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Previewing the West Region: Can Ohio State avoid the carnage?

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Favorite: Ohio State

No team in the country has played better than the Buckeyes over the last month and a half of the season. Since getting drubbed by 22 points at Wisconsin on February 17th, Ohio State has won 10 straight games, which includes wins over Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State twice, Minnesota and Illinois. The change has come with a move to playing a smaller lineup. Instead of using Evan Ravenel or Amir Williams, Thad Matta has started playing Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross along the front line, sometimes all three of them together. It creates matchup problems for opponents, which is part of the reason that Ross has emerged as an x-factor for the Buckeyes down the stretch of the season.

But they could also win: Wichita State

Honestly, I think the Shockers have the second-best chance of sneaking their way through the West. Gregg Marshall’s club has proven to be versatile and deep. They have a roster full of JuCo transfers and overlooked recruits, a group of guys playing with a chip on their shoulder. Perhaps what’s more impressive is the variety of ways in which the Shockers have proven that they can win games. They beat Pitt by 18 points in the opener by out-uglying the Panthers, and followed that up by hitting 14 threes — seven in the last 12 minutes — to knock off Gonzaga in the round of 32.

(Click here to browse through all of our Sweet 16 previews)

Most Important Player: Mark Lyons, Arizona

In this Sweet 16 matchup, Lyons is going to have his work cut out for him, as he’ll be forced to lock horns with Aaron Craft, also known as the nation’s most aggravating on-ball defender. Lyons is incredibly important to what Arizona wants to do as a team, and he’s one of the only guys capable of creating his own shot on the roster. But here’s the key: if Arizona is going to win, they are going to have to take advantage of their size on the interior. Does Lyons avoid the temptation of trying to earn the glory of a trip to the Final Four himself, or can he get the ball into his big men inside.

Story line to watch: Regardless of what happens on Thursday, there is going to be either a No. 9 seed or a No. 13 seed playing for the right to go to the Final Four on Saturday evening. As it is, La Salle is already the nation’s least talked about great story, as the Explorers are just the fifth No. 13 seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16. And they played in the play-in game. It would be nice to see Aaron Craft make it to a second straight Final Four, and it will be interesting to see if Mark Lyons, who many crushed when he decided to enroll at Arizona, can fully silence the doubters with a Final Four run. But perhaps more than anything, could we be watching Marshall’s final days as Wichita State head coach?

Rank ’em:

1. Ohio State
2. Wichita State
3. Arizona
4. La Salle

And the winner is?: Ohio State

I just think the Buckeyes are playing too well at this point. They also happen to have quite favorable matchups regardless of who they would draw in the Elite 8. They’re the only team in this region with experience playing this deep into the postseason. I think it pays off for them.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org