Monday, March 24, 2003
West Region breakdown
By Andy Katz
Vote: Best of the West?
WEST REGION: Anaheim, Calif. (Thursday-Saturday)
Sweet 16 Matchup:
Arizona vs. Notre Dame, 7:27 p.m. ET
Arizona Wildcats (27-3)
Round 1: Arizona 80, Vermont 51
Round 2: Arizona 96, Gonzaga 95 (2OT)
Why Arizona Can Lose: Gonzaga showed the nation that the Wildcats don't like contact and that a physical team could end up giving Arizona problems. Fortunately for Arizona, the West may be clear of such teams. Gonzaga was all over the offensive backboard against Arizona, but the Wildcats did get the critical rebounds late, especially one key tap back to keep a possession alive in double overtime. But there should be cause for concern down the road. Duke and Notre Dame don't have the size to muscle Arizona. Kansas could, but didn't when Arizona beat the Jayhawks earlier this season. So, what's the team that could pose the most physical threat to Arizona? Pittsburgh, if the Panthers get past the other 'Cats in the Midwest.
Why Arizona Will Win: Arizona's experience seems to win out when the game gets tight. Arizona, when forced to play an uncomfortable style, answered questions by gutting out a win over Gonzaga. And, back during the Pac-10 season, Arizona's wins at Arizona State, Stanford and Cal were three of the most impressive conference road wins in a row for any team in the country. The drive and determination for this team to get to the Final Four should will them through the West bracket.
Elite Chances: Very good. As long as the Wildcats remain consistent throughout this tournament. Notre Dame could cause problems with its 3-point shooting, but the Irish will likely struggle to defend Arizona's break.
Player To Watch: Channing Frye. He scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the win over Gonzaga. Frye's position in the post is critical to Arizona's success. Sure, Jason Gardner is the playmaker and will have the ball in his hands late. But the Wildcats can't win if Frye is a non-factor in the post.
X Factor: Ricky Anderson. Anderson put up a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Gonzaga. He's the one player teams seem to forget about, whether it's defending him on the perimeter or boxing him out inside. The attention usually shifts to Gardner, Luke Walton and Frye before it gets to Anderson.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-9)
Round 1: Notre Dame 70, Wisconsin-Milwaukee 69
Round 2: Notre Dame 68, Illinois 60
Why Notre Dame Can Lose: If they go cold from the perimeter then it's over for the Irish. Notre Dame made 13 3s in the win over Illinois. This is a team that has to shoot well from the perimeter to win games. They can't rely solely on the inside game. If they do, they have no chance to beat Arizona. Notre Dame can get out on the break and finish. But the Irish are vulnerable if they get caught in a tight halfcourt game and Chris Thomas can't get Danny Miller or Matt Carroll open for 3s. This team needs to work the drive-and-dish to be successful.
Why Notre Dame Will Win: It comes down to this: if the Irish make shots, they win. Notre Dame was one of the top shooting teams in the nation early in the season -- beating Marquette, Maryland and Texas in December. Late in the season, that accuracy wasn't there, but if the Irish shoot well and build a lead against Arizona, they've got a shot to win. In addition, they've got the deep 3-ball threat to come back against teams, even Arizona. Notre Dame comes into this game with zero pressure. All the heat is on the Wildcats, so if this game gets tight late, look for Notre Dame to play even looser.
Elite Chances: Not good. That doesn't mean the Irish can't pull off the upset. Arizona feels like it has new life after getting past Gonzaga in the second round. Notre Dame will have the crowd on its side if it makes the game competitive late. Don't be shocked by the win after the way the Irish have played in this tourney.
Player To Watch: Chris Thomas. Thomas scored 27 points in the first-round win and was 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. He followed that up with 17 against Illinois. He is still the playmaker for the Irish and will dictate whether this team wins or loses. Sometimes he overpenetrates, sometimes he gets frustration fouls but at the end of the game, he still plays with as much passion as any player.
X Factor:Torin Francis. Francis scored 23 points and grabbed 14 boards in the win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the first round. He grabbed 14 boards again in the win over Illinois. Francis is the Irish's inside game. If he can get busy on the backboard then the Irish have a shot.
