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NCAA Tournament 2014, West Region breakdown: Into the great, wide open

With many similar-looking teams and several squads that struggle to get stops, there's plenty of guesswork going around regarding the West.

Lincoln Beard enthusiast Taylor Braun could bring North Dakota State to Cinderella status.
Lincoln Beard enthusiast Taylor Braun could bring North Dakota State to Cinderella status.
March resources: Full bracket Empty bracket

Bo Ryan coaches a style of basketball that leaves Wisconsin fans nervous around this time of year. It's somewhat justified, as the Badgers have found ways to lose in the second round that would cause men of hearty stock to have moments of doubt and shame. But this year has had a different feel to it. The Badgers have a ridiculous balance.

The three? They're living without it.

But the thing of it is, this is a bracket filled with offensive might and magic.  Defensively, though, much of the region has issues on defense. With a consistent effort from the Badgers, good things will happen.

Alas, there are still several monsters along the way if the Badgers are going to escape the region. Let's introduce them.

1. Arizona Wildcats

Even despite losing Brandon Ashley, there's a major reason beyond geography as to why the Wildcats should be the favorites of the region. They shut teams down defensively. I mean, Ken Pomeroy rates them as the best defense in college basketball, and they have a defensive points-per-posession rate of 0.869. That's also first. Add to that a long and athletic starting five, and you have yourself a team that sails smoothly despite a choppy bracket.

Fun fact: The Wildcats do have one weakness that could cause absolute havoc in the bracket if they falter. Leading scorer Nick Johnson shoots free throws at a 77-percent clip. Center Kaleb Tarczewski hits at 76 percent. Those are their leaders. As a team, Arizona shoots 65.5 percent from the line, last in the Pac-12. Rebounding terror Aaron Gordon is Ryan Evans-esque in that he gets to the line a lot and makes 43.5 percent.

Personal threat level: They shut teams down, and as you'll see, they're highly likely to be the Final Four threshold guardian.

3. Creighton Blue Jays

Doug McDermott. You might not have heard of him, but he's pretty good at basketball. Did you know there's a reasonable chance that he gets to the Sweet 16 as the No. 4 scorer in college basketball history? It's true! In all seriousness, he's ending his college career as one of the all-time greats and the best Badger ever to never play for the Badgers. Creighton's going to win a game or three with his skills alone.

Fun fact: Ethan Wragge is someone the Badgers know very well. He scored 17 points in 19 minutes when the two teams met last season. He's a career 44-percent three-point shooter and probably owes McDermott, like, a billion thank-you notes.

Personal threat Level:screaming red klaxon. You're scared of them. I am, too.

4. San Diego State Aztecs

The Aztecs are one of the opposite teams, as they tend to struggle offensively, but the defense is of shut-down quality. Josh Davis averages a shade under 10 rebounds per game. Skylar Spencer adds 2.5 blocks, and the Aztecs have four players generating a steal per game. Offensively, they will go as far as Xavier Thames allows.

Fun fact: San Diego State is the only team to go to Lawrence and get out with a win this year.

Personal threat level: In a draw where there a lot of teams who score, San Diego State is a wild card. The Sweet 16 is possible; so, too, is a first-round knockout. All in all, the Aztecs are a minor threat at present.

5. Oklahoma Sooners

This is your typical Lon Kruger team. Guard-heavy (their four double-figure scorers are listed as guards), good shooting (as a team they're 38 percent from three and 75 percent from the line). And of course, they are very small. 6'8 Ryan Spangler is their leading rebounder and basically their rotational big man. They are another fast team that scores but defense is not their forte.

Fun fact: Kruger is the only coach who has taken five teams (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma) to the Big Dance.

Personal threat level: The lack of size and seeding has Oklahoma as a go-to in the classic upset chestnut of a No. 12 beating a No. 5. So I am not terribly worried.

