The West is the weakest of the four regions. The region also lacks potential for a double-digit seed to upset. The defensively minded style of these teams leaves the region basically up for grabs. Expect for the middle seeds to make the most noise in the bracket.
- Gonzaga– The Zags are hearing the same thing for every skeptic; they haven’t played enough good competition to be ready for the tournament. Except that despite their easy schedule within their conference, Gonzaga played some good teams outside of it. They beat Kansas State (No. 4 seed in West Region) by 16 on a neutral floor as well as Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Their size down low with Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris will match up with any team in this bracket.
- Ohio State– The Buckeyes continued to get better as the season progressed and they have reached their apex. They finished the regular season beating Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana, and Illinois. They followed that impressive run by knocking off Michigan State again and Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State is the most proven and consistent team in the region. They don’t turn the ball over and take smart shots. That could be all the need to do to advance through the West.
- New Mexico– I’m slightly doubtful regarding this Lobos team. I know that the Mountain West is a strong conference and dominating the Mountain West is more than impressive, but I don’t think they are as athletic as Arizona and I definitely don’t believe they’re as physical as Ohio State. Staying out west they could claim is an advantage, but having to battle for 40 minutes with the big bodies of Ohio State is certainly not.
- Wisconsin– The Badgers beat you in one way and one way only, defense. They constantly play games in the 40’s and 50’s and have been successful in doing so. 6’10’’ Jared Berggren will be a tough matchup for Olynyk in the post. Bo Ryan is also one of the most underrated coaches in America. Wisconsin is always prepared for their opponents and plays up to their competition. A team that stopped Indiana and Michigan’s offenses could easily stop Gonzaga’s.
The Starting Five
- G: Lamont Jones (Iona)- 23.0 PPG, 3.5 APG
Jones’ 23 points per game might just be due to how fast paced Iona’s 2nd ranked offense is. Still, when you’re 3rd in the nation in scoring you have to be included on the all-region team.
- G: Ian Clark (Belmont)- 18.1 PPG, .463 3P%
Clark is terrific from beyond the arc and he will need to continue to be terrific if they hope to beat Arizona. Arizona is an athletic, high scoring team; therefore Clark will have to use the 3-ball to keep pace with the Wildcats.
- G: Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss)- 20.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG
Henderson is the lone reason that this Ole Miss team was able to get in the tourney. He scored more than 20 in the Rebels’ final five games, including their 3-game run in the SEC Tournament. Despite all of this, his points don’t come efficiently. He jacks 10 threes a game and only shoots 38% from the field. Wisconsin is the team that will stop Henderson’s 20-point streak.
- F: Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State)- 19.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG
Thomas plays exactly like his team does, consistent. Thomas never really scores in bunches, but instead scores throughout the game and ends up with 19. He’s versatile as well. He can hit the long-range shot, but would prefer to beat you off the dribble and nail the pull-up jumper.
- F: Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga)- 17.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG
Olynyk might be the most efficient player in the entire field. His field goal percentage is at a resounding 65%. Being 7 foot certainly helps him clog up the paint on defense also. I don’t see him maintaining this spectacular play as the bodies become bigger and stronger deeper into the field.
- Pittsburgh– No, I’m not just saying this because I go to school there. The Panthers are legitimate threats to make the Sweet 16 and even the Elite 8. They have one of the deepest benches in the tourney and their defense stacks up against any team in the field. In a matchup with Gonzaga, the Panthers have many factors that could bring down the Bulldogs. The Panthers have a 7-footer of their own with Steven Adams and his defense has improved drastically to the point that I think he could take Olynyk. The Zags better be prepared to play a physical defensive team that they never saw in West Coast Conference play.
- Notre Dame– This Fighting Irish team has proved they have a little of the Butler magic within them. That five overtime game against Louisville showed that Notre Dame could scrap to win big games. If they get to play Ohio State, they have a lineup that could compete with the Buckeyes. If a couple of lucky bounces fall their way then they could take that game and possibly another.
My Final Four Pick: Wisconsin
I really like how this Wisconsin team plays. They wear teams down with their defense and provide just enough offense to get the job down. They have plenty of size and a good amount of three-point shooting. More importantly, they’ve been battle tested against all the best teams in the Big Ten. Neither Kansas State nor Gonzaga have seen a physical team like this in their respective conferences. Then I believe it will come down to a rematch of the Big Ten Championship, with Wisconsin getting their revenge against Ohio State.