With the tournament set to get underway on Thursday, the BECB staff has taken to the task of looking at each region of the tournament.
In this edition we’ll be breaking down just how the west may be won.
Round of 64:
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) South Dakota State:
Since the expansion of the NCAA Tournament field to 64 in 1985, no 16-seeded team has beaten a 1-seed. This trend will continue with this game as Gonzaga wins with relative ease, despite the ever present notion that the Bulldogs are the weakest of the four 1-seeds in the tournament.
That notion will be put to rest as the Bulldogs put away South Dakota State with ease, presenting a well rounded style of play that could potentially be a tad more reliant on 3-point shooting this game as the Jackrabbits have underwhelming on the defensive end especially against three point shooting. No other team in the field of this tournament has allowed more three pointers this season than South Dakota State.
It will be interesting to see Mike Daum play, as he is the No. 2 scorer in the nation and is the focal point for much of South Dakota State’s offense.
(8) Northwestern vs. (9) Vanderbilt:
There is a feel-good factor in this match up as Northwestern will be playing in their first ever NCAA Tournament game in the history of their program. Feel-good factor though will not be enough for Northwestern to carry the day over the Commodores who present an interesting match up for the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt at the moment are entering the tournament with hot hands. Hot hands that know how to sink a 3-point shot with ease. They are a volume 3-point shooting team as they led the SEC in three point shots attempted and made at a volume size of 38.1% and an average of 9.9 made per game. If the Commodores can their shots going early on then the ‘Dores may well be showing the door to the Wildcats.
On an interesting side not both head coaches in their game will be seeking their first ever tournament win. Bryce Drew is 0-2 so far while Chris Collins will try to make history.
(5) Notre Dame vs. (12) Princeton:
The Tigers have not lost since December and in the process led the Ivy League in scoring margin along with presenting one of the best scoring defenses in the conference. They present a sexy option for the upset, but most likely will be heading the other way in this game against Notre Dame as the Tigers will have their hands tied in trying to stop Bonzie Colson who will be the focal point not only for this game but for the Irish in the duration that they are in the tournament.
Pick: Notre Dame
(4) West Virginia vs. (13) Bucknell:
A game that presents a sexy upset pick. Yes, West Virginia has the potential to cough up a game from time to time. Yes they were upset last tournament too. Yes, the Bison have an ability to shot well enough to carry themselves this game, but they will be going up against a organized and opportunistic press that might be the best that Bob Huggins has put together during his time with the Mountaineers.
In the end it will be West Virginia marching on to the next round.
Pick: West Virginia
(6) Maryland vs. (11) Xavier:
The matchup begs the question: What happens when an unknown quantity faces off against an unpredictable quantity? Potentially an intriguing game where it is tough to gauge.
On their pomp, Maryland can hold their own against anyone. They began their season with a hot start dropping only two games through January. The bottom did fall out at the end of season and in the run up to Selection Sunday lost six out of 10 including their Big Ten Tournament game against fellow West region team Northwestern.
On the reverse side of things is Xavier, who have not been the same team since the lost of Edmond Sumner in January. Trevon Bluiett has stepped up his game and possesses that ability to take over when necessary Chris Mack’s team also boost solid play within the paint that could be what helps them this game.
In the end it will be Xavier marching on as there is too much inconsistency for Maryland to present a balanced level of play.
(3) Florida State vs. (14) Florida Gulf Coast:
While there is the alluring charm and nostalgia of Dunk City being back in the tournament, the Eagles got a dealt a bad hand in drawing the Seminoles for this game in the Round of 64. Granted, Florida Gulf Coast got hot at the right time in their conference tournament and sure a 14-seed has beaten a 3-seed each of the past four tournaments, but Florida State’s talent and depth, let alone their size will prove to a bridge too far for the Eagles to handle. Keep an eye out for Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Issac will look to set up shop for the Seminoles.
Pick: Florida State
(7) Saint Mary’s vs. (10) VCU:
In what is probably one of the more compelling games of the round two of toughest defenses will square off as Saint Mary’s stingy man to man defensive abilities will pair off against a VCU team that plays with a tenacious ability to stifle opponents, holding them to around an average of 66 points.
While defensive capabilities match up fairly evenly, it will be who ever can seek an slight offensive advantage which bodes well for the Gaels who are anchored by Australian Jock Landale and the back court tandem of Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon. On top of it all they are an efficient three point shooting team, third in the nation that could give them the edge. By comparison VCU has had their troubles this season in shooting beyond the arch.
