West Region Preview: Defensive-minded Arizona must overcome region filled with sharpshooters

The Dagger

The Dagger previews the West Region of the 2014 NCAA tournament. Read our previews of the East, South and midwest.

Three who can carry their teams:

* Xavier Thames, G, San Diego State

* Doug McDermott, F, Creighton

* Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State

Most intriguing opening round matchup: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska

Nebraska might have been one of the final at-large teams to get into the tournament but the Cornhuskers should be feared. They have wins on their resume over Michigan State (not at full strength) and Wisconsin. Those teams are capable of reaching the Final Four. They also played Michigan tight in two losses, including one by a single point. Swingman Terran Petteway can fill it up. He hails from Galveston, Texas, and would probably like nothing more than to send one of his home-state teams packing. Baylor just played for the Big 12 Conference tournament championship. The Bears can be very dangerous. They won 10 of their final 12 and present matchup problems with a sharpshooter in Brady Heslip, a talented big in Isaiah Austin and 6-foot-9 forward Cory Jefferson.

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Best potential round of 32 game: No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 5 Oklahoma

San Diego State is the nation’s second best defensive team, allowing opponents just 56.6 points a game. Oklahoma is seventh in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 82.2 points. It seems whichever team succeeds in imposing its will is likely to win this one. The Aztecs must avoid allowing Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler to have his way inside. When Spangler is rebounding well it usually leads to easy points and makes the Sooners tough to handle because of their perimeter shooting. They average nearly nine made 3-pointers per game. The Aztecs are fourth in the nation at defending the three.

Ripe for an upset: No. 4 San Diego State

If defense wins championships, the Aztecs and their fans are strong contenders. But someone has to put the ball in the basket, too, and San Diego State sometimes struggles on the offensive end. If it gets in a funk in its opening game against New Mexico State, it could be in trouble. Somehow the selection committee managed to group five of the top-10 shooting teams in the nation all in this region and New Mexico State is one of them. The Aggies are ninth nationally, making 49.1 percent of their field goal attempts. North Dakota State (1st), Creighton (4th), Gonzaga (5th) and American (7th) are also in the top 10.

Bound for the Final Four: No. 1 Arizona

The Wildcats have the complete package. They’re good offensively and defensively. They’re strong on the perimeter and inside. They have good guard play from Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell and a capable 7-footer in the post in Kaleb Tarczewski. Throw in a stellar talent like Aaron Gordon and you have the makings of a contender for the national title. One of the Wildcats’ four losses came on a last-second shot and another came in double overtime. This is the definition of a tough out.  

Possible Dark Horse: No. 8 Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State began the season as a dark horse for the Final Four in many minds because if has one of the best players in the country on the roster in guard Marcus Smart surrounded by a handful of other very good players. The Cowboys are definitely lacking an interior presence in one player, but when they’re playing their best and rebounding as a team, it’s not a huge problem. Oklahoma State emerged from a February slump, in which Smart was suspended for three games of a seven-game losing streak, to earn its way back into the tournament with some quality wins down the stretch. Its only two losses in the past month were on the road in overtime at Iowa State and in overtime in the Big 12 tournament to Kansas. Third-seeded Creighton, one the nation's best 3-point shootng teams with the likely Player of the Year in senior Doug McDermott, could make a run, too.

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Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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