A Look at the Four Top Teams Out West in College HoopsBy Marc U.
There are days when I wonder if they even play college basketball West of Oklahoma. I can’t turn on the TV without seeing the latest action from the Big Ten, the Big East, the ACC or the Big 12. Does the Pac-12 even exist?
While the level of basketball played in the Western states these days is not to the level of the East and Midwest, there are some teams that do require some discussion and perhaps even careful analysis as we get closer and closer to March. Her are a few teams from the Pacific time zone that may cause teams trouble when the NCAA Tournament starts in March.
Gonzaga – Currently ranked sixth in the nation, the Bulldogs have almost flown under the radar in the current season. At 22-2, their two losses are to Illinois and Butler who have both been ranked most of the season and have played tough competition throughout. What always nags at the Zags is the soft conference schedule with little competition outside of St. Mary’s and an 18-7 BYU team that Gonzaga recently beat by twenty.
The Bulldogs are led by Kelly Olynyk (17.6 pts, 7 Rebs per game) and Elian Harris (14.7 pts, 7 Rebs per game) who combine to make a formidable duo for head coach Mark Few. The really positive thing for the Zags is their bench which if necessary can go almost 11 guys deep. Come tourney time, that could be extremely valuable.
Arizona – At 20-2, the seventh-ranked Wildcats have losses to a ranked Oregon squad and an up and down UCLA team. Arizona has two very nice signature wins though as they knocked off then-unbeaten Florida by one in Tucson and also beat ACC leader Miami by 19 points in December.
The three guys the Wildcats have in double figures (Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson) are averaging between 12 and 16 points per game which provides good balance. The Wildcats are maybe eight or nine deep but that’s being a bit generous. The starters will be called on to do the bulk of the work come March.
New Mexico – Head Coach Steve Alford and his horrible looking sport coats have the Lobos in a great spot to make a run in the tournament. At 20-4, the Lobos are coming off a loss last night to UNLV but still have a half-game lead over Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference. UNM has quality wins over Cincinnati on the road and UConn at a neutral site.
Kendall Williams leads the team in scoring with 13 points per game and then only two other guys (Tony Snell, Alex Kirk) average double figures. The positive part of that is the Lobos are pretty deep with another six guys averaging between three and eight points. What concerns me with the Lobos is the lack of a true scorer. In the tournament, you have to have a guy that can score and I’m not sure they have one.
Oregon – Two weeks ago, I may have had Oregon leading this list, but since January 30th, the Ducks had lost three straight until righting the ship with a win over Utah last night. The reason for the recent dip is pretty obvious. Oregon scored almost 12 points below their average of 72 points per game in those three losses.
The Ducks have quality wins at UNLV, at UCLA and at home against then #4 Arizona. Oregon has really good balance led by E.J. Singler who scores 11.3 points per game as does Damyean Dotson. Three other guys behind them also average double-figures. For being one of the top rebounding teams in the country (32nd), the Ducks need to improve their field goal percentage. I like their athleticism and if they have righted the ship here they could be a threat in the tournament.