NCAA Tournament West Region: Odds, Sleepers And Pick For Bracket

Is this Gonzaga's year?

by and

Mar 16, 2021

The 2020-21 college basketball regular season belonged to Gonzaga. Does that mean this is the year the Bulldogs finally break through and win the NCAA Tournament?

The Zags were a powerhouse, spending the entire season as the No. 1 team in the nation, and they enter The Big Dance with eyes on the first title in program history.

However, Gonzaga has some tough — and familiar competition — in the West region. Here’s our preview of the West.

West region field:

1. Gonzaga
2. Iowa
3. Kansas
4. Virginia
5. Creighton
6. USC
7. Oregon
8. Oklahoma
9. Missouri
10. VCU
11. Wichita State/Drake
12. UC-Santa Barbara
13. Ohio
14. Eastern Washington
15. Grand Canyon
16. Norfolk State/Appalachian State

West region favorites:

Gonzaga (-250)
Iowa (+400)
Creighton (+600)
Kansas (+600)

Odds via

West region schedule:

First round: Saturday, March 20
Second round: Monday, March 22
Sweet 16: Saturday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28
Elite Eight: Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30

Storyline to watch: Can anyone — anyone at all — stop Gonzaga?

This certainly feels like the year for Mark Few and the Bulldogs to finally break through. The Zags went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the country, and after a perfect 26-0 regular season, they’re the clear favorite to cut down all the nets in Indy.

The big question, if you’re trying to poke holes in Gonzaga, usually is the schedule. The West Coast Conference won’t be confused for the Big 10. But there are plenty of very good wins on Gonzaga’s schedule, and coincidentally, a few of them came against teams in the West region.

The Zags opened their season with a win over then-No. 6 Kansas, and they also beat then-No. 16 Virginia. They beat Iowa when the Hawkeyes were the No. 3 team in the country. Outside the West, they beat a nationally ranked West Virginia team, too.

Gonzaga was the top team nationally by KenPom’s rankings, while also ranking No. 1 offensively and 10th on defense. It’s an elite college basketball team with a manageable path to the Final Four. It’s hard to bet against Gonzaga this spring.

Player to watch: Evan Mobley, PF/C, USC

There’s no shortage of players worth watching in the West. currently has eight players from the West region pegged for the 2021 NBA Draft, and none is higher on that mock draft than Mobley, currently projected as the No. 2 pick.

To say Mobley’s freshman season at USC was historic is selling the 7-footer short. Mobley pulled off the trifecta, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year to top it all off. He averaged 16 points and nearly nine rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the floor.

He absolutely turned it on in the conference tournament, too, scoring 26 points in each of the Trojans’ games while pulling down 18 total rebounds and blocking 10 shots. The showing in Las Vegas understandably left the hoops world buzzing.

West region sleeper: Ohio

The Bobcats are 35-1 to win the West, which seems low? That’s especially true when you’re in Gonzaga’s bracket. But don’t be surprised if the Zags have to go through Ohio to get to the Elite Eight. Ohio gets a relatively fortunate first-round draw against a Villanova team that won’t have Collin Gillespie.

Ohio has one of the tournament’s sneaky-dangerous scorers in Jason Preston, who averaged 21 points per game and comes in riding a hot streak that included 22, six and seven in a MAC title game rout.

There’s also this: Ohio went to Champaign and nearly knocked off Illinois in November. They should be pretty fearless.

Sam Panayotovich’s betting pick: Gonzaga

I want to short Gonzaga so bad, but what’s the point in this region? I don’t have them winning the national championship, but the numbers say they’ll cut down the nets in the West. The Zags are a -250 favorite to make the Final Four, meaning you have to lay $250 to win $100. Sheesh.

Gonzaga has an incredibly easy draw through the first weekend. They’ll likely face Virginia to open the second region and then have a potential matchup with Iowa or Kansas. The Elite Eight game should be a barnburner, but the Zags’ talent and efficiency should be enough to get them through.

Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images
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