As the greatest sporting event of the year (suck it, Super Bowl) kicks off, we at Banners HQ will be breaking down, pouring over, and dissecting every region and matchup in the field to give you, our faithful readers, the best source for information in this year's bracket. We also do it because we have too much time to think about basketball, apparently.
According to noted (by everyone except the selection committee) expert KenPom, the West region is the strongest in this year's field, although it ranks only 3rd in aggregate rating of the top six seeds, typically seen as the true favorites. Of course what that means is that you can expect a wild ride out West and, when the dust settles in Anaheim, there is almost sure to be bracket busting upsets aplenty.
This one is super obvious, given that the Cougars are seeded at all, much less sitting on the 10 line. Their marquee win came at home to Gonzaga, and they only manages 2 other wins of consequence, both in November, over Texas and Stanford. More recently, the contrived to lose to Pacific, Pepperdine, Portland, and Loyola-Marymount in conference play before losing to Gonzaga in the WCC tourney. It's worth noting they lost to first round opponent Oregon in December 21 in a 100-96 barn burner, but that was before 2nd leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth tore his ACL, ending his season.
Underseeded: Oklahoma St.
The Cowboys had a very up and down season, a notable down being Marcus Smart's losing streak fueling 3-game suspension, but ended on a high note by beating both Kansas and Kansas St. in March, while losing to Iowa St. and Kansas by a combined total of 11 points. Smart gives them a dynamic scorer to pair with the staggeringly efficient on his day Markel Brown whose 21 points on 7 attempts from the field probably went a long way in the Kansas win. They also force turnovers well as a team, and don't give it away much, which covers for the fact that they are a somewhat less than dominant rebounding team.
Easy to like: Wisconsin
Obviously, there is the factor that Bo Ryan always has his teams well drilled defensively and they will inviarably run the Wisconsin Wing Swing every time they are in a half court situation, but there is more than that to like about this Badgers squad. The feature squeaky clean Ben Brust, who gets called for .9 fouls every 40 minutes, a senior guard who has become one of the best in the nation at taking care of the basketball. He is followed in the turnover averse strain by 7 footer Frank Kaminsky who, while he is not rebounding the ball, likes to step outside and force the opposition's bigs to guard the perimeter with his 39% 3pt shooting.
Fun to watch: Oklahoma
Hi, do you like fast paced, high scoring basketball? If you are not a commie or an Arizona fan then of course you do! No one in the region provides the same frenetic efficiency that the Sooners do. In contrast to the other vaunted offenses in the West of Baylor and Creighton, Oklahoma gets the ball and attacks almost instantly. They shoot extremely well from the line in their rare trips there, but push the tempo of the game to the 4th highest rate of any team in the field. But for all of their attacking gusto, they still managed to be the 13th most efficient offense in the nation. All of this adds up to doing things like giving up 80 points and winning. Seven times. That's right, the Sooners dare opponents to run and gun with them, and only Kansas, Iowa State, and Michigan State could beat them while allowing 70 or more possessions in 40 minutes.
Easy to hate: Arizona
While this isn't just about Sean Miller, the fact that he is the architect of this particular squad, whose only joy seems to be in sucking the life out of basketball games, is certainly the very definition of a contributing factor. Arizona is middle of the road in this field in offensive efficiency, but they make up for it simply smothering their opponents offense. A large part of their opponents inability to score is their inability to ever get the ball... like ever. Arizona takes care of the ball, hits the offensive glass at a ridiculous rate, and limit team's second chances by rebounding well on defense, while not forcing many turnovers. What this amounts to is Arizona having lots of the ball, not a lot of possessions, and a lot of holding the ball without necessarily trying to score. Also, they shoot free throws like crap, which is a pet peeve of mine.
Danger team: Oregon
The Ducks come into the tournament in the heels of an incredible run that has seen them recover from a disastrous 1-5 start to PAC-12 play to finish 10-8, including a 7 game winning streak featuring wins over Arizona, Arizona St., and UCLA to finish the regular season. They are a great shooting team, knocking down 39% of their threes and 77% of their free throws. They take care of the ball, play solid, if unspectacular, defense, and have both inside and outside scoring threats, including Detroit transfer Jason Calliste, who is one of the nation's most deadly spot up shooters. There is a lot to like about this Oregon team who is peaking at the right time, and has proven they can hang with and beat the best.
Best Matchup: Gonzaga v. Oklahoma State
I realize you are saying "oh hey, no crap Sherlock" at my super gutsy pick of the 8/9 game for the best matchup but this really will be one of the best games of the first round, if not the entire tournament. These teams are separated by just 2 spots on KenPom, with the team between them being, of course, a 4 seed. Both teams are good on both sides of the ball, with the Zags skewing more toward defense while OK State goes more for offense, and watching the contrasting styles of Stockton, Pangos, and Bell in the backcourt for Gonzaga versus those of Smart, Forte, and Brown for the Cowboys is sure to make for some excellent viewing.
Player to watch: Doug McDermott, Creighton
I understand he is a media sensation right now and that the stupid nicknames are falling like manna from heaven (can we just once not call a large person with "Mc" at the start of his name Big Mac? One time is all I ask, society), but McDermott is simply irrepressible on the offensive end, leading the Bluejays to national prominence. What happens with the program after McDermott will be an interesting story, but, separated from all the "oh, there is a white guy who is good this year!" media hype that made you hate Jimmer Fredette, Adam Morrison, and JJ Reddick, McDermott is just a guy who scores a ton, chasing the dream one last time.
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