The West Region is, at least arguably, the weakest region of this year's NCAA Tournament. There are still, though, some very good teams with a chance to do some damage this March. Below, we take a look at some of the players, teams, and match-ups to watch.
Best first round match-up:
#5 Baylor vs. #12 Yale
Poor Baylor. Most teams that are highly seeded get to play teams like Hawaii, South Dakota State, Iona, or Northern Iowa - teams that might be able to win, but are at a distinct disadvantage. Not so for Baylor. Baylor has to play Yale. KenPom currently has Yale as the #38 team in the country, nipping at Baylor's heels. And while Yale doesn't have a marquee out-of-conference win, the Bulldogs were able to play SMU and USC very close on the road. At a neutral site, Yale/Baylor is a relatively close match-up (Vegas has Baylor as only a five-point favorite right now) that looks to be the most competitive first round game in this region.
Player to watch:
Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma
If you haven't seen Buddy Hield play yet this season, you've missed out. Hield is arguably the most prolific scorer in college basketball this season. He is ball dominant, taking a whopping 31.3% of Oklahoma's shots when he's on the floor, but he manages to take all those shots without sacrificing efficiency. He shoots nearly 50% from the floor, nearly 90% from the line, and over 46% from three. With the possible exception of Denzel Valentine, no one has been as efficient offensively this season than Buddy Hield.
Hield manages all this while still remaining extremely entertaining. From his half-court near-buzzer beater against West Virginia to his Steph Curry impersonation against Texas Tech to his late game performance against Texas, Hield is really fun to watch.
First high seed to lose:
The tournament is just too much of a minefield for Baylor to have much of a chance. First, they have to beat Yale, which is a close call as is. If they happen to beat Yale, they'll have to play Duke in the second round in a game that the Bears will almost certainly be an underdog in. Baylor's chance at winning both those games are pretty small, so I expect they'll be the first high seed (relatively speaking) to lose.
Projected Sweet 16 match-ups:
#1 Oregon vs. #4 Duke, #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Texas A&M
These picks are admittedly chalk, but they're chalk for a reason. Unlike other regions, where a potential sleeper looms in the 5+ seed range, the West region doesn't have that. Baylor is barely top 25 on KenPom, Texas is 30th, and Oregon State is a laughable 60th. The likely result, then, is that the top four seeds manage to make it to the Sweet 16.
At that point, it gets a little more interesting. Oregon would be favored over Duke. And though the transitive property doesn't really work for basketball, it's worth mentioning that Duke lost to the same Utah team that the Ducks smoked on Saturday. That doesn't guarantee a win, but Oregon should win and advance to the Elite Eight. Oklahoma, meanwhile, will be a relatively comfortable favorite over a Texas A&M team that probably didn't deserve the three-seed, setting up Oklahoma versus Oregon for the right to advance to the Final Four. And that team will be...
Team to emerge from the West:
I think Oklahoma is the team that comes out of the West. Oklahoma has senior leadership between Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Ryan Spangler. They have a very good coach in Lon Kruger. They have been tested both on the road (with a win at Baylor and a very close loss in 3OT to Kansas) and at neutral sites (with wins against Iowa State and Villanova). And they have one of the best players in the country in Buddy Hield. What more could you ask for?
Oregon, meanwhile, is talented, but doesn't have the same leadership and doesn't have the singular talent that Oklahoma does. Dillon Brooks is great, sure, but he's nowhere near as productive as Hield. Between that and Oklahoma's consistent performance in the toughest league in college basketball, I give the edge to Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners and expect to see them advance to the Final Four in Houston.