College Basketball

NCAA Bracket 2014: Complete Guide to West Region

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterMarch 17, 2014

NCAA Bracket 2014: Complete Guide to West Region

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona gets the top seed in a West Region that looks completely wide open. With Wisconsin as the No. 2 seed and Creighton at No. 3, this could really be anyone's region for the taking. 

    However, there is a ton of star power in the West. And it shouldn't be a surprise to see one of the individual impact players, whether it's Creighton's Doug McDermott or Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, take over and will his team on a run. 

Round of 64 Schedule and TV Info

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Thursday, March 20

    (Games in Spokane, Wash.)

    No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State: 7:15 p.m. ET on Tru TV

    No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 13 New Mexico State: 9:55 p.m. ET on Tru TV  

     

    (Games in Milwaukee)

    No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10. BYU: 3 p.m. ET on Tru TV

    No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 American: 12:30 p.m. ET on Tru TV 

     

    Friday, March 21

    (Games in San Diego)

    No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Weber State: 2 p.m. ET on TNT

    No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State: 4:30 p.m. ET on TNT

     

    (Games in San Antonio)

    No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska: 12:30 p.m. ET on Tru TV 

    No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette: 3 p.m. ET on Tru TV

Must-See Games in Round of 64

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 3 Creighton Bluejays vs. No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

    Creighton can't be happy to see Louisiana-Lafayette in the first round, a team fresh off a confidence-building win over Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference championship.

    But few teams, if any, have a weapon as potent as Creighton's Doug McDermott, who's averaging over 26 points a game on 45.4 percent shooting from downtown on the year.

    Still, the Ragin' Cajuns dress a few offensive studs of their own, including point guard Elfrid Payton, who's averaging 19 points, six boards and six dimes, and big man Shawn Long, who averages a double-double on the year. 

    With plenty of star power, this No. 3-No. 14 matchup should be one to watch in the Round of 64.

     

    No. 6 Baylor Bears vs. No. 11 Nebraska Cornuskers

    Baylor has been playing extremely well as of late, thanks to strong play by the veterans Brady Heslip and Cory Jefferson. But it's been the play of new point guard Kenny Chery that's made the difference. 

    Nebraska is led by Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway, who's had a few offensive explosions this season. The Cornhuskers also have a tough frontcourt matchup problem in Walter Pitchford, a 6'10" forward who shoots it 41.7 from downtown. 

    Each team brings a little something different to the table here, from Baylor's top-to-bottom talent to Nebraska's tough, hard-nosed mentality. This should be one of those back-and-forth games that goes down to the last few possessions. 

Top Storylines to Follow

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Marcus Smart and the Cowboys

    What a bizarre season it's been for Oklahoma State and Marcus Smart, who's had his reputation and game both come under fire in 2013-14. 

    Between the team's up-and-down performance and Smart's questionable behavior, which resulted in a three-game suspension following the fan-shoving incident in Texas Tech, many had wondered if we had Smart all wrong. 

    However, after returning from suspension, Smart and the Cowboys have bounced back. 

    Will we see the Cowboys that lost five of six games at full strength earlier in the year, or the one that recently took down Kansas on March 1? And how will Smart perform in what's going to be his last NCAA tournament?

    This is a team that has the talent to blow up, especially with upperclassmen Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash on their A-games. But we've also seem this squad underachieve on many occasions over the past two seasons. 

     

    How Far Can Doug McDermott Carry Creighton?

    He's the National Player of the Year favorite. But how far can Doug McDermott carry Creighton? His three-point-shooting splash brother Ethan Wragge, who hits 3.2 three-pointers a game, only shot 1-of-7 from downtown in Creighton's loss to Providence in the Big East Conference championship game. Other than McDermott, nobody else in the starting lineup made more than two field goals.

    No team can stop McDermott, who finds ways to score against any and every opponent. The question is whether or not his supporting cast will provide the support he needs.

Stars to Watch

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Nick Johnson, Arizona, PG/SG, Junior

    Johnson is the engine that makes Arizona go, and if the Wildcats want to emerge from the West Region, they'll need him fully charged for a run.

