2014 NCAA Tournament Predictions: West Region

March 19, 2014
By K. Becks

Your opinion of teams in the West Region probably depends on where in the United States you are located. For some, teams situated in the “bread basket” region of the country are not to be taken lightly. For others, the Southwest has teams hotter than the weather in that area. For others still, teams from the Pac-12 Conference are the safest bets.

Any way you look at it, things could get hairy by the second weekend of the tournament.

Here is my breakdown of the West Region.

Second Round Games to Watch

#8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Oklahoma State (Friday, approximately 4:40 PM)

You would have been believed last November had you predicted Gonzaga would end up in the position, but Oklahoma State? Doubtful. The Cowboys were projected as a potential No. 1 seed early on in the season, and it took a rough patch plus the suspension of star Marcus Smart for three games to drop Travis Ford’s squad to the No. 9 seed. But the Cowboys seem to have regained their swagger, and are not a team that Arizona would like to see opposite its name in the third round. Oklahoma State has as much talent as any team in the tournament with Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash down low, and Phil Forte is good for the dagger three pointers. But on the other side of this matchup is Gonzaga, which brings to the table something the Cowboys never found this season: consistency.

Mark Few didn’t go out of his way to schedule a rough out-of-conference schedule like he normally does, but it didn’t seem to matter in the way the ‘Zags went about punishing the WCC competition. With the exception of the departed Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga is a fairly similar team to last year, only it relies more on perimeter play. The Bulldogs’ style is similar to that of Oklahoma State, and with both teams in the top 40 in the country in terms of points per game this one should be a high scoring affair. Coach Few will likely strategize to limit the effectiveness of Smart, in which case the play of Le’Bryan Nash becomes extremely important for the Cowboys. Chances are, if Nash plays well, Oklahoma State wins.

#6 Baylor vs. #11 Nebraska (Friday, 12:40 PM)

This No. 6 vs. No. 11 matchup is between two teams that found their stride somewhere near the middle of the year. For the Bears, it came in mid-February when junior guard Kenny Chery took the reins of the offense that was struggling. For Nebraska, it was a more understated progression, with quality wins over the course of the conference schedule proving that first team All-Big Ten performer Terran Petteway was not just a one man show. Now, the two late-blooming teams will square off in one of the more underrated second round matchups.

In order for Nebraska to capture its first NCAA Tournament victory, it will need to play lights out on defense. Petteway is a solid offensive player, but the Cornhuskers choked away an 18-point lead in the Big Ten tournament against Ohio State due to an inability to score but a more profound loss of concentration defensively. Baylor can score in a number of ways, perhaps most dangerously through a duo of sharpshooters (Brady Heslip, Royce O’Neale) who hit better than 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc. With the offense humming, the Bears will be confident shooting the ball and won’t be afraid to push the tempo. Nebraska has shown the ability to dictate the pace this season, and will need to do so again in order to have a chance in this one.

Team That Could Make a Run

Baylor

With the exception of Louisville, Baylor may be the hottest power conference team that failed to win its conference tournament. It is no secret that the Bears have a ton of talent and athleticism on the floor, but only in the past month or so has Scott Drew’s team turned that into results. With Kenny Chery leading the offense, Baylor is much more balanced and can play an inside out game that is extremely difficult to defend against. The length of the forwards also gives the Bears the ability to alter the opponent’s shot quite frequently, which has served as a pretty good defensive mechanism.

Perhaps even more important than Baylor’s resurgence is the potential bracket landscape in front of the team. If Baylor were to beat Nebraska, it would potentially set up a de facto home game in San Antonio against Doug McDermott and Creighton. As good as McDermott is, Creighton’s chances in the tournament falls more on its ability to hit shots from behind the arc. Then there is Wisconsin in the No. 2 slot, which has a more potent offense than Badger fans are used to seeing but is suspect defensively and has had a history of bowing out to lower seeds in the tournament under Bo Ryan. A lot of this is speculation, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Baylor as one of the last teams standing in the West. The talent is there and the matchups seem to play in Coach Drew’s favor.

My Picks

Second Round

#1 Arizona over #16 Weber State

#9 Oklahoma State over #8 Gonzaga

#12 North Dakota State over #5 Oklahoma (upset alert)

#4 San Diego State over #13 New Mexico State

#6 Baylor over #11 Nebraska

#3 Creighton over #14 Louisiana-Lafayette

#7 Oregon over #10 Brigham Young

#2 Wisconsin over #15 American

Third Round

#1 Arizona over #8 Oklahoma State

#4 San Diego State over #12 North Dakota State

#6 Baylor over #3 Creighton (upset alert)

#7 Oregon over #2 Wisconsin (upset alert)

Sweet 16

#1 Arizona over #4 San Diego State

#6 Baylor over #7 Oregon

Elite 8

#1 Arizona over #6 Baylor

- K. Becks

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