Over on the Midwest and West side of the tournament bracket it looks as though, just like a buffet bar bandit, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee hasn't had enough. They clearly filled these regions the way they did because they were hungry for a round of second helpings.
In the 2014 Tournament the Elite 8 matchup between Arizona and Wisconsin, and the subsequent Final 4 matchup between Wisconsin and Kentucky, were NCAA tournament classics. Both games were decided by a single point. When all three teams looked to be even better than they did in 2014, you have to wonder if the NCAA had already made up their minds weeks before the field was set.
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I can't explain why else the Committee set it up to play out the exact same way. Wisconsin and Arizona flipped seeds this year, with the Badgers as the 1 and Wildcats as the 2 this time. But if those two schools actually do meet in the Elite 8 this year, they will again play for the right to face Kentucky in the Final 4. That is if Kentucky keeps on rolling like they look like they probably should. Truth is though, life very rarely plays out in reruns. There is a tough slog between, Zona, Wisconsin, and that regional final in L.A. And Just as that clip from Lost should remind us all, many times something that was fantastic one season can just as easily go horribly wrong the next.
I still feel the Midwest Region is the strongest in the field, but there are some great matchups in this West Region. In the opening games, and especially in the rounds to come.
Winmore's West Region Round of 64 Predictions
1 Wisconsin - v - 16 Coastal Carolina: Friday, March 20, @ 8:20 p.m. (CST) on TBS
Bo Ryan seems like he'd be able to assemble a team made up of all walk-ons and have them running his swing offense to perfection by the end of a month. Ryan's actual players are a much better than walk-ons, but he never gets the talent of the big time basketball programs, and yet his Badgers are always right there in the mix. Before he became head coach (2001-02 season), Wisconsin had been to a total of 7 NCAA Tournaments in their history. Bo Ryan comes into this year's tournament riding a 14 year streak. It was nice to finally see his team break through and make the Final 4 last year. When almost everybody from that team came back this season you just knew Ryan's Badgers were gonna be a beast. This year's squad has already tied the school record for wins in a season (31, a record set under Ryan's watch back in 2008), and now they have no desire to stop piling wins onto a new record. With his highly regimented and constantly moving offense, Bo Ryan is everything Bob Knight stopped being in the mid-1990s, all the while being far more likeable than that raging anus ever was. The only things I know about Wisconsin's opponent, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, is that their mascot is a type of multi-colored rooster, and that the school is the alma mater of one Tyler Thigpen, who ran around Arrowhead Stadium like a heroic, poor man's, mouth breathing, weak armed Steve Young during one of the worst seasons in Kansas City Chiefs history. As far as basketball goes, the Chanticleers have a very evenly scoring starting lineup. They are also not very big, averaging about 6' 4" or less across their roster. They are gonna look like a bunch of tiny roosters running around Wisconsin's 7 footer Frank Kaminsky's knobby knees. Winner: The Badg-uz.
8 Oregon - v - 9 Oklahoma State: Friday, March 20, @ 5:50 p.m. (CST) on TBS
A lot of people forget that it was the Ducks who won the first ever NCAA Tournament championship back in 1939. I say a lot of people forget, I mean a lot of people didn't exist when the Ducks won that title. That was back when the tournament was a hotly contested marathon of 8 whole teams. Win one game and you're in the Final 4. John Thompson III is fine with that set up. Since that '39 title the Ducks have been to a grand total of 12 NCAA Tournaments (counting this season). 7 of those appearances have come since 2000 when Oregon grad and Nike owner Phil Knight started dumping treasure troves of cash into Oregon's athletic program. While all that money has turned Duck football into something powerfully obnoxious, the basketball program has been just meh. When the Ducks brought in Dana Altman, who'd built the Creighton basketball program into a tournament regular, you wondered if Duck basketball would become a power. Five years later it's still very much meh. Altman does have a baller in senior guard Joseph Young who averages 20+ a game. Young has been spectacular as of late. After losing to UCLA on Valentine's Day the Ducks ripped off seven in a row before getting throttled by Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game. In Oklahoma State, the Ducks will be going against another school with an athletic department owned by an alumnus billionaire. T. Boone Pickens tried to use some of his billions to lure Bill Self back home to Stillwater, but when Bill said no the Cowboys went with Travis Ford and his love of sporting little boy haircuts. Ford has been able to bring in talent to Oklahoma State, he just hasn't done much with it once it's there. Some of that talent will be on display in this game. Senior wingman Le'Bryan Nash was expected to be a one and done player. The fact that he's still in Stillwater may have something to do with his career three point shooting percentage hovering around 21%. This season it's at 10%. The NBA wants no part of that stink. Still, it's quite remarkable that even with no outside shooting touch Nash averaged 17 points a game. Winner: The Swoosh Quackers.
