by Paul West
After one of the more exciting NCAA basketball seasons in recent memory, Selection Sunday is finally here! Millions of bracketologists are studying, stressing and sweating over their March Madness picks. Here’s a region by region breakdown of the 2014 March Madness bracket.
Bracketology 2014: West Region
1 Arizona vs. 16 Weber State (San Diego, CA)
The Arizona Wildcats have been at or near the top of the rankings all season, despite losing starting forward Brandon Ashley near the beginning. They’re one of the strongest defensive teams in the country, only surrendering 58.1 points per game. Shooting guard Nick Johnson is a game-changing talent, and despite being taken to the brink a few times, the Wildcats went 30-4. The 19-11 Weber State Wildcats (that’s right, it’s Wildcats vs. Wildcats) won the Big Sky Tournament by blowing out North Dakota, but they haven’t got the firepower to counter Arizona. This seems like one of the surer things in this round. Pick: Arizona
8 Gonzaga vs. 9 Oklahoma State (San Diego)
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are a tough, experienced team that handily defeated the BYU Cougars to win the West Coast Conference Tournament. They’re balanced and efficient, they’re tough inside and they can both score and defend. They’re 2-4 against the RPI top 50, and both wins came against BYU; this could spell trouble against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who’ve overcome adversity and are peaking at the right time. The Cowboys lost Marcus Smart, their dynamic leading scorer and assist man, to a three-game suspension that led to controversy and questions about their tournament berth. They lost seven straight games from January 25th through February 17th, though two games went to overtime (including a dramatic triple-overtime loss to Iowa State). Since Smart’s return, the Cowboys are 5-2, and looking good going into the tournament. They aren’t too strong inside, which could hurt them against Gonzaga, but they shoot it well from the perimeter and they’ve played a lot of high-pressure games. This is one of the most interesting matchups of this round. Pick: Oklahoma State
5 Oklahoma vs. 12 North Dakota State (Spokane, WA)
The Oklahoma Sooners are a potent offensive team that spread the floor and shoots the ball well. They average 82.2 points per game and 14.7 assists per game, and they crash the boards on offense and defense. Ryan Spangler, a 6’8″ forward who transferred from Gonzaga, averages over nine points and rebounds per game and is one of the team’s primary engines. The Sooners also shoot 38 percent from behind the arc and 75 percent from the line. They give up a fair amount of points, but their solid defensive rebounding makes a difference late in games. The 25-6 North Dakota State Bison won the Summit League Tournament, and are first in the country in field goal percentage at.509. They defend well, and they score 76.4 points per game. Unfortunately, they’re not much of a match for the Sooners. Pick: Oklahoma
4 San Diego State vs. 13 New Mexico State (Spokane)
The defense-minded San Diego State Aztecs are second in the country in points allowed. They’ve also struggled to score lately, failing to reach 60 points in three of their last four games. Despite their scoring woes, the Aztecs have an elite offensive talent in senior guard Xavier Thames; unfortunately, they rely very heavily on Thames to generate offense. The New Mexico State Aggies are a tough matchup for a team that has trouble scoring. The Aggies score 77.2 points per game, and they’re ninth in the country with a .491 field goal percentage. They average 6.3 blocks per game, fueled largely by the presence of 7’5″ Sim Bhullar. If Thames has an off day, the Aztecs will struggle to score and the Aggies could pull off the upset. Pick: New Mexico State
6 Baylor vs. 11 Nebraska (San Antonio, TX)
The Baylor Bears are a strange team. They don’t stand out as an offensive or defensive team, but after struggling badly during the middle of the season, they just keep figuring out how to win. Senior guard Brady Heslip is a sharpshooter with postseason experience, and 7’1″ Isiah Austin is a defensive eraser in the paint and can also occasionally shoot the three. The Nebraska Cornhuskers also don’t stand out in any phase, though they give up only 64.9 points per game. Baylor is playing in their home state, and should be a good bet to win this one. Pick: Baylor
3 Creighton Blue Jays vs. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (San Antonio)
The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns executed a thrilling comeback in the last minutes of regulation, beating Georgia State in overtime to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. They’re thirteenth in the country in scoring, averaging 81.4 points per game, and they rebound, pass and attack the boards on offense. They also don’t defend particularly well, which can be problematic against a team like the Creighton Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are fourth in the country in field goal percentage and second in assists, and they shoot a stupefying 42 percent from behind the arc. They also have the best scorer in the country in 6’8″ senior Doug McDermott. McDermott has spent the year climbing the ranks of all-time NCAA scoring leaders, and he’s a versatile scorer who can shoot from anywhere and has a spectacular repertoire. The Blue Jays don’t defend particularly well, either, which means this could be a high scoring game. The Cajuns are playing close to home, especially for a 14 seed, and they’re playing with proverbial house money. This is one to watch as a possible bracket buster. Pick: LA-Lafayette
7 Oregon vs. 10 BYU (Milwaukee, WI)
The Oregon Ducks are a streaky team. Before getting thumped 82-63 by UCLA in the Pac 12 Tournament final, they had won eight games in a row. The Ducks can score, averaging 81.8 points per game. But they give up 74 points per game, and their play can be baffling at times. The BYU Cougars have a similar modus operandi. The Cougars are third in the country with 84.2 points per game, and sixth in the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding. But they give up 77 points per game, and like the Ducks, they can be prone to head-scratching performances. BYU took a major hit in the West Coast Conference Tournament, losing 6’6″ guard Kyle Collinsworth to a torn ACL. Oregon should win this one, but it could be high scoring and it won’t be easy. Pick: Oregon
2 Wisconsin vs. 15 American (Milwaukee)
The American University Eagles won the Patriot League Tournament, and are eighth in the country with 58.6 points allowed per game. But they have trouble with turnovers, and the Wisconsin Badgers are the kind of team that will make them pay. While still defensive-minded, the Badgers don’t have as much trouble scoring as in recent years. Their seven-foot forward, Frank Kaminsky, is a versatile go-to guy whose game has progressed throughout the year. Kaminsky shoots 39 percent from three, and 79 percent from the line, and has increasingly shown a willingness to take over in close games. Unlike the Eagles, the Badgers rarely turn the ball over. They shouldn’t have too much trouble here. Pick: Wisconsin
Louisiana-Lafayette can match Creighton’s scoring, putting the Blue Jays one false move from an early exit.
Don’t sleep on…
Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. The Sooners can really bring it on offense, and are capable of beating anyone. And the Cowboys might be a much higher seed if not for their midseason swoon.
You might not have heard of…
The Cajuns’ Elfrid Payton. he can score, rebound and pass, and he exemplifies his team’s fearlessness.