Every year, there is one region in the bracket that, eventually, just doesn’t make sense.
That is going to end up being this year’s West Region. Do we trust anyone of the No. 3-No. 6 seeds? Do we trust Oregon and Oklahoma? How many double-digit seeds are going to end up winning in the first round?
All that said, I’ll fully admit that I’m rooting for an Oregon-Oklahoma Elite 8 matchup, because that game will be so much fun.
THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH
- Did Oregon deserve a No. 1 seed?: One of the biggest criticisms of the committee this year was that Michigan State didn’t get a No. 1 seed while Oregon did. Personally, I don’t really get it, for a couple reasons. Oregon won a dual-Pac 12 title, which is not an easy thing to do, and they gathered a boat-load of quality wins while doing so. They’re also really, really good. If this team with these wins and those players were named, say, Arizona or UCLA, no one would have an issue with them getting a No. 1 seed. But since Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher wear Nike’s fluorescent green jerseys, they’re going to get criticized.
- Is this the region with all of the upsets?: It feels like it’s going to be, simply because this is the region where the top seeds all half question marks. No one understands how good Oregon is. Oklahoma is one cold-shooting night away from getting picked off. Texas A&M feels overseeded as a No. 3. Neither Duke or Baylor can guard, and unless Amile Jefferson got some super-human regenerative powers, he will not be playing due to a broken foot. Is this where things go wild this year?
- The scandal at Yale: One of the biggest stories as we head into the NCAA tournament is that Yale, who made the Big Dance for the first time in 54 years this season, will be playing while dealing with a scandal that has erupted on their campus. One of their players was dismissed from the program, and after the rest of the team showed support for him, flyers began popping up on campus claiming that the basketball team “supported a rapist”. Expect to hear quite a bit about that this week, and to be inundated with it if Yale can get out of the first weekend.
THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
Putting the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Elite 8 here is pretty easy simply because I’m not all that impressed by the teams in the No. 3-6 range in this region. They’re kind of whatever. But I’m not convinced that Oregon and Oklahoma are anything close to locks to make it this far. The Sooners rely too much on their jump-shooting to really feel comfortable taking them far in the tournament. One off night and they can lose to anyone.
And while I love this Oregon team, I can’t help but feel like the Pac-12 is one of those leagues that was made to look better in computer numbers because it is so balanced and deep. The Ducks looked great in league play, but just how good was the competition they were playing?
FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: Northern Iowa
I really like this UNI team. They have a dynamic point guard in Wes Washpun and they surround him with deadeye shooters that can lock-up at the other end of the floor. I also really like this draw for the Panthers. I think they matchup well with Texas, and I’m not convinced that A&M is all that great. Remember, UNI has beaten North Carolina, Iowa State and Wichita State twice, in Wichita and on a neutral floor.
UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN
- No. 13 UNC Wilmington over No. 4 Duke: This is going to be a tough matchup for the Blue Devils. UNCW plays like VCU and West Virginia. They press for 40 minutes and continually throw bodies at you. They never tire. Duke? They basically have six guys, and the only one that’s a point guard Derryck Thornton. Tired legs and turnovers really plays into UNCW’s hands.
- No. 8 Saint Joseph’s over No. 1 Oregon: My colleague Raphielle Johnson mentioned this on the latest podcast, but St. Joe’s matches up really well with Oregon. They have a pair of versatile defenders in Isaiah Miles and Deandre Bembry that will take away from of Oregon’s small-ball lineup advantage.
- No. 11 Northern Iowa over No. 6 Texas: Do I need to explain it more than what I wrote above? UNI is really good.
- No. 11 Northern Iowa over No. 3 Texas A&M: As good as Texas A&M is, I think they’re somewhat limited by a back court of Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins. Those guys aren’t shooters, and you need shooters when your front line is your strength.
UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN
- No. 12 Yale over No. 5 Baylor: Yale could not have drawn a worse matchup. The Bulldog strength is their front court; they’re the only team in the country in the top ten in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Baylor may be, pound for pound, the best rebounding team in the country, and they’ve made a name for themselves this season for not getting upset by lesser competition.
FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: Saint Joseph’s to the Elite 8
The Hawks are really good this year, and they got themselves a nice little draw. Like I wrote earlier, they matchup really well with Oregon. Then, in the Sweet 16, they’re looking at a flawed Duke team, a Baylor team that can’t guard or a mid-major. They could very well end up getting beaten by Cincinnati — who is pretty good in their own right — but if any team in an 8-9 game is going to make a run, I think St. Joe’s is the team that will do it.
THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT
- Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: He averaged 25 points. You know him. Or you should.
- Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen may not be the point guard Duke needs, but his endless energy and ability to attack the rim in transition is going to be valuable against someone like UNCW.
- Gary Payton II: The other Gary Payton’s son, “the Mitten” is the best dunker in the NCAA tournament and a future first round pick.
THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT
- Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher, Oregon: I’m not exaggerating when I say those dudes are really, really good.
- Chris Flemmings, UNCW: The kid has a fascinating story, and he’ll be a huge deal is UNCW picks off Duke.
BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 11 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Texas
Shaka Smart vs. Ben Jacobson will square off as the two teams that beat UNC in the non-conference. That should be enough to get you to tune in. If not, Wes Washpun vs. Isaiah Taylor is a point guard matchup that people that love broken ankles will have to see.
MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR
- No. 6 Texas vs. No. 3 Texas A&M: Rivalries renewed! And the game will be played in Oklahoma City. That could be fun.
- No. 7 Oregon State vs. No. 2 Oklahoma: All due respect to VCU, but I want to see Payton II vs. Hield.
CBT PREDICTION: Oklahoma comes out of the region. Who they beat, I don’t know. But they’ll get hot at the right times against competition that isn’t overwhelming.