Mar 17, 2014, 7:40 AM EDT
Every year, there is one region that just obliterates everyone’s bracket, and this season, that region could very well end up being the West. Arizona earned the No. 1 seed, which had been considered a given for weeks. The Wildcats are the best defensive team in the country and have finally found a rhythm on the offensive end without Brandon Ashley.
But after that, the West Region has some serious ‘all hell breaks loose’ potential.
There are three teams in the conference that had climbed into the top ten nationally at one point this season before having their season seemingly fall off a cliff. Oklahoma State lost seven straight games in Big 12 play before righting their ship as Marcus Smart turned back into the player we all fell in love with last season Baylor lost eight of their first ten Big 12 games, but they won nine of their last 11 and made it to the finals of the Big 12 tournament. Oregon lost eight of ten in Pac-12 play but won eight in a row — a streak that came within three one-possession games of being 13 straight — before getting dropped by UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament.
What’s crazier is that all three of those teams drew matchups that could end up vaulting them into the Sweet 16.
Three story lines to watch
- 1. Doug McDermott’s chase for his One Shining Moment: McBuckets has had a legendary career that is missing one thing: a deep run in the tournament. I wrote a column on this two weeks ago.
- 2. Is this the year Bo Ryan makes the Final Four?: Wisconsin’s head coach has had an exemplary career in Madison. He’s never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten in his 13 seasons at the helm, but he has just one Elite 8 and no Final Fours to show for it. This might be his most potent Wisconsin team. Can they break through?
- 3. Will Scott Drew ever get credit for being a good coach?: He’s usually a punchline, but he did a terrific job turning this season around for the Bears. He’s been to two Elite 8s in the last four tournaments. Can he tap into that tournament magic again?
The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 3 Creighton
I’m not going to lie: I’m very high on this Arizona team. When you can defend, you are always going to be in a game and, this season, there is no one near as good as the Wildcats are defensively. The key for them is going to be scoring in transition, as they struggle to get buckets against a set defense. As far as Creighton is concerned, I think they are quite beatable this season simply because so much of what they do relies on their ability to hit threes. On the nights they fall — especially when Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat are hitting — they’re near-unbeatable. When they aren’t falling, they can be beaten by anyone. There’s no one on their side of the bracket that truly strikes fear into me, however, so I’ll ride with McBuckets one last time.
It’s worth noting: this matchup would pit the nation’s best offense against the nation’s best defense as well as the nation’s best scorer (McDermott) against the nation’s best defender (Aaron Gordon).
Final Four sleeper: Oregon Ducks
Like I wrote earlier, the Ducks are three two-point losses away from a 13-game winning streak late in the season. Ever since they started buying-in defensively, things have changed. Oh, and should I mention that Dominic Artis looks like he might have finally broken out of his slump? The Ducks matchup well with everyone on the bottom-half of the bracket and they are arguably the most talented team in the region.
Best opening round matchups
- No. 10 BYU vs. No. 7 Oregon: Both the Ducks and the Cougars like to run. Both score a lot of points. Neither play much defense. That’s always fun.
- No. 9 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Gonzaga: The Pokes were one of the teams that I figured I would be picking to make a run regardless of where they would up, but the Zags are actually a tough matchup for them. Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski are tough to handle inside, and Oklahoma State has neither depth nor size up front. But can Mark Few find a way to slow down Marcus Smart and Markel Brown?
Matchups to root for
- No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 11 Nebraska: Two in-state rivals with large, passionate fan-bases that just so happened to be having banner years for their programs.
- No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona: Two defensive powerhouses. Two programs that recruit Southern California as well as anyone. Two large, passionate fan bases. The game is in Anaheim. Gimme.
- No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 7 Oregon: Creighton is kind of like BYU, only better.
The studs you know about
- Doug McDermott, Creighton: He’s the National Player of the Year for a reason.
- Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, Oklahoma State: Smart was a Player of the Year candidate entering the season, and he’s been playing like it since he returned from his suspension as he’s cut down on turnovers and displayed much-improved shot selection. But Brown may actually be the best scorer on this team and the best dunker in the country.
- Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: He’s been battling turf toe all season long, but if he’s healthy, he’s one of the best lead guards in the country.
The studs the nation will find out about
- Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: An NBA prospect from the Sun Belt, Payton is a bigger, athletic point guard that is a terrific defensive player.
- Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky has turned into one of the nation’s most versatile front court players. He scores in the post, he hits threes and he squares people up on the perimeter.
- Xavier Thames, San Diego State: The leading scorer for the Aztecs all season long, Thames has made innumerable big shots for SDSU this season.
