West Regional Preview
March 19, 2014
By Joe Nelson
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The West is often overlooked nationally in the college basketball landscape and in this year’s tournament the West region will likely be the most overlooked region as well with most of the tournament favorites and most nationally popular teams playing elsewhere. The top contenders won’t mind the lack of attention in this region, here is a look at some of the most intriguing developments out West.
Favorite – Arizona
Despite little fanfare Arizona has by far the biggest odds gap between the second team in line in the regional futures odds in comparing the favorites in the four regions. Many doubt the Wildcats due to the late season loss of Brandon Ashley but this is still an extremely dangerous team that can win it all. The Wildcats have a veteran point guard, great size, and a do-it-all freshman that will be a NBA lottery pick. Venues in San Diego and then Anaheim also line up favorably for a deep run for the Wildcats. The Wildcats beat (West #4 seed) San Diego State in regular season and also posted wins over Duke and Michigan while winning the Pac-12. Arizona is also the top ranked team nationally in defensive efficiency as well.
Final Four Sleeper – Baylor
The Bears lost seven of eight games at one point in Big XII play but the Bears have some momentum now, winning seven of eight to close the regular season and winning three games in the Big XII Tournament before falling short against Iowa State in the final minutes of the championship game. The Bears have great depth and few teams have been better in offensive efficiency or rebounding. Baylor has 11 wins over NCAA Tournament teams this season and the Bears have been a different team with point guard Kenny Chery back to full health. The Bears won the NIT last season so this is team with better tournament experience than you might expect and playing in San Antonio for the first two potential games will help as well.
Sweet 16 Sleeper – New Mexico State
Spokane seems to be a venue where many are expecting some upsets with Harvard and North Dakota State as popular picks in the brackets. Fewer are looking at the Aggies as a serious threat but New Mexico State has some solid wins this season despite playing in the new look WAC. New Mexico State beat UTEP twice and also beat Drake. They also beat New Mexico on the road, the team that just beat San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament final. The Aggies have one of the tallest teams in the tournament and Mountain West teams have a track record of performing poorly in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. San Diego State was upset by Florida Gulf Coast last season and in a Spokane grouping with no real location edge for anyone, the underdogs expect to make some noise. Should the Aggies move on they would draw either a vulnerable Oklahoma squad that struggles defensively or a North Dakota State team that would be coming off its own big upset win.
Best Early Round Location Edge – Wisconsin
The Badgers will get to play in nearby Milwaukee with great support going against far away teams. If the Badgers get by American they will face either BYU or Oregon and those western schools will not likely feature great support. The last time Wisconsin was dealt games in Milwaukee in the NCAA Tournament things did not work out with a loss to #3 seed Pittsburgh in the second game as an under seeded #6 team but the Badgers will have a great opportunity to move on and wipe away last season’s early exit. Heading to Anaheim won’t provide an edge for Wisconsin where they could meet Arizona or San Diego State should they get to the regional final.
Best Opening Game – Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State
These are two dangerous teams that could be a threat against top seeded Arizona. Gonzaga nearly lost in a 1/16 matchup last season and has not had a great postseason track record in recent years. That may make the Bulldogs a bit overlooked this season despite dominance in WCC as usual and a few quality wins outside of conference. Gonzaga has great experience and size and the talent to move on. Oklahoma State will be under the microscope after the tumultuous season for Marcus Smart as the Cowboys failed to live up to the lofty preseason billing. The Cowboys have some late season momentum now with some big wins down the stretch and many see the Cowboys as a final four dark horse. It is a shame that one of these teams has to lose but it should make for one of the best round of 64 games.
Trendy Upset that won’t be – North Dakota State over Oklahoma
The Bison put together a great season with a 25-6 record they did not beat a single top 100 team this season. They played St. Mary’s, Southern Miss, and Ohio State but lost all three games. The win over Notre Dame did come with Jerian Grant on the floor for the Irish but the upset came in an awful spot for Notre Dame, just days before a huge game with Indiana. Notre Dame wound up with a losing record this season as that big win continued to diminish in value as the season went on. Oklahoma has a similar profile to North Dakota State with a great offense and a somewhat vulnerable defense. The numbers for Oklahoma are stronger on both sides of the ball however and the Sooners went through one of the tougher schedules in the nation playing in a deep Big XII. After losing in the first round of the tournament last season this will be a focused Oklahoma squad that will manage to hold off a stiff fight.
ODDS TO WIN WEST REGIONAL (Anaheim, CA)
Provided by the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (LVH) SuperBook
(Seeds listed in Parenthesis)
(1) ARIZONA 10/11
(2) WISCONSIN 7/2
(3) CREIGHTON 5/1
(4) SAN DIEGO ST 10/1
(5) OKLAHOMA 20/1
(6) BAYLOR 15/1
(7) OREGON 15/1
(9) OKLAHOMA ST 12/1
(8) GONZAGA 20/1
(11) NEBRASKA 75/1
(10) BYU 75/1
(12) NORTH DAKOTA ST 100/1
(13) NEW MEXICO ST 200/1
(14) LOUISIANA LAFAYETTE 300/1
(15) AMERICAN 1000/1
(16) WEBER ST 5000/1
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