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The West Region this time around is the weakest of the four regions. That’s just the fact of the matter.
Have any questions about how to fill out your bracket for this region? Hopefully they’ll be answered here. Is there an upset to be found? Is there a reason to be skeptical of one of the higher seeds? Can a lower seed make a longer run?
Those are always the first questions I ask when looking at a region. The next one is whether or not a team has a specific advantage in terms of its crowd being able to travel easily. The top two seeds out west, Oregon and Oklahoma, did get protected by their crowds. The Ducks will play in Spokane, and the Sooners in Oklahoma City. A sneaky one that I’d keep an eye on though? Baylor has to travel to Providence to take on Yale. With this being the Bulldogs’ first NCAA Tournament appearance, I can see that school travelling well and creating a bit of an edge.
My initial instinct is that this region is pretty up in the air as far who ends being the champion. What else is there to know? Here’s a preview.
Three initial thoughts on the region
1. This is the weakest region in the Tournament, talent-wise
If the South looks like a bit of a gauntlet, this region looks relatively weak. While Oklahoma is one of the top No. 2 seeds, the rest of West doesn’t look that impressive. In fact, I’d argue that the West’s Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5 seeds are all the weakest of the field. Even the 7/10 and 8/9 games don’t seem all that daunting. Does that open things up for Oklahoma? Maybe a little bit, yeah. This is probably a better draw than the Sooners could have expected.
It’s not that there’s a glaring individual talent deficiency or anything. After all, Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen and Buddy Hield are all incredibly gifted. But team-wise, this isn’t nearly as solid as the other regions. And that could lead to some madness in general.
2. There’s an old Big 12 feel to the bottom half of the region
The bottom half of the region has Oklahoma as the No. 2, Texas A&M as the No. 3, and Texas as the No. 6. All of these schools are more traditionally known for football, but the way this region sets up could lead to some pretty contentious pseudo-rivalry games.
Remember, Texas A&M left the other two schools to go join the SEC, which is how something like this happens. The Aggies have already faced Texas this season — an 84-73 win in their favor, and faced Oklahoma in their first and second seasons in the SEC, losing both. There’s also always the potential that Texas gets another rematch as well with Oklahoma for the third time this season, with the two teams splitting their meetings.
Or maybe Northern Iowa will just ruin all of this by beating the Longhorns. Or heck, maybe we get a crazy upset with Linc Darner and uptempo Green Bay Phoenix defeating A&M. But look for an old Big-12 feel to win out in the bottom part of the region.
3. The No. 4 and 5 seeds could be in some trouble
As mentioned above, Baylor has what could amount to a road game against Yale in the first round. The Bulldogs are a terrific team overall, led by forward Justin Sears and guard Makai Mason.They defend like crazy, and also have the shooting ability to knock down open looks against the Baylor zone. That could be an upset in the making, but remember that Baylor lost last season as a high seed. I doubt they’ll underestimate their opponent this time because of that.
The more interesting matchup is arguably Duke against Kevin Keatts’ UNC-Wilmington team. Depth could be a major problem for the Blue Devils here. The Seahawks will look to wear down Allen, Ingram and company by playing high pressure, full-court defense. They also tend to play foul-heavy games. Those two factors really work against Duke, who has a team that typically goes about six-deep.
I don’t know that I’ll be predicting an upset here or anything, but it’s definitely a danger spot for Duke.
Five best players in the region
1. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma): Hield has been one of the stories of the college basketball season, and for good reason. The Bahamian guard finished second nationally with 25 points per game, and his 3-point marksmanship has been phenomenal. He might win the National Player of the Year award, but I’m sure he’d take a deep Final Four run at the expense of that.
2. Brandon Ingram (Duke): This is Ingram’s chance to propel himself to the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft. Ben Simmons is done playing, meaning Ingram can have the last laugh for scouts in terms of impressing. If Duke goes on a run, look for it to be on the back of their brilliant 6-foot-9 forward.
3. Grayson Allen (Duke): Allen’s probably had a better season overall than Ingram, even. He’s a terrific scorer at all three levels, tough as nails, and hated by a large portion of the college basketball-watching country. Maybe he’ll have yet another moment in the tournament like he did last year in the championship game.
4. Dillon Brooks (Oregon): Brooks is one the more versatile players in the country, as he’s a hybrid forward capable of knocking down shots from the outside of muscling up and posting-up smaller players. He’s Oregon’s leader, and he could be in for a big Tournament.
5. Gary Payton II (Oregon State): Payton is one of college basketball’s elite athletes, utilizing that talent both in the way that he leaps and finishes and on the defensive end. Look for him create at least one crazy highlight-reel worthy moment in the Beavers’ first NCAA Tournament game in 26 years.
Five bold predictions for the region
The biggest Round of 64 upset will be … Yale over Baylor. Give me the Bulldogs to pick up their first ever NCAA Tournament win here. I think their defense could suffocate what can occassionally be a stagnant Baylor offense, and they get just enough shooting to pull this thing off.
The lowest-seeded school to make the Sweet 16 will be … Texas. How about Shaka Smart and the Longhorns to get revenge on Texas A&M from earlier in the season and pick up a big win to get to Anaheim? The Longhorns have Isaiah Taylor leading the way, but look for elite interior defender Prince Ibeh to cause issues for their first two opponents.
The player the country doesn’t know now but will know by Saturday is … DeAndre Bembry, a 6-foot-6 wing for St. Joe’s. He’s a do-everything guy for the Hawks who can create offense, defend, and really get his own shot. Plus, his afro is going to gain him quite a few supporters if he can get past Cincy. You should already know his name, but you definitely will by the weekend.
The Elite Eight showdown … No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Oklahoma. For what I’ve said could be a region that leads to some madness, I go with a pretty chalky pick here. Why? Simply put, the Ducks cause too many matchup problems for others in the top half of the region, and the Sooners are too solid defensively and shoot too well to be denied by the other teams at the bottom of their region on a neutral floor.
The champion of the Midwest Region will be … No. 2 Oklahoma. I hear the arguments from people that jump-shooting teams don’t perform well in single-elimination tournaments. Really, I do. But that minimizes what Oklahoma has turned into over the last two years under Lon Kruger. This is a tremendous defensive team that really gets after you, really pressures the ball, and doesn’t allow you to get easy looks from 3 or at the rim.
So I’m going Oklahoma to get to Houston from this regional, letting the Legend of Buddy Love live on for three more weeks in college hoops.
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