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NCAA Tournament: West Region Preview

Being a die-hard basketball fanatic, it’s hard to put it into words how much I love watching the NCAA tournament. As a basketball fan, this is the moment I live for; to watch the passion, fight and love for the game that the student athletes display on a national stage. I’ve always dreamed of going to a college basketball powerhouse school since participating in the madness, filling out the tournament brackets each year. Having the opportunity to attend a school with one of the best student sections in the country is what made me choose to come to San Diego State. Forget thinking about spring break, and forget that my birthday is this Saturday on the same day that the Aztecs play their potential third-round game. Matter a fact, all I want for my birthday is to see the Aztecs win, seeing my school survive another day in the NCAA tournament.

As a bracket player, there’s nothing like looking genius for correctly predicting your teams to advance to the next round of this tournament. Out of 72 schools with an equal opportunity, only one can be crowned the national champions of college basketball. So get your brackets ready, it’s time to get mad! This is how I think the West region will play out:

[RELATED: Midwest Region Preview]

[RELATED: East Region Preview]

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Players to Watch
Beyond Doug McDermott and his Creighton Blue Jays in the bottom half of the West region, there’s no doubt that the upper bracket of this region will have more players to watch for.

Beginning with the No. 1-seeded Arizona Wildcats, the entire country will have their eyes on Naismith College Player of the Year candidate Nick Johnson, and PAC-12 Freshman of the Year Aaron Gordon. Both Johnson and Gordon have carried the Wildcats to the No. 1 seed in the West region, along with finishing the college basketball season ranked by the Associated Press at No. 4 in the nation. Head coach Sean Miller will have to deal with the pressure of his Wildcats being the top seed in this region, as it will be up to both Johnson and Gordon to lead the way for the favorites of this region to reach the Final Four.

However, the Wildcats do have a potential tough draw in the round of 32 assuming they win their first-round matchup, and if the Oklahoma State Cowboys were to advance past Gonzaga. Marcus Smart will be playing with a huge chip on his shoulder after struggling late down the stretch, along with serving a three-game suspension this season. Smart will be looking to lead the Cowboys to a deep tournament run, as this is his last chance to showcase his talent, assuming he declares for the NBA Draft.

Best Possible Key Matchup
A potential dream matchup out West would be to see a rematch of the No. 4-seeded San Diego State Aztecs against the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet 16. In case you didn’t know, Arizona defeated SDSU on the road this season by nine points, handing the Aztecs their first loss of the season. After that loss, SDSU went on an outrageous 20-game winning streak that no one saw coming, which included wins against Marquette and Creighton on neutral ground, and Kansas on the road. Matter of fact, the Aztecs were the only team to defeat Kansas on the road this season at the Allen Fieldhouse, which snapped the Jayhawks 68-game winning streak at home against non-conference opponents; something that hasn’t been done since 2006.

Playing in a mid-major conference, the No. 4-seeded Aztecs will look to make a run this tournament, and look forward to a potential rematch with the Wildcats, who lost key starter Brandon Ashley to injury after 22 games this season.

If these two teams were to meet again, the potential Sweet 16 rematch would be played on neutral ground in Anaheim, California, which is a short drive from both San Diego and Tucson. The winner of this showdown would prove who’s really the king college basketball out West.

Keep reading for our early upset pick…

Early Upset
My favorite part of filling out brackets are picking the early potential upsets. In the West, I’m going to follow the trend of what happened in this region last year: a No. 14 seed upsetting a No. 3 seed. In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns upsetting the Creighton Bluejays. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 13th in the nation overall in scoring at 81.4 points per game, which is more than what the Bluejays score.

Where would Creighton be without Doug McDermott? Ethan Wragge is the only other player on the Bluejays who averages double-figures with 10.4 ppg after McDermott’s 26.9 ppg. For the Ragin’ Cajuns, who won the Sun-Belt tournament to punch their ticket to the Big Dance for the first time since 2005, a “nothing to lose” attitude is needed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them double-teaming or even triple-teaming McDermott to take him out of rhythm. Louisiana-Lafayette junior Elfrid Payton has played like a true leader all year, averaging 19.1 points and six assists per game, while sophomore Shawn Long has been a monster and double-double machine, averaging 18.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, leading the small school from the Sun-Belt Conference.

It always seems to be those low seeds playing with a nothing to lose attitude that seem to shake higher seeded teams up. Don’t be surprised to see the Ragin’ Cajuns upset Creighton following what Harvard did to New Mexico last year.

Cinderellas
Beyond 14th-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette, another possible Cinderella and sleeper in this region that I see making some noise could be the 10th-seeded BYU Cougars. As a No. 10 seed, they will take their first shot in this region against the No. 7-seeded Oregon Ducks in a rematch from Dec. 21 where they lost 100-96 in overtime on the road in Eugene.

Coming from the West Coast Conference, you can see from their first matchup that BYU potentially matches up well with the Ducks if it took them overtime at home to fend off the Cougars. Both teams will be playing on neutral ground, and sure can score at will. BYU is third in the nation in scoring, averaging 84.2 points per game, to Oregon’s 11th in the nation in scoring at 81.8 points per game.

Although there isn’t any doubt that BYU can score, Oregon has had an up and down season going on long winning streaks and long losing streaks. The inconsistency of the Ducks may catch up to them in March. I don’t see BYU losing a second time to a team they already know on neutral floor. Led by junior guard Tyler Haws, four of the Cougars’ five starters average double-figures in scoring, which can take them a long way in this tourney.

Who do you think will make it out of this region?

Follow Terence on Twitter at @Terence415.

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