The NCAA Tournament’s West region has the potential to put the “wild” back in the wild west.
Top-seeded Gonzaga leads the way and looks like the favorite to cut down the nets and earn a trip to Phoenix, but this region is far from top-heavy. There are five, maybe even six teams who you can look at and make a legitimate argument for them getting out of the region and heading to the desert.
Here’s a closer look at the West region.
Player to watch: Nigel Williams-Goss, PG, Gonzaga
He might not be the best NBA draft prospect in the West bracket, but Williams-Goss is the leader of the No. 1 seed who can do a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs. The WCC Player of the Year led the Zags in scoring and assists, and he showed a few times this season an ability to take over a game. Williams-Goss had three 30-point games and six additional 20-point showings this season.
Best first-round game: No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 9 Vanderbilt
There was no shortage of games to choose from with three of the first-round games featuring spreads of four points or fewer, including this one. Picking the 8-9 game might be a little cliche, but Vanderbilt is just a 1-point favorite, so that’s an obvious indication this could go down to the wire, and there’s obviously a bit of intrigue with Northwestern dancing for the first time in school history. And even if Northwestern jumps out to an early lead, don’t count out the Commodores. Head coach Bryce Drew encourages his team to chuck it up from the outside, as Vandy averaged 26.3 3-point attempts per game, 15th in the entire country.
Best chance for an upset: No. 11 Xavier over No. 6 Maryland
Maryland’s a six-seed in large because of what it did early in the season. The Terrapins started the season 20-2, but they finished the season struggling down the stretch. The Terps enter the tournament having lost six of their last 10 games, and if Melo Trimble doesn’t make shots — he hit 19 of 52 shots over the last four games — they’re in big trouble. And if Tremble and the Terps aren’t making shots, they’re going to get killed on the glass. The Musketeers finished 15th in the country in rebound rate — Maryland finished 184th.
Region winner: Gonzaga
This is it, the year Gonzaga finally breaks through and reaches the Final Four. It’s always tough to know how good the Zags really are given they play in the WCC, but Mark Few’s club looks like it got a pretty good draw. Notre Dame or West Virginia could give them trouble in the Sweet 16, but Gonzaga is better and deeper than both of those clubs. And if Gonzaga meets Arizona in Elite Eight, the Bulldogs already know they can take down Arizona after beating the Wildcats by seven in early December.
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