5 Arkansas - v - 12 Wofford: Thursday, March 19, @ 8:50 p.m. (CST) on TNT
Exactly 10 years after serving as Arkansas' interim head coach upon the firing of Nolan Richardson, Arkansas finally hired Mike Anderson for the job. After establishing a successful career at UAB and Missouri, Razorback fans longed for a return to the glory days of Nolan Richardson that they couldn't run away fast enough from in 2002. It took him four seasons, but Anderson has returned Arkansas to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, and just the fourth time since his mentor Richardson was shown the door. Running his own version of Nolan's old "40 minutes of hell" pressing defense, the Razorbacks' offense rests on the shoulders of talented 6'11" sophomore forward Bobby Portis whose 17+ points and 9 rebounds a game earned him SEC Player of the Year honors. Anderson better make the most of this tournament run, because Portis is most likely bolting for the pros as soon as it ends. The Wofford Terriers enter this game after going 15-1 over their last 16 games, rolling through the Southern Conference, and posting the best record in their program's history this season with 28 wins. The Terriers go as their star and four year starting point guard Karl Cochran goes. Cochran's scoring ability won't be as important as his sure handedness with the ball against this Arkansas press. Winner: The Pig Sooies.
4 North Carolina - v - 13 Harvard: Thursday, March 19, @ 6:20 p.m. (CST) on TNT
To be brutally honest here, Carolina coach Roy Williams' career is currently experiencing a significant downward dip. This season marks the third straight year the Heels posted double digit losses. For a coach who'd only had 5 double digit losing seasons over the previous 24 seasons, the records of his recent Tar Heel teams standout like a festering wart on an otherwise sterling collection of wins. As the Tar Heels keep sliding further down the ACC standings, their tournament performances have been short and sweet as well. Still, Roy's teams started to take on that familiar Williams feel with a flurry of three great performances in the ACC Tournament, taking down Louisville and Virginia before very much looking game in a losing effort to Notre Dame. One thing Roy definitely has going for him in this first game is the fact that Ol' Roy has never lost an opening round game in his 25 NCAA tournament appearances. Which is evidence that Roy knows how to put down feisty double digit seeds that seem to have gotten just about everybody else at least once. So on the surface it wouldn't look like the Ivy League champion Harvard Crimson would be the first team to take Roy out in an opening game. Against Carolina's fellow ACC member, Virginia, Harvard put up an impressive 27 points... for the game. However, Roy and the Heels better be careful. Former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker has found a home at Harvard. His Crimson team has owned the Ivy League over the last four years in earning the league's lone bid to the NCAA Tournament. Considering that before Amaker came along, Harvard had only been to the NCAA Tournament once in 1946, Amaker has already made himself the greatest coach in the program's history. The last two years Harvard wasn't just showing up to the tournament to say hi and thanks for the invite either. As a 14 seed the Crimson took down 3 seed New Mexico in 2013. They followed that up in 2014 by taking down 5 seed Cincinnati as a 12 and then almost knocking out Tom Izzo's 4 seed Michigan State in the Round of 32. A large part of the reason why Harvard has been so good over the last four years is the now senior guard and Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders. Saunders is smart and can ball. Hey, maybe Roy can hire him to write some of those papers for Tar Heels players after this game. It's win, win I tell ya! Winner: Tar Heel Born/Tar Heel Dead and in Between a Jayhawk
6 Xavier - v - 11 Ole Miss: Thursday, March 19, @ 3:10 p.m. (CST) on TBS
Xavier was the 6th and final NCAA Tournament invite from the Big East as that conference continues to benefit from undeserved residual adoration from when it wasn't a mid-major. The Musketeers most likely would not have received that invite had it not been for a spirited spurt of play to make their way to the Big East Tournament championship game where they lost to Villanova. Xavier will have its hands full with Ole Miss, who won their right to be Xavier's opponent by battling back from a huge deficit Tuesday night against BYU. That was one hell of an opening game, too. BYU and Ole Miss were flying up and down that court, and Rebel's junior guard Stefan Moody was awesome in throwing in 26 huge points. Don't think just because Ole Miss played in a First Round game that they are a throw away opponent. Since the tournament expanded to 68 teams with four First Round play in games in 2011, at least one of those teams has gone on to win their next game every single year. Two of those teams (11 seed Tennessee in 2014 and 13 seed LaSalle in 2013) went on to the Sweet 16, and one of those teams (11 seed VCU in 2011) went all the way to the Final 4. Ask Kansas fans to tell you all about it. Sometimes getting your blood pumping and gathering some momentum in an early game can get you off on a running start. If I had to pick the most likely candidate from this year's First Round to win their next game, I'd go with Ole Miss. They have the talent, and now they've had the chance to get the tournament jitters out of their system with a 94-90 barnburner against a very good BYU team. Winner: Ole Misssissssissssiisssiissssipppi
