March 26, 2014

West Regional remains heavy with favorites

Coach: Scott Drew, 11th year

No. 6 Baylor

Coach: Scott Drew, 11th year

Record: 26-11, 9-9 Big 12, sixth place

Sweet 16 appearances: 5

How they got here: def. Nebraska 74-60; def. Creighton 85-55

Top player: Senior F Cory Jefferson (13.6 pts., 8.2 rebs.)

Will reach Arlington if … It continues to feed the ball inside to big men Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin. Most teams can’t defend their size and length inside and it’s the reason they’ve pulled away in each game so far. The Bears also have to stay hot from 3-point range, particularly senior guard Brady Heslip. They are a streaky 3-point team, knocking down only 15.4 percent against Nebraska but then 61.1 percent against Creighton.

No. 2 Wisconsin

Coach: Bo Ryan, 13th year

Record: 28-7, 12-6 Big Ten, second place

Sweet 16 appearances: 7

How they got here: def. American 75-35; def. Oregon 85-77

Top player: Junior F Frank Kaminsky (13.6 pts., 6.3 rebs.)

Will reach Arlington if … The Badgers have a team capable of becoming the school’s third Final Four team. They are always well-coached and fundamentally sound under Bo Ryan. To reach the Final Four, they have to continue spreading the ball around. All five starters scored in double figures against Oregon, as they rallied from a 14-point deficit. The Badgers also have a formidable defense, holding American to 13 points in the second half. They have a nice inside-outside mix with posts Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker and guards Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson.

No. 1 Arizona

Coach: Sean Miller, 5th year

Record: 32-4, 15-3 Pac 12, first place

Sweet 16 appearances: 17

How they got here: def. Weber State 68-59; def. Gonzaga 84-61

Top player: Freshman F Aaron Gordon (12.1 pts., 7.8 rebs.)

Will reach Arlington if … The swarming defense, that has made this one of the top teams in the country, continues to thrive. The Wildcats have held opponents to 58.2 points a game this season, fifth-best in the country. It’s a versatile defense, too. They had 12 blocks against Weber State and then 15 steals against Gonzaga. Freshman Aaron Gordon is among the best players in the country, 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski is a force down low and T.J. McConnell is a defensive-minded guard. They won 21 consecutive games to start the season and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them finish the year on another winning streak.

No. 4 San Diego State

Coach: Steve Fisher, 15th year

Record: 31-4, 16-2 Mountain West, first place

Sweet 16 appearances: 3

How they got here: def. New Mexico State 73-69, OT; def. North Dakota State 63-44

Top player: Senior G Xavier Thames (17.4 pts., 3.3 assists. 1.7 steals)

Will reach Arlington if … They can pull off a couple more upsets. The Aztecs are another defensive-minded team, holding opponents to 56.6 points a game, second-best in the country. Senior forward Josh Davis is a rebounding machine and 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Skylar Spencer is a skilled shot blocker. The offense goes through Xavier Thames, who has scored a combined 53 points in the first two games. The Aztecs will go as far as Thames, their senior leader and Mountain West player of the year, can take them.

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