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Bracket Analysis: West Region

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Seemingly out of nowhere, Oregon ascended all the way to a No. 1 seed, hanging on to it in the West Region. It was well deserved, considering the Ducks had won both the regular season and conference tournament in the Pac-12 and had beaten Baylor non-conference. Though, Oregon is still looked at by many as undeserving or maybe more of a dark horse, just because they haven't got a ton of national exposure. Though, the Ducks are legit, headed by a strong frontline including Elgin Cook, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher and leading scorer Dillon Brooks. Dana Altman, the former Creighton head man, is also one great coach. He not only does a great job throughout the season, he is terrific in in-game adjustments and keeping his team calm. In the hectic NCAA Tournament, those things should obviously be important. The Ducks don't have an overly difficult route to the Final Four, though there are obviously some perils. Cincinnati/St. Joe's could be sneaky, but a Sweet 16 bid against either inconsistent Baylor or undermanned Duke should be nice. Plus, Oklahoma is a jump-shooting team that could go cold, and Texas A&M isn't completely proven. While some may think the Ducks are the most likely No. 1 seed to fall early, I think they are a strong, capable team. An Elite Eight berth is a very real possibility, along with possible higher honors.

Baylor remains as perhaps my biggest wildcard in this entire, 68-team field full of inconsistent squads and plenty of dark horses. The Bears were solid throughout the year, finishing off in the top half of the Big 12 and clearly earning a five seed. They simply beat they should have and didn't really beat any major powers, seemingly coasting to a solid season. They have plenty of talent; Rico Gathers and Jonathan Motley are warriors on the block, and plenty of shooting help exists. But, they also don't have a very deep bench, and Scott Drew's teams have too often not living up to their potential in March (including their stunning loss to Georgia State last year, in which they basically gave the game away). They will also get matched with a very interesting Yale team. Coming from the Ivy League has been a good omen as of late, as Harvard has done some serious damage in the tourney. Yale also has great fundamentals and is a team that does well in transition, which could be a problem for Baylor. A second round meeting with likely Duke (although UNC Wilmington should not be overlooked) is an advantage to the Bears, but beyond that is anyone's guess. This team could very well end up being a Final Four-caliber or fall flat on their face. But, the same thing can be said about 30 other teams in this bracket, and that is what makes this particular NCAA Tournament so intriguing and scary at the same time.

If there is a major dark horse coming from this region, I would put my money on the winner of the Texas/Northern Iowa game, particularly the eleventh-seeded Panthers. The Panthers were a popular dark horse pick a year ago, after having major success in the Missouri Valley, but they didn't completely live up to it. This year, they have rode guard Wes Washpun to wins over UNC and Iowa State, and then a Missouri Valley Conference Championship. Head coach Ben Jacobson always seems to have success because his teams are always experienced, play hard and good defense, and never really have a superstar they will sorely miss. If UNI can handle the pressure of Texas and their multiple offensive weapons, they very well could be lethal down the stretch. Texas A&M would be very interesting, pitting size and power against more size and power. While this bracket won't be kind for Northern Iowa (when is March ever kind, though?) this team has grit and toughness, and they remind me of Wichita State a few years ago. They very well could chaos some mass chaos, something they are familiar with, reminiscent of their stunner of No. 1 overall seed Kansas all the way back in 2010.

Perhaps there was no story just simply as cool as Oregon State and Gary Payton II this season. The son of NBA legend Gary Payton, who dominated in his days back at OSU, used his senior year to become a national star. His incredible athleticism, explosive dunks, great defense and playmaking ability became popular Vines, and he was so fun to watch. He helped lead the Beavers back to the NCAA Tournament, in just head coach Wayne Tinkle's second year. It set up a meeting with VCU, a team well known for their March prowess, but has looked a little different this year under first-year head man Will Wade. Oregon State is the more talented team in my opinion, but something to note: the Beavs are likely going to be without their true starting point guard, Tres Tinkle, the coach's son. Tinkle is vastly underrated, the more calming presence to Payton's thunder. He scores a decent rate, passes very well and engineers the offense. Without him in the Pac-12 Tournament, Oregon State looked absolutely lost against California. VCU still often runs a variation of Shaka Smart's "Havoc", designed to create chaos and cause turnovers. Gary Payton II, a.k.a. GP2, is one heck of a player, but turnovers have been a problem. A turnover guard against VCU? I don't like those odds very much. Yet, if Oregon State does manage to survive or Tinkle does indeed play, this could be very interesting team. They don't have a ton down low, but they have a great overall backcourt, and Tinkle gets them to play hard every single night. A likely meeting with Oklahoma in the second round could be a chance for Oregon State to reappear on the grand stage. Every single NCAA Tournament needs a star, and how crazy would it be if it was GP2?

