NCAA Tournament West Region preview, breakdown, pick to win; Kansas, UCLA headline loaded field
The NCAA Tournament Selection Board sending Kansas No. 1 to the Western Region instead of the Midwest was one of the biggest surprises on Sunday of Selection. Even Kansas was stunned that he would not be able to play in Kansas City for the right to go to the Final Four.
“I was just shocked that we didn’t finish second overall,” said Kansas forward K. J. Adams. “But that happens sometimes. I’m just glad we play again. [We] last night we suffered a heavy defeat, but now we are preparing to bounce back and put on a good game wherever we play…we are just going to do what we have to do to reach where we have to be.”
This sets up an intriguing plot for what is arguably the toughest region in the NCAA Tournament.
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Here’s a look at the Western Region, top players, matches, possible setbacks and Final Four picks.
PLOT TO WATCH
This region is LOADED. Kansas and UCLA had exceptional seasons and deservedly placed second. But man, both Bill Self and Mick Cronin have to admit they didn’t get any service. No. 8 seed Arkansas and No. 9 seed Illinois have as much talent in the NBA as any other player in the region. No. 3 seed Gonzaga, No. 4 seed UConn, and No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s are in the top 11 on KenPom. As of Jan. 1, Boise State is the 24th-best team in the nation, according to Bart Torvik. And the Broncos is seed number 10. Arizona State, Nevada, Northwestern, and VCU are terrible in many ways. UNC Asheville has one of the best duos in the sport. Oh, and one of the best Xs-and-Os coaches in the history of the sport looms on the 13th hole – Rick Pitino just can’t wait to bust the brace before jumping into a bigger gig.
NO. 1 SEED
Kansas competes in the NCAA tournament like no other in the country. The Jayhawks had a whopping 17 Quadrant 1 wins. Sure, a busy Big Twelve gave KU plenty of opportunities, but the Kansas were the best team in America’s best league. Since February 1, Kansas has been ranked fourth in the nation in defense effectiveness, according to Bart Torvik. Kevin McCallar And Dajuan Harris have good reasons as the best defensive rear zone of the country.
But the defending champions enter the NCAA Tournament injured. McCallar missed time with painful back spasms, and Bill Self (the best coach in the country) missed the entire Big 12 tournament after going to the emergency room for chest tightness and balance problems. Self was not diagnosed with a heart attack, but had two stents placed to treat clogged arteries.
Kansas is still incredibly dangerous. Harris is one of the best point guards in the country. Jalen Wilson is an All-American. Grady Dick is one of the best shooters in the country. But Kansas needs McCallar and Self to be at full strength to make a deep run.
- The effectiveness of the defense of Kansas with Kevin McCallar on the floor in the Big 12 game: 103.52
- The effectiveness of the defense of Kansas with Kevin McCallar benched in Big 12 game: 109.42
Yes, there is no Jaylen Clark at UCLA. No, I don’t care. The Bruins are the biggest rival in the West because Campbell Fabrics and Jaime Jacquez Jr. are the best 1-2 hitters in the country. UCLA is the highest ranked team in the West by KenPom (second overall), and the Bruins have been a model of consistency all year. Even with Clark out of the lineup, UCLA gave Arizona hell in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game. Freshmen Dylan Andrews And Amari Bailey have made huge strides, and David Singleton could compete with Grady Dick of Kansas for the title of top shooter in the region. But UCLA will go as far as Campbell and Jaques can. Campbell is a solid ball-handling defender who has adapted to a much larger offensive role this season. Jacques is the top scorer in the country who takes on a huge load at both ends of the court. There is no stronger opponent. He will fight sprained ankles, big games, quick defense and everything else to give UCLA a shot. UCLA legally has no defensive shortcomings. Nobody. Zip code pshik.
