NCAA Tournament West Region Preview: Winner, Dark Horse, & Cinderella


March 14

The madness is just three days away, and we’re here to help you find some profitability along your way in the NCAA Tournament. We look at the West Region, where Kansas is the top dog with plenty of capable contenders. Let’s look at the top seed, a dark horse, a Cinderella, and who we believe will cut down the nets in Las Vegas on their way to the Final Four.

Top Seed: #1 Kansas (Final Four +330)

The Jayhawks embark on their quest to become the first back-to-back national champions out of the West region, where they will face stiff competition. The top five seeds in the region all rank within KenPom’s top 11, making this the coveted “Region of Death” this year. But Kansas easily has the firepower and experience to make it out of here alive with a combination of last year’s familiar faces and some new blood on the roster.

Junior Jalen Wilson has gone from key role player to bonafide superstar this season, ranking sixth in KenPom’s MVP rankings. He is the key that unlocks all of Kansas’s capabilities through his potent scoring and elite defense. Gradey Dick is a future NBA lottery pick, providing athleticism and knockdown three-point shooting to a team that desperately needed it after the losses of Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji to the NBA. Dajuan Harris continues to be a steady presence at the point guard position, and of course, you have head coach Bill Self.

Self stepped away from the team for the Big 12 Tournament due to health issues but is expected to return for Thursday’s first-round matchup with Howard. He is arguably the best head coach in college basketball right now, and you can trust him to have his guys ready for just about anything this rugged region may throw their way.

Dark Horse: #6 TCU (Final Four +900)

TCU opened the season as a dark horse to be a national title contender, which seems to be exactly where they are right now. They are a team with a ridiculous ceiling, as seen in wins over Kansas and Texas, but an offense that can sometimes struggle.

That said, many of their struggles and losses in February came when superstar Mike Miles Jr. was unavailable due to injury. He is now back, and the Horned Frogs are poised to make a deep run in this gauntlet of a region. Head coach Jamie Dixon was able to do something most coaches couldn’t last offseason, and that kept his roster out of the transfer portal. TCU ranks third nationally in minutes continuity from a season ago, as this team has chemistry all over the court.

There is concern about the loss of center Eddie Lampkin to injury and the transfer portal before the start of the tournament, but they have been operating without him for a fair share of conference play. This team has a true star in Miles, an experienced head coach in Dixon, and a defense they can rely on in every matchup. They could seriously shake things up in the West.

Cinderella: #15 UNC Asheville (Sweet 16 +4000)

If there’s a 15-seed that could give a 2-seed a game in the opening round, we believe it’s UNC Asheville going up against UCLA. The Bruins are currently without a second-leading scorer and one of the nation’s top defenders in Jaylen Clark, but it seemed like everything was okay without his presence in the Pac-12 Tournament. A late falter against Arizona proved different, leaving uncertainty on how they could fare without him on the court.

The Bulldogs have two legitimate stars in Drew Pember and Tajion Jones, a dynamic duo that can take over any game they are in. If you need proof, check out the second half of UNC Asheville’s Big South Championship victory over Campbell, where Pember and Jones combined for 31 of Asheville’s 32 points in the final 9:46 of the game. These two have the star power to will this team to an upset, and if they come out hot, the Bruins could be in for a dogfight.

East Region Winner: #4 UConn (Final Four +500)

According to metrics, UConn is heavily underseeded. That’s not necessarily the committee’s fault since their job is to go off of resumé, but it doesn’t mean we can’t expect big things from the Huskies.

They sit fourth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings, meaning they would theoretically be favored over seventh-ranked Kansas if the two met in the Sweet 16. As for their season, a 14-0 start had most thinking they were the top team in the nation. A handful of defeats and slip-ups in the coming weeks halted that train, but it seems to be barreling down the tracks again with nine wins in their previous 11 games.

The Huskies boast talent at every position, but it’s up to head coach Dan Hurley to guide them to victory. Despite his success at Wagner, Rhode Island, and now in Storrs, Hurley has yet to reach a Sweet 16. Will that change in 2023? We certainly think so.

Thumbnail photo via Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

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