The West Region is bound to be full of surprises. Gonzaga and Arizona are legitimate Championship contenders but outside of that, this bracket is wide open. If one bracket is going to be full of upsets, it is going to be the West. Will Xavier upset Maryland? Will Dunk City upset Florida State? Will Notre Dame fall into the 5-12 trap? Or will we just see chalk?
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-1)
How They Got There: WCC Conference Champion
Season Review: Every year it is a common theme to talk about how good Mark Few’s Gonzaga team truly is. This year (as said every year) is arguably Few’s best team yet. They rolled through the regular season going 32-1 with their only blipp being a loss at home to BYU. The loss may have actually been a good thing though to bring them back down to earth. We haven’t seen an undefeated team since 1976 and in today’s age it isn’t likely we will see another one. At a first glance, Gonzaga doesn’t have many signature wins against top programs but they do have wins against Arizona (Pac-12 Champion) and Iowa State (Big 12 Champion). Their roster includes a potential Wooden Award recipient in Nigel Williams Goss (WCC Player of the Year) and Przemek Karnowski who might be the best center in all the land. I also don’t think I’ll ever be able to pronounce that guy’s name. This team ranks #1 in Ken Pom’s rankings (take that for what it’s worth) and ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This team is the real deal.
Tournament Prediction: Call me crazy but this is the year the Zags get to the Final Four. They will face a tough challenge in the Elite Eight in a rematch with Arizona but I like the Zags to prevail and make a trip to Phoenix, AZ.
2. Arizona Wildcats (30-4)
How They Got There: Pac-12 Conference Champion
Season Review: Arizona’s season was full of up’s and down’s. They took two early season losses to Butler and Gonzaga. They were also without their star player Allonzo Trier who suspended indefinitely for the use of PEDs. Then things started to change for the better. Another star emerged for this already talent filled roster, Lauri Markkanen. The man that can do it all. He carried the team until Trier was reinstated. In Trier’s first game back they took down then ranked #3 UCLA and let the country know they were planning on packing their bags for a trip to Phoenix. Arizona would go on to finish with a share of the Pac-12 Regular Season Title and win the Pac-12 Conference Championship.
Tournament Prediction: Arizona will make a strong run into the 2nd weekend of the tournament but will ultimately fall short to Gonzaga in an epic Elite Eight matchup in San Jose.
3. Florida State Seminoles (25-8)
How They Got There: ACC At-Large
Season Recap: Florida State has one of the more interesting resumes out there among the top teams. They have losses to Temple, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse (Yes, this is a bad loss. Keep up the whining Boeheim and enjoy the Not In Tournament) and yet they have wins against Duke, Louisville, Duke, Miami, Notre Dame, Florida, and Minnesota; all of which are tournament teams. They are lead by sophomore guards Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (who can forget when that guy went off for 30 points in less than 5 minutes last year to shock the U). To top that off they have freshman Jonathan Isaac who can score from anywhere on the court. This team can play with the best of them and lose with the worst of them.
Tournament Prediction: Unfortunately for Florida State they play in the same bracket as the Maryland Terrapins and will be making an early exit in the first weekend of the tournament. Yeah, I’m a homer and I bleed Maryland colors, so what. GO TERPS!
4. West Virginia Mountaineers (26-8)
How They Got There: Big 12 At-Large
Season Recap: Another season where the world thought this team was finally going to end Kansas’ Big 12 Regular Season title streak and another season of disappointment. After starting the season 12-1 the Mountaineers slowed down in league play and wound up losing 6 (5 of which came on the road) conference games to finish 4 games back of Kansas. West Virginia does one thing really well and that is turn you over. They led the NCAA in turnovers forced by averaging 20+ per game. They also ranked 326th in the NCAA by committing 699 fouls over the course of the year. They are led by Perry Ellis-esque junior guard Jevon Carter who averages 13 points per game and is 7th in the nation in steals per game.
Tournament Prediction: Luckily for West Virginia, Stephen F. Austin will not be back in the tournament again this year. They have a much easier task at hand with Bucknell and should make it to the Round of 32. If they Mountaineers have a second round date with Notre Dame, they will be heading back to Morgantown sooner than expected.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9)
How They Got There: ACC At-Large
Season Recap: Notre Dame finished the season strong after hitting a major rough patch in the middle of conference play, losing 5 of 6. All but one of those losses was to a ranked team. They found their traction late in the season by making a run all the way to the ACC Championship game only to lose to Duke. Notre Dame spreads you out with their hybrid centers VJ Beachem and Bonzi Colson, both of whom average 15+ points per game and shoot 37% or better from 3-point land. Mike Brey and company are also full of NCAA tournament experience and know how to handle the pressure of the big dance. They also know how to take care of the basketball and hit their freebies. Come March you need to go back to fundamentals and Notre Dame excels in these categories.
