It is that time again. People filling out brackets at the office, getting into betting pools based on 18- and 19-year-old young men, people trying to pick the right upsets, and maybe even picking that “Cinderella story”. I know it’s a shameless “Caddyshack” reference, but it certainly applies when people get into a bracket for the tournament.
Getting past all the brackets being filled out, let’s take a look at the West Region, which is led by the Oregon Ducks as the region’s number one seed.
The big teams on this side of the bracket are Oregon, Oklahoma, Duke, and Texas A&M, but as a region the West is relatively weak compared to the other sides of the bracket. When I look at the top four teams in this region, I don’t look at one team and think “Oh, they win this region with ease.” Let’s look at the teams that have a pretty good shot at coming out of the West.
Oregon is playing as well as anybody in the country right now. People might be looking at the Ducks and underestimating them a little bit. Don’t sleep on the Quack Attack. They have athletes and play well together as a team.
Oklahoma can win this region as well. They get to play their game(s) in Oklahoma City and are considered one of the top two seeds in the whole tournament. They also have one of the best players in the country in Buddy Hield who can simply take over a game and win that game.
Defending National Champion Duke, which is arguably having a down year, could win this region behind its best player, Grayson Allen. You just have to watch your feet around Grayson. Grayson can flat out score the basketball and if he gets going it can have positive consequences for the Blue Devils.
Celtic great, Bill Russell, has always said basketball is about “getting buckets”. Texas A&M gets buckets in bunches and is scoring an average of 10 points per game more than its opponent. When the Aggies get on a run, it can result in an avalanche of points that their opponents can’t recover from. If teams have to match the scoring of Texas A&M they will be in for a long night and that is why the Aggies can win the West Region.
Players to Watch
Dillon Brooks (Oregon): This kid can play some basketball. Having watched him live, he is a match up problem for most teams. He can post up down low, bang with the big guys, score, or he can take his game to the perimeter and knock down shots. He’s the hybrid type of player that is a nightmare for opposing coaches to game plan for. He’s the leader for Oregon and he could make his national coming out party in the Tournament.
Grayson Allen (Duke): Grayson is another in the long line of hated Duke Blue Devils who can shoot the ball. This player is as tough as they come and can score from the mid-range area, can take it to the rim, and hit the three-point shot with relative ease. If he has another moment like he did in last year’s title game, the Blue Devils could make another special run this year.
Buddy Hield (Oklahoma): This young man was one of the best stories in college basketball this season. The young Bahamian averaged 25 points per game and can also hit the three point shot at a fantastic rate as well. The other thing that comes with a season like he had is that he just might win National Player of the Year. The aspect that I like about him is his personality. He smiles for the cameras, he’s engaging, and looks like he’s actually enjoying himself out on the court. Watch Hield and you could be watching something special happen.
Gary Payton II (Oregon State): This is one of those stories that people who follow Oregon State would only know about. Last time the Beavers were in the NCAA Tournament, Gary Payton Sr. was leading the Beavers to the tournament. It’s a circle of life thing for the Beaver fans. The son, is making his mark this year in the Pac-12 and is in the running for the Player of the Year award for the conference. He plays both ends of the court and to say his relative calm demeanor takes away from his game would be a gross mischaracterization. Watch this kid play. You won’t be disappointed.
At the end of the day, I think the West is about as wide open as it could possibly be. Oregon earned its number one seed by winning the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles but you can’t take anything away from Duke, Oklahoma, or even Texas A&M. As a person who has followed college basketball his entire life, I know the NCAA Tournament is full of surprises and I am sure this year will be no different. Let the games begin.
E-mail Mike at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.