NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite:  #2 Oklahoma. We previously had Oregon as the favorite here,  but we’re going to switch it up and go with the Sooners instead because it is starting to look like Buddy Hield is going to drag his team to Houston and a possible national title one way or the other. There’s reason to be fearful of the Sooners’ chances, though, as they’ve been pressured by a pair of double-digit seeds. In this region, with the top four seeds still alive, would anybody be surprised if anybody made its way to Houston?

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Texas A&M. This team was dead. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet it’s maker. Shuffled off the mortal coil, and all that. And yet somehow, the Aggies pulled off their best Lazarus impression and miraculously moved on to the Sweet Sixteen. Sometimes, miracles like these in early rounds are springboards to national titles: Witness Tyus Edney 21 years ago. Sometimes, it just extends the inevitable a little longer. For about 39 minutes and 22 seconds on Sunday night, A&M was getting run out of the Tourney by Northern Iowa. But somehow, some way, they survived. Will it be a springboard to bigger and better things or is it a sign of an inherent weakness? Poised veterans Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins have been solid, but leading scorers Danuel House and Jalen Jones will need to be more consistent to keep advancing.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Everything Having to Do With Northern Iowa. At this point, we should just offer up a standing invitation to any halfway decent Northern Iowa team to join the NCAA Tournament, because you just know we are going to be treated to a classic one way or another. The Panthers’ opening round game against Texas was absolutely insane. It wasn’t just the final 10 seconds worth of an Isaiah Taylor game-tying floater and the Paul Jesperson game-winning half-court heave; the whole game was amazing. Those final 10 seconds immediately vaulted up into the top tier of NCAA moments ever. And then Sunday night? Northern Iowa, much to its chagrin, may have topped that one by its involvement in an even more memorable game (for completely different reasons). In any March Madness epic, there is always the transposition of the elation of the winner and the heartbreak of the loser. In a 48-hour span, Northern Iowa felt both ends about as shockingly as possible.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): All Chalk, Never In Doubt. Right? Just the way we expected it with the top four seeds advancing to Anaheim without a challenge? Okay, it didn’t quite go down like that. Each of the four teams that will play in the regional semifinals on Thursday night received a scare of some sort (some more significant than others), but we’re left with the four top seeds set to do battle starting Thursday night.

It wasn't easy, but top-seeded Oregon is advancing to the Sweet Sixteen (Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t easy, but top-seeded Oregon advanced to the Sweet Sixteen (Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: I’ll stand by my calls for an Oregon/Oklahoma Elite Eight matchup but still like the idea of Duke as a Final Four sleeper. In Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen, Duke has a pair of players much like the group at Oregon. But Ingram and Allen are better. The one advantage Oregon has in that matchup – its front line tandem of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher – could be neutralized somewhat when Marshall Plumlee plays as well as he did this weekend.

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: That Oklahoma/Oregon State matchup never materialized. And neither did Duke/Baylor. Oh, hey, and neither did Texas A&M/Texas. Of course, the matchups we got in place of all of those turned out to be as can’t-miss and juicy as the ones I predicted.

First Weekend MVP: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma, 28.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 69.1% eFG – It just seems like Hield is hell-bent on dragging his Sooners to the Final Four one way or another. In the opening round game against a Cal State Bakersfield team that was sticking around in the second half, Hield took what was a two-point game under 14 minutes to play and turned it into a 14-point victory by pouring in 16 of his game-high 27 in that stretch. On Sunday, it was even more pronounced. After VCU took a one-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play, Hield scored 19 of the Sooners’ final 24 points as part of a 29-point second half explosion to drag his club over the finish line. It would sure help if the NPOY candidate could get some additional help from time to time, but regardless, there is no better individual player left alive in college basketball this season.

Breakout Star: Paul Jesperson, Northern Iowa, 11.5 PPG, 7-of-15 3FG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1 Unforgettable Moment – The numbers aren’t much to look at – more or less par for the course for a three-point specialist. But with one half-court heave late on Friday night, Jesperson cemented his name alongside guys like Ali Faroukmanesh, Bryce Drew, Tate George and James Forrest as a March Madness legend.

One of the Most Dramatic Moments in NCAA Tournament History

One of the Most Dramatic Moments in NCAA Tournament History

More Home Cooking: Oregon, 882 miles. Ducks fans don’t exactly have an easy commute to Anaheim, and Oklahoma and Texas A&M fans could travel in bunches and upset the mix. But in a West regional just minutes from the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, you could expect any neutral fans to quickly hop aboard the Oregon bandwagon.

Best Regional Semifinal Game:  #1 Oregon vs. #4 Duke, 3/24. Both semifinals should be fantastic, but the prospect of seeing Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard go up against Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook and Tyler Dorsey is special. All of these guys have the ability to handle, hit threes, drive past their man, cause disruptions on defense and generally make end-to-end jaw-dropping plays. With this kind of athlete on the court, you can probably expect both teams to play at a slightly faster tempo than their middling season numbers suggest. The other big storyline is Duke’s no-turnover offense (fifth in the nation in turnover percentage) against a Dana Altman matchup zone that thrives on forcing them and getting out in transition. If Duke can maintain its fantastic ball control, Oregon could get ground down in the half-court.

Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Oregon vs. #2 Oklahoma. More than anything else, we want to see Buddy Hield cement his legacy as an all-time college basketball great this weekend. And that type of thing is usually done on the exclusive stages of regional finals games or later. Secondly, there’s the storyline of two great underrated coaches playing for their legacies, with Lon Kruger trying to make it back to the Final Four after a 20+ year absence, and Dana Altman trying to earn his first. And then there is the possibility of an open-court, offense-first, good, old-fashioned shootout, with Oregon’s balanced scoring in a battle with Oklahoma’s Buddy ball.

Top Storyline: Duke. Let’s face it. Almost anytime Duke is in a Sweet Sixteen, the Blue Devils are the story. Whether it is their McDonald’s All-American-heavy lineup. Or their Hall of Fame head coach. Or their penchant for being the most hated college basketball program in the country. The point is that everybody wants to see and hear about Duke, and with good reason. This is the 23rd time that Mike Krzyzewski has taken his program to the Sweet Sixteen. He’s won fourteen of those games. Once in the Elite Eight, he 12-2. So while Oregon is the #1 seed, Buddy Hield is the NPOY candidate, and Texas A&M is the miracle worker, Duke is always the team to beat.

Top Storyline for Contrarians:  Take Your Pick. If you’re sick of Duke, no problem. There are plenty of other storylines here. You already know about Hield. There’s also his coach’s quest to return to the Final Four — Kruger’s only other Final Four was with Florida in 1994 (Andrew DeClerq, Dan Cross, Dametri Hill). There’s the storyline of Texas A&M receiving a last-second stay of execution and trying to turn it exceptionally good fortune into the program’s first-ever Elite Eight appearance (or beyond). And then there is the quest for Oregon to return to a Final Four for the first time since 1939, and in doing so, defend the honor of the Pac-12. Regardless of what shakes down in Anaheim this week, there is no shortage of outstanding storylines and no shortage of good basketball matchups.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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