Mar 18, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
After much consternation and discussion and analysis in the six days since Gonzaga ended their season by winning the WCC tournament, it turns out that the Zags did end up getting the No. 1 seed out West. That means that, if they keep on winning, they’ll be playing their first two games in Salt Lake City and their next two games in Los Angeles.
The problem with that plan?
New Mexico, the dual-champion of the Mountain West Conference and one of the stingiest defensive teams in the country, is the No. 3 seed out West and will be following that same path towards the Final Four. As will No. 6 seed Arizona, should they make it out of their tough opening round matchup with Belmont.
Should I mention that the Zags also are going to have their hands full with whoever ends up winning the rugby match that will break out during No. 8 seed Pitt’s battle with No. 9 seed Wichita State?
Here’s your West Regional breakdown:
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Three story lines to watch
- The narrative for this region will end up being that it’s the easiest of the four, which isn’t necessarily untrue. It’s certainly not as intimidating as the Midwest, and none of the top four seeds are going to strike fear in the hearts of cinderellas. But when that point is brought up, it’s important to mention that this is not a good draw for Gonzaga in terms of matchups. Both Pitt and Wichita State have the size to matchup with Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. Kansas State does as well, and New Mexico may matchup with the Zags better than any team in the country.
- There are some really dangerous double-digit seeds out West. Iowa State can beat anyone in the country on the nights their threes are going down. Belmont’s a veteran team with arguably the best backcourt in the region. Ole Miss is hot, coming off an SEC tournament title, and has one of the nation’s most dangerous scorers in Marshall Henderson. Even the Boise State-La Salle winner and Harvard can win a couple games, and Iona has a number of high-major transfers on their roster.
- Can Ohio State make another run to the Final Four? There hasn’t been a hotter team in the country over the last month, and they’ve got a favorable bracket.
The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 New Mexico
Difficult matchups aside, I still believe that Gonzaga is as good as any team in the country, if not the best team in the country. Their front line is just a nightmare to try and defend, and while they will have to get by some teams with size up front, how many of those teams have big men with the size and the versatility of Gonzaga’s? (Hint: none.) I know the reputation of the Mountain West is to underperform in the NCAA tournament, and while I don’t necessarily see that changing this season, I think this season will be the time that New Mexico finally bucks that trend. Ohio State will be tough, but I think the Lobos are stingy enough defensively to take away Deshaun Thomas and balanced enough offensively to limit Aaron Craft’s disruption.
Final Four sleeper: Pitt
The Panthers are the No. 8 seed out West. They also happen to be the No. 7 team in the country according to Kenpom’s efficiency rating. Pitt historically struggles in the tourney, but if they can pull the upset over Gonzaga in the Round of 32, Jamie Dixon’s club will have favorable matchups the rest of the way.
Best opening round matchups
- No. 13 Boise State vs. No. 13 La Salle: Both the Broncos and the Explorers are overloaded with quality perimeter players, and this should “devolve” into a open-court, up-and-down affair that sees plenty of threes being fired up.
- No. 8 Pitt vs. No. 9 Wichita State: It may end up being the polar opposite of Boise State and La Salle, but if you like seeing big men battle in the paint, this game will provide that.
Matchups to root for
- No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 6 Arizona: Not only would that pit the best team from the Mountain West against one of the best teams in the Pac-12 for west coast bragging rights, it would take place in Salt Lake City, a locale easy for both fan bases to get to.
- No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 11 Belmont: Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott might be the best defensive back court in the country. They get Momo Jones and Sean Armand of Iona and then, hopefully, Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and Belmont’s Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark.
The studs you know about
- Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Deshaun Thomas gets the attention, but Craft is a difference-maker defensively and his emergence offensively has spurred Ohio State’s late-season surge.
- Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga: He’s a seven-footer with guard skills that has become the most devastatingly-efficient front court scorer this side of Doug McDermott.
- Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss: He’s brash, he’s cocky, he’s emotional and unafraid to show it, and he just so happens to be a 20 ppg scorer.
- Rodney McGruder, Kansas State: McGruder had some issues shooting the ball earlier this season, but he’s like a less-athletic version of Ben McLemore.
The studs the nation will find out about
- Ian Clark, Belmont: Not only was he the OVC’s co-Player of the Year alongside Isaiah Canaan after averaging 18.1 points, but the 6-foot-1 sharpshooter was also the Defensive Player of the Year.
