The west region will feature eight mid-majors in the round of 64 along with two of the nation's top teams in top seed Oregon and 2-seed Oklahoma and ever-present Duke which took the 4 seed. There's no real clear favorite in this quarter of the bracket which should make it one of the more maddening of the regions.
Favorite: Oregon Ducks
With Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles to their name the Oregon Ducks earned the top seed out west. Oregon, winners of eight straight, boasts a 28-6 record on the season. The Ducks are led by 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Dillon Brooks (16.8 ppg) who took home USBWA District IX Player of the Year honors. Dana Altman was named District IX Coach of the Year. They have a couple of bad losses on their resume (Boise State and UNLV) but those came back in the non-conference part of the year. Since then the Ducks have really turned it up on the offensive end and now rank fifth in KenPom with an offensive rating of 119.4. They'll play their first two games in Spokane, Wash — a short (by west coast standards) seven hour drive from Eugene, Ore.
Darkhorse: Northern Iowa Panthers
They stole the Missouri Valley Conference's auto-bid and have gone on quite a tear over the past month-plus. With wins over North Carolina, Iowa State and a pair over Wichita State the Panthers have proven they can play with, and defeat, anybody. Those wins helped them earn an 11 seed and they'll face 6-seed Texas in Oklahoma City. A very strong defense which forces a lot of turnovers (17th in the nation per KenPom) can feast on any team they face, especially if that team comes out jittery on the big stage. Plus, they've got a guy named Wes Washpun running the show. We'll get to him a little later.
Best First Round Upset: VCU Rams
Will Wade's first year at the helm could have been a let down. Instead he led the Rams back to the NCAA Tournament and got a very favorable first round draw against the Oregon State Beavers. The Rams are a ten seed while Oregon State is a seven, so it wouldn't be a huge upset. But it is an upset on paper. Honestly, how did the Beavers (19-12, 9-9) earn a seven seed? These are two defensive minded teams but VCU with Doug Brooks, JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson have kept the HAVOC that Shaka Smart used to make previous darkhorse runs.
Clutch is one word to describe Washpun (14.3 ppg, 5.2 apg), who hit a buzzer beater to send the Panthers to the big dance. You could also use a few more words and just say the 6-foot-1 senior point guard is really good at basketball. When he's playing the big boys he steps up even more, averaging 17.5 points per game in the Panthers six games against NCAA Tournament teams this season.