It’s one of the best sports weeks of the year as the 2016 NCAA Tournament is set to begin!
I’ll be previewing each region of the tournament over the next couple days and we’re getting things started with the West Region, which is of particular interest to Duke fans. The Blue Devils are the No. 4 seed in the West and begin the tournament on Thursday when they face UNC Wilmington at 12:15 p.m. in Providence, RI. You can watch the game on CBS or on the network’s March Madness app.
Here are a few more things you need to know about the West, including a few of the teams and players that could stand in the way of Duke’s path to a championship.
Best Opening Game: No. 7 Oregon State vs. No. 10 VCU
It’s interesting that Oregon State is the higher seeded team because most of the metrics favor VCU. The Rams are currently listed as a 3-point favorite and are the higher ranked team in Kenpom, Sagarin, and KPI. However, Oregon State has a better RPI, which is a huge factor for the tournament selection committee.
None of that matters once the ball is tipped. Then, we’ll get one of the more intriguing matchups in the tournament as Oregon State point guard Gary Payton II takes on the press of VCU. Payton has been one of the best players in the country that people aren’t talking about this season, and the NCAA Tournament could serve as the perfect opportunity for him to shine on a national stage.
Upset Alert: No. 4 Duke vs. No. 13 UNC Wilmington
Duke has been nearly impossible to predict this season. It’s a team with the talent to make a Final Four run, but it’s also vulnerable to being bounced in the first round. I’ve said all year that this group reminds me of the 2014 team that featured Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood due to its defensive lapses and inability to put teams away, and it needs to be on upset alert against a dangerous UNC Wilmington team.
The Seahawks will enter Thursday’s game with tons of momentum after winning the CAA Tournament, and I’m sure they’ll have the full support of any non-Duke fans in attendance.
Best Player: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
This one is easy. Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield is one of the leading candidates for most National Player of the Year awards and is looking to finish a historic senior season with a national championship. He’s averaging 25 points per game while shooting 50% from the field, 46% from the 3-point line, and 90% from the free throw line. He’s arguably the most entertaining player in this year’s NCAA Tournament and will be the biggest key to Oklahoma’s title chances.
Final Four Prediction: Oklahoma
The West Region sets up nicely for Oklahoma. The Sooners likely wouldn’t be tested until the Sweet 16, and they’d still have a significant talent advantage over any potential opponent. This is also a veteran team that’s led by its backcourt, which is usually a big component for teams that fare well in the postseason. Buddy Hield has the opportunity to capture the attention of the entire country, but Oklahoma has two other quality guards in Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins. That trio will be what propels the Sooners to the Final Four.