No. 1 Oregon
This may be the most surprising of the No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament. Teams like Michigan State and Villanova were thought to be given a top seed over Oregon, but you can’t argue with the Ducks’ resume. Oregon swept the regular season and Pac 12 Tournament titles during the 2015-16 season. In the championship game against Utah (a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament), Oregon won with balance scoring and impressive defense. The Ducks possess several offensive playmakers, but the most impressive is definitely sophomore forward Dillon Brooks. Whether it’s driving to the rim or spraying it in from beyond the arc, Brooks is a phenomenal athlete and just one of several Canadian imports that have burst onto the scene in recent years.
No. 2 Oklahoma
As talented as top dog Oregon is, Oklahoma has just as much firepower. That should come as no surprise when you have one of the top players in the entire country in star guard Buddy Hield. The Sooners have four players that average double figures and this is a group that is certainly battle-tested after going through the rugged Big 12. Oklahoma fell to Kansas both times they played, but did manage to defeat Baylor, Iowa State, and West Virginia twice throughout the campaign. If Hield and backcourt mate Isaiah Cousins can continue to play a high level, this could be a Final Four team.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the West Region for sure. Oklahoma and Oregon are two teams that could be Final Four bound if they are able to take care of business. However, there’s a few teams that definitely could surprise in the region.
No. 7 seed Oregon State hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 1989-90 season. To put things into perspective, the elder Gary Payton was on that team and averaged 25.7 points-per-game for the Beavers. Flip the script to the 2015-16 season and Gary Payton II is running things in Corvallis and has Oregon State looking to make a run. Payton II does it all for the Beavers and could have this team going deep into the tournament if they can get past VCU in the Round of 64.
No. 8 seed Saint Joseph’s is another team that has the potential to steal a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. In the First Round, the Hawks will go up against a beatable No. 9 seed in Cincinnati. The Bearcats are fresh off of their four-overtime thriller against Connecticut in the AAC Tournament last week. Saint Joseph’s has been through in the ringer in the Atlantic 10 and ended up winning the conference’s tournament. This is a team with a pair of very talented guards in DeAndre Bembry and Aaron Brown that can make their opponents pay. While it’s not likely that the Hawks can knock off Oregon, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if St. Joseph’s gave the Pac 12 champions a run for their money in the Second Round.
No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 8 St. Joseph’s
As was mentioned above, if the Hawks can get past the Bearcats, this will be a great matchup to see. Oregon is a team that has length, is extremely athletic, and can defend at a high level. As impressive a team as they are, St. Joseph’s possesses talented guards and a versatile big man in Isaiah Miles. If the Hawks can knock down jump shots and push the tempo, they certainly have a chance to upset the top-seeded Ducks.
Players to Watch:
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Hield is one of the most dynamic players in the college game. When the season is over, he may even be the National Player of the Year and a potential lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Hield is a phenomenal shooter, which is evident in the fact that he shoots 46.4 percent from beyond the arc. This is a guy that can score from just about anywhere on the floor. In a somewhat weak region, Hield definitely could take the Sooners to the Final Four.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State
It’s hard to believe that we’re getting a chance to watch another Payton dazzle on the basketball court. Payton II is just as talented as his NBA star father. The Oregon State guard averages 15.9 points-per-game, 7.9 rebounds-per-game, and 5.1 assists-per-game. Those are mind-boggling numbers and he may even see him eclipse them during the NCAA Tournament. If Oregon State wants to get past VCU, Payton II is going to have to show up, especially with teammate Tres Tinkle unlikely to play against the Rams.
Grayson Allen, Duke
Guard Grayson Allen has been followed by controversy lately after a few incidents in which he tripped opposing players. Whether that was intentional or not, it doesn’t change the fact that Allen is a phenomenal basketball player. After not playing a ton down the stretch last season, Allen ended up being one of Duke’s most productive players in the NCAA Tournament. He is a great inside-out guard that shoots 41.6 percent from three while also being able to put it on deck with regularity. As talented as Brandon Ingram is, the Blue Devils will go as far as Allen takes them.
DeAndre Bembry, St. Joseph’s
Bembry is the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and for good reason. While he’s not a phenomenal outside shooter, he has a nose for the basket and does a little bit of everything for the Hawks. St. Joseph’s was able to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament on the back of Bembry. With a multi-dimensional guard like Bembry, VCU and potentially Oregon could be in for a lot of trouble during the opening weekend of the tournament.
There’s some lower seeds that can definitely make some noise, but I’m on the Oklahoma bandwagon. Hield is a sensational player that will be fun to watch throughout the tournament. I think he’ll carry the Sooners to the Final Four.