The West Region of the 2018 NCAA Tournament probably is the weakest of the four regions in terms of quality of teams, but it does have the defending champion and No. 2 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels.
UNC is attempting to become the first school since Florida in 2007 to repeat as champions in March Madness. The Tar Heels also are aiming to reach the national title game three seasons in a row.
In fact, it’s possible we could see a rematch of the classic 2016 final between Villanova and North Carolina. These top contenders are on opposite sides of this season’s bracket.
Here’s a complete preview of the West Region.
Player to Watch: Michael Porter Jr., Swingman, Missouri
Porter was labeled by several experts as the likely No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft before back surgery in November kept him out nearly the entire season. He returned in the SEC Tournament last week and scored 12 points (on 5-for-17 shooting) in 23 minutes. Porter still could go in the top five of June’s draft, and a strong showing in this tournament could really boost his stock.
Best First-Round Game: No. 11 San Diego State vs. No. 6 Houston
San Diego State beat Gonzaga, the No. 4 seed in this region, during the regular season, in addition to two wins against another tournament team in Nevada. The Aztecs are battle-tested, and they had a scoring margin of nearly plus-10 points per game this season. Both teams average at least 77 points per contest and have won a lot of games over the last two weeks entering this tournament. We should expect an exciting, high-scoring, back-and-forth game between these schools.
Best Chance for an Upset: No. 10 Providence over No. 7 Texas A&M
The Friars lost in overtime to No. 1 seed Villanova in the Big East tournament championship game, but they beat this region’s No. 1 seed Xavier in the semifinal. Providence beat Xavier and ‘Nova in the regular season, too, as the Friars tend to elevate their game against top opponents. Providence’s athleticism, balanced scoring and experience (three seniors who play an integral role, led by leading scorer Rodney Bullock) will lead it past the Aggies.
Region Winner: North Carolina
This is the easiest path to the Final Four that the Tar Heels have faced in years. UNC has championship-winning experience, outside shooting, great rebounders and plenty of depth. It also helps to have 3-time champion Roy Williams as head coach. Everything is set up for the Tar Heels to reach another Final Four. Their toughest game likely will be a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 3 seed and Big Ten tournament champion Michigan.
Prediction: North Carolina defeats Gonzaga in the Elite Eight
Thumbnail photo via Nicole Sweet/USA TODAY Sports
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