Yet another team that is tough to get a read on is Oklahoma. Ever since my "Scouting the Contenders" post on the Sooners proclaiming they will make the Final Four, they have been pretty iffy. Buddy Hield still has moments where he drops 40 (ahem, Iowa State), but they also have had some poor losses and remain a relatively iffy No. 2 seed. Hield is an absolute superstar and he can carry you to wins. But, even for him, six would be pretty difficult. Of course, Oklahoma isn't just Buddy Hield. Guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have had their moments, but they have been inconsistent, and I think Cousins takes too many dumb shots. Former Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler is good, but he isn't really a true big man, he spends too much time on the perimeter. That puts more pressure on Khadeem Lattin down low. He is one of the few true Sooners' bigs and he has looked dominant at teams. Jump shooting teams can go through very cold stretches obviously, which makes Oklahoma very scary to work with. I'm assuming they'll move on to round two (although crazier things have happened), but their second round matchup could be scary. A Sweet 16 date with possibly Texas A&M could also expose their problems down low. I have Oklahoma plunging deep into the tournament this year, and I firmly expect Buddy Hield to just wow the nation some more. But, they certainly aren't perfect and having them, Oregon, Baylor and unproven Texas A&M in the same bracket makes the West Region tough and confusing to read.

Picking the South Region
First Round
1 Oregon over 16 Holy Cross (First Four winner)... The Ducks may experience some hangover from their Pac-12 Championship and No. 1 seed but even they won't fall to Holy Cross.
9 Cincinnati over 8 St. Joseph's... Mick Cronin's Bearcats will have to contain Isaiah Miles and the sneaky Hawks. But, they have more March experience, and will be motivated following their stunning loss in the AAC Tournament to UConn.
5 Baylor over 12 Yale... I do think Yale will make things interesting. But, I just don't think the Bulldogs have the defense down low to contain Gathers/Motley.
4 Duke over 13 UNC Wilmington... Duke is crazy talented, but they have six players on their roster that can play. That could leave them vulnerable against the Seahawks, but Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen will overpower them.
6 Texas over 11 Northern Iowa...Really pits speed and fast-paced against grit and power, and I'm excited. Isaiah Taylor might just go off, seriously sinking UNI's chances.
3 Texas A&M over 14 Green Bay... Green Bay stunned Valparaiso en route to the Horzion League crown, but they won't have any magic left to stop Tyler Davis and Jalen Jones down low.
10 VCU over 7 Oregon State... As mentioned, OSU could be without Tres Tinkle in this one. That leaves them very vulnerable, and the Beavers will have to stop a plethora of playmakers.
2 Oklahoma over 15 Cal State Bakersfield... The Roadrunners have also had a great March moment, beating the buzzer, as they won the WAC. But, they have nobody that can stop Buddy Hield nor Isaiah Cousins.

Second Round
1 Oregon over 9 Cincinnati... Bearcats may have muscle to actually match up well with Oregon in the paint. But, they don't have the scoring punch Ducks have, nor the momentum.
5 Baylor over 4 Duke... Without Amile Jefferson, Duke only has Marshall Plumlee and Ingram as their really only bigs (Chase Jeter doesn't inspire confidence). Unless those two can dominate over 40 minutes, the Bears should roll.
3 Texas A&M over 6 Texas... Somebody loved setting this old, classic rivalry up. Although mainly football rivals, Texas and A&M are certainly ready for bragging rights on the court. Longhorns simply don't have enough to counter Davis in the post.
2 Oklahoma over 10 VCU... Can the Rams pull off a major upset here? They would have to hope for some poor play from Hield and company, and also hope Spangler and Lattin don't hurt them too much in the paint.

Sweet 16
1 Oregon over 5 Baylor... Battle of two high-paced, exciting football teams. Will feature plenty of dominant posts, but Ducks may just have enough shooting and momentum to overcome Bears.
2 Oklahoma over 3 Texas A&M... Texas A&M matches up very well against Oklahoma, and there is a chance Hield could be absolutely worn by this game. But, the Sooners did get an extra day of rest by losing earlier than hoped in the Big 12 Tournament, and could get scorching hot.

Elite Eight
2 Oklahoma over 1 Oregon... Lon Kruger's teams always play with great poise and energy, and this Oklahoma edition is no different. The Ducks are a very tough challenge, but can they really stop Hield, Cousins, Woodard and underrated Christian James?

West Region Champion: 2 Oklahoma Sooners

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