West Regional Preview: Gonzaga leads wide-open region
Gonzaga was able to nab the No. 1 seed out West, but are the Bulldogs going to the Final Four?
The West Regional won’t be the most talked-about quarter of the bracket, as there are several underrated teams littering the top seeds. Gonzaga Bulldogs was able to break through and grab the No. 1 seed in this region, while Mountain West regular-season and conference tournament champion New Mexico Lobos was dropped to No. 3. Fresh off its Big Ten conference tourney championship, Ohio State Buckeyes got the No. 2.
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This could be a wide-open region, as there are several teams among the top seeds capable of winning four games -- but there are also a few talented double-digit seeds primed to pull upsets.
Here’s a breakdown of the West Regional.
Three initial thoughts on the region
1. Gonzaga was given the final No. 1 seed.
Once the Bulldogs ended their season last Monday, the conversation surrounding their candidacy for a No. 1 seed varied. Some thought they thoroughly deserved it, given the fact they haven’t lost in two months and are playing some of the best basketball in the country. However, others felt that marquee wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State weren’t enough to outdo the resumes of some of the primary top-seed candidates. In the end, though, a No. 1 seed it was for Mark Few and the Bulldogs. And I think they deserve it. They scheduled well and have six wins against the top 50 of the RPI – and 13 wins against the top 100. Let’s see if they back it up.
2. Arizona Wildcats dropped all the way to a No. 6 seed.
It was only a couple months ago that the Wildcats were squarely in the mix for a No. 1 seed, given their very strong computer numbers and wins over Miami and Florida. However, finishing second in the conference and getting bounced in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament relegated them to a No. 6 seed in a dangerous game against Belmont Bruins . The Bruins are well-coached, experienced and can really stroke the ball from deep. Belmont is a perennial upset pick, and it could break through against Arizona -- but will the Wildcats play with a chip on their shoulder after getting a No. 6? It could come down to the play of Mark Lyons , who has ability to take Arizona to the next level -- or get them knocked out in the Round of 64.
3. Double-digit seeds are really dangerous out West
The West regional is filled with quality double-digit seeds that are dangerous and can win games. It starts with No. 10 Iowa State Cyclones , which can play with anyone in the country if it’s knocking down 3-pointers. Then No. 11 Belmont could be primed to live up to its perennial upset pick label, while No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels is playing really solid basketball. Throw in the play-in game between Boise State Broncos and La Salle Explorers -- both loaded with guards -- and battle-tested No. 14 Harvard Crimson , and we could see plenty of upsets in this region. In the Round of 64, at least. Having the middling single-digit seeds get bounced early could mean 1s and 2s in the regional final.
Five best players in the region
1. Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga): He has emerged as one of the best big men in the country, averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds after redshirting last season. He’s so difficult to stop.
2. Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State): Thomas is one of the best pure scorers in the country, capable of putting the Buckeyes on his back and carrying them to a win. He averaged 19.6 points this season.
3. Rodney McGruder ( Kansas State Wildcats ): McGruder had to adapt to a new coach after Bruce Weber took over for Frank Martin, but he has been terrific lately. He averaged nearly 16 points and over five boards.
4. Jack Cooley ( Notre Dame Fighting Irish ): One of the more productive and efficient inside players, Cooley is a lock to get about 15 points and 10 boards no matter the opponent.
5. Kendall Williams (New Mexico): The Lobos are a balanced outfit, but Williams has shown the ability to get hot and be a major offensive factor. He put up 13.5 points and 5.0 assists this year.
Five bold predictions for the region
The biggest Round of 64 upset will be … No. 13 La Salle over No. 4 Kansas State. The Explorers first have to get past Boise State in the First Four matchup, but I think either winner has a good chance at beating Kansas State. Both teams have excellent guards, and La Salle’s duo of Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren could speed up Kansas State and get them out of sync. The key could be the health of La Salle big man Steve Zack , who missed the last couple of games with a foot injury.
The lowest-seeded school to make the Sweet 16 will be … No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers . The Badgers have had trouble outside of the Big Ten, but they could have favorable matchups to the regional semifinals. Up first is Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss, and the guess here is that Wisconsin can frustrate their perimeter players. A matchup against Kansas State would be low-scoring, and the Badgers would also be able to control the tempo against La Salle -- which I think knocks off Kansas State.
The player the country the country doesn’t know now but will know by Saturday is … La Salle’s Ramon Galloway . The senior from Philadelphia wants to go out with a bang -- and I think he will. While he has struggled in his past two games, Galloway is quick with the ball and can get hot from behind the arc. He’s aggressive with the ball and is also adept at creating plays for others. He averaged 17 points and four assists during the season. He has a First Four game against Boise State, too.
The Elite Eight showdown … No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Ohio State. It’s not really going against the grain, but those two teams are built to advance to the regional final. Gonzaga hasn’t lost since January and has weapons across the board. Meanwhile, Ohio State is playing its best basketball of the season and is coming off a Big Ten tournament championship. New Mexico and Ohio State should be a terrific Sweet 16 battle, but the ability of Deshaun Thomas to score will be the difference.
The champion of the West Region will be … No. 1 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have been questioned and doubted for much of the second half of the season, but they will prove their ability during their run to the Final Four. They are physical on the inside, with the terrific inside tandem of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris , and they can score in so many different ways. Moreover, they’re very solid defensively and have outstanding chemistry. Mark Few will break through and reach Atlanta.
For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed and subscribe to our College Basketball Newsletter. You can follow Jeff Borzello on Twitter here: @jeffborzello
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