NCAA Tournament West Region Preview: Can Anybody Beat Arizona?

  • Matt Rudnitsky

Doug McDermott

March Madness is here, and I’m going region-by-region, previewing the NCAA Tournament from a bracket pool and betting perspective. Here’s the Midwest Region preview. There’s the East Region preview. This is the South Region preview.

And below, the West. It’s the one on the northeast portion of your bracket.

Who’s gonna make the Final Four?

I already analyzed each region’s Final Four betting odds and implied probabilities, but here they are in case you missed it.

No. 1 Arizona (+152): 32.93% chance, picked by 47.2% of people

No. 2 Wisconsin (+400): 16.6% chance, picked by 20.9% of people

No. 3 Creighton (+469): 14.59% chance, picked by 12.9% of people

No. 9 Oklahoma State (+984): 6.02% chance, picked by 6.5% of people

No. 4 San Diego State (+1878): 7.66% chance, picked by 4% of people

No. 7 Oregon (+1861): 4.23% chance, picked by 1.4% of people

No. 5 Oklahoma (+1878): 4.2% chance, picked by 1.6% of people

No. 6 Baylor (+2323): 3.43% chance, picked by 2.7% of people

No. 8 Gonzaga (+2502): 3.9% chance, picked by 1% of people

No. 11 Nebraska (+5787): 1.41% chance, picked by 0.5% of people

No. 13 New Mexico State: (+6939) 1.18% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 10 BYU (+6939): 1.18% chance, picked by 0.3% of people

No. 12 North Dakota State (+7518): 1.09% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette (+9249): 0.89% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 15 American (+115559): 0.71% chance, picked by 0.8577% of people

No. 16 Weber State (+11559): 0.71% chance, picked by 0.4% of people

Who’s everyone in your pool gonna pick?

Arizona, mostly. They seem a bit overrated by the public, but nothing crazy. Same with Wisconsin. Creighton seems slightly disrespected, but not too much. Nobody is sleeping on Oklahoma State as a deep sleeper.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Arizona: They are the best defensive team in the country and are good on offense, too. The best overall team, according to KenPom. They stifle 3-point shooters, allowing the 14th fewest 3-point attempts per field goal attempt in the nation. And their 2PT defense is second in the nation (40.5%). Sixth in defensive rebounding. They don’t give up free throws. They even force a decent amount of turnovers. Only five teams hold offenses to longer average possessions.

They’re fucking insane at defense and do not have a weakness.

On offense, they’re merely very good, but they have weaknesses. They’re not a great shooting team. They don’t shoot threes. A lot of their success is due to great offensive rebounding. They’re horrible at free throws (65.5%).

In three of their four losses, they just didn’t play well on offense, going really cold. In the other, they lost a close game to UCLA’s elite offense. Michigan nearly had them beat, but they’re a top-3 offense and still needed a great shooting day, at home, to almost pull the upset.

It’s tough to forecast their success. It would be a shock if they were blown out, but it wouldn’t be a shock if they went cold in a game, coinciding with a good offense shooting well. Or even a decent offense shooting well.

Wisconsin: Nobody’s talking about it, but Wisconsin limped through the second half of the year, relatively speaking. On January 14th, they were No. 2 in KenPom and looked like they’d run away with the Big Ten. They finished 9-6 in conference play, dropping as low as 21st in KenPom before recovering a bit late and entering the tournament at a solid No. 13.

Wisconsin is a good shooting team with a middling defense. They were 7th in the Big 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency. They rely on threes on offense, and they stop threes on defense (7th-best nationally in 3PA/FGA).

Beating Florida at home and winning at Virginia is incredibly impressive, but that was early on, and both wins came on big discrepancies in shooting.

The Badgers are very good. If Oregon gets through, I think they’ll be a really tough matchup, with their under-appreciated offense (12th in adjusted efficiency). And I think Arizona would kill them. (Though it seems like Creighton is a solid matchup, since Wisconsin stops threes so well and shoots them fairly well themselves.)

Creighton: Creighton is fun. Doug McDermott is fun. It’s fun to pencil them into the national championship, because their offense is good enough to get them there. They’re also not a mid-major anymore, so they’ve played legit competition. They are the best-shooting team and the best offense in the country, per KenPom and per anyone with eyes.

