The NCAA saved the best game for last in the West Region (though unhappy Wildcat and Buckeye fans might not think so), as the #13 La Salle Explorers take on the #9 Wichita State Shockers. Can the Explorers continue their hot shooting or will Wichita State's perimeter defense shut them down?
La Salle Explorers:
Credentials: The Explorers are on a 3-game winning streak in this tournament, looking for four. Has John Giannini found a little bit of that 1950's magic at the university? First they dismantle a tough Boise State team by nine points, then go up by as many as 19 points in their win over Kansas State, and finally, they edged out Ole Miss, a team who had ridden a 6-game win streak before that game. This team has shot a collective 51.6% over the course of the tournament, and of that number 43.6% have been 3-point field goals.
Talent: Ramon Galloway has led the team in this tournament, averaging 21.3 PPG and 4.0 RPG, however he's not the only one doing damage. Tyrone Garland, Jerrell Wright and Sam Mills have all heavily contributed to the cause, with 13.7, 14.0 and 11.0 PPG respectively, as well as Tyreek Duren who woke up the last game to score 19 points. With a four guard set-up, this team is extremely hard to outscore.
Wichita State Shockers:
Credentials: There's not much to say here: they only beat a pretty good Pitt team by 18, then cleaned house on No. 1 seed Gonzaga. During those two games, the team shot 44.4% from the field and 76.3% from the line (which is a lot considering they took 59 free throw attempts in two games). That game against Gonzaga was especially huge because the Shockers made 14-28 from beyond the arc,an area they struggled with at times during the season.
Talent: The Shockers best player, Cleanthony Early, has averaged 18.2 PPG and 7.0 RPG. Behind him comes Malcolm Armstead, Ron Baker and Carl Hall, who have averaged 14.0, 11.0 and 10.5 PPG respectively. However, don't let those supporting numbers fool you. Hall has been steady, but Armstead has had one big game in this tournament and been otherwise quiet; Baker has shown flashes but is still just recently back from a stress fracture in his foot.
Bottom Line: While Wichita State is favored in this game (-4 according to the Vegas odds), they're going to need all their shooters to have a decent game, preferably at the same time. If La Salle gets hot early in the game, like they did against Boise State and Kansas State, the Shockers are going to have a very hard time coming back.
Prediction: La Salle 78, Wichita State 70