By a slight edge, the Gaels march on.
Pick: Saint Mary’s
(2) Arizona vs. (15) North Dakota
This game is going to be a pretty straight forward result. North Dakota puts up a fight early on, but in the end it is Arizona who wins rout over the Fighting Hawks.
Round of 32
(1) Gonzaga vs. (9) Vanderbilt:
The Bulldogs flex their muscles this games as Vanderbilt presents a tougher task compared to their first game against South Dakota State. Once again the Commodores will look to establish their shooting game early on, however the options that Gonzaga will have on the floor be it Prezmek Karnowski working in the front court or the tandem of Nigel Williams-Gross and Josh Perkins present too much for the for Vanderbilt to counter. In particular there is no counter to Karnowski who will the be the focal point for Goznaga as he will most likely be carving out the front court for his own.
In the end Gonzaga marches on.
(5) Notre Dame vs. (4) West Virginia:
This game has the potential to be the funnest game of the round as both teams will be gunning for a Sweet Sixteen spot against Gonzaga. This one will be a hard fought test from beginning to the bitter end and in the end West Virginia will move on thanks in part to their press game as they force Notre Dame in difficult spots throughout the forty minutes of play. Then again it will be a game of a team that loves to press versus a team that loves to run ball screens. The big factor for West Virginia though in this game will be sorting out their guard play as it has been a ebb and flow point for them this season.
Pick: West Virginia
(11) Xavier vs. (3) Florida State:
Xavier’s run in the tournament ends here as they come short on options against Florida State who put their depth and size to action against the Musketeers abilities in the paint. Their reliance on Bluiett comes up short here as well. FSU also benefits from this game being in Orlando giving it the feel of a home game for the Seminoles faithful who have struggles on the road this season. Florida State marches onto the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2011.
Picks: Florida State
(7) Saint Mary’s vs. (2) Arizona:
Arizona will face a tough test in this game going up against Saint Mary’s aforementioned man to man defense. What works though in Sean Miller’s corner is the amount of talent that he possesses on his roster. The sheer depth abilities on the Wildcats’ roster will be what carries Arizona forward as by comparison despite the abilities of Saint Mary’s they are a tad shallow in their roster depth. Still though, this game does provide interesting matchups, in particular the battle in the front court will be interesting to watch between Jock Landale and Lauri Markkanen.
Arizona marches on in a game that provides a good test for the next rounds.
(1) Gonzaga vs. (4) West Virginia:
West Virginia is the nightmare match up for Gonzaga in their quest to reach the Final Four for the first time in their history. In the end it might be a bridge too far for the Bulldogs in this game against the Mountaineers as they Mark Few’s team will be facing the sheer onslaught of a forty minutes press that is unrelenting. West Virginia’s defense has the highest turnover percentage in the country. Despite Prezmek Karnowski being an unstoppable force he might be the lock that the Mountaineers pick early on as his slow footed play comes back to hurt him.
Look also for West Virginia to isolate both Williams-Gross and Perkins in forcing them in bad positions. Yes, West Virginia has to avoid their own foibles this game but it can be in the cards for the Mountaineers to play a perfect game against Gonzaga, though on the reserve side of things Gonzaga does have the ability to ward this off.
Either way, both teams present interesting options and counter options.
Pick: West Virginia
(3) Florida State vs. (2) Arizona:
In a clash of depth it is Arizona who will come out on top against Florida State as they present simply too many tough match ups for the Seminoles to counter.
Issac on Florida State as well finally shows that he still needs a tad more seasoning in the wake of coming up against the Wildcats. Allonzo Trier has a peach of a day against Florida State and continues to be a nightmare to play against.
In the end Arizona marches on to a familiar place that Sean Miller hopes he will finally break onto the other side.
(4) West Virginia vs. (2) Arizona:
Sean Miller final puts wards off his past issues in the Elite Eight and takes Arizona back where they have been before. Arizona makes it to the Final Four for the first time since 2001 when Lute Olsen was at the helm for the Wildcats.
Arizona is able to counter the press that West Virginia presents and finally test their guard play thanks in part to the options that the Wildcats put out be it Allonzo Trier, Kobi Simmons, or Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
Jackson-Cartwright has been here before as well as Arizona came close in 2015, this time around he’ll be on the side that sees it through.
In the end Arizona’s white hot abilities could play any team off the court. In this case it will be West Virginia.