Tournament Prediction: Notre Dame will be dancing to the Sweet Sixteen. After taking care of Press Virginia, in a game that features a team that forces the most turnovers and another that commits the 2nd fewest, they will make a Sweet Sixteen exit at the hands of the Zags.
6. Maryland Terrapins (24-8)
How They Got There: Big 10 At-Large
Season Recap: Heading into this season, the Terps were seen to be in somewhat of a rebuilding year. They were losing four of their five seniors from last year and bringing in three freshman starters. They did bring back star point guard Melo Trimble. Maryland got off to their best start in program history by going 20-2 but then faltered late down the season losing six of their final 10. The Terps also made a very early and unexpected exit in the Big Ten tournament this year which was played in their backyard. This team goes as Melo Trimble goes. If he is on, this team is going to keep up with the best in the land and if he isn’t, this team won’t be beating the likes of Rutgers. The Terps do have 5 wins in one possession games which shows they have a toughness at the end of games that teams need to win in March.
Tournament Prediction: Melo Trimble plays like Freshman Melo Trimble and this team makes a mini run to the Sweet Sixteen by taking down old ACC foe Florida State before falling to Arizona on the 2nd weekend.
7. Saint Mary’s Gaels (28-4)
How They Got There: WCC At-Large
Season Recap: The Gaels finished 2nd in the WCC and had a stellar season going 28-4. Unfortunately for them, Gonzaga owns the WCC. And another misfortune for the Gaels by ending up in the same region as the Zags. In both meetings this year with Gonzaga, they were double digit losers. Gonzaga is the real deal is there is no reason to hang your head on double digits losses to that team but when that is your only quality opponent on the schedule, you need to make it count. Saint Mary’s is led by an Australian trio that is looking to make some noise this tournament and show the country that Saint Mary’s is for real. Junior Center Jock Landale (E Malvern, VIC) is one of the most efficient players in the country shooting a whopping 60% from the field. He is also a double-double machine. His Australian counterparts Emmett Naar (Sydney, NSW) and Dane Pineau (Melbourne, VIC) are also solid scoring options for this team and bring some upperclassmen leadership.
Tournament Prediction: The Gaels have a round of 64 matchup with VCU who struggled in the A-10 at times this year. I like the Gaels to match it to the Round of 32 before making way to the Arizona Wildcats.
8. Northwestern Wildcats (23-11)
How They Got There: Big 10 At-Large
Season Recap: Is there a better story in the NCAA Tournament than Northwestern? I’m sure there is but wow, for the first time in 78 years this team finally gets to play in an NCAA tournament game. The last school from a Power 5 conference to get to dance. (This is rather embarrassing when you think a team like Rutgers has made it…) Chris Collins has really turned this program around and you have to hand it to him. He took over in 2013 and hasn’t taken a step back. His team is led by his backcourt duo of Junior Bryant McIntosh and Senior Scottie Lindsey. Team those two up with Sophomore F Vic Law and you have yourself a solid three headed attack that is very difficult to stop at times. They have some very quality wins this year against Maryland, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The only question with this time will be can they keep their emotions down in the school’s first ever appearance? I’ll just leave you all with this dancing video of Elaine of Seinfeld, whose son plays for the team this year
Tournament Prediction: Northwestern will be able to keep their nerves down and take care of Vanderbilt in the Round of 64 but a date with Gonzaga looms large in the Round of 32 and Northwestern will still be left wondering what a trip to the Sweet Sixteen really feels like.
9. Vanderbilt Commodores (19-15)
How They Got There: SEC At-Large
Season Recap: This committee selection has me really wondering. They finished the season 19-15 overall and 10-8 in the SEC. No other team has made the tournament with 15 losses during the season. The only attractive part of their resume is three wins over #4 seed Florida. The Commodores were one of the best in the country at 3-pointers. They led the led the conference in 3-pointers attempted, made, and percentage. They are also led by Bryce Drew who knows how to provide drama at the NCAA Tournament.
Tournament Prediction: You live by the three and you die by the three and for Vanderbilt they will be dying by the three on the opening day of the tournament.
