2019 NCAA Tournament West Region Preview

by Keith Lott
2019 NCAA Tournament West Region Preview

Selection Sunday was a boring TV production, but nothing was as bad as last year's disaster. I am not sure there is a good way to turn this into a compelling broadcast but I found myself not even paying attention most of the time. I just waited until each region was announced so that I could see all 16 teams at once...which they did a bad job of displaying. Instead, they broke them up into two groups of eight. I understand it looks better on TV but not being able to see the 1 and 2 seed on the same image drove me nuts! Anyway...

The West Region features the Gonzaga Bulldogs (1), who are coming off a loss to the St. Marys Gaels in the West Coast Conference championship game. It also headlines a handful of potential NBA Draft Lottery picks!

Most of these games will not be track meets as the majority of teams in the region play at average to slow pace...with the exception of the Buffalo Bulls! According to KenPom.com, they ranked 9th with 73.8 possessions per 40 minutes. Only the North Carolina Tar Heels play at a quicker pace, among tournament teams.

Then there is that pesky Syracuse Orange zone defense. Jim Boeheim has led his team to a Final Four and Sweet 16 appearances in the last three years. Coaches seem to be just as important as players in the NCAA tournament and Boeheim has one of the best track records in recent memory.

At a quick glance, this looks like it should not be a tough road for Gonzaga to reach the Final Four, but when you breakdown each team, you see just how deep this region truly is.

2019 NCAA Tournament West Region Preview

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Breakdown of the Top-4 Seeds

#1-Seed Gonzaga Bulldogs

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The Bulldogs led the Nation in points per game at 88.8 and don't rely on a breakneck pace or the three-point shot (21/gm 36.5%), which I love. Not only did they lead the NCAA in points per game, but they also led the NCAA in points per shot and adjusted FG% at 59.6%. The Zags beat Duke on a neutral court back in November but lost to Tennessee (neutral court) and North Carolina in Chapel Hill back in December. Their Conf. Championship loss to St. Marys was their only loss since that game.

As mentioned above, I believe coaches have a huge impact in College Basketball. Mark Few has been amazing since taking over at Gonzaga in 1999 (565-121)! The Bulldogs have lost some heartbreakers in the Tournament, but this is considered to be their best roster yet.

The offense flows through Rui Hachimura (Lottery Pick) and Zach Norvell Jr. is the teams 3pt specialist. Big guy Brandon Clarke cleans up the glass with the best of them (8.5 reb) and protects the rim with 3.1 blocks per game.

Killian Tillie should return to the team for a run at a National Championship. The 6'10 Junior forward from France has played in the last two games, totaling 27 minutes, shooting 5-7 from the floor (4-5 3pt). Tillie is a difference maker and gives the Zags better odds to reach the Final Four.

#2-Seed Michigan Wolverines

Big Blue only scores 70.7 points per game thanks to a snail's pace on offense, but they hold opponents to just 58.4 points per game, 2nd best in the Nation. They don't rely on one guy offensively, which is a bonus in tournament play and they have three guys who can shoot from beyond the three-point line.

Michigan did not lose until January 19 at Wisconsin and since then they are just 11-5, including conference tournament play. They have lost to Michigan State three times since February 24th and many are wondering how the Wolverines avoided Duke.

6'7 freshman Ignas Brazdeikis leads the team in scoring at 14.9 points, shooting 46.9% from the field and 41.5% from downtown. Senior guard Charles Matthews and sophomore guard Jordan Poole each contribute 12 points per game. Poole leads the team in three-point shot attempts and hits below 38% while Matthews does his work inside the arc and adds five rebounds per game.

#3-Seed Texas Tech Red Raiders

Like Michigan, Texas Tech won't blow you away offensively, but they will shut you down on the defensive end. After losing to Kansas on February 2nd, the Red Raiders won nine games in a row before losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 conference tournament. They beat a handful of tournament teams along the way, including West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State.

