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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.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.