College Basketball

Surveying the West Region: Wisconsin, Xavier, Arizona

Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker participates in a drill during practice for an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Friday, April 4, 2014, in Dallas. Wisconsin plays Kentucky on Saturday, April 5, 2014.
Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker participates in a drill during practice for an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Friday, April 4, 2014, in Dallas. Wisconsin plays Kentucky on Saturday, April 5, 2014. AP

No. 1 Wisconsin

Coach: Bo Ryan (22-13 in NCAA tournament)

How they got here: No team in the country is more efficient offensively than Wisconsin, which is led by national player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky, the 7-foot center. The Badgers lead the nation in two important statistical categories, according to kenpom.com: adjusted offensive efficiency and turnover percentage.

Wisconsin commits turnovers on 12.4 percent of its possessions, the fewest in the nation. That's helped the Badgers to average 1.25 points per possession, which also leads the country. Wisconsin doesn't make a lot of mistakes, capitalizes on its scoring chances and Kaminsky is among the best two or three players in the country.

Must stop: Kaminsky, who averages 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, is going to get his. But UNC would be wise to make it as uncomfortable as possible on him. Oregon, which Wisconsin beat in the round of 32, had success double-teaming Kaminsky.

Equally important as defending Kaminsky, the Tar Heels can’t allow Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes – the second- and third-leading scorers – to go off. They both struggled during Wisconsin’s loss against Duke in November and, undoubtedly, UNC’s coaching staff is likely studying that game closely.

Advance if: They shoot a decent percentage and control the tempo. The Badgers are undefeated when they shoot 43 percent or better. They’re 5-3 when they don’t, including a loss against Rutgers in which the Badgers shot 42.9 percent.

Wisconsin is so good at valuing its possessions that turnovers weren’t really a factor in any of its three losses. A poor shooting performance, though, leaves the door open a crack.

No. 6 Xavier (23-13)

Coach: Chris Mack (6-4 in NCAA tournament)

How they got here: The Musketeers seem to be peaking at the right time, with victories in five of their six games in March. The only defeat was against Villanova in the Big East tournament championship game.

Even so, you have to wonder whether Xavier, which beat 11th-seeded Mississippi State and No. 14 Georgia State to reach this point, is in for a bit of a shock when it plays second-seeded Arizona.

Must stop: Matt Stainbrook, a 6-foot-10 senior center, is really good when he’s on. He’s shooting about 62 percent and a huge game from him – he averages about 12 points but has five 20-point games this season – gives the Muskeeters a chance.

Take Stainbrook out of the game down low, though, and that causes some problems. The Musketeers don’t shoot the 3 well, and they’re among the most turnover-prone teams in the tournament.

Advance if: Stainbrook leads the way to a highly-efficient offensive performance against Arizona, which is one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Guard play is also critical this time of year, and Xavier has a good point guard in senior Dee Davis. Davis and Stainbrook have to be at their best to give the Musketeers a shot.

No. 2 Arizona (33-3)

Coach: Sean Miller (16-7 in NCAA tournament)

How they got here: With one of the best combinations of offensive and defensive efficiency in the country, you could make an argument that Arizona, which is riding a 13-game winning streak, is the nation’s second-best team behind Kentucky.

Statistically, it’d be difficult to argue. The Wildcats rank among the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. Neither of its two NCAA tournament victories – against Texas Southern and Ohio State – were all that close.

Must stop: Offensively the Wildcats are most reliant on wing forwards Stanley Johnson, a 6-foot-6 freshman, and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Four other players, though, average at least nine points per game. This is a balanced team, and one that easily overcame Johnson’s miserable game – he was 1-for-12 with four points – against Ohio State. Part of what makes Arizona so good is that defenses can’t focus on stopping just one player, or even a couple.

Advance if: It’d be a stunner if Arizona lost against Xavier, and you could make an easy argument that Arizona should be the favorite in the region. The Wildcats don’t have a lot of flaws and should advance if they continue to play like they’ve played most of the season.

Arizona has allowed the opposition to shoot 50 percent three times this season and has lost two of those.

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