Luckily for them, they finally appear ready to break through and carry on the great tradition of North Carolina basketball in the Big Dance.

My Picks

Second Round

#1 Wisconsin over #16 Coastal Carolina

#8 Oregon over #9 Oklahoma State

#5 Arkansas over #12 Wofford

#4 North Carolina over #13 Harvard

#11 BYU/Mississippi over #6 Xavier (upset alert)

#3 Baylor over #14 Georgia State

#10 Ohio State over #7 Virginia Commonwealth

#2 Arizona over #15 Texas Southern

Third Round

#1 Wisconsin over #8 Oregon

#4 North Carolina over #5 Arkansas

#3 Baylor over #11 BYU

#2 Arizona over #10 Ohio State

Sweet 16

#1 Wisconsin over #4 North Carolina

#2 Arizona over #3 Baylor

Elite 8

#1 Wisconsin over #2 Arizona

– K. Becks

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