There may not be a region in the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament more puzzling than the West. With a few surprises in both selection and seeding, the West offers some of the most interesting early contests in the tournament. With top seeds like Arizona, Wisconsin, Creighton and two of the hottest Big 12 teams in Baylor and Oklahoma State, it’s easy to see why this region will be one of the most intriguing in the tournament .
Top-seeded Arizona ran away with the Pac-12 regular season title this year. Led by Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, the Wildcats lost only three regular season games. Each of those losses came on the road. The Wildcats also slipped up in the Pac-12 tournament title game, but it shouldn’t be anything to worry about when looking at their road to Jerryworld. One game that should be circled on your brackets is a second round matchup between Oklahoma State and Arizona. The Cowboys could give the Wildcats a run for their money in the tournament’s first weekend.
Creighton lost the Big East championship to Providence at Madison Square Garden, which caused them to slip from a two to a three-seed, but there is a lot to like about the Bluejays. Specifically, the country’s top player Doug McDermott, who recently crossed the 3,000 career point threshold. He isn’t the only Creighton player who can shoot. All five Bluejay starters hit at least 40% from beyond the arc. A second round game between Creighton and Baylor in San Antonio is another marquee first weekend matchup.
Scott Drew has a lot of "Thank You" notes he should be writing to the tournament committee, specifically for placing his sixth-seeded Bears in San Antonio. That is a massive geographic favor typically reserved for protected seeds. There is no denying that Baylor has been playing like a protected seed in the last few weeks. The Bears have won nine of their last eleven and reached the Big 12 tournament final, before ultimately falling to Iowa State.
The Bears are finally getting production from their starters, including three-point specialist Brady Heslip, who is shooting 46% from long range. Baylor has one of the easier paths for a sixth seed in the tournament, having to play Creighton in San Antonio and then a shaky Wisconsin team before having to potentially face top-seeded Arizona in the Regional Final. Keep an eye on the Bears in this region.
Oklahoma State is another potential longshot for the tournament, but they’ll have to overcome their leader first. Head coach Travis Ford is 1-4 in his tournament career and hasn’t won a tournament game since 2009. He is working with one of the country’s most talented players in Marcus Smart, but it’ll take better late game management than Oklahoma State has worked with this season (see: Iowa State). If they do manage to beat Gonzaga and Arizona, it’s entirely possible that we could see Bedlam (Part III) in the Sweet Sixteen.
There were a few gripes with the seeding in this region. BYU, a team with less than a few impressive wins against the RPI top-100, jumped all of the way to a 10-seed when it should have been slotted as a 12-seed in a play-in game. They’ll face the Oregon Ducks, a team that likes to run and is coming off of a 10-3 end to the season with multiple two-point losses.
San Diego State lost to New Mexico twice, yet the Lobos are slotted as a 7-seed and SDSU is sitting at a four. If you’re seeking out an early upset, look for Oklahoma to flip the script in the second round of the tournament in Spokane against the Aztecs, if the Aggies don't do it to start off the tournament.
Best First Round Match Up
Best first round matchups are usually the 8-9 game because teams slotted in these seeds are very similar. For the West this year, that game is Oklahoma State and Gonzaga. The Zags have a lot of talent in the front court, a place where OSU lacks depth. Oklahoma State has a motivated Marcus Smart and good shooters to surround him. I like Oklahoma State, but this game is definitely one of the most interesting early matchups in the tournament.
12 over 5?
I don’t see Lon Kruger and Oklahoma struggling against North Dakota State.
Feeling a little dangerous? The Aggies of New Mexico State have only been held below 60 points once in 2014. SDSU is known for good defense, but can they guard NMSU’s 7’5 center Sim Bhullar, the nation’s tallest player? Every statistical indication has SDSU winning this game with ease. So, give me New Mexico State over San Diego State 68-61.
All Region Team
Doug McDermott (Creighton), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Nick Johnson (Arizona), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga).
It’s hard not to hand this award to Sean Miller. In his last two seasons at Arizona, Miller is 57-12 with one Sweet Sixteen appearance. His current roster has the PAC-12 player of the year alongside the PAC-12 freshman of the year. 2014 could be Miller’s year to establish his legacy.
Regional Final To Root For
Sixth-seeded Baylor against first-seeded Arizona.
(1) Arizona over (16) Weber State
(9)Oklahoma State over (8) Gonzaga
(5) Oklahoma State over (12) North Dakota State
(13) New Mexico State over (4) San Diego State
(6) Baylor over (11) Nebraska
(3) Creighton over (14) Louisiana Lafayette
(7) Oregon over (10) BYU
(2) Wisconsin over (15) American
(1) Arizona over (9) Oklahoma State
(5) Oklahoma over (13) New Mexico State
(6) Baylor over (3) Creighton
(2) Wisconsin over (7) Oregon
(1) Arizona over (5) Oklahoma
(6) Baylor over (2) Wisconsin
(1) Arizona over (6) Baylor.