Sweet 16 Matchup:
Kansas vs. Duke, 9:57 p.m.
Kansas Jayhawks (27-7)
Round 1: Kansas 64, Utah State 61
Round 2: Kansas 108, Arizona State 76
Why Kansas Can Lose: Kansas seems to lose focus at times. It shouldn't happen in the Sweet 16, but... The Jayhawks' defensive lapses, mostly mental, have cost them wins, and they have no one to blame but themselves. Certainly, depth can be a problem if Nick Collison and Jeff Graves get into foul trouble. But it doesn't have to be an issue. Both players can simply play smarter in the post. But the Jayhawks also need someone to make 3s, like Kirk Hinrich or Keith Langford. If Duke backs off Aaron Miles, then it will put even more pressure on Hinrich and Langford to make shots.
Why Kansas Will Win: The Jayhawks have one of the best starting fives in the tournament, even without Wayne Simien. They've got two of the best players at their respective positions in Collison and Hinrich, and they've got the experience of being in the Final Four last season. If a game gets tight (see: Utah State) the Jayhawks aren't going to get flustered. Kansas is hungry to get back to the Final Four and no one is as thirsty for another shot at a first national title as coach Roy Williams. He knows the Jayhawks will take a minor step back without Collison and Hinrich next season, so the window of opportunity could close for a season or two.
Elite Chances: Very good. Kansas has the personnel to take down Duke. And, oh would the Jayhawks would love another crack at Arizona, after how the Wildcats came back and stunned Kansas in the second half of a late-January win in Lawrence.
Player To Watch: Collison. Few players can take over a game inside the way Collison has done this season. Collison can be a force on the backboard at either end. He runs the floor as well as any big man and is a threat to score from the free-throw line extended to the basket. If he's on his A game, the Jayhawks are tough to beat.
X Factor: Graves. Collison needs a frontcourt mate to take some attention off of him. Graves has improved every game and he needs to continue to be a factor inside, either by grabbing boards, finishing or acting as a decoy. Graves must stay on the court, not pick up silly fouls, and if he does the Blue Devils will have a hard time moving him out of the post.
Duke Blue Devils (26-6)
Round 1: Duke 67, Colorado State 57
Round 2: Duke 86, Central Michigan 60
Why Duke Can Lose: How about some tougher competition? Duke struggled to beat Colorado State, but ran away from Central Michigan. That means Duke had to go through the Mountain West and the MAC to get to the Sweet 16. In comparison, fellow third seed Syracuse had to beat Oklahoma State of the Big 12 in the East, while No. 3 Marquette had to outlast Missouri in overtime in the Midwest (No. 3 Xavier didn't survive the South's second round, losing to Maryland out of the ACC). Go back to the ACC tournament, where Duke won the title with wins over Virginia, UNC and N.C. State, and it's hard to tell just how ready the Blue Devils are for a matchup against Kansas.
Why Duke Will Win: The Blue Devils are still talented enough to beat Kansas, and they've got the right players doing well in the tournament. Dahntay Jones is scoring 20-plus each game and Shelden Williams is working the boards with 12 in the win over Colorado State. J.J. Redick whiffed on 3s in the first game, but was 5 of 7 from behind the arc in the win over Central Michigan. If the Blue Devils get 3s from Redick, boards from Williams and drives to the hole from Chris Duhon, Jones and Daniel Ewing, then they can beat Kansas.
Elite Chances: Decent. Kansas can be vulnerable to foul problems, so if Duke isn't exposed inside, then the Blue Devils can beat the Jayhawks from the perimeter.
Player To Watch: Redick. When he's on, the Blue Devils are a different team. His 3-pointers can be back-breakers for an opposing team. When Redick makes 3s, he lifts the team and usually ignites a Duke run. Redick's inability to make a 3-pointer in the first game was cause for concern, but the freshman got back on track in the second round. If Redick is hitting 3s, look out for Duke. It could emerge as the survivor of a brutal region.
X Factor: Duhon. He's the leader of this squad, but has been unassuming at times. If Duhon makes shots, the Blue Devils become even tougher to defend. He has the capabilities to knock down 3s and stretch the defense, but he's extremely selective, almost too passive.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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