West Region: Bracket Advice 101
I get flooded with texts this time every year: what should we do with our bracket? Who are the right upsets to pick? What inside information can you give us that would help?
While it's flattering, I'll be the first guy to tell you that my bracket is no better than anyone else's. The NCAA Tournament is just as frustrating for those of us who use KenPom religiously, study and understand the film/ players and let that perspective get to our heads. In reality, your guesses are as good as mine.
But what I can do is save myself (and you) some time by typing up all the advice I'd give and putting it in one place. We'll do a quick region-by-region breakdown with some information on each team, just to see what the tournament might be like. In the West Region, everyone is chasing unbeaten Gonzaga. There are a couple of tricky matchups in their way, but they're still the heavy favorites to push through to see if they can keep a perfect season blemish-free.
I know, I know... they only play in the WCC. Gonzaga ran train through elite teams early in the season, dominating them all. I'm really not worried about this team doing what they do against a national schedule in the dance.
They shoot it well, play at pace, are underrated defensively and (get this) have five players shooting 70% OR BETTER at the rim. Insane.
Jalen Suggs might be the best player in the tournament outside of Cade Cunningham. Corey Kispert is one of the world's best shooters. The experience of the rest of their roster, including combo guard Joel Ayayi, gives the Zags a great deal of confidence heading into the tourney. A clear path to the Sweet Sixteen exists, then the fun begins. A rematch with Virginia could be in the Sweet Sixteen round, and with Iowa in the Elite Eight. It's hard to dominate teams twice, but with the proof in the pudding from the first two contests, how the hell do you bet against Gonzaga?
âThey're the clear Golden Certificate of Trust winners in the West region. Don't overthink it. Go with the chalk.
An experienced team around National POY frontrunner Luka Garza is a recipe for success. The others all shoot it and know their role. There's length and purpose to everything they do. They score 84 a game, and have done so against all major conference competition. It's hard to pick against Iowa with this much talent.
But I'm going to do it. I think Oregon or Kansas would be tough matchups for the Hawkeyes. We've seen before how the Hawkeyes really struggle to stop anyone. Oregon has four double-digit scorers who can go shot-for-shot with Iowa, as well as defensive gimmicks to limit Garza's role. Kansas has just physicality at all spot that can make the Hawkeyes uncomfortable, plus the best chance to successfully guard Garza one-on-one.
I get how the offensive firepower of this group makes them a darling, and how their resume has them as a top-eight team in the nation. I just think they have a couple of powerful teams in their path who are prime for an upset.
If you look for a team that's hot coming into the tournament, look no further than Kansas. 8-2 in their last ten, Bill Self has figured out how to motivate and get to this team. They've gotten away from his hi-lo motion teams of the past and are more spread-it-out, drive-and-kick than ever. They're somehow 11th in net rating despite a slow start to the year. This isn't the same team that struggled in January.
They have shooting all over, a really talented group of wings and a coach who has cut down nets before. Big man David McCormack is emerging as a real threat, and he'll be fun to watch go against Garza in the Elite Eight. The three-headed guard trio of shooter Christian Braun, athlete Ochai Agbaji and creator Marcus Garrett is tough to handle. Sprinkle in underrated stretch-4 Jalen Wilson and this is a really, really good starting 5.
As much as I like Evan Mobley of USC, the shooting of the Shockers and a solid Drake team, Kansas is on a mission right now. Don't bet against Bill Self.
I guess the Cavaliers are still reigning champions?
Their pack line defense is always a tough solve for mid-major teams who don't have the size to combat their length on the wings. Unlike in years past, this offense may not stall out in March. There's enough shooting everywhere to keep playing deep into the tourney. Jay Huff (40.6%) and Sam Hauser (43.4%) are the 4 and 5 for the Cavs, inverting their offense and making it really hard for teams to simultaneously take them away and protect the paint.
I really like this Virginia team and think a 4 is a bit of an underseed for their talent. Ohio has a really good guard in Jason Preston, but I think this is a pretty secure pod for them and look forward to seeing the rematch with Gonzaga.
It's been an emotionally draining few weeks for this program. From Coach McDermott's plantation comments to a major upset in the Big East title game at the hands of Georgetown, you have to wonder just how much is left in the tank. Seniors Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock won't go down without a fight, but two tough defensive opponents are on their radar from the start. UCSB is a good 12-seed primed for an upset. Virginia is Virginia.
âI really liked this Creighton team all year, but a late-season roller coaster makes them too volatile for me to put my faith in. Plus, they're only 3-2 against top-25 teams, so a deep run would really come out of nowhere.
