Bracket Breakdown: West Region
Breaking Down The West
Breakdown: The West Region is about as wide open as it gets. Seven different teams could make a compelling argument that they will make it out of this region. It’s an interesting mix that features two mid-major teams in the top three seeds. Gonzaga reeled off 14 straight victories to end the season and earn the number one seed in the region. New Mexico earned a three seed out of the mid-major in name only Mountain West. The Mountain West Conference actually owned the number one RPI in college hoops this season. In between the two Cinderella turned favorites is a perennial power from the Big Ten, Ohio State. The Buckeyes put together another stellar season under Thad Matta and really found another gear down the stretch. If the Midwest Region was all about the defense then the West Region is all about the offense. Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Arizona, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Ohio State, and Iona all rank in the top 25 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense metric. So, this region will not lack for scoring, except for whichever team is playing Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the few defense-centric teams in the region. Their clash of style could give them an edge when playing so many teams that like to see the score in the 70s.
Chalk holds if…: If Gonzaga and Ohio State play like they’ve been playing for the past month then they could be on a collision course in the elite eight. Then it comes down to which team can impose their will on the other. Both teams have the ability to play slow or fast, but each team is comfortable in a different gear. Ohio State can play fast, but they would rather keep a controlled pace. Gonzaga likes to push the tempo and let their depth and size wear on their opponent. In the end a Zags trip to the final four might ride on Kevin Pangos. When the sophomore guard is stroking from downtown there’s very few teams in the country that can put up points with Gonzaga.
If it’s not number one then it’s…: Ohio State would be the team next in line if the Zags can’t full-fill their mid-major destiny. The Buckeyes are battle tested from a tough Big Ten schedule. Their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers rank in the top 15, and they just finished winning a Big Ten tournament title. New Mexico is another team to keep an eye on if Gonzaga falters. The Lobos played in a very tough conference and compiled 19 top 100 wins. They won’t shy away from anyone in this bracket.
Ripe for an upset: Kansas State seems a bit overseeded on the four line. The Wildcats shared the Big 12 title, but they did it mostly by winning games they should win and not losing games they shouldn’t. The Oklahoma State win in the conference tournament was their first win over a top 25 team since they beat the Cowboys again back on January 5th. The Wildcats struggled mightily against Kansas, Gonzaga, and Michigan. And their early season upset of Florida had more to do with the Gators struggling to shoot than Kansas State playing well. Add in the fact that their defensive efficiency numbers are pretty bad and you have the recipe for a possible upset. Arizona is underseeded and owns plenty of quality wins this year. But, the Wildcats played poorly down the stretch. They are just 5-5 in their last ten games.
Thinking Deep: Iowa State is an extremely dangerous 10 seed. They own one of the top ten offenses in the country, and they have enough talent to score on anyone. They also benefit from a first round match-up with Notre Dame whose defensive efficiency is barely inside the top 100. Belmont is another team to give a good look to. The Bruins played a tough non-conference slate and won’t be afraid of Arizona. Belmont went 2-2 against tournament teams this year. Senior guard Ian Clark gives them an elite scorer that can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country. Another deep seed to watch out for is the horribly underseeded Pittsburgh Panthers. Pitt owns top 20 ratings in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive metrics. They played in one of the toughest conferences in the land, and they own quality wins over multiple tournament teams. They are the type of eight seed that gives one seeds nightmares.
Players To Watch: Kelly Olynyk just might be the best big man in the country. Gonzaga’s big man can score from anywhere on the court. He’s creative around the rim, and he’s accurate from beyond the arc as well. New Mexico features a pair of guards that can turn it on at anytime. Tony Snell is one of the smoothest athletes in the country. He can score outside or inside, and he’s not afraid to take it to the rack. Kendall Williams is a pure scorer with a shot that can get red hot. Williams scored 46 points against Colorado State earlier this season. Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas average nearly 20 points per game despite being the Buckeyes only consistent offensive option. He has a diverse game and is adept at getting his shot off in traffic. Another player to watch is Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson. What he lacks in shooting ability he makes up for with confidence and athleticism. The junior guard is a volume shooter with an attitude. If you doubt his ability just re-watch the SEC tournament where he willed Ole Miss into the dance with his play.
Best First Round Games:
Boise State vs. La Salle – It’s the play-in game for the thirteen seed, but it should be fun to watch. Both teams run guard heavy offenses. And there’s potential for there to be 8 guards on the court at once. Both teams have proven the ability to knock off elite teams. And both teams own wins over Top 25 teams despite being on the thirteen line.
Notre Dame vs. Iowa State – Fans of defense might want to avert their eyes for this one. Neither team really pays much attention on that end of the court. But both squads can light up the scoreboard with the best of them. ISU relies on ball movement and a variety of scorers. They also have several players that can light it up from beyond the arc. Notre Dame is very similar with a heavy ball movement strategy featuring multiple scorers. The two styles should mesh very well and provide an entertaining game.
The Pick is…: Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the most complete team in the region. Gonzaga is a very close second, but they will have their hands full in the second round and sweet sixteen before they even get to the elite eight. Ohio State’s draw plays into their strengths, and if they can avoid an upset to New Mexico in the sweet sixteen they should be on their way to a second straight final four.