The West Region of the NCAA Tournament bracket appears to be the most top-heavy and mismatched region in The Big Dance.
So naturally this is probably where most of the early tournament chaos will come from.
Oregon, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are all viable Final Four contenders and have been among the best teams in their respective conferences all season. Oh, and then there's some Duke team that you might've heard something about. Throw those four teams into a mix and you have a royal rumble that should provide an outstanding regional final.
The West Region semifinals and finals will take place on Thursday, March 24, and Saturday, March 26, in Anaheim. Here are Doc's Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the West Region (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
No. 1 Seed: Oregon Ducks (+250 to win the West Region)
I have been screaming about the Ducks for two months now. Apparently someone listened, because now Oregon is one of the most overseeded teams in the country and a "trendy" Final Four pick. The Ducks deserve some of the hype, just not all of it. This is virtually the same team that gave Wisconsin all it could handle in the second round of last year's tournament, swapping last year's star guard Joe Young with this year's freshman phenom Tyler Dorsey. Dorsey pairs with Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook to give the Ducks three guys capable of popping off at any time. Wily point guard Casey Benson runs the show. But the real heart of this team is its strength underneath. Chris Boucher is a shot blocker extraordinaire and forwards Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell are bulls on the offensive and defensive glass. Oregon comes in having won eight straight games and 14 of 16, and this is definitely a must-watch squad.
Oregon Tournament Predictions: I think that Oregon's tallest task might actually be in the second round. Oregon plays only seven guys, and they are coming off a dominating effort in the Pac-12 Tournament. It is a quick turnaround for the Ducks, and they'll have to be sharp, mentally and physically, to make it through this weekend. They are also the No. 1 Seed Everyone Thinks Will Lose First, which usually holds true. I think Oregon matches up great with both Duke and Baylor, potential Sweet 16 foes, and this Ducks team can make the Elite Eight. I think they could give us a classic if they match up with Oklahoma.
No. 2 Seed: Oklahoma Sooners (+250 to win the West Region)
If the NCAA Tournament, as the old trope goes, is about guard play then Oklahoma should be in great shape. The Sooners have the guy that will likely be the national player of the year in Buddy Hield as well as a pair of veteran backcourt mates in Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. The core of this team, including senior Ryan Spangler, has been together for the last three years. These guys played their way to No. 1 in the country and have the talent, continuity, and proven high-end ability to be a true national title contender. There's only one little problem. Oklahoma has never met a big game that it couldn't come up small in. The Sooners just have never seemed to be able to get over the hump and win a big game. At a certain point you have to wonder if they have the mental toughness that championship teams possess.
Oklahoma Tournament Predictions: I really do like this Oklahoma team. They thrashed Villanova and Wisconsin earlier this year. They blasted most of the Big 12 teams that are in the field. They have the best scorer in the country and a bunch of seniors that won't go down without a fight. I think that they have a favorable path to the Sweet 16, with their opening two games played in nearby Oklahoma City. After that I like how the Sooners matchup with the other top teams in the field. I think this team is a true Final Four contender.
No. 3 Seed: Texas A&M Aggies (+400)
The Aggies are another team that I have been praising all year long, and they have lived up to the hype. They endured an early February swoon and bounced back to win eight of their last nine games, with the lone loss coming in overtime against Kentucky in the SEC title game. A&M has an excellent blend of youth and experience, with fifth-year seniors Danuel House and Anthony Collins playing along with seniors Jalen Jones and do-it-all leader Alex Caruso. Mix in stud freshmen Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg, and the Aggies are in business. At 6-7, both House and Jones are big enough and strong enough to defend multiple positions, and either can go off for 25 points. Caruso is a sensational passer, and he and Collins are outstanding free throw shooters, which is crucial to closing out these tournament games.
Texas A&M Tournament Predictions: The sky is the limit for the Aggies. They don't have the pure NBA talent to win a national title. But they are skilled enough and especially experienced enough to make a long march. A&M's biggest problem might be the quick turnaround from Sunday's SEC title game loss to Friday's tournament opener. But if they don't suffer any letdown from their last game then this team is going to be one of the toughest outs in the region.
No. 4 Seed: Duke Blue Devils (+600)
The defending national champions reloaded in the offseason, bringing in a fresh crop of super-talented freshmen to lead them back to The Promised Land. Unfortunately for them, any chance of a repeat went out the window with the December injury to center Amile Jefferson. Duke still has future NBA talent to rely on, mainly with Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram. But the Devils have little to no depth in the frontcourt, with just two true post players on the roster. Duke isn't great defensively and they rely on their ability to outscore teams to win games. But that's not going to be enough. Remember: this team was outside the Top 25 in early February before a strong mid-month run. And they are just 3-4 in their last seven games overall, with all three wins coming against non-tournament teams.
Duke Tournament Predictions: I can't see a scenario where the Blue Devils make it out of this bracket. There's only one national champion. But it seems like every year the next best thing to winning it all is being the team that knocks the Blue Devils out of the dance. Allen and Ingram are impossible to stop. But there are too many big, physical teams standing between Duke and a trip to Houston, and this overrated team is going to fall, hard.
No. 5 Seed: Baylor Bears (+1000)
As I mentioned with Oklahoma, if guard play wins in March then Baylor is in trouble. The Bears boast a great frontcourt. Taurean Prince-Gulley is an NBA talent and Rico Gathers is one of the best rebounders in the country. John Motley is a viable, active player off the bench. But their guards - Lester Medford, Al Freeman and Ish Wainright - are mediocre at best. And that's just not going to be good enough. Baylor turns the ball over a lot and they don't shoot well from the outside. I don't trust any team that has to rely on offensive rebounds to generate a good chuck of its offense. It will be sad to see Prince and Gathers go, but unfortunately their careers will end unceremoniously because of shoddy backcourt mates.
