Like most seasons, the West Region features many teams an east looking Irish fanbase may not be overly familiar with. Despite being a number one seed, I'd guess that most Irish fans haven't seen more than one Oregon game all season. This bracket also features three Big 12 teams and one other PAC 12 team (conferences the Irish didn't face all year) and just one Irish opponent from the regular season.
|(1) Oregon Ducks||(16) Holy Cross Crusaders/Southern Jaguars||Spokane, WA|
|(8) Saint Joseph's Hawks||(9) Cincinnati Bearcats||Spokane, WA|
|(5) Baylor Bears||(12) Yale Bulldogs||Providence, RI|
|(4) Duke Blue Devils||(13) UNC Wilmington Seahawks||Providence, RI|
|(6) Texas Longhorns||(11) Northern Iowa Panthers||Oklahoma City, OK|
|(3) Texas A&M Aggies||(14) Green Bay Phoenix||Oklahoma City, OK|
|(7) Oregon State Beavers||(10) VCU Rams||Oklahoma City, OK|
|(2) Oklahoma Sooners||(15) Cal St. Bakersfield Roadrunners||Oklahoma City, OK|
Possible Cinderella: #12 Yale Bulldogs
Nerds! Nerds!! Nerds!!! The Ivy League Champions are rated 38th by KenPom (one spot ahead of ND), and had a couple close calls against power conference opponents in the non-conference. They lost just one game in their conference schedule, and feature an above average offense and top 25 defense. Both themselves and their first round opponent, Baylor, play at a pretty slow tempo. The Bulldogs collectively shoot better than 37% from deep with guard Nick Victor shooting nearly 50% beyond the arc. Hot outside shooting and limited possessions are the recipe for an upset, and you'd have to think a team like Yale won't beat themselves. After Baylor, the Bulldogs would probably face Duke. As Irish fans know, the Devils are ripe for an upset.
First Round Upset: #10 VCU over #7 Oregon State
VCU has more tournament experience than OSU, and is rated 25 spots higher in KenPom. The Rams had a number of close losses in the non-conference to a number of major programs, and won an underrated A10 regular season title. They lost to another team in the West Region (#8 St. Joe's) in the Tournament Championship Game. The A10 probably deserved more bids than it received from the committee (where's St. Bonnaventure?). Additionally, Oregon State has struggled recently losing their last four games to NCAA Tournament teams.
Can't Miss First Weekend Game: #3 Texas A&M v. #6 Texas
While both schools, particularly Texas, will need to be careful to avoid being upset in the first round, a Texas A&M v. Texas matchup on the first weekend would be fantastic. The schools' ending a decades long rivalry on the gridiron has been the subject of thousands of articles around the internet and in print, and there's no love lost between the entire athletic departments. Both teams feature top-50 offenses and defenses, and with the game being played in Oklahoma City relatively close to both campuses and with lots of Sooner fans also in attendance, the atmosphere should be much better than the average first weekend game.
Player to Watch: Buddy Hield - #2 Oklahoma Sooners
You have to have been living under a rock if you've missed out on seeing Hield this season. He's averaging 25 points per game on a Steph Curry-like 46.4% 3pt shooting. He's also just under 90% from the line coming very close to a 50/40/90 season. The consensus Big 12 POY is on the short list for every national player of the year award, too. The Sooners will go as far as Hield takes them. In the Sooners seven losses, Hield has seriously struggled in five of them including a six point turd on 1-8 shooting against West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament Semifinals. Sooner fans will hope that he got his misses out against the 'Eers, and is ready to take the Sooners on a run to the Final Four.
Top 4 Seed that Won't Make the Second Weekend: #4 Duke Blue Devils
As Irish fans saw last weekend during the ACC Tournament, the Devils seriously lack experienced depth on their roster. While they probably won't have much trouble with UNCW, Baylor fits a similar profile to ND in that they play fantastic offense. Unlike the Irish, Baylor also features a top-100 defense. The Bears have the size to exploit Duke's lack of post depth, and have been tested throughout the season by one of the top schedules in the country. The Bears didn't knock off a lot of the top Big 12 teams (swept Iowa State, swept by WVU, KU, and OU), but their worst loss of the season was Texas Tech (8 seed).
Regional Final Pick: #2 Oklahoma Sooners over #1 Oregon Ducks
While there's some potential for mayhem in the middle of the region, I don't see much stopping the two top seeds from meeting in the regional final. This game would be an interesting clash of styles as Oklahoma is obviously driven by Hield while Oregon's scoring is much more balanced. Oregon is a more efficient offense scoring the fifth most points per possession, but Oklahoma's is still in the top-20. Oklahoma was part of what was probably the best game of the regular season when they fell in 3OT at Kansas. Hield dropped 46 that night, and played 54 of 55 minutes. If the two top seeds advance to the Regional Final, the Sooners could be a part of another classic.