- Taylor Braun, North Dakota State: The Summit League Player of the Year is a 6-foot-7 wing that hit a number of huge shots in the league title game.
Upsets that ARE happening
- No. 7 Oregon over No. 2 Wisconsin: Wisconsin can score this year. They are getting up and down the floor much more than in the past, which fits in well with how the Ducks like to play. And the Badgers struggle against teams with guards that can penetrate.
- No. 12 North Dakota State over No. 5 Oklahoma: If there is going to be a mid-major team that makes a run in the tournament this season, it’s going to be the Bison. The key? Defending the three-point line. NDSU hasn’t done it well this year, and Oklahoma A) shoots a lot of threes and B) shoots them well.
Upsets that AREN’T happening
- No. 9 Oklahoma State over No. 1 Arizona: There are a couple reasons for this: 1) the Pokes don’t have anyone that can handle Kaleb Tarczewski on the block; and 2) Arizona has three of the best defenders in the country, and they match up perfectly with OSU’s best players (Nick Johnson vs. Markel Brown, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson vs. Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon vs. LeBryan Nash).
Feeling like gambling?
- Pick No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Oregon or No. 9 Oklahoma State to make a run to the Final Four. They’re talented enough to it.
CBT Predictions: No. 1 Arizona advances after a thrilling win over No. 3 seed Creighton.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:31 PM EDT
Diallo, who’s still considering five schools, led the way with 18 points and ten rebounds.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:57 PM EDT
Reports surfaced earlier Wednesday that Marshall would visit Alabama on Friday.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Jones produced yet another highlight Wednesday night.
Apr 1, 2015, 8:49 PM EDT
With Ty Johnson being the lone player out of eligibility, South Carolina may have some other moves in minds when it comes to getting down to the 13 scholarship limit.
Apr 1, 2015, 7:31 PM EDT
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is projected to be a first round pick, but he stated that he still needs to talk with his mother and Arizona head coach Sean Miller before making a decision.
Apr 1, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
“Forget that I’m a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it’s a joke.”
Apr 1, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Booker played just 14.3 minutes per game this season, with the Sooners relying on the triumvirate of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard on the perimeter.
Kentucky’s John Calipari on short list of coaches with four Final Four appearances over five seasons
Apr 1, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Also on that short list: John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski.
Apr 1, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
Hurley led the Rams to a 23-10 record this season, and with the amount of talent they’ll return Rhody should be an NCAA tournament team and a contender in the A-10.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Harvey averaged 23.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the Big Sky champion Eagles.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
With eight uncommitted McDonald’s All-Americans playing in Wednesday night’s game, there are still plenty of decisions to be made going forward.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:55 PM EDT
Trimble’s decision to return is a big boost, and it ensures that Maryland will be a Big Ten contender next season.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Liberty re-hired former head coach Ritchie McKay after McKay spent a stint at Virginia as associate head coach.
Apr 1, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
What kinds of changes has Duke made to improve defensively during a strong NCAA tournament run?
Apr 1, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Kelly Oubre Jr. will leave Kansas for the NBA Draft.
Apr 1, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Nebraska is losing another player from the roster.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
Ohio State landed an impact forward in the 2016 class on Wednesday.
Wisconsin stops selling Nigel Hayes-inspired shirt in campus bookstore over potential NCAA violation
Apr 1, 2015, 10:10 AM EDT
Wisconsin stopped selling Nigel Hayes-inspired shirts at a campus bookstore.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Kevin Ollie and UConn will stay away from the Final Four in Indianapolis as the state of Connecticut has banned state-funded travel to the state.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
San Diego turned to a former player to lead the basketball program.
- Gregg Marshall to remain at Wichita State, won’t visit Alabama 1
- Maryland point guard Melo Trimble to return for sophomore season 5
- Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor highlight five Wooden Award finalists 3
- 2015 NCAA Tournament All-Second Weekend Team 2
- While a major question remains unanswered, No. 4 North Carolina can be special in 2015-16 3
- Tournament darling R.J. Hunter is heading to the NBA 3
- Texas freshman Myles Turner declares for the NBA Draft 6
- Andrew Harrison’s late free throws send No. 1 Kentucky to the Final Four (88)
- Kentucky responds to Daxter Miles Jr.’s pregame comments (30)
- Updated tournament records: Big Ten teams make up half of Final Four (27)
- The Final Four is set, and it’s going to be insane (24)
- Wisconsin vs. Kentucky: The Final Four rematch we deserved to see (22)