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NCAA Tournament: West will appeal to Utah fans

Published March 16, 2014 9:02 pm

Local basketball fans have plenty of reasons to tune in.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The West Region of the NCAA Tournament features BYU and Weber State, both local teams that are going dancing.

It features Arizona, one of the best teams in the country.

There's Doug McDermott, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Xavier Thames, guys who will hear their names called in the upcoming NBA Draft. You need more local flavor? Ray Gallegos from Nebraska first made his name at West Jordan High and Baylor big man Isaiah Austin is the nephew of former Utah Jazz forward Ike Austin.

In other words, there's a ton of intrigue in the West — and there will be a bevy of competitive games.

Anyone who thinks Arizona will walk through the region on its way to the Final Four is fooling themselves. In fact — other than the Midwest Region — this could be the most arduous path of any No. 1 seed in the field.

Potentially, Arizona could see Oklahoma State and Smart in the second round, San Diego State in a Sweet 16 matchup and Creighton in the regional final. Oh yeah, and Bo Ryan and Wisconsin will have a little to say about the proceedings as well.

In short, this is a difficult region to negotiate. And it's a region that carries a lot of local flavor and potentially intriguing stories.

Take Nebraska, for example. The Huskers are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. Gallegos left Utah when he didn't receive an offer from an instate school and has blossomed into one of the best scorers in the Big 10.

Look at Creighton. The Bluejays can score with the best of them, and McDermott is capable of carrying them all the way to the Final Four. BYU and Oregon is a rematch from December and could be one of the best second-round matchups of all.

So strap in. This is a region that could get very fun, very fast.

Let's see who is the best.

MATCHUPS

No. 1 Arizona (30-4) vs. No. 16 Weber State (19-22)

At San Diego, Calif. | Friday, 12:10 p.m., TNT

Outlook • Say Hello to Weber State. And now say goodbye to Weber State. Sorry, Wildcats, but Arizona, which has been among the nation's top teams most of the season, is too difficult a matchup. But kudos for making your first Big Dance since 2007.

No. 2 Wisconsin (26-7) vs. No. 15 American (20-12)

At Milwaukee | Thursday, 10:40 a.m., truTV

Outlook • The Badgers will have a pronounced home-court advantage in this one, playing so close to their Madison campus. So American will have to be perfect to compete in this one. Which is not exactly easy to do against this Bo Ryan-coached team.

No. 3 Creighton (26-7) vs. No. 14 Louisiana-Layayette (23-11)

At San Antonio | Friday, 1:10 p.m., truTV

Outlook • Creighton is too big. Has too much shooting. It's too efficient. And has too much Doug McDermott. This is a tough draw for the Cajuns. McDermott's last hurrah through the tournament could be a long one. Don't be surprised to see the Jays in the regional final.

No. 4 San Diego State (29-4) vs. No. 13 New Mexico State (26-9)

At Spokane, Wash. | Thursday, 7:57 p.m., truTV

Outlook • Every year, New Mexico State looks like a popular upset pick. And then every year it flames out in its initial game. That's not going to change this season, considering that San Diego State is one of the best defensive teams in the field.

No. 5 Oklahoma (23-9) vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (25-6)

At Spokane, Wash. | Thursday, 5:27 p.m., truTV

Outlook • North Dakota State is good enough to win this game. It shoots the ball well, has size on the inside and limits its turnovers. This should be a trendy 5-12 upset pick. Not to mention a difficult matchup for the Sooners.

No. 6 Baylor (24-11) vs. No. 11 Nebraska (19-12)

At San Antonio | Friday, 10:40 a.m., truTV

Outlook • This game could be one of the better matchups in the second round. Baylor is playing its best basketball of the season right now, and the Bears will be a tough team to beat for the Huskers, who feature former West Jordan High star Ray Gallegos.

No. 7 Oregon (23-9) vs. No. 10 BYU (23-11)

At Milwaukee | Thursday, 1:10 p.m., truTV

Outlook • A rematch from the regular season, the Cougars had Oregon on the ropes in Eugene. Dave Rose's squad gets one more shot at the Ducks. Expect a high-scoring affair. It could be a good matchup for BYU, but the absence of Kyle Collinsworth will hurt.

No. 8 Gonzaga (28-6) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (21-12)

At San Diego | Friday, 2:40 p.m., TNT

Outlook • This is not a great matchup for Gonzaga. Cowboys guard Marcus Smart — a likely NBA Draft lottery pick — will be the best player on the floor and Markel Brown will be the second-best. Can the Bulldogs advance a round with such a talent disparity? —

West Region: What to look for

Top player • In a region featuring Marcus Smart, Nick Johnson, Xavier Thames and Aaron Gordon, it's Creighton's Doug McDermott. Good luck trying to stop the best scorer in the country.

Top team • Arizona has been one of the best teams in the country for the entire season. That won't change in this region. Expect the Wildcats to use stout defense on their way to the Final Four. They are simply too tough.

Best player you don't know • BYU's Tyler Haws is well known locally, but this is a national honor. As an elite scorer, he's capable of carrying the Cougars to the Sweet 16..

Sleeper team • Baylor's been playing its best basketball over the last three weeks. As a result, Scott Drew's team has gone from a bubble team to a No. 6 seed. Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson are one of the best frontcourt duos in the region.