- Ramon Galloway, La Salle: Galloway is a senior from Philly that transferred to his hometown school from South Carolina and has had a great season. He’s a bigger, more athletic guard with a vicious handle that’s unafraid to pull from deep. He takes — and also makes — some crazy shots.
Upsets that ARE happening
- No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Arizona: Belmont’s back court is going to give Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson nightmare, while I just don’t see Arizona’s front court being big enough to take advantage of the Bruin’s lack of size inside.
- No. 10 Iowa State over No. 7 Notre Dame: The Cyclones are a streaky team because of their reliance on the three-ball, but they have perimeter-oriented big men that will be a nightmare for Jack Cooley to try and cover; it’s how they nearly beat Kansas twice this season. Point guard Korie Lucious has played in a Final Four, and Chris Babb is an excellent on-ball defender.
Upsets that AREN’T happening
- No. 7 Notre Dame/No. 10 Iowa State over No. 2 Ohio State: Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott will shut down Notre Dame’s talented back court, while the Buckeyes have displayed a small lineup of late — using Deshaun Thomas at the five — that can matchup with ISU.
- No. 12 Ole Miss over No. 5 Wisconsin: The Rebels got hot late, and they deserve credit for that, but I can’t see a team that lost to Mississippi State and South Carolina beating Bo Ryan’s team.
CBT Predictions: I think New Mexico’s front line ends up being too much for the smaller Ohio State to deal with, but the Lobos end up losing in a thriller — and packed house — for the right to go to Atlanta.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:38 AM EDT
Four autobids were decided on Tuesday as the NCAA Tournament has some new entrants into the field of 68. Find out who made the Big Dance and see how BYU is looking after its WCC title game loss.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT
Gonzaga is back in the tournament for what feels like the 100th straight year, but this team is a bit different than Gonzaga teams of old.
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Meet the North Dakota State Bison, the winners of the Summit League and one of the — likely — trendy upset picks in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT
The coaching carousel continued to spin on Tuesday night as Loyola Marymount opted not to renew the contract of head coach Max Good.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:06 PM EDT
Get to know the Northeast Conference tournament champs!
Mar 11, 2014, 9:16 PM EDT
The Milwaukee Panthers are dancing after winning four games in the Horizon League Conference Tournament. Meet one of the NCAA Tournament’s more dangerous double-digit seeds here.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
After only two seasons as head coach, Tennessee State has opted to fire head coach Travis Williams.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
The Southland’s top team has been upset in the conference tournament for the past three seasons. Will the trend continue? Or has the arrival of Stephen F. Austin’s new coach, Brad Underwood, altered the trajectory?
Mar 11, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
UNC Wilmington on Tuesday announced that head coach Buzz Peterson is out after four years at the school.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT
Every year, there are a handful of teams that could use a couple of wins in their respective league tournaments to gain entry into the field of 68. Here are five schools that need to string some wins together this week to feel comfortable making NCAA Tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
In light of the back injury that will keep Joel Embiid out for the Big 12 tournament and could foreseeably saddle him to the bench for the entirety of the NCAA tournament, we decided to take a look at season-ending injuries to key players on past National Title contenders: Kenyon Martin: Cincinnati was the No. 1…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here. Bowling Green will not be renewing the contract of head coach Louis Orr, the school announced on Tuesday. Orr had coached the Falcons for seven seasons, finishing with a 101-121 record and just one season with a .500 record or better. BGSU was 12-20 this past…
2014 American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview: Louisville looks to win its only year in the AAC
Mar 11, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The American came into this season as a big unknown, but with five likely NCAA Tournament teams and three All-Americans, this is one of the better leagues in college basketball this season. Can Louisville win the league in its only year in the American or will Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU or UConn get in the way?
Mar 11, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Vegas is good at predicting winners. Here are their odds for all of the major conference tournaments.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT
Four automatic bids will be earned on Tuesday night, with the West Coast Conference title game headlining.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
Doug McDermott. Player of the Year. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Saint Louis will look to repeat as the Atlantic 10 Tournament champion, but it won’t be easy. The field in Brooklyn could have six, yes six, NCAA tournament-bound teams.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
When you take your team to 34-0, you’re the National Coach of the Year. Pretty sure our forefathers wrote that into the Constitution.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
Now 15 teams deep, the ACC’s showcase event will span five days in Greensboro. Between the new arrivals, one upcoming departure and a plethora of talented players, this will be must-see television.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT
The Duke star is NBCSports.com’s National Freshman of the Year.
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