Sophomore guard Jarrett Culver (6'5 Lottery Pick) averaged 18.5 points on 48.5 FG% while adding 6.3 rebound and 3.7 assists. Davide Moretti, born in Bologna, Italy and also a sophomore guard, is the three-point specialist and knocked down 47.8% of he attempts from deep. He also shot 93.3% from the free throw line. 6'10 Senior forward Tariq Owens led the team with a 14.1 box plus/minus. When on the floor, he is a difference maker.

#4-Seed Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles are a complete team, without a single great player. The will challenge you defensively and are efficient on offense while playing at a slow pace. Since the New Year, Florida State has lost to Duke (3x including Conf. Champ), North Carolina and Virginia. The ACC is tough! They did suffer two bad losses to Pittsburgh and Boston College, during a three-game skid, but won 14 of 15 after that, including wins over Syracuse and Louisville.

Sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele (6'10 250lb) is their best player, while Senior guard Terance Mann is the team's unofficial captain and most well-rounded player, who can fill a stat sheet.

Dark Horse Team of the Region

#10-Seed Florida Gators

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The Gators play team basketball and feature four players with 3.2+ win shares.

Senior guard KeVaughn Allen leads the team in scoring with 12 points per game and is the only Gator in double figures. He is not very efficient but has scored 30 points in a game this year.

Florida tries to slow the game down and plays at a Virginia like pace, but unfortunately is not as efficient offensively. They make up for it on the defensive end, led by Senior big man Kevarrius Hayes, who blocks nearly two shots per game.

Florida also features three freshmen in 6'3 guard Noah Locke (38.2% 3pt), 6'5 guard Andrew Nembhard (5.3 ast) and 6'5 forward Keyontae Johnson (10.7 reb/40).

They continue to be without Junior forward Keith Stone, who hasn't played since January 19th due to a torn ACL.

Nevada's Jordan Caroline is dealing with an achilles injury and is a key part of this Wolfpack team. If he is not 100%, Florida has a good chance to upset them. The Martin Twins (Caleb & Cody) are good players, but Nevada did not play the toughest of schedules this season and could struggle to score on Florida.

According to FiveThirtyEight's March Madness Predictions, Florida has the best odds of at 10 seed to upset the 2 seed in the next round.

Best Game of the First Round

#5 Seed-Marquette Golden Eagles vs. #12 Seed-Murray State Racers

Any time you get to witness two offensive wizards play head-to-head, it becomes must-see TV.

Marquette's Junior guard, Markus Howard (5'11 175 lbs) is averaging 25 points per game. That's good for 6th in the Nation and the top scorer in the tournament! Markus shoots 40% from deep, while attempting eight three-point shots and scored 53 points against Creighton, hitting 10 of 14 from downtown!

On the other side, you get a top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft in sophomore guard Ja Morant (6'3 175 lbs) who gets to showcase his skills to a national audience. Many will be seeing him play for the first time, after hearing about him and watching highlights all season long. Morant averaged 24.6 points per game this season while picking up 10 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game as well.

Other Player(s) to Watch from the Region

CJ Massinburg - Buffalo Bulls

Massinburg helped lead the Bulls to a 31-3 record, with 18.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and three assists per game. The 6'3 Senior guard dropped 43 points in a win over West Virginia back at the beginning of the season, hitting nine threes. He dropped 31 on Eastern Michigan back in January as well.

Makai Mason - Baylor Bears

Mason leads the Bears in scoring at 14.6 points per game but shoots less than 40% on the year. He dropped 40 on TCU back in early February. If they have any chance to beat Syracuse's zone, Mason will have to catch fire.

Pack Your Bags for Minneapolis

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Despite a bad loss to St. Marys in their conference championship game, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the team to beat in the West Region. Michigan will see its user picks % inflated by their Alumni, but I think there is a good chance we could see Texas Tech in the Elite 8. Both teams play great defense and it will be an ugly game, should they meet in the Sweet 16.

The first weekend will be a media frenzy surrounding Ja Morant and if Murray State upsets Marquette and somehow sneaks into the Sweet 16, ESPN will be impossible to watch...unless you want to see 24 hour Morant coverage. Actually, that doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world, the kid deserves all the praise!

The West Region is pretty chalky and I wouldn't bet on many upsets, but that is why they play the games.

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