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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.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?