NCAA Tournament Breakdown: West Region

The NCAA Tournament is here, and staff writer Dominic LoBianco is here with it to break down the “Who’s who” in the West Region.

Photo by Andrew Gillette, courtesy of creativecommons.org. No changes made.

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The moment we have all been waiting for is finally here. It’s time for madness in college basketball. The conference champions are crowned, seeds have been set, and the brackets are ready for breakdowns. Here at TNJN, we break down each region. So if you want to get rich quick (or lose all of your money even quicker), sit tight. And keep an eye on these storylines in the West Region.

The Favorite

I know what you’re probably thinking. “This bracket is played on the West Coast and Oregon is the No. 1 seed. The Ducks have to be the favorites, right?” Wrong. I have the No. 2-seeded Oklahoma Sooners as the favorite in the West. My reasons are simple: Buddy Hield. The favorite to win the Naismith Award for player of the year, Hield led the Sooners to a 25-win season and was fractions of a second away from playing in the Big 12 Championship Game on a half-court buzzer beater. The 6-foot-4 senior averages 25 points per game on nearly 50 percent shooting from the field and is the unquestioned leader in Norman. I have Oklahoma making it all the way to Houston on the back of Hield’s shooting.

Contenders

The Oregon Ducks are a top seed for a reason. The Pac-12 champs are 28-6 with quality wins over Baylor, California, and Arizona (twice), so do not count out the Ducks. The only qualm I have is on the defensive side, where they are No. 50 in defensive efficiency. That could present problems against dynamic offenses in a potential Sweet 16 matchup with either Baylor or Duke. Another contender I have is Texas A&M. Many have argued that the Aggies are one of the more complete teams and it’s not hard to see why. Led by Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso, A&M’s balanced roster can come at you in waves on the offensive end with its ability to score inside and outside. With three seniors on the court, the Aggies have experienced options that can make crucial buckets in crunch time.

Pretenders

Coming off a national championship victory last year, I expect Grayson Allen and the Duke Blue Devils to have a relatively short run in 2016. Since 2007, Duke has lost four times in the first or second round. Couple that with an undesirable trip across the country and that spells disaster for the Blue Devils. This might sound strange, but my other pretender is the No. 7 seed in this region. Yes, I am talking about Oregon State. I have heard a lot of chatter about the Beavers being a dark horse in the West. I just don’t see it. They have wins over tournament teams such as Iona and California, but they also have two losses against the Golden Bears and 12 overall. Heed my advice and pick VCU over Oregon State.

The “Cinderella”

For me, the true mark of a “Cinderella” run must satisfy three categories. First, the team must be a double-digit seed. I find nothing impressive about a No. 7 seed making a run to the Sweet 16. Second, they have to be a mid-major school. I know Cody picked Vanderbilt to be his Cinderella in the South, but aside from being the Cinderella of the SEC, Vanderbilt’s expectations should eliminate them from Cinderella status. Lastly, a Cinderella has to beat a big-name school in order to solidify themselves as a triumphant underdog. So without further ado, the Cinderella of the West is… Northern Iowa. Seeded comfortable at No. 11, I have the Panthers upsetting both Texas AND Texas A&M, setting themselves up with a shootout against Oklahoma in the Sweet 16. Many people forget UNI upset then-No. 1 North Carolina at the beginning of the season. That, paired with wins over Wichita State and Stephen F. Austin, shows that the Panthers can play with anybody and aren’t afraid of the big stage.

The Sleeper

Every year, like clockwork, a No. 12 seed beats a No. 5 seed. However, I do not see that happening in the West because Baylor is my sleeper pick. With a little luck, the Bears could face back-to-back double-digit seeds, giving them a relatively easy path to the Sweet 16. From there, they are looking at a potential rematch from earlier in the season against Oregon. The Bears are an athletic squad with four players averaging double-digit points per game. With that balance on offense, Baylor is a scary team that nobody wants to play in March.

Players to Watch

I’ve already touched on why I think Hield is the player to watch in the West, but the Naismith finalist has an opportunity to solidify himself as college basketball’s best player with a strong tournament performance. Who are some other players to keep an eye on? I’ll start with Duke freshman Luke Kennard. With all eyes on Allen, the lefty sharpshooter has to be the sparkplug for Duke to avoid an opening-weekend upset. If they survive, look for Kennard to emerge as a leader. Another player I’d keep a lookout for is Oregon State’s Gary Payton II. The son of “The Glove” averages 16 points per game alone with eight rebounds and five assists. Like his father, the point guard can clamp down on the defensive end.

What I Think Will Happen

I’ve never been great at picking these things. This bracket is full of teams that could either lose in one game or make a run to the Elite Eight. With all that being said, I’ve got Oregon, St. Joes, Baylor, UNCW, UNI, Texas A&M, VCU, and Oklahoma advancing in the first round. From there, I have Oregon advancing to the Sweet 16, only to get bounced in the rematch with Baylor. In the bottom half of the bracket, I’ve got my Cinderella squad UNI upsetting the Aggies to play Oklahoma in the Sweet 16. Ultimately, I think the Sooners and Bears will face off on March 26 in the Elite Eight with Hield and the Sooners cutting down the nets in Anaheim.

Featured image courtesy of Andrew Gillette

Edited by David Bradford and Cody McClure

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Dominic is in his second year writing on staff at TNJN. Along with being a staff writer, he also covers the UT men's basketball beat. He is currently a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in Journalism and Electronic Media. Follow him @dominiclobianco on Twitter!