6. Baylor Bears

Baylor has developed a reputation as a team with strong guards and talented, but mercurial frontcourt players. This year, the Bears also joined the Badgers in that January swoon. A 12-1 non-conference run turned into a 14-9 record after an 88-72 shellacking by Oklahoma on Feb. 8. But with the frontcourt of Cory Jefferson and shot-blocking master Isaiah Austin, plus the laser accuracy of Brady Heslip from beyond the arc (47 percent from three), Baylor finished on a 10-2 run.

Fun fact: Cheers to Baylor for Thomas Harris (he created Hannibal Lecter) and Trey Wingo; jeers to Baylor for Jeff Dunham (noted racist puppet comic) and Kenneth Starr.

Personal threat level: Baylor has a good frontcourt that can wipe the glass with Nebraska, and enough scoring to hang with Creighton. Yes, I'm a little worried.

7. Oregon Ducks

Oregon had a season that was very similar to Baylor's, and they both had a much deeper valley than Wisconsin. The DUcks started the year 13-0 and everyone was amazed. Then they lost eight of 10. Then they won eight of their final nine.

They follow the theme of the West region. They hit 39 percent from three and 76.6 percent from the line. Outside of Mike Moser, they don't really have a rebounding threat, but Joseph Young and Jason Calliste are both experienced and dangerous shooters.

Fun fact: If you wanted to seem cool while you were in college, you probably had a book from an Oregon alumnus in your collection. Chuck Pahalniuk wrote "Fight Club" and "Survivor," among others, and Ken Kesey's famous for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Personal threat level: Wisconsin has the size to match up, but this is the sort of game where the Badgers could get cold defensively and the Ducks just make them pay. They're well coached and can score in bunches. They could do some damage.

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs

After becoming the catalyst for the rise of Wichita State, Gonzaga has little expectation for this tournament. But the Bulldogs do have the pieces to shake off their doldrums. Gary Bell, Kevin Pangos and David Stockton provide a backcourt with experience. Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski provide some talented size. They shoot just under 50 percent overall and 39 percent from three, and in a spoiler, they can defend.

Fun fact: Mark Few has never made it past the second round (I'M NOT CALLING IT THIRD ROUND AND YOU CAN SUCK EGGS, NCAA) as Gonzaga's head coach.

Personal threat level: They can beat Marcus Smart, but it's a long way beyond Oklahoma State and the Elite 8.

9. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Three-word scouting report? Their guards score. You know Marcus Smart, but Markel Brown also averages over 17 points per game. Add in Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, and you have four guards who have combined for 84.4 percent of the Cowboys' scoring. Brown, Nash and Smart also add five rebounds, because like their in-state region mates (say that five times fast), they're a small team that gets pushes the pace and relies on the guards.

Fun fact: Their most notable alumnus is athletic "angel investor" T. Boone Pickens, but did you know Oklahoma is the alma mater of Academy Award-nominated actor and person ironic weirdos find hilarious Gary Busey? It's true!

Personal threat level: I think Oklahoma State matches up badly with Gonzaga, and Arizona can punish them inside, too. So, this team doesn't worry me.

10. BYU Cougars

BYU pushes the pace, averaging over 84 points per game. As the Cougars have shown, they're never really out of a game because they motor with the ball they also do not stop much defensively). Tyler Haws is definitely going to get his points, though Kyle Collinsworth is out for the tournament with a torn ACL. Matt Carlino and Nate Austin are going to have to step up. Collinsworth was a versatile monster, and they will miss him when they play Oregon.

Fun fact: This is going to be one of the first-round match-ups that is a rematch from a regular season game. Oregon won, 100-96, in overtime. So, there's going to be some points. Also, Dave Rose has four career tournament wins. They beat Oregon, and Rose ties Frank Arnold for the team record with most tournament wins.

Personal threat level: With Collinsworth's injury, they are less of a threat. But that being said, Rose knows how to deal with tournament adversity and Haws gunning has never been a bad decision. BYU will be entertaining and a tough out, but Oregon worries me more.

