Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
The time is here. The NCAA Selection Committee has given us their opinion on the 68 best teams in the country and the bracket is in your hands. As you contemplate your upset picks and which teams to trust, you’ll probably flip flop a couple of times. To help, we’re going to break down each region for you one by one in our 2016 Bracket Breakdown series.
The West region might not have the most talented teams number 1-16 in the tournament, but what the conference lacks in excellence it certainly makes up for in intrigue. The No. 1 seed is the Oregon Ducks, deemed by many not to be worthy of their seeding even though they crushed Utah in the Pac 12 final this past weekend and came out on top of a loaded Pac 12 conference that saw a record seven teams make the tournament.
The Ducks can score with the best of them and even though they have the committee’s attention – as evidenced by their No. 1 seed – they’ll be vying for the nation’s respect now as well, which could give them that all-important chip on their should heading into March Madness.
But if the Ducks are going to weave their way into the Final Four they’re going to have to take down some strong opponents. On top of that list resides the No. 2 seeded Oklahoma Sooners, lead by Sporting News Player of the Year, Buddy Hield.
However, you still have the defending champion Duke Blue Devils (No. 4) to contend with in the East, along with a strong Baylor team (No. 5) and a dark horse in the eyes of more than a few experts to win it all, No. 3 seeded Texas A&M. Let’s break it down further.
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Favorite: No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners
Saying that the Oklahoma Sooners rely too heavily on Buddy Hield is like saying the Golden State Warriors rely too heavily on Stephen Curry. You can’t rely too heavily on your bread and butter guys, especially when it comes time for the NCAA Tournament. Hield is the guy that got the Sooners to this point and the Sooners are going to be carried as far as his body can physically take them.
That being said, Hield’s supporting cast isn’t exactly lacking in talent. While the Sooners aren’t deep like North Carolina, they have complementary players to Hield who fit their mold nicely and know how to thrive in Hield’s offense.
Hield arrived on the scene in Norman with Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler and those two fellow seniors will have to be big contributors if the Sooners are going to make a deep tournament run.
Spangler nearly averaged a double-double this season and showed just how important he is to the Sooners by making several crucial plays down the stretch against Iowa State in his team’s 79-76 quarterfinal win.
It’ll fall on Cousins to ham and egg it with Hield during the tournament and pick up the slack when OU’s star player inevitably gets stymied by some of the stellar defensive squads they’ll meet throughout the tournament.
The Sooners’ core three seniors are all looking to go out with a bang, and with Hield leading the way they’re the favorites to find the Final Four – even if seeding doesn’t suggest the same.
Upset Alert: No. 4 Duke Blue Devils
While it will be far from an upset of mammoth proportions, I don’t expect to see the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16 this year. They shouldn’t have an issue getting past UNC Wilmington, but the Baylor Bears are going to create problems for them.
The Bears have one of the deepest frontcourts in the tournament this year and they will give Duke issues.
This is the first time since 2006-07 that a Mike Krzyzewski coached team has lost 10-plus games in a season. They’re vulnerable this year and Baylor could take advantage of that, unless UNC Wilmington somehow manages to do it first.
Surprise Sweet 16 Team: No. 5 Baylor
As I said, the Bears are deep in the frontcourt and players returning from last year have a major chip on their shoulder this time around after the shocking upset R.J. Hunter and Georgia State sprung on them in the first round last year.
On top of that, the Bears played one of the most difficult schedules in Div. I this year and only lost 11 games – including nine of those games against No. 3 seeds or higher in this year’s tournament.
Offensively, they’re efficient and they’re tough to play against. Defensively this year they’re left something to be desired, but if they can prevent the three ball from beating them they could be in line for a lengthy tourney run.
Dark Horse Regional Champ: No. 3 Texas A&M
The Aggies suffered a tough defeat to the Wildcats in the SEC Championship game but can put that behind them by rattling off a few wins in the NCAA Tournament. Plus, Kentucky’s all the way out East, so no worries about having to face them again until the Tournament Finals.
Assuming A&M can find their way past Green Bay, the Aggies could find themselves squaring off with the Texas Longhorns, which would be must-see TV to say the least.
From there, the Aggies likely meet up with the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sweet 16. Beating the No. 2 Sooners would be a borderline Herculean task, but not an impossible one by any means.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for any of his other three teams.
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