The pressure is on, the March Madness bracket has been released.
You want to make smart plays and but also be the person who picks the upsets even though you probably haven’t seen most of these teams play.
You only have a few days to read over thousands and thousands of predictions and analysis, so let me add one more for you to review, as I preview the 2017 NCAA Tournament West Region.
NCAA Tournament 2017 West Region Preview
The road to Phoenix, Arizona will be a difficult one in the West Region. The West contains five of the top 25 teams in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy’s power ratings.
Is this the year Gonzaga breaks the last barrier? They are consistently a Top 25 team and just about every other year a top 1o. Arizona that continually wins Pac-12 championships but can’t get to the final weekend.
Notre Dame has Final Four talent. They spread the floor and does not turn the ball over. They are coached by one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball in Mike Brey.
Florida State (25-8) are in their first NCAA trip since 2012. They have an electric backcourt and 6’10” freshman sensation Jonathan Isaac.
Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament before this season.
Top Four Team Previews
One-loss Gonzaga was installed as the No.1 seed for the second time in program history. Gonzaga (32-1) have never been to a Final Four. They are a worthy No. 1. They outscored opponents by a mere 23 points a game.
All-American Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski and the rest of the outstanding eight-man rotation led this year’s team to rank No.2 in offensive efficiency (119.3) and No.1 in defensive efficiency (86.2) based on average points scored/allowed per 100 possessions. It added up to the highest scoring margin in Division I.
Arizona was good before Allonzo Trier took to the court. With him, the Wildcats are just scary.
Freshman sensation 7’1″ Lauri Markkanen has the skill and the size to be in the conversation to be drafted No.1 overall in June.
With Markkanen and Trier keep putting points on the board and throw in center Dusan Ristic, Arizona will be tough to beat. While Sean Miller has never reached the final four, he has never had this type of athletic, versatile teams that can win against any type of team in the country.
No.3 Florida State
Florida State had a great season and earned its No.3 seed. They went 11-4 against the RPI Top 50 and got the No.2 seed in the ACC Tournament.
There are concerns about their ability to play away from home. All eight of the Seminoles’ losses came away from home.
I feel like Florida State is not immune to the upset in their first round matchup against the No. 14 “Dunk City” Florida Gulf Coast.
No.4 West Virginia
The Mountaineers (26-8) are capable of pressing opponents into submission in order to force turnovers and create transition opportunities, but also one that struggles mightily when that does not work.
They are a very good scoring team, No.21 in the nation at 82 points per game. In contrast, they are No.123 in 3-point shooting (36.1 percent) and No.261 in free-throw percentage (67.8).
You know Coach Bob Huggins will have them playing stifling defense but I can’t see them getting past Notre Dame in Round 2.
Phoenix, Arizona Bound
Gonzaga will play Arizona in the Elite Eight for a trip to the Final Four in Phoenix, AZ.
In a rematch of an early season game, one which Gonzaga won 69-62 in December, the Wildcats were without All-Pac-12 guard Alonzo Trier and point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
They are both back now and the Wildcats are hot after winning the Pac-12 tournament against banged-up Oregon. These are two top-notch programs who always engage in highly competitive games. Arizona leads 5-3 since Mark Few took over the Zags, with two of the game decided in OT, and four by a single possession.
My pick: Arizona Wildcats
No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast
The Eagles equaled a Division 1 record in wins, and they have notched victories in their only two NCAA Tournament bids, most notable the “Dunk City” run to the 2013 Sweet 16.
They are a trendy pick to take out third-seeded Florida State in the first round. If they can pull it off the upset, the FGC will play the winner of the No.5 Maryland vs. No.11 Xavier matchup. Both of which I believe they match up well with both and make their way to the Sweet 16!
Players To Watch
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga Bulldogs
A transfer from Washington, first-team All-American point guard Williams-Gross is a legitimate contender for National Player of the Year. He fills up the stat sheet (16.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game), but he’s even more valuable than the numbers suggest. He will sacrifice his scoring just to keep feeding whoever is on that day. Nigel Williams-Goss is a beast.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Wildcats
The 7’1″ Finnish phenom is shooting 43.2 percent from deep with a team-best 67 threes while also being the team’s best foul shooter at 82.4 percent. He has the best offensive rating (129.8) in the country among players who use at least 20 percent of their team’s possessions, per KenPom.com.
Bonzi Colson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Colson is the star every team needs to make a tourney run. He is perhaps the hardest-working frontcourt player in the country. Despite being only 6’5″, he averages a double-double and led the ACC in rebounding in the regular season.
Best Game in First Round
No.6 Maryland vs. No.11 Xavier
Xavier Musketeers are No.36 in RPI, just behind the No. 34 Maryland Terrapins. Both teams average just over 74 points per game and hold opponents to slightly more than 45 percent shooting.
Xavier played a tough out-of-conference schedule and are tourney-tested.
It is close enough to pick Xavier as an early bracket buster.
It’s a region of potential firsts.
Northwestern is making its first NCAA tournament appearance. Gonzaga could make its first Final Four appearance under Coach Mark Few.
Gonzaga could make its first Final Four appearance under Coach Mark Few. They have made the Elite Eight. They have been ranked No.1 and earned No.1 NCAA tournament seeds.
Arizona could make their first Final Four. Sean Miller has four Elite Eight appearances but zero semifinal trips.