3 Baylor - v - 14 Georgia State: Thursday, March 19, @ 12:40 p.m. (CST) on TBS
This season saw Baylor coach Scott Drew take the court with his least talented team in years after essentially resetting his roster due to early departures. And yet, this seems to have been Drew's best coaching job during his time at the school. Drew has long been a true believer of the zone defense, but this year he's got it running in a way that other teams just can't seem to crack. A large part of that is thanks to the very large man hanging out around the rim. Rico Gathers is a big bad man. Not only is he a consistent scorer, he's given the Bears a toughness they've sorely lacked the last few seasons. When Scott Drew and Baylor make it to post season tournaments they stay around for a while, too. The Bears have an NIT Runner-Up and Championship to go along with two NCAA Tournament Elite 8s and one Sweet 16 over the last six years. Their opponent, Georgia State, is no weak draw. They've got a crazy good guard tandem in R. J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow who seemingly never leave the court and average around 20 points a game, a piece. However, Ryan Harrow tweaked his hammy in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and is questionable for Thursday's game against Baylor. Without Harrow on the court Georgia Southern, Georgia State's opponent in the Sun Belt Championship game, was able to squat all over R. J. Hunter, holding him to just 9 points and by extension holding Georgia State as a team to an absolutely disgusting 38 points total for the game. Luckily for Georgia State 38 was all it took to win their way into the NCAA Tournament. It's gonna take a lot more to beat these Bears. They better hope Harrow has been stretching that leg out. Winner: Daaa Bears.
7 VCU - v - 10 Ohio State: Thursday, March 19, @ 3:40 p.m. (CST) on TNT
VCU head coach Shaka Smart was well on his way to putting together his best record and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament where he'd hoped his Rams would make their deepest run since he led them to the Final 4 in 2011. Then VCU lost a home game to Richmond on January 31. Worse than that, in the process Shaka lost the engine that made his team's feared "havoc" defense go when his talented senior guard Briante Weber's knee was absolutely destroyed - talking torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus. Weber's career was ended when he was just 12 steals away from setting the all-time NCAA record for thefts. It was a heartbreaking injury that sent the Rams into a tailspin losing five out of their next nine games and costing them the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title. A true testament of just how good of a coach Shaka Smart is though, he rallied VCU over the last five games and the team went on to win the A-10 Conference Tournament. The Rams will need every bit of their reclaimed mojo against Ohio State. After the Aaron Craft era of Buckeyes' basketball came to an end last season (what was that? Five? Six years that that red cheeked, furious chipmunk was up there running all over the court? Seemed like forever.) Ohio State seemed to have lost its identity. Enter freshman guard D'Angelo Russell. This kid is a star, dumping in 20 points while dishing out 5 assists a game. We'll see how the kid handles Shaka's wave after wave of defenders climbing up his shirt. Winner: AN Ohio State University
2 Arizona - v - 15 Texas Southern: Thursday, March 19, @ 1:10 p.m. (CST) on TNT
Arizona spent a significant chunk of the 2013-14 season as the #1 team in the nation. They started this season 12-0, and then finished it 11-0. Much like Virginia, an argument could have been made for giving head coach Sean Miller's Wildcats a 1 seed. There were just too many worthy teams at the top. It would shock no one if Arizona emerged from L.A. as the West Region champion seeing as how that regional final will be more like a home game for them than the 1 seed Wisconsin Badgers. Although, playing in So Cal in the Elite 8 last year didn't seem to effect the Badgers against Arizona. To get their revenge shot at Wisconsin though, the Wildcats have to win three games. In the first game they will be up against a team that, early on, looked like it had no chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Texas Southern was 1-8 when they went into East Lansing to face the then 25th ranked Michigan State Spartans. They left with an overtime victory. Following that game they finished 20-4, currently riding an 11 game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, both Texas Southern and Arizona lost their last game on the same evening, February 7. A long, long time ago Arizona became just the second 2 seed ever to lose to a 15 seed when Lute Olson's Wildcats were shocked by Steve Nash's Santa Clara Broncos. That Arizona team isn't this one, and more importantly I don't see a Steve Nash on Texas Southern's roster. Winner: Zona