Watered-down West looks ripe for surprises - The Buffalo News

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Watered-down West looks ripe for surprises

OK, maybe it’s a classic East Coast bias. I don’t stay up late to watch much basketball these days, and if I do, it’s to check out the best collection of hoop teams on the planet – the NBA West.

This NCAA West Region doesn’t do much for me. Arizona deserved the No. 1 seed, but it’s hard to put much faith in a Pac-12 team nowadays. There hasn’t been a Pac-12 team in the Final Four since UCLA finished its three-year run in 2008.

Otherwise, no Pac-12 team has reached the Final Four since Arizona in 2001. How come mid-majors like George Mason, VCU, Butler and Wichita State can get there, but the secondary Pac-12 teams never make a run?

What happened to Stanford? Cal? Oregon, it’s time to stop living off that 1939 national title. Then there’s Wisconsin, which got a generous No. 2 seed. Come on, do you really think the Badgers would beat Louisville right now? Bo Ryan is a fine coach, but Wisconsin has this nagging habit of finishing near the top of the Big Ten and losing to lower seeds in the NCAAs.

Over the last seven years, the Badgers have been upset five times by lower-seeded teams, four of them mid-majors. They lost to UNLV, Davidson, Cornell and Butler. A year ago, as a No. 5 seed, they went out against Mississippi in their first game. This year, they’re a No. 2 seed. At least they might get Oregon in the next game.

Then there’s Creighton, the third seed. I rode the Blue Jays the last two years. I picked them to reach the Final Four in 2012. I’ve hopped off the train. For one thing, I can’t claim them as a mid-major anymore. They jumped to the watered-down Big East this year and joined the ranks of the mighty. They lost the Big East final to Providence. It was the same old Creighton. When they run into a team that made it tough to run their offense around the basket, they struggled to score and it became Doug McDermott trying to save the day with 25-footers.

So I see upsets in the West. Arizona is without its third-leading scorer, Brandon Ashley. That’s why I took a stab at Baylor, which is the most talented team in the region and a very live Final Four team as a sixth seed.

Game to Watch: Oklahoma-North Dakota State. You like offense? Settle in. The Sooners are seventh in the country in scoring and allowed the most points in the Big 12. ND State shoots 51 percent from the field, tops in the nation. The Bison won at Notre Dame and Western Michigan. They’re a live underdog. Hey, shouldn’t a team nicknamed the Bison be playing in Buffalo?

Upset City: New Mexico State over San Diego State. Maybe it’s a bias from the Michigan days, but I always expect Steve Fisher’s teams to screw up. His Aztecs are a terrific defensive team, but perhaps the worst shooting team in the tournament. New Mexico State played in the NCAAs a year ago and has a 7-5 center, Sim Bhullar, who could make things even more exasperating for San Diego State.

Sleeper: Baylor. Talentwise, they’re no sleeper. But you never know which Bears team will show up. They lost eight of 10 in midseason. But they’ve won nine of their last 11. In the last month, they’ve won six games against teams that are in the NCAA tourney field. They have an underrated coach in Scott Drew and could go very far. Or with my luck, they’ll lose to Nebraska.

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