Baylor Tournament Predictions: The Bears are overrated. Outside of a couple wins over Iowa State, they didn't really anyone of note. Scott Drew has been an excellent coach and Baylor has won a lot of games in March in recent years. But this team is just a filler, and they have virtually no upside potential. I don't see them lasting very long.
No. 6 Seed: Texas Longhorns (+800)
Shaka Smart is a winner. And that's good, because prior to his arrival in Austin this group of Longhorns had been huge losers. Texas is a team that looks great getting off the bus. Isaiah Taylor is flirting with going into the NBA draft. Javan Felix is a deadeye shooter. Connor Lammert can play inside and out. Cam Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Shaq Cleare have interior heft. And freshmen Kerwin Roach, Tevin Mack and Eric Davis have shown serious flashes this year. Yet Texas is as streaky as they come, beating North Carolina one day and losing to TCU on another. Texas wants to press, trap and let their guards loose to play fast. They can get erratic on offense, and I think Smart gives the freshmen too much slack. The physical talent is there. But that's about it.
Texas Tournament Predictions: Texas caught a tough draw with Northern Iowa. The Panthers will slow this game down, and we'll see if the Longhorns have the patience and discipline to knock them off. If so, the Longhorns will be sizeable underdogs against Texas A&M. I think Smart is building this program for the future, so any experience they can pick up in this tournament is a bonus. But after seeing them come up short in so many big games the last two years, I don't know that they have the goods to make a run.
Best first-round match up: No. 8 St. Joseph's (+1.5) vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
Hide the woman and children for this one. This game isn't going to be pretty, at all. It should be a street fight with two defensive-oriented, tough, physical teams. But even though it won't be aesthetically pleasing, this should be a good matchup. The Bearcats have lost six times since New Year's Day, but three of the losses were by a single basket and a fourth was in four overtimes against Connecticut. It takes a lot to shove the dagger into this team's heart. St. Joe's looked outstanding last weekend and beat the A-10's three other best teams, hitting big shot after big shot while winning that tournament. They aren't scared of anyone and won't back down from Cincinnati's burly approach. I can't see this game not coming down to the final seconds.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 6 Texas
Nothing like a little in-state rivalry to add some suspense to this one. And since they will both be playing relatively close to home (Oklahoma City), both fan bases should be well-represented. This game is actually a rematch of a November meeting at the Battle 4 Atlantis, which Texas A&M won easily, 84-73. However, Texas was just three games into Shaka Smart's tenure and weren't nearly as solid as they are now. The Longhorns have been pretty good at revenge games this year. They beat Washington in a second attempt early in the year. And after losing to ins-state rivals Texas Tech and TCU early the Longhorns won the second meetings via blowout.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 5 Baylor (-5.5) vs. No. 12 Yale
Baylor was the victim of a memorable upset last year when they lost to Ron Hunter and No. 14 seed Georgia State, blowing a nine-point lead late and choking away a prime seed. Could it happen again here? Yale has all kinds of off-court issues right now (their senior captain was kicked out of school for allegations of sexual assault). And Ivy League teams have been pathetic in the NCAA Tournament. But Yale is playing closer to home (Providence) and should have strong support. This team nearly beat a very good SMU team built similarly to Baylor, and Yale has tested itself against Duke and USC. They've only lost once since Christmas and could slow this game down, keep it close, and then spring a trap for the Bears late.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 8 St. Joseph's/No. 9 Cincinnati
A game against either St. Joe's or Cincinnati will be a rock fight for the Ducks. The Hawks are some bad dudes. They played at an extremely high level last weekend in the A-10 Tournament, and wings DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles match up really well with Oregon's guards. Cincinnati is a team that can just grind teams down, muck up the game and get it played in the 50s. The Bearcats are crafty and they are experienced, and they could catch Oregon napping. Oregon should hammer their opening-round opponent. That would mean their last two games, against Utah in the Pac-12 title game and their opening round against a No. 16 seed, would've been blowouts. If they let down their guard against St. Joseph's or Cincinnati they could pay for it.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 4 Duke
At the outset of the season I knew that Duke was a sucker bet to win the national championship . Duke has been all over the map this season. At one point they were in the Top 10. At another they were outside the Top 25. This team has two NBA-caliber players in Allen and Ingram, and they are the defending champions. But it is not as if we haven't seen the Blue Devils get bounced prematurely before (see: VCU and Mercer). Duke beat Louisville, Virginia and North Carolina all in a row this year. They also lost at Clemson and at home to Notre Dame and Syracuse in a row this season. Who knows what this team is capable of this weekend?
2016 West Region Predictions: There are a lot of potential pitfalls in this bracket, which just seems a little too easy to predict along the chalk. But at the end of the day I think that Oklahoma simply has an easier road to the regional finals than any of the other top seeds. If the Sooners have to face Texas A&M then that would be a great game. As would a date with Oregon in the regional finals. But the odds of those teams getting bumped off before squaring off with Oklahoma are a lot better than the Sooners tripping up before the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. I think that this region is Oklahoma's to lose - not Oregon's - and I think that Hield and Co. find their way to Houston.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and he is on an unbelievable run right now, more than doubling his clients' bankrolls in the last seven weeks while earning $13,900 in profit! Robert has banked 10 straight winning college basketball regular seasons and he will have his 8-Unit NCAA Tournament Game of the Year available on Thursday this week. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing March Madness. Click here to get two days of college basketball picks for free - no hassle and no credit card needed.
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