West Region Roundup

Seth Pollock, 23 Sports

There’s a pretty good chance the west region ends up giving us the most maddness this March. This bracket includes by far the weakest one seed, an extremely talented two seed, hot as can be three and four seeds, and some five through ten seeds that can absolutely make some noise. Let’s start by looking at the top four seeds.

No. 1 Xavier:

Sagarin ranking: 12

Sagarin recent ranking: 29

Virginia was the clear overall number one seed. Villanova got the spot right behind them, and I think we can agree that was deserved too. Kansas is, well, Kansas, and after a shaky start they once again number one the Big 12. Number one seed deserved. Xavier got the fourth spot, but do they have the one seed resume? They won one of the toughest leagues in America, but a closer examination shows didn’t exactly blow teams away. The Musketeers were 8-1 in games decided by five points or less, including two wins over Depaul and a win over East Tennessee State. Xavier is known for making deep tourney runs, but it’s often as a low seed. 2017, 11 seed, Elite Eight. 2012, 10 seed, Sweet Sixteen. In 2016 they were a two but lost in the second round. Trevon Bluiett is going to reprise last year’s performance if Xavier is to make a run as the hunted.

No. 2 North Carolina:

Sagarin ranking: 8

Sagarin recent ranking: 12

The defending national champions lost two first round picks off of last year’s team, but they still have plenty of talent and experience. They made it to the championship game of the ACC Tournament before falling to Virginia, 71-63. There’s no doubt they have a chance to end up in San Antonio, but I could also see this squad getting upset early.

No. 3 Michigan:

Sagarin ranking: 11

Sagarin recent ranking: 2

This team is as hot as any in the country. Michigan was going to be a lot of people’s dark horse, but then they got too hot and worked their way up too much to be a dark horse. One thing to remember: this same team that beat Purdue in the B1G title game barely survived 4-14 in conference Iowa in OT to make it to the quarterfinals.

No 4 Gonzaga:

Sagarin ranking: 10

Sagarin recent ranking: 5

Another team coming in to the tournament red hot. The Zags have won 14 straight and ran their competition in the West Coast Conference tournament out of the building. And after last year we finally know the Zags can make a deep run.

Other teams that can make noise:

Honestly, I could put just about everyone through No. 10 Providence here. So I will. Except for Florida State.

No. 5 Ohio State has had a magical first season under new head coach Chris Holtmann. This team went 17-15 and sputtered out against Rutgers in the first round of the B1G tournament last year, and not many fans were expecting much better this year. Keita Bates-Diop has fallen a bit from his player of the year like play he was putting up mid-season, but he could still lead the Buckeyes far.

No. 6 Houston has become a team to watch with a 26 point win over Arkansas, two wins over Wichita State, and a win over Cincinnati. They’re a Final Four dark horse. Watch out, Wolverines.

No. 7 Texas A&M has underachieved this year but has a ton of talent. The team that blew out West Virginia, won at Auburn, and almost beat an Alabama team that ended up in the SEC title game in the second round is definitely one to watch.

No. 8 Missouri might be the most interesting team in the tournament. As one of last year’s top recruits gets back into the fold, the Tigers keep getting thinner. After a few transfers and dismissals, Cullen VanLeer tore his ACL in Mizzou’s win over Arkansas. With Jordan Barnett’s one week suspension for DWI keeping him out of the Tigers’ contest with Florida State (but back for round two if the Tigers win), Missouri is down to seven scholarship players and eight bodies overall. Just getting to 200 minutes against FSU is going to be tough, but if Mizzou gets past that one they have a serious shot to do some damage.

No. 10 Providence played well in the Big East Tournament and made it all the way to the championship game before falling to Villanova in overtime, their third straight OT game of the tournament.

Potential matchups to watch:

If Missouri and Ohio State meet in the Sweet 16, we’ll have a Michael Porter going up against a Micah Potter. And two of the most surprising teams in the nation.

Missouri vs. Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 would mean Zags forward Jonathan Williams III going up against his former team.

And Ohio State vs. Michigan in the Elite Eight would be the rubber match for a great rivalry. In Ohio State’s win early this season the Buckeyes capitalized on a 26-3 run to erase a 20 point deficit.

My pick: No 8.  Missouri over No. 10 Providence

Yes, an eight over a ten in the Elite Eight. Providence beats North Carolina and Houston before falling to Michael Porter Jr. Will it happen? Probably not. Could it happen? Of course, this is March!