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NCAA Tournament: West will appeal to Utah fans

Local basketball fans have plenty of reasons to tune in.

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.

At a glance

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.

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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.

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Let’s see who is the best.


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)

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