    He's averaging 16 points a game this season as the team's most explosive playmaker. And he just might be the most athletic guard in the region. Johnson plays well above the rim, leading to a number of high-flying slams throughout a game. 

    He's struggled at times this season with shooting consistency, but if Johnson is connecting on the perimeter, as well as finding his teammates in the drive-and-dish game, he becomes one of the more dynamic two-way guards in the country. 

     

    Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Sophomore

    A tremendous NBA prospect and floor general, Marcus Smart has the ability to take over games. Individually, he was extremely productive this year—he averaged nearly 18 points, 5.7 boards, 4.7 assists and 2.8 steals a night. And at 6'4", 220 pounds, he's as physically overwhelming as any guard in the country. 

    Smart's decision-making and shooting consistency have held him back in terms of efficiency, but when he's locked in, you won't find a guard who can make a bigger impact at both ends of the floor. 

     

    Doug McDermott, Creighton, SF, Senior

    There isn't a spot on the floor he can't score from. Doug McDermott is averaging 26.9 points a game this year, his third season in a row he's averaged over 22, and the fourth season in a row he's shot over 40 percent from deep. 

    Step-backs, pull-ups, one-legged fadeaways, post-ups—McDermott is an offensive threat from any and every angle. 

    Only four times all year did he fail to notch 20 points in a game, and he ended his regular season with a 45-point explosion at home. Whether he's a lottery pick or not, I'm not sure there's much debate over who the best offensive player in college basketball is. 

Favorite Most Likely to Fall Early: Wisconsin Badgers

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Wisconsin is vulnerable. Though balanced, with four players averaging in double-digits in scoring, nobody on the team scores more than 14 points a game. 

    This might seem admirable, but in a win-or-go-home setting, I want a guy I know I can lean on to score when there's a drought. And the Badgers just don't have that go-to weapon to rely on. 

    In conference play, Wisconsin has losses to Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Nebraska, and it just lost to Michigan State in the conference tournament. 

    In the second round, the Badgers could end up facing Oregon, a team that's been hot in February and March despite losing to UCLA in the conference tournament. The Ducks actually beat UCLA a few weeks back and followed with a win over No. 1 seed Arizona.

    Sophomore forward Sam Dekker will be the key for Wisconsin, though he's disappeared a bit too much. He shot just 3-of-6 in a recent loss to Nebraska, 2-of-6 in a loss to Ohio State and 2-of-9 in that ugly loss to Northwestern. 

    I thought Wisconsin was vulnerable before looking at the bracket. But with a hot Oregon team likely to be waiting in the round of 32, I'm even more confident that the Badgers will be going home early once again.

Cinderella Story Waiting to Happen: Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    After a remarkable overtime win over Georgia State in the Sun Belt conference tournament, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns will enter the dance as a prime Cinderella candidate. 

    This is a team with two dominant offensive players in point guard Elfrid Payton and big man Shawn Long. 

    Payton, who spent time this past summer with USA's FIBA World Championship team in Prague, is averaging over 19 points, six boards and six assists this year. He reminds you a little bit of John Wall—with excellent size for his position, he's a standout athlete who can get to the rack at will and finish above the rim. He's had four 30-plus point games this season. 

    Long averaged a monster double-double this year with 18.9 points and 10.4 boards. At 6'9", 245 pounds, Long can dominate the interior or work the perimeter game as a stretch or pick-and-pop shooter. 

    In between, the Cajuns have Xavian Rimmer who can stroke it from deep (1.5 threes a game on 42.4 percent shooting from downtown) and a secret weapon in J.J. Davenport off the bench—a 6'6", 325-pound big man with soft hands and a tremendous motor inside. 

    This team is playing with confidence, as well as with house money. And with a first-round talent at the point, a top-notch big man in the paint and a promising supporting cast, the Cajuns are as good of a bet to bust a bracket as any low seed in the tournament.

Who Will Make the Sweet 16?

