NCAA West Regional Overview
By Tony Jones
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 17 2013 11:41PM
Gonzaga was rewarded for the best regular season in school history.
With talk of the Zags being passed for a No. 1 seed, the NCAA Tournament Committee awarded Gonzaga the top seed, and Mark Few’s team will stay close to home and play in Salt Lake City.
That makes the Bulldogs a favorite to reach the Final Four in Atlanta. Still, the first few rounds in the West Region will be good ones. You have a potential regional matchup with Ohio State and Notre Dame in the third round. Wisconsin and Kansas State also have the potential to see each other in the third round — another Midwestern duel with contrasting styles. New Mexico and Arizona are on track to meet in Salt Lake City on Saturday, while Gonzaga and Pittsburgh could see each other at EnergySolutions Arena at the end of the week.
Most observers see the West as one of the weakest regions in the field. While pundits seem to like Ohio State for its ability to score inside and out and its athleticism, New Mexico is the hot team and the team most capable of shutting its opponent off defensively.
If nothing else, this region is one worth watching because of the coaching star power. You have Jamie Dixon from Pittsburgh, Bruce Weber from Kansas State and Thad Motta from Ohio State. Mike Brey has won multiple coach of the year awards in the Big East for Notre Dame. Arizona’s Sean Miller is one of the best young coaches in the country. It would be remiss not to mention Steve Alford.
This promises to be an unpredictable region, one in which almost anyone can get hot and win it. This region holds a play-in game, with Boise State and La Salle matching up Tuesday for the right to face Kansas State. The Broncos are another team to watch. If they shoot 3-pointer s like they have all season, Boise can pose a threat to Lasalle and KSU.
— No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Southern
Records • Gonzaga 31-2; Southern 23-9
Conferences • Gonzaga, WCC; Southern, SWAC
Outlook • The most interesting part of this game could be the Southern band, which is among the best in the country. As for basketball, the Zags could have issues with Pittsburgh and Jamie Dixon in the third round. Elias Harris and company won’t have any issues with the Jaguars. Expect a game that’s pretty much over by halftime here.
— No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Iona
Records • Ohio State 26-7; Iona 20-13
Conferences • Ohio State, Big Ten; Iona, MAAC
Outlook • Take stock in Ohio State. The Buckeyes have great guard play, and DeShon Thomas is one of the best scorers in the country. OSU has the athleticism and the depth needed to make a deep run in the tournament, and many are picking Thad Motta’s group for the Final Four. It will be interesting to see if the Gaels can give this team a run.
— No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 14 Harvard
Records • New Mexico 29-5; Harvard 19-9
Conferences • New Mexico, Mountain West; Harvard, Ivy League
Outlook • The Crimson would normally be a trendy upset pick, but the Lobos are just too good. They play excellent defense. Kendall Williams is the Mountain West Conference player of the year and a lethal scorer. Plus, New Mexico looks to have a sizable crowd advantage in Salt Lake City. The Lobos are good.
— No. 4 Kansas St. vs. No. 13 Boise St./La Salle
Records • Kansas State 27-7; 21-10; La Salle 21-9
Conferences • Kansas State, Big 12; Boise State, Mountain West; La Salle, Atlantic 10
Outlook • Whether La Salle or Boise State advances in the play-in game, KSU is physically superior to either team. Rodney McGruder is an elite scorer for Kansas State. The Wildcats have size and athleticism in the post. Boise State is among the last four teams in the field.
— No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Mississippi
Records • Wisconsin 23-11; Mississippi 26-8
Conferences • Wisconsin, Big Ten; Mississippi, SEC
Outlook • A contrast in styles here. Bo Ryan’s Badgers love to walk the ball up the floor, work the shot clock and shoot 3-pointers. The Rebels are led by former Utah gunner Marshall Hendersen, and they play an up-tempo style. Ole Miss is entering the field hot after defeating Florida in the SEC title game.
— No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Belmont
Records • Arizona 25-7; Belmont 26-6
Conferences • Arizona, Pac-12; Belmont, Ohio Valley
Outlook • The Wildcats will have a huge size advantage, but Belmont’s Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark are one of the best backcourts nobody has heard of. Arizona will need to bring it in this one. Belmont beat Pac-12 member Stanford in December. This is a team that will enter the matchup not the least bit intimidated. This will be good.
— No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Iowa State
Records • Notre Dame 25-9; Iowa State 22-11
Conferences • Notre Dame, Big East; Iowa State, Big 12
Outlook • Going to be tough for the Fighting Irish. The Cyclones feature a dangerous scorer in former Utah forward Will Clyburn. Iowa State shoots 3-pointers at a high clip, and it scores points in bunches. Notre Dame relies on Jack Cooley for the bulk of its points in the paint. Jerian Grant is explosive on the perimeter. This will be close.
— No. 8 Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Wichita State
Records • Pittsburgh 24-8; Wichita State 26-8
Conferences • Pitt, Big East; Wichita State, Missouri Valley
Outlook • This promises to be a test of wills, a defensive matchup between two excellent teams and coaches. The Panthers boast Steven Adams, who frequents NBA Draft lottery lists. If he can assert himself inside and Tray Woodall can make shots from the perimeter, it will be tough for the Shockers to win this one.
Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk could be the best big man in the country. His defense and rebound elevated the Zags from good to great this year. By the end of the season, he was almost impossible to match up against.
While we love Gonzaga, New Mexico has the best team, the most well-rounded team and the best defensive team. Look for Kendall Williams to have a huge tournament.
As good as New Mexico is, Belmont looms as a dangerous team. Experienced rosters that shoot well are always difficult come tournament time. Belmont fits this description perfectly. Arizona? You have been warned.
Player that you don’t know
Kerron Johnson is a dynamo of a point guard and could be the best player on the floor when Belmont matches up with Arizona on Thursday.
Best time for a fast break
Wichita State and Pittsburgh will struggle to get their matchup to the 60s. Eat a snack, do whatever you have to. Just come back for the final five dramatic minutes.