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Bracket Analysis: West Region

Nick Johnson
Throughout much of the year, the Arizona Wildcats were sitting at No. 1 in the nation and managed to reel in a Pac-12 regular season title and No. 1 seed to finish it up. Junior guard Nick Johnson proved to be one of the best players in the nation this whole season, helping the Wildcats by putting up 16.2 points per game, while hitting 44% from the field. He is helped out in the backcourt by Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, the efficient leader who averages 5.5 assists every game and 3 assists to every turnover. Although the star power is there for the 'Cats with the help of athletic freshman Aaron Gordon, they haven't played the schedule that some other teams inside this region have. They did beat Duke and Michigan earlier in the year but did the Pac-12 really prepare them for what should be a tough region from the beginning? I don't know and Oklahoma State could be waiting in the third round, if they can beat Gonzaga.

For the first time since 1998, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are back in the Big Dance. The 'Huskers went 11-7 in the brutal Big Ten, beating Michigan State on the road and beating both Wisconsin and Ohio State. They ended up getting an 11 seed and will get old Big 12 rival Baylor, in what is a popular upset pick. The Bears will present sharpshooting Brady Heslip, guard Kenny Cherry and big man Isaiah Austin but the 'Huskers actually have the talent to pull off the victory. Big Ten Coach of the Year Tim Miles will bring a team that has a dominant scorer in sophomore guard/forward Terran Petteway (18.1 PPG)  and a team with depth and great defenders. Every team in the Big Ten should be prepared for the NCAA tournament because the conference's style of constant rough play. If the Cornhuskers can upset the Bears it would most likely set up a meeting with Doug McDermott and Creighton, an in-state rival.

It has been a crazy year for Oklahoma State and star Marcus Smart, who may be regretting his decision to return for his sophomore season. The Cowboys, who started as a popular favorite to challenge Kansas for a Big 12 title, lost eight of nine in a stretch that spanned from January 18th to February 18th. The Cowboys ended up as a 9 seed and are a dark horse in this region. Along with Smart, who can be dominant at times, Oklahoma State has a streaky shooter in sophomore guard Phil Forte and do-it-all senior Markel Brown. Brown is known mainly for his highlight dunks but he has a ton of substance to his game, he is a great rebounder and has a solid mid range game. If Smart plays to his potential and he gets just enough from his supporting cast the Cowboys should handle Gonzaga in their first game. If Smart plays well an upset of Arizona and even more could be a legit possibility for Travis Ford's team.

Lon Kruger teams tend to be dangerous in March and this year his Oklahoma Sooners are a five seed and hope to use their shooting to make a tournament run. Unfortunately, the Sooners get quite the tough first game against North Dakota State, the Summit League champions. Senior guard Taylor Braun is the stud for the Bison, he averages 18.2 PPG, 5.5 rebounds per game and nearly four assists as well. Senior forward Marshall Bjorklund is an efficient option underneath for the Bison and will also be counted on to helped NDSU stop Oklahoma's Ryan Spangler, who is a load to handle underneath. North Dakota State shoots the ball at an impressive clip, they lead the nation in field goal percentage with nearly 51 percent each game. Oklahoma has some dangerous shooters in Cameron Clark and Buddy Hield but don't be surprised if the gifted Bison pull off the upset.

The fact that BYU received a 10 seed surprised me and they should get a very tough test against Oregon, who will attempt to run the Cougars out of the game in transition. The Cougars went 23-11 this year and 13-5 inside a pretty weak West Coast Conference but lost their second-leading scorer in sophomore Kyle Collinsworth in the WCC Championship game. They still have an interesting dangerous offense that has Tyler Haws, a junior guard that puts up 23.4 points per game. The Ducks' defense has been pretty spotty all year but they have quite the scorer in Houston transfer Joseph Young, who is still a Wooden Award candidate. Oregon beat BYU earlier in the year but freshman center Erik Mika has definitely improved for the Cougars. It should be a back-and-forth game but BYU might prove that the 10 seed was a little high for them.

Picking the West
Second Round
1 Arizona over
16 Weber State

9 Oklahoma State over
8 Gonzaga

4 San Diego State over
13 New Mexico State

12 North Dakota State over
5 Oklahoma

11 Nebraska over
6 Baylor

3 Creighton over
14 Louisiana-Lafayette

7 Oregon over
10 BYU

2 Wisconsin over
15 American

Third Round
9 Oklahoma State over
1 Arizona

4 San Diego State over
12 North Dakota State

3 Creighton over
11 Nebraska

2 Wisconsin over
7 Oregon

Sweet 16
9 Oklahoma State over
4 San Diego State

2 Wisconsin over
3 Creighton

2 Wisconsin over 9 Oklahoma State

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