They don’t turn the ball over and they shoot the lights out and cause worldwide blackouts.

That said, their defense is… underwhelming. 134th in adjusted efficiency. They force virtually no turnovers. They box out well and keep teams off the free-throw line. Other than that, they’re not very good.

They gave up 1.25 points per possession to San Diego State, who struggles mightily on offense. (But they scored 1.16 themselves, which is quite good, independently of the horrible defense.)

When they get cold, they lose. They lost to George Washington, who’s mediocre. And Providence, twice.

It’s pretty simple. They give bad offenses life, but they can score on good defenses. If they get cold, they’ll probably lose. But it’s an upset when they get cold.

Like I said, Wisconsin seems like a relatively bad matchup. But they should go wild on the Badgers’ defense, so who knows? They’re a tough team to forecast. They could scare Arizona with similar (or better) offensive fireworks as to UCLA.

Oklahoma State: OSU has a 6% chance as a 9-seed, which means they’re damn good. If they can upset Arizona (and Gonzaga is pretty damn good, too), all of a sudden, they’re close to Final Four favorites. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

They’re just two-point favorites over Gonzaga. Gonzaga is very good.

The Cowboys are a mediocre shooting team, but pretty damn good at everything else. Except rebounding. They get killed on the boards. You know Marcus Smart. They get to the free-throw line.

Don’t be shocked if they upset Arizona. But I don’t really think it’s worth picking in your bracket, especially since they’re barely over 50-50 to even get out of the first round.

Recommended Pick: Arizona
Safe Pick: Arizona
Don’t Pick: Wisconsin

First Round Upsets?

First-round upsets are mainly important for bragging rights, unless your pool awards points for upsets, which is dumb. That said, let’s pick some.

DON’T PICK: Nebraska, Louisiana-Lafayette, BYU

Nebraska was second in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, but they’re bad on offense and are completely overmatched, talent-wise vs. Baylor. The only reason to pick them is the coaching mismatch. Admittedly, it’s huge. And Nebraska had most (though not all) of its success at home. And I think they’d get annihilated by Creighton in round 2 (3?) anyway. They already have this year.

If Creighton goes cold, sure, they could lose to ULL. But they’re 13.5-point favorites and don’t get cute here.

The only thing pointing towards BYU is the whole “no respect” angle. They lost their second-best player, are 5.5-point underdogs, and they’d probably get killed by Wisconsin if they win. Oregon is a big favorite and I think will scare Wisconsin.

CONSIDER PICKING: Gonzaga, North Dakota State, New Mexico State

Gonzaga’s efficiency numbers are great, but they only played a few decent teams and failed all of their big tests. That said, it seems like everybody is picking Oklahoma State, and the Zags are a great-shooting team and just 2-point underdogs. Picking the 8-seed for an “upset” isn’t a bad stab to take, especially if you’re not going to pick Arizona to lose in Round 2.

North Dakota State didn’t beat anybody, but they’re 11th in the nation in EFG% and are playing a pretty bad defense in Oklahoma. Oklahoma relies a lot on threes. They’re good at them, but if they go a bit cold, NDSU can keep up. They’re just 3.5-point underdogs and worth a look.

New Mexico State looks like they got a tough draw in stout San Diego State, but they’re one of the best post-scoring teams in the country. They have a dude that’s 7-foot-5 (Sim Bhullar). I think the matchup sucks because they’re bad at defensive rebounding and the Aztecs get their offense on the glass, but they’re huge and scary and worth considering as a ballsier pick (they’re 7-point underdogs).

Picks Against The Spread

I am picking every NCAA Tournament game against the spread, because why not and because you can make fun of me when I prove how hard it is to pick lots of sports matches. (I am not betting on all of these games, though, because I’m not a moron.)

Oklahoma State -2
Weber State +20
North Dakota State +3.5
New Mexico State +7
Baylor -3.5
Creighton -13.5
BYU +5.5
American +13

Any actual bets? Baylor is my favorite bet of the first round (I took it at -3), so you should probably bet your limbs on Nebraska.

My Bracket

Brackets are only fun if you ignore logic. No, I didn’t take my own, seemingly-logical advice. Have some fun.

Disagree? Let’s discuss.

ALSO READ: South preview. East preview. Midwest preview.