The West region of the 2016 NCAA Tournament has the potential to be the least predictable of the four. Let's break it down.
As I covered yesterday, the West has a few close ones in the first round based on the KenPom ratings. The 8/9 game between St. Joe's and Cincinnati is a virtual tossup. The 5/12 game between Baylor and Yale is easily the closest matchup on those seed lines. The 10-seed VCU is 25 spots better than the 7-seed Oregon State. Both Yale and VCU are in the mid-30s of the rankings, so it wouldn't take a lot for a pair of double digit seeds to get into the Sweet 16.
Who You Gonna Trust?
The head coach of the 1-seed Oregon Ducks is Dana Altman. Prior to this year, his best seeding ever was a 6-seed in 2003, and he lost in the first round that year. In ten prior tournament appearances, albeit with only three single-digit seeds, he's made it past the first weekend just once (2013, as a 12-seed). He's not terribly proven as a tournament coach and has never had this kind of expectation on him.
Lon Kruger is the head coach of the 2-seed, Oklahoma. This year is only his fifth time in 17 tournament appearances that he's had a seeding of 4 or better. He's made it past the first weekend in three of his four other times, including last year. That said, he's gotten past the first weekend just four times in 16 tries.
Billy Kennedy is making only his third NCAA Tournament appearance and his sixth postseason tournament appearance of any kind. In each of the other five times, he's never won more than one game.
Duke has the 4-seed, but Mike Krzyzewski hasn't been terrific with something less than a 2-seed. In seven past tournaments with a 3-seed or worse, he made it past the first weekend just three of the times (43%). With a 1-seed or 2-seed, he's made at least the Sweet 16 in 19 of 23 tournaments (83%).
Altman's in a new tournament scenario for him, Kennedy has little experience, and K hasn't been all that great without being one of the top two seeds. Kruger with a strong seed seems like a decent bet based on track record, but it's still a small sample size.
Best and Worst Draws
In the bottom half of the West bracket, only two teams are better than the third best on their seed line according to the KenPom ratings. One is 15-seed CSU-Bakersfield, which will probably lose badly to OU. The other is VCU, which is the best of the 10-seeds.
If VCU beats Oregon State, the lowest rated of the 7-seeds, it likely would get Oklahoma, the third best of the 2-seeds. The 3-seed Texas A&M, 6-seed Texas, and 14-seed Green Bay are all the third best of their seed lines. Northern Iowa is the weakest of the six 11-seeds. The Rams easily have the best draw of any 10-seed in the field.
The top half of the West sets up well for 12-seed Yale, which is the highest rated 12-seed. The Bulldogs' first opponent Baylor is the weakest 5-seed, and potential next opponent Duke is the weakest 4-seed. Oregon is also the weakest 1-seed, meaning no 12-seed has a better path to the Elite Eight than Yale does.
Oregon, meanwhile, didn't get any favors. Its second game will be against either the best 8-seed in St. Joseph's or the second-best 9-seed in Cincinnati. The 7-seed Oregon State doesn't have a great draw either thanks to A) being overseeded, and B) getting a 10-seed that's rated well above it.
A Plausible Outcome
1-seed Oregon and 2-seed Oklahoma should win their opening games. 3-seed Texas A&M, which is 100 spots better than 14-seed Green Bay, also cruises. 4-seed Duke pulls away from 13-seed UNCW late to keep the top four seeds alive. 12-seed Yale upsets 5-seed Baylor, while 10-seed VCU runs away from 7-seed Oregon State. 6-seed Texas hangs on against Northern Iowa, while 9-seed Cincinnati's burly defense shuts down 8-seed St. Joseph's.
A tight Oregon team feeling the pressure runs into Cincinnati's brick wall and falls. Yale then knocks off Duke, busting up the top half of the region. The bottom half stays on script, though, as Texas A&M powers past Texas and Buddy Hield shoots OU past VCU, barely.
In a rare 9/12 matchup, Cincinnati uses its extensive tournament experience to edge past Yale in a first-team-to-50-wins kind of game. Oklahoma is able to get past Texas A&M, but it needs overtime to do it.
In the regional final, Oklahoma's ability to get in transition disrupts the Bearcat defense and puts the Sooners into the Final Four in Houston.