NCAA Tournament bracket picks: West Region
Best story line
Is this the year Gonzaga breaks the last barrier? They already have been to the Elite Eight. They’ve been ranked No. 1 and earned No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds. They’ve had a first-team All-American. They’ve had NBA lottery picks. This once-tiny program in the Pacific Northwest built itself into a national power whose success threatens so many supporters of power-conference programs: they’ve invented a narrative that suggests a team that’s been to the second weekend of the past two tournaments and is 15-3 in first-round games is somehow an underachiever. If they make the Final Four now, what’ll the haters hate on then?
Gonzaga junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss; Arizona freshman forward Lauri Markkanen; Notre Dame junior forward Bonzie Colson; Maryland junior guard Melo Trimble; Saint Mary’s junior center Jock Landale.
Best first-round game
No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 9 Vanderbilt. The Commodores have seven shooters who have made between 24 3-pointers (Payton Willis) and 81 (Matthew Fisher-Davis). Who has seven shooters? Northwestern will be entering the tournament for the first time in its history. Can the Wildcats escape the possibility that their season highlight was achieved when the school’s name popped up on the bracket in the West Region? They defended well against a similar Michigan offense in the game that most likely clinched this tournament bid. They’ll have to be at least as sharp.
Seeded too high
No. 3 Florida State. The Seminoles were 7-8 away from home and own four losses against teams that missed the field. West Virginia, Butler and Purdue all have better resumes from the 4-line.
Seeded too low
No. 5 Notre Dame. So let’s get this straight: The Irish lost a single game against a non-tournament team, went 9-7 away from home, beat Florida State two out of three — including on a neutral floor in the ACC Tournament just a couple days earlier — and they somehow wound up two seed lines behind? The committee uses the term “scrubbing” to describe how they examine the seeds in-depth after the initial vote. What’d they scrub with here? Kleenex?
No. 12 Princeton over No. 5 Notre Dame. This might turn out to be the dullest region. Vandy could beat Northwestern, but 9 seed over 8 seed isn’t an upset. And it’s doubtful the Tigers can take down Notre Dame. But the Irish aren’t physically overpowering and Princeton did win 16 consecutive Ivy League games — and Ivy League teams have won four of their last seven first-round games as bottom-quadrant seeds.
Best potential game
Gonzaga vs. Arizona. Last time they met, the Wildcats didn’t have gutty point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and star guard Allonzo Trier. Zags fans have heard about this a few times since their team earned a 69-62 victory. These are two terrific programs that have played fairly frequently and always engaged in furiously competitive games. Arizona leads 5-3 since Mark Few took over the Zags, with two of the games decided in OT and four by a single possession.
Best potential player matchup
Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson vs. Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. The Irish operate a lot of the time with 6-5 Colson as their post player. They have 6-10 Martinas Geben to use in a pinch, but he went 14 minutes combined in the ACC Tournament. So that means Colson having to cope with the massive presence of Karnowski on one end, but Karnowski coping with a player who can go by him in a pick-and-roll and has made 22 3-pointers. How can you not be aching to see these teams play?
Get to know …
Xavier junior wing Trevon Bluiett. He averaged 18.1 points and 5.8 rebounds and had to take on an even heavier offensive burden after point guard Edmond Sumner was lost for the season to a knee injury. He missed two and three-quarters games himself with an injury in February, and Xavier lost all of those, but they won three of their final four as Bluiett averaged 20.5 points. He scored 40 in a loss at Cincinnati. So there’s no telling how much he might deliver on a given night.
Don’t be surprised if …
Every higher seeded team wins its first-round game. There just doesn’t seem to be one of those must-pick upsets in this region.
Florida Gulf Coast. “Dunk City’s” game against Florida State is in Orlando, an easy drive for Eagles fans. If they can get a few bussed up, and if they can make some early shots, fans in the arena will adopt them and make things very uncomfortable for the Seminoles. Can’t see FGCU winning. But maybe.
Final Four pick
Arizona Wildcats. As a head coach, Sean Miller has reached the Elite Eight four times. The first two were pleasant surprises, one at Xavier in 2008 and then at Arizona in 2011. The third was heartbreaking because the best-in-show Wildcats had their 2014 season damaged by an injury to forward Brandon Ashley. And the fourth time in 2015, Arizona was re-matched against Wisconsin in the regional final and just couldn’t contain a Badgers breakout from 3-point range. This seems like the moment all that becomes history.