The NCAA West region is once again the home of the #1 overall seed. The Gonzaga Bulldogs look to be the first top-ranked AP team to win it all since the Kentucky Wildcats in 2012. The Bulldogs won’t have an easy track to the Final Four by any means as this region is stacked from top to bottom with talented rosters.
NCAA Tournament West Region Preview
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The West region has no shortage of star power. Besides the Zags, this corner of the bracket features several March mainstays. With powerhouse programs like Duke, Michigan State, Connecticut, and Arkansas in the mix, this region looks to be one of the more entertaining groups in the tournament. Throw in Mid-Major darlings like Davidson and Vermont, and the West may also be a difficult one to decipher for the office bracket. Let’s dive into this wild region to see what we can expect from the West.
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Top Four Seeds
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
For the second season in a row, the Zags are the top overall seed in the field. This is also the fifth time in the last decade that Gonzaga has earned a number one seed. Coach Mark Few coached the Bulldogs to their 21st regular season and 18th tournament WCC Championships this season. Few looks to lead his team to the promised land, avenging last year’s tournament disappointment and finally claiming their spot in NCAA history as a National Champion.
On the court, Gonzaga is led by the dynamic frontcourt duo of Chet Holmgren and WCC Player of the Year Drew Timme. Senior guard Andrew Nembhard is another key contributor, leading the Bulldogs in both steals (1.6) and assists (5.7) per game. Gonzaga faces several potential challenges in the region, including Alabama and Duke, two teams that beat the Bulldogs in the regular season.
No. 2 Duke Blue Devils
Duke will hope to make amends for recent letdowns by ending Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career with a deep tournament run. Despite the disappointment in Coach K’s final home game and the ACC Final, this team is more than capable of putting together such a run. Talented forwards Wendell Moore Jr. and Paolo Banchero will set the pace offensively. This team could run into a historic matchup with Tom Izzo and Michigan State, another fitting moment in Coach K’s final chapter.
This team has the talent to make a deep run, but in order to make it to the regional final, they may have to match up with the rough defense of the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders are in a tough spot. While their defensive tenacity should be enough for them to overpower Montana St. in the first round, they could be in for a difficult matchup in the second round. They will certainly be pressed to their limit should they reach the Sweet 16 in this region.
This team made it all the way to the Big 12 Championship Game but lacked the offensive firepower to keep up with the Kansas Jayhawks. With Bryson Williams (13.7) and Terrence Shannon Jr. (10.4) being the only two players to average more than 10 points per game this year, Texas Tech will struggle to keep pace deeper into the tournament.
No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks
Speaking of tough spots, the Razorbacks may have drawn the short straw in this region. Coach Eric Musselman will rally his team in an effort to repeat last season’s Elite Eight run. The Razorbacks have an elite scorer in JD Notae, who is averaging 18.4 points per game this year. Jaylin Williams has been coming on strong of late as well, leading the team in rebounds and blocks per game.
Arkansas has been a much better team at home this year. This could become a problem with their first-round matchup against Vermont. The Catamounts and Razorbacks meet in Buffalo on Thursday night in a matchup that feels like a home game for the mid-major. If Arkansas can survive this early challenge, they may find themselves with a chance to knock off Gonzaga.
West Region – Best First Round Game
There are so many great matchups to choose from here that picking the best game could be as difficult as picking the region’s winner. The aforementioned Arkansas vs. Vermont game could be the best of the bunch in the first round. Two-time America East Player of the Year Ryan Davis and the Catamounts are giving plenty of analysts 2005 vibes. With an inside-outside attack and an offense that is top-five in shooting, Vermont could be a Cinderella story again this year. I also like Boise State vs. Memphis and Michigan State vs. Davidson.
West Region – Upset Alert
Another Cinderella candidate comes in the form of WAC Champions, New Mexico State. The Aggies coasted to a conference title, but their relatively weak schedule could be concerning. New Mexico State did not face a top 25 team all season. This upperclassman-heavy team led by Nebraska transfer Teddy Allen has the right combination of talent and experience to ruin a contender’s run.
UConn hopes to avoid that fate and has players skilled enough to do so. The three-headed monster of RJ Cole, Adama Sanogo, and Tyrese Martin will attack the Aggies’ defense. UConn lost a close one to Villanova in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. They could very well end up in the Sweet Sixteen, but everyone loves a 5-12 upset, so I’m taking the Aggies in this one. I also like Davidson over MSU if you count that as an upset.
West Region Sleeper
The Alabama Crimson Tide are sneaky dangerous coming into the tournament. While they don’t have the same defensive presence that they held during last year’s Sweet 16 run, they have a list of impressive non-conference wins this season. Victories over Gonzaga, Baylor, Houston, and Miami have to give this time plenty of confidence going in. They also have wins over Tennessee and Arkansas in SEC play. Alabama is heavily dependent on the three-point shot though, and an off night could send them home early.
West Region Prediction
Gonzaga. The number one overall seed is primed to finally claim their first NCAA title in school history. This frontcourt is dominant and Nembhard is the type of trustworthy ballhandler that teams need to make a deep tournament run. Mark Few and the Bulldogs silence any remaining critics by not only winning this region but the NCCA National Championship.
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