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers

A 10-3 finish for the Cornhuskers got them into the dance. Terran Petteway has been a revelation for Nebrasketball, and when you add the work of Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford, you have an offense that's developed into a threat as the season's gone along. But like San Diego State, the Cornhuskers will go as far as their defense will take them.

Fun fact: You know the fact of the Huskers being a football school? If they beat Baylor, this will be their first tournament win.

Personal threat level: Nebraska did beat Wisconsin, but if the Huskers get past Baylor, Creighton would be difficult to beat. As such, the Huskers are a cross-that-bridge-when-it-comes sort of threat.

12. North Dakota State Bison

North Dakota State does not seem to be the chic No. 12 seed to be an upset pick in the first round. Harvard or the play-in 12-seed seems to have more cachet, but as matchups go, this seems to do well for the Bison. They take care of the ball very well (eighth nationally in turnovers given up). They are ridiculously good at getting good looks. I mean, they're shooting 51 percent on all field goals. Taylor Braun is the engine that makes the team go. He shoots 51 percent overall, and leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, three-point shooting and free-throw attempts.

Fun fact: Their most famous alumnus? Former WWE champion and bridge to Hulkamania Bob Backlund.

Personal threat level: Oklahoma should be scared. The winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 13 game should be OK?

13. New Mexico State Aggies

If you believe in the potential for cult heroes, root for an upset here. Because if Florida Gulf-Coast was Dunk City, New Mexico State is Sim City. Sim Bhullar is the 7'5, 360-pound certified hoss that gets the Aggies noticed, but they're more than just a giant Canadian citizen. They also have two 6'10 forces on the low blocks in Renaldo Dixon and Tshilidzi Nephawe. They score on the low blocks well, they block a lot of shots. But they're 303rd in turnovers allowed.

Fun fact: The Aggies have twice as many active players from Toronto (four) then actual New Mexicans (two).

Personal threat level: San Diego State's defense is the sort that can cause some havoc here. As they're on the other side of the bracket, I'm not worried.

14. Lousiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

I know everyone was rooting for Georgia State to be here, but these Cajuns have some interesting pieces. Xavian Rimmer was a freshman whose 27 points got them here. Elfrid Payton is a slasher and adds roughly six assists and rebounds to 29 points per game. Shawn Long averages a double-double of 18.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, plus 42.7 percent from beyond the arc. They play fast, and they don't waste offensive possessions.

Fun fact: Their coach is named Bob Marlin. This is his third appearance in the tournament. He has not won yet.

Personal threat level: They have a fun inside-outside combination, but Creighton does what they do better. Not much of a threat.

15. American Eagles

American can shoot. Jesse Reed shoots 46.8 percent from three. John Schoof can hit 38 percent from three. The team makes 49.5 percent of all its shots. The Eagles play patient they play slow. They're 30th in terms of points per possession allowed. If it wasn't for a sub-300 ranking in terms of turnovers allowed, American would be very scary.

Fun fact: This year' s performance from Mike Brennan was good enough to get him named Patriot League Coach of the Year in his debut season.

Personal threat level: The Eagles remind me of the Badgers from last season. Strong defensively, sharp from three, but too flawed offensively to do real damage.

16. Weber State Wildcats

You might think that the only reason they're interesting is because they share a nickname, but Weber State has it in them to keep it interesting. Joel Bolomboy is averaging over 10 rebounds a game. Davion Berry's undersized, but he's averaging 19 points per game and leads the team in assists. On the whole, this team is strong from the three-point line, too, hitting 39 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.

Fun fact: Between Bolomboy and Kyle Tresnak, these Wildcats have shown that they can keep teams off the glass, finishing 12th defensively in rebounds allowed.

Personal threat level: Weber State went 19-11 against a pretty soft schedule. Arizona could win by over 20.