Baniewicz Bracketology: The Wicked West
The NCAA Tournament’s Western Region might look clear cut to the untrained eye, but this quarter of the bracket could get wilder than Will Smith ever imagined the West could be.
Taking risks in this region could seriously pay off. No team in the region has made a Final Four since 2001, so chokes and upsets could run rampant in this brackets. If you’re a fan of the underdog, like Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns, you just might find your new favorite dog in the hunt this March.
There’s no better way to wrap up our tour around the regions than with the greatest possibilities for upsets. If it’s Madness you want, it’s Madness you’ll get.
There’s really only two easy front-runners in this region, and they bookend the bracket from top to bottom.
Number-crunchers and most bracketologists love the Arizona Wildcats because of their freakish athleticism and ability to dominate the glass. Their length combined with superlative athletes makes for a hellacious time trying to score against them, and your night can quickly get ruined if you allow them to get into transition.
Every single player on the team can rip down a board, but freshman sensation Aaron Gordon is the one you have to always have an eye on. The freshman can put you on the bad side of a Sportscenter Top 10 in a hurry if you don’t account for him on the offensive glass. The Wildcats aren’t a team that plan to shoot the lights out on you from deep, but junior guard Nick Johnson is the one they turn to when they need a bucket. If you can force them to shoot 3-pointers, only one player is shooting over .400 from beyond the arc and he barely sees the floor.
I said most experts love the Wildcats, but I can’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. Arizona hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2001, and it seems like every time they’re in perfect position to make a run they trip out of the starting blocks. Call it superstition, but I can’t put my eggs in the same basket that broke them before.
The only other clear-cut contender doesn’t exactly play the most exciting brand of basketball. The Wisconsin Badgers sure won’t have you jumping out of your seat too often, but their half-court pace is damn effective. Bo Ryan’s gritty defensive group started off the tournament by whooping American University to the tune of 75-35, which is rather unpatriotic if you ask me.
The Badgers will try to keep the game in the half-court at all costs. Offensively, Wisconsin has nine players that shoot better than .300 from deep and will work until deep in the shot clock to find the open shooter. Defensively, you’ll be lucky to get in transition on them because their half-court sets are beyond pesky.
The Badgers and Wildcats lead the pack in the West, but both teams could easily get knocked off in the next round. Dark horses are all over the place in the West. It’s just a question of where you want to place your saddle.
Underdogs are everywhere in the Western Region, and a good number of them are in a solid position to jump up and bite somebody square on the rear-end.
The polar opposite of the Wisconsin Badgers is the Oregon Ducks. Head Coach Dana Altman lets his group of speed-demons go wild offensively, and they’ve cashed in for over 90 points ten times this season. The Ducks even broke the century mark five times, so if you’re looking for somebody to disrupt the Badgers, here’s your group.
The Ducks are led from Houston-transfer Joseph Young, who averages 18.6 ppg and shoots over 40 percent from deep. BYU though they were getting close in the second half of their first round game and ended up almost getting blown-out by 20 points. If they get hot, don’t be surprised if Oregon’s firework show makes a deep run in the tourney.
The other dog in perfect position to take a chunk out of a front-runner is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys pose a real threat for Arizona if they can squeeze past Gonzaga in their first game. Do-it-all guard Marcus Smart could have been an NBA lottery pick last year, but he decided to return for situations just like this. Smart has single-handedly willed the Cowboys to wins over huge opponents this year, and the stage couldn’t get any bigger for him. Pair him with offensively-gifted forward Le’Bryan Nash and scorer Markel Brown and you get a legitimate “big three” that could run the table.
One of the two teams to pull of a 5-12 upset lies in the West, and the North Dakota State Bison don’t plan on bowing out just yet. The Bison will face San Diego State next, and the Aztecs looked shaky against New Mexico State. The Bison play ferocious defense, and the Aztecs could have some serious troubles trying to get the ball to the rim. If San Diego State can’t get to the rim their effectiveness plummets. The people up in North Dakota just might be dancing one more round.
I left the Creighton Bluejays out of the contenders region, but they were right on the cusp. Doug McDermott is being talked about for National Player of the Year Honors for a reason. McDermott averages 26.9 ppg and leads a Creighton team that topped the nation in three-point shooting percentage. The Jays run one of the most efficient offenses in the nation but are susceptible on the glass and could be ran by athletically superior teams, which is why the next noisemaker poses a serious challenge.
Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns could crush Creighton’s tournament hopes before they even get started. NBA-bound point guard Elfrid Payton won’t have an athletic peer to guard him, so if the slasher can find the rim and force fouls the Jays could get caught out of position. Shawn Long will have a chance to go nuts on the glass, and hustle plays and second-chance baskets will be huge for an upset to occur. The last piece to the puzzle will have to come from either Bryant Mbamalu or Xavian Rimmer, who have taken turns down the stretch burying clutch buckets to keep this magical run going. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.
There might not be a more inconsistent team in the country than the Baylor Bears, but the right frame of mind makes this squad downright frightening.
When the Bears lose, it’s because they get in their own way. They’ll be facing a disciplined Nebraska team that will try to force as many mistakes as possible. This one is impossible to predict though. If Baylor shows up, they could run the table to the Elite 8 or beyond. The trouble is guessing whether you’ll get Dr. Jekyl or Mr. Hyde.
With the table wide open like this, your guess is as good as mine as to who will make the trip to the Final Four. Why not take a leap into the great unknown and see if you can win your bracket on a gamble?
Final Four Bound: The Oklahoma State Cowboys?
I’m not even going to pretend I feel good about this. Call it doubt in Arizona. Call it faith in Marcus Smart. Whatever you want to call it, I call it a gamble that could allow you to laugh at your friends for months.
Smart is the type of player that can take the tournament over, much like Kemba Walker and Carmelo Anthony did for their UConn and Syracuse squads. There is a very realistic chance they could get bumped in their first game by Gonzaga, but sometimes you have to live life dangerously.
If Arizona runs the table, I’ll sit back and accept the fact that I’m a total idiot. Until then, let’s all trust in the Madness of March.