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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

NCAA Tournament: West Region breakdown

NCAA Tournament: West Region breakdown

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In soccer, they call the toughest World Cup draw the “group of death.”
For this year’s NCAA Tournament, the West Region is seemingly the best.

The top five seeds in the West all finished in the top 11 in adjusted efficiency margin at KenPom.com. Top-seeded Kansas was ninth, No. 2 seed UCLA was second, No. 3 Gonzaga was eighth, No. 4 UConn was fourth and No. 5 Saint Mary’s was 11th.

Coach Bill Self is expected to rejoin the Jayhawks this week in preparation for the NCAAs. He missed the Big 12 tournament after being hospitalized because of chest tightness and balance concerns.

Consider that after meeting Howard in the first round, defending champion Kansas could potentially have to face Saint Mary’s or UConn in the Sweet 16 and either UCLA or Gonzaga in the Elite Eight in Las Vegas, where the Bruins and Bulldogs both played their respective conference tournaments.

TOP SHOT:

Kansas was considered a potential No.1 overall seed until a 20-point loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game without Self and senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (back spasms). That knocked them down to the third No. 1 seed behind Alabama and Houston, costing them a shot to play the regional semifinals and final in Kansas City despite their impressive 17 Quad 1 victories. The Jayhawks are led by Big 12 player of the year Jalen Wilson.

Second-seeded UCLA lost a No. 1 seed when it was defeated 61-59 by Arizona in the Pacific-12 Conference championship. The Bruins played the entire tournament without guard Jaylen Clark (lower-leg injury), the conference’s defensive player of the year, and the finale without shot-blocking center Adem Bona (shoulder). “It is what it is,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Get some rest, get ready for the real tournament.” The Bruins are led by Pac-12 player of the year Jaime Jaquez Jr.

GAMES TO WATCH:

4 UConn vs. 13 Iona. The Huskies have been upset in the first round the past two seasons, first by Maryland and then by New Mexico State. The Gaels, under tourney-tested coach Rick Pitino, have won 14 games in a row.

5 Saint Mary’s vs. 12 VCU. This one won’t break any offensive records. The Gaels are one of the nation’s top defensive teams, allowing just 60.1 points per game, while the Rams are in the top 15 nationally in forcing turnovers (16.5 per game).

6 TCU vs. 11 Arizona St./Nevada winner

The Horned Frogs earned their first NCAA victory in 35 years last season but are facing off-court controversy as sophomore center Eddie Lampkin Jr. recently left the team and accused coach Jamie Dixon of “racial remarks.” Both Arizona State and Nevada were bubble teams and are happy to be in the big dance.

GET TO KNOW …
Gradey Dick, forward, Kansas. The 6-foot-8 freshman is expected to be a lottery pick in this June’s NBA draft. He’s an elite outside shooter who is athletic enough to get to the rim and has the length to excel defensively.

Drew Timme, forward, Gonzaga. Despite being perhaps the most productive player in college the past four seasons, Timme doesn’t leave NBA scouts drooling because he lacks the “metrics.” Still, his footwork in the post is remarkable.

Tyger Campbell, guard, UCLA. He doesn’t get the accolades of his teammates, but he’s the engine that keeps the Bruins chugging along. He scored a career-high 28 points against Oregon in the Pac-12 semifinals.

SPREAD THE NEWS:
No. 10 seed Boise State is actually a 1-point favorite over No. 7 Northwestern. Maybe that’s because the Wildcats are making just their second NCAA appearance in more than 100 years.

No. 2 UCLA (-19.5) is heavily favored over UNC Asheville, which isn’t a surprise. Considering the Bruins’ injury woes and uncertainty over who will be available, that line might seem a bit high.

No. 8 Arkansas (-2.5) has a slight edge over Illinois in a matchup of teams that struggled late in the regular season. The Razorbacks, under coach Eric Musselman, have reached the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons.

OUT OF THE WEST: Gonzaga could have Jalen Suggs at the point and Chet Holmgren patrolling the post — if they hadn’t left early for the NBA as top-five draft picks the past two seasons. These Bulldogs aren’t nearly as talented, but they’re still the top offensive team in the country and beat No. 1 overall seed Alabama 100-90 earlier this season in Birmingham, Ala. Don’t overlook the defending champion Jayhawks, who could rally behind their coach’s return to the bench.

–Field Level Media

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