The fact the Trojans got a 6-seed speaks volumes about how good freshman big Evan Mobley really is. This team is pretty disorganized outside of him. Mobley's rim protection, offensive creation and occasional scoring mean he can impact games wherever he is and propel the Trojans to a result. He's also due to go up against some of the best bigs he's faced all year in McCormack of Kansas and Garza of Iowa. Even if they make it out of the first round unscathed, the Trojans are in for a dogfight if they want to advance.
Someone else will need to step up if USC is to make a run.
Not all Pac-12 teams are bad.
This is my one sleeper run, folks. I'm calling it now: Oregon to the Elite Eight. They have fantastic guard play with Chris Duarte, Will Richardson, LJ Figueroa and Eric Williams. 6'6" big man Eugene Omoruyi is one of the more unique players in the country. Their entire top-5 is 6'6", a tough team to account for. Iowa is a tough matchup for them as a result, but the mixing of zones from Altman and ability to spot minutes with 6'8" big Chandler Lawson will help. The Ducks all shoot it, have tournament experience and are primed for a deep run. I really, really think people are sleeping on Oregon.
With the news that D'Avion Harmon will miss the first round, this becomes the Austin Reaves show. He's a hell of a scorer and could get the Sooners a first-round win over Missouri. They aren't getting past Gonzaga without him, though.
The Tigers are a defensive-minded bunch. They are stingy and tough to score on, though fell back to earth as they got deep into the SEC schedule. Both the Sooners and Tigers are 4-6 in their last ten. Neither team exudes confidence for a Gonzaga upset.
While I'm firmly on the Oregon bandwagon, VCU is a terrific team that can't be slept on. When Bones Hyland gets hot from deep, they're borderline unguardable. His range is terrific and he's improved as a slasher. The Rams win with defense, and have been playing really great basketball lately. The issue for me is that they don't shoot it well enough outside of Bones. Oregon's switchy defense of wings and occasional zone pressure could take them out of a rhythm.
11. Wichita State
Winning 10 of 12 for a late surge, the Shockers are in the field and draw Drake in the first-four play-in game. This team shoots the piss out of it, especially in transition, and can pile on runs in a hurry. There aren't a ton of holdovers from the Gregg Marshall era, but I will say this: USC is ripe for the picking, so no matter who comes through this play-in game has a solid shot at picking up another victory.
If it wasn't for those Ramblers, Drake could be a one-loss team. Five players score in double-figures in their balanced attack, and a top-50 offense takes many of the high-octane principles from Creighton and dials them up a notch. This is a really good offensive team who can get hot in a hurry and is prone to playing a game with massive runs. Them against Wichita will be an insanely fun first-four matchup.
12. UC-Santa Barbara
A trendy upset pick due to their reliable defense, the Gauchos score 76.5 a game, fusing experienced and stingy stoppers with an up-tempo offensive attack. Senior guard Jaquori McLaughlin is a name worth remembering. They have some size, too, with three regulars in the lineup 6'9" or larger. They're dangerous. If I had to pick one 12-seed to go to the Sweet Sixteen, it would be them.
I love Jason Preston. Love love love him. Elite point guard with great feel. But beating Virginia requires a team effort, not one superstar. It's rare for one player to go off against the Cavaliers. That's why I'm not expecting an upset here, but keep your eyes on this game and this young man. He's at his best when the odds are stacked against him.
14. Eastern Washington
Could Kansas, 8-2 in their last ten and looking forward to a deep March run, be vulnerable and overlook Eastern Washington in the first round? We've seen that behavior before from a Bill Self team...
These Eagles really fly. They play pretty much all upperclassmen, score it in bunches and play a real stretch-5 in 6'8" Tanner Groves. They won't be an easy out by any means, and if Groves gets hot from deep, Kansas could be in some trouble.
15. Grand Canyon
Bryce Drew has won with defense. In his first year leading the Antelopes, he takes them to the dance and returns to his home state of Indiana. The former SEC coach has gone against guys as talented as Luka Garza before. He'll have a tremendous gameplan in place, though I'm not sure they have the ponies to keep up with the Hawkeyes shooting.
16. Appalachian State
Six guys average between 8 and 14 points, while nobody else is over 3 a game. This isn't an incredibly deep team, so the usage of TV timeouts could preserve them early. Foul trouble would cripple App State early on.
16. Norfolk State
An up-tempo 16-seed, Norfolk State isn't terrible for a 16-seed. They shoot it pretty well, defend the paint and get to the free throw line, all qualities that help them win close games.
Leave a Reply.
Assistant Men's Basketball Coach, Dickinson College.