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    Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona Wildcats

    I don't see Weber State posing a problem for Arizona, and though Gonzaga and Oklahoma State are both potentially dangerous, neither have the offensive discipline to hang with the Wildcats' elite defense, which Kenpom's advanced stats rank No. 1 in adjusted efficiency. 

     

    Oklahoma Sooners

    The Sooners have been a tough out in the Big 12 all season long, thanks to a couple of wings who've made huge strides offensively this season. Buddy Hield has raised his scoring average nine points up to 16.8 a game, while Cameron Clark raised his nearly nine as well from 6.5 up to 15.3. 

    Kenpom's advanced stats have Oklahoma No. 13 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 30 in the country in turnover rate. Between the firepower they get from the wing and the way they value each possession, along with the surprise play of freshman point guard Jordan Woodard, I like the Sooners to knock off North Dakota State and beat either New Mexico State or San Diego State in the second round.

     

    Nebraska Cornhuskers

    Nebraska is led by Terran Petteway, who's capable of taking over a game and scoring lots of points in bunches. Petteway actually led the Big Ten is scoring this year with 18.1 points a game, as he's emerged as a legitimate go-to option and one of the toughest to stop in the country. This is a team that just blew an 18-point second-half lead to Ohio State, and while that might deflate some teams, I'm expecting it to motivate Nebraska.

     

    Oregon Ducks

    Oregon has been hot lately, having reeled in eight wins in a row prior to the conference tournament loss to UCLA. Houston transfer Joseph Young has been a machine all year, averaging 18.6 points on 47.5 percent shooting, while UNLV transfer Mike Moser has given them a versatile frontcourt mismatch who can clean the glass, run the floor or stretch it as a shooter. Ranked No. 12 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency by Kenpom and No. 18 in three-point shooting, I like the Ducks to sink a short-handed BYU team and then Wisconsin in the round of 32. 

The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be: Arizona vs. Oregon

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Having already played twice this season, Arizona and Oregon should be quite familiar with one another. 

    They split the season series, with the Wildcats winning by two back on February 6 and the Ducks taking the second game by seven on March 8.

    To meet in the Elite Eight, I've got Oregon taking out BYU, Wisconsin and Nebraska, and Arizona knocking off Weber State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. 

    The Wildcats are just too good on defense, while they throw out enough offensive weapons to win even if a few aren't on their games. Nick Johnson has been big-time all year, while T.J. McConnell has given this team a completely new look while running the point as a pass-first facilitator. 

    You have to love what Oregon brings to the table with breakdown point guard Johnathan Lloyd and the offensive fireball in Joseph Young. I love guard play when it comes to the NCAA tournament, and the Ducks have an awfully dangerous backcourt to pair with transfer Mike Moser up front.

And the Final Four Pick Is...

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    I love the Oregon Ducks in the West Region in 2014, not only because of how they've been playing, but because of the draw that's in front of them. 

    They'll get BYU in the round of 64, a team that's missing a key player in Kyle Collinsworth. And quite frankly, I just don't love Wisconsin.

    The obvious barrier to the Final Four will be Arizona, but since it lost Brandon Ashley, the Wildcats have looked beatable at times. And that's because that's what they've become. Since Ashley went down, Arizona lost to UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State, and they lost the game when Ashley got hurt to California (the injury happened in first three minutes of the game.)

    Without Ashley, the Wildcats will have to be over-reliant on freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and I just don't think they're ready. 

    As a 12 seed last year, the Ducks beat No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Saint Louis before losing to eventual champs in Louisville in the Sweet 16. And they're better in 2014. 

    I've got Oregon taking advantage of a vulnerable region and making a surprise run to this year's Final Four.

Prediction for Oregon in the Final Four

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    Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

    It took enough guts to put Oregon in the Final Four. I just don't have any left to make it advance to the championship game. 

    Though I love what coach Dana Altman has done, and I'm excited about the makeup of the team, I'm just not sure it offers enough defensive resistance or offensive firepower this late. 

    I've got Oregon losing to Louisville in the Final Four.

     

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