Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Sam Routhier at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samrouthier.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s West region features a mishmash of teams from across the college basketball landscape, a development that will hopefully lead to some intriguing matchups in the weeks to come. Top-seeded Oregon, Pac-12 regular season and tournament champion, heads the region, followed by second seed Oklahoma and Wooden Award Candidate Buddy Hield. Further down the bracket is Yale, the Ivy League regular season champion and 12th seed, and teams from lesser known conferences that are nonetheless favorites of college basketball junkies countrywide.
The Favorite: No. 5 Oregon Ducks (28-6, 14-4, First in Pac-12)
The Pac-12’s Oregon Ducks earned themselves a top seed in this tournament after being projected as a second seed by experts thanks to a dominant showing in the Pac-12 Tournament. Most impressive was an absolute thrashing of Utah in the tournament final, a game that was over by halftime for all intents and purposes, and ended with a score of 88-57.
Oregon is led by its frontline of sophomore Dillon Brooks and senior Elgin Cook. The duo, who both measure 6’6″, combined to average more than 30 points per game for the Ducks this season. They’re joined in the frontcourt by senior Chris Boucher, a fearsome rim protector who stretches the floor on the offensive end with his 3-point shooting ability. Backcourt contributors for Oregon include freshman Tyler Dorsey and sophomore Casey Benson, while the bench is deep at the forward position with senior Dwanye Benjamin and freshman Jordan Bell a part of the rotation.
Oregon is a versatile, athletic team that often rolls with a lineup of five 3-point shooters. The Ducks can shoot any team in the country out of the gym, and head coach Dana Altman is most likely hoping they can ride their hot shooting ways to a Final Four berth for the first time since 1939. They’ll play the winner of a Holy Cross-Southern play-in game on Friday.
Although Oregon has been strong of late, the region is far from sewn up. Look no further than the Oklahoma Sooners for a team capable of advancing past Oregon to Houston for the Final Four.
Any discussion of the Sooners starts with the play of their dynamic senior guard Buddy Hield. Hield is a long-range assassin, averaging 25 points per game and shooting 46 percent from 3-point range on nearly nine 3-point attempts per game.
Fellow upperclassmen like senior forward Ryan Spangler, senior guard Isaiah Cousins and junior guard Jordan Woodard fill out the top of the Sooners’ rotation, and sophomore forward Khadeem Lattin is the lone underclassman to start for Oklahoma. The Sooners’ rotation only runs seven deep, and the two players who do manage to come off the bench only play an average of 12.5 minutes per game. This could bode poorly for the Sooners as the tournament rolls on and their reliance on their older players, and Hield in particular, suffers from late-season fatigue. The Sooners take on Cal State-Bakersfield in the first round on Friday.
Other teams that could make their presence felt in the region include third-seed Texas A&M, fourth-seed Duke and fifth-seed Baylor. Duke, the defending NCAA champions, come into this tournament with a two-headed monster duo of freshman forward Brandon Ingram and sophomore guard Grayson Allen. Allen, who some will remember played a surprising roll in the Blue Devils’ win over Wisconsin in the tournament’s final round last year, led the Blue Devils with 21.6 points per game this season. Ingram, though, is the straw that stirs the drink for Duke. Projected by some to be the top overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, Ingram is a crafty scorer and, at 6’9″, a tall order for any defender. Duke also has a Plumlee — senior center Marshall Plumlee — who makes up the third piece of Duke’s core.
Texas A&M, the SEC regular season champion, plays a physical brand of basketball that translates well to the postseason. One of only three SEC teams to make the big dance, the Aggies are on a collision course for a showdown with sixth seed Texas, who they’ll play if they can best 14th seed Green Bay on Friday. Texas, whose head coach Shaka Smart is best known for his VCU team’s bracket-busting ways earlier this decade, will unquestionably be licking its chops for the chance to upset its cross-state rival.
A final team of note is seventh-seed Oregon State, who enters the tournament amid some controversy regarding the Beavers’ seeding. Led by senior guard Gary Payton II, the Beavers are a popular pick to be upset by 10th seed VCU, especially after it was announced that the Beavers’ second highest scorer Tres Tinkle will miss the game. The Beavers and Rams will face off on Friday as well.
Just as this region is the most hodgepodge in the geography and identities of its squads, it seems like the results might get wonky here. Oregon is seen as the weakest top seed in the tournament, and occupies a spot that many believe should have gone to Michigan State, the second seed in the Midwest. If Oklahoma can pull away in its first-round matchup against Cal State-Bakersfield and maybe give Hield some time to rest for later in the tournament, Buddy-ball could find itself in Houston as the representative out of the West.
Holy Cross and Southern will open play in the West region when they battle for the 16th seed spot on Wednesday at 4:40 p.m. The game will be broadcast on TruTV.