Only one team in the West is in the top 20 offense and defense. Enter UConn. The Huskies broke into second place in the rankings early in the season before starting to struggle early in the game in the Big East. But UConn leveled the ship. According to Bart Torvik, UConn has been the second-best team in the country since Feb. 1 (conveniently just behind No. 3 seed Gonzaga – like I said, the region is nasty). Of course, point guard’s wobbly play and UCLA’s inexperience in March are real factors, but UCLA has stars (Jordan Hawkins, Adama Sanogo) and role players who know their part and play it well. If UConn is causing damage, Andre Jackson needs to play at a high level. There are so many spikes in this quadrant and Jackson has the ability to turn off your water on the defensive. He will be given large-scale tasks. Let’s see if he can handle the challenge.
What time do you have? There are a ton of them. Let’s play the game in one word to describe some of the best players in this region:
- Jalen Wilson from Kansas: DAWG.
- Jaime Jaques Jr. of UCLA: Relentless.
- Jordan Hawkins of UConn: Assassin.
- Mike Miles Jr. of TCU: Alpha.
- Gonzaga Drew Timm: Fiery.
- Nick Smith Jr. of Arkansas: Competitor.
- Terrence Shannon Jr. of Illinois: Chiseled.
- Ace Baldwin of VCU: Assassin.
- st mary Aidan Mahani: Fearless.
- University of North Carolina at Asheville Drew Pember: Bucket.
FOUR TOP SEEDS IN THE BIGGEST DANGER
Kansas and UCLA are both beaten, which could be a problem, but Gonzaga’s statistical profile screams impostor despite a recent eye test flashing like a contender.
Excerpt from Kevin Flaherty’s contenders and contenders column at 247Sports: “Is this team’s offense and defense up to par with the competition for the national champions of the KenPom era (2001 to 2002 present)?” Here are the NCAA Tournament Restrictions: Rank at least 25th in KenPom Performance (2014 CT), 57th in Adjusted Offensive Ranking (2014 CT), and 37th* in adjusted defensive effectiveness (2009 NC and 2015 Duke). “
For Gonzaga? Nope.
This season, the Zags are ranked 76th in defensive scoring on KenPom. Gonzaga’s offensive has been PUSHING lately, but that would be a drastic statistical outlier if Mark Few wins the national championship. That’s not to say Gonzaga can’t make a deep run, but man, it won’t be easy. The test of the first round with the Grand Canyon filled will be a chore. If he gets TCU, Gonzaga will have a lot of work to do with enhanced horned frogs. UCLA can wait in the Sweet 16. It’s just hard to see a team like Gonzaga find a way to escape this busy region with a defense hole that could go from vulnerable to downright terrible at any moment.
POTENTIAL UPRUDE IN THE FIRST ROUND
St. Mary, Northwestern and UC are on high alert.
St. Mary’s will be occupied by the No. 12 VCU team, which is currently playing as well as anyone in the country. Baldwin is an absolute superstar and transfer from Michigan Brandon Jones was a huge addition.
The Northwest has had a phenomenal season, but No. 10 seed Boise State is also strong enough to make some serious noise. Boise State and Northwestern have a lot in common (great defense, good stellar lineup, reliable role players) so this game will be tiring down the road.
And UConn gets Pitino, who is a master at finding your weaknesses and pulverizing them a million times until you drop. Jonah isn’t in the least bit scared of UConn.
BEST GAME OF THE FIRST ROUND
Driving around Illinois and Arkansas as a potential Elite 8 contender in preseason would be perfectly understandable.
And will we get it in the first round?
God, these teams are perfect for each other. Illinois and Arkansas are the two worst shooting teams in the country. There are tons of NBA talent in Illinois and Arkansas. Both Illinois and Arkansas squashed him on the transfer portal. Injuries in Arkansas and injuries/defections in Illinois forced both Eric Musselman And Brad Underwood into a dark hole, trying to find a way to build a personality.
It’s hard to say how this game will go, but it’s clear that you’d better put on your helmet and shoulder pads before attacking the ring, because these teams will club you on the edge of the ring. Expect fouls. Expect dunks. Expect protection. Expect side explosions. This game will have everything…