10. VCU Rams (26-8)
How They Got There: Atlantic 10 At-Large
Season Recap: The Rams finish 2nd in the A-10 this season behind a solid defense. They hold opponents to 66.4 points per game and force 14+ turnovers per game. Shaka Smart may be two years removed but HAVOC still lives on and the Rams are dancing for the seventh consecutive season. Surprisingly, VCU also ranks in the top-25 in RPI for what that’s worth. Over half of their roster is either a Junior or Senior meaning this team is loaded with experience. They know how to dance in March with the best of them.
Tournament Prediction: VCU has a first round matchup with St. Mary’s. A team that plays even better defense than the Rams. If you want to see scoring, I don’t advise watching this game and the Rams might want to do the same as they will be heading back to Richmond after the Round of 64.
11. Xavier Musketeers (21-13)
How They Got There: Big East At-Large
Season Recap: Xavier entered the season with very high hopes. They were ranked in the top 10. They returned star guard Edmond Sumners and forward Trevon Bluiett and looked very poised to make a run in the Big East. January came and put a halt on all of those dreams. First Sumners went down with a season ending injury, then Bluiett missed some time due to injury, and then came the 6 game losing streak in February. The Musketeers were able to gain some traction in the Big East tournament and look to keep that momentum rolling forward.
Tournament Prediction: Again, unfortunately for the Musketeers they play Maryland. I don’t care what all these upset specialists say, Xavier will be one and done.
12. Princeton Tigers (23-6)
How They Got There: Ivy League Conference Champion
Season Recap: Princeton comes into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They have lost a game in 2017 and reeled off 20 consecutive wins. They also rank in the top 10 in scoring defense which can prove very worthy in these types of games when you are seeing an opponent out of your conference. Princeton was not successful but they did also play a solid non-conference schedule by playing Monmouth, VCU, and California. Playing those types of games in November and December goes a long way in the games that are played in March. They were awarded the 12 seed and very high expectations to continue the history of the 5-12 upset.
Tournament Prediction: As much as I want to pick this upset, I think Notre Dame is going to be up for the challenge and prove to be too much for the Tigers. Princeton will suffer their first defeat of 2017 in the Round of 64.
13. Bucknell Bison (26-8)
How They Got There: Patriot League Conference Champions
Season Recap: Bucknell comfortably won the Patriot League regular season and then took care of business in the conference tournament. They shoot tremendously well as team going 48% from the field. Four of their five starters average double digits. This very well could be a recipe for an upset special.
Tournament Prediction: Bucknell faces a tough challenge in the opening round. They also aren’t the best team at protecting the ball. West Virginia covers the spread in a blowout win over the Bison.
14. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-7)
How They Got There: Atlantic Sun Conference Champions
Season Recap: DUNK CITY is backkkkk. Everyone’s favorite double digit seed is back in the tourney for the second season in a row and they look poised to make another run. They are one of the most efficient teams from the field shooting 50% from the field with 57% of their points being scored from inside the arc (Hint-Hint: that means a lot of dunks). They are led by by Junior Guard Brandon Goodwin and he has all of the support he needs from guys like Zach Johnson and Demetris Morant. Be sure to tune in when Dunk City hits the court.
Tournament Prediction: They took down Georgetown in 2013 and they take down Florida State in 2017 before making way to the Maryland Terrapins (Homer alert)
15. North Dakota Fighting Hawks (22-9)
How They Got There: Big Sky Conference Champions
Season Recap: North Dakota punched their tickets to the dance for the first time in program history. The Fighting Hawks became a Division 1 program in 2009 and had already developed into a legitimate Big Sky contender. They are led by Senior Quinton Hooker and Sophomore Geno Crandall who combine to average 34 points a night. They don’t post an attractive resume and will be looking to ride the high of their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Tournament Prediction: North Dakota’s high will end very early as Arizona will jump on them early in a blowout win.
16. South Dakota State Jackrabbits (18-16)
How They Got There: Summit Conference Champions
Season Recap: The Jackrabbits finished 6th overall in the Summit Conference during the regular season and are really only in the tournament thanks to Sophomore Mike Daum. The man can do it all. He averaged 25.8 points per game and 8.2 boards per game. He puts this team on his back night in and night out. He beats you from the free throw line (87%), on the block (51%), and from downtown (41%). One rather surprising stat for a tournament team is the Jackrabbits had two 4 game losing streaks during the regular season. Most teams that endure two 4 game losing streaks during the season leave their dancing shoes at home.
Tournament Prediction: We still haven’t ever seen a 16 upset a 1 seed in tournament history. This game won’t be that game either. The Jackrabbits lose big to Gonzaga.
Photo Credit: James Snook USA Today Sports