West Regional Preview
The West region may not have the offensive firepower of Villanova in the East, or the defensive stalwarts of the South like Virginia or Cincinnati, or even the generational talents of Marvin Bagley, Devonte’ Graham or Miles Bridges like the Midwest. What it does have is a balanced group of hot and hungry teams looking for a shot at a national title.
Xavier grabs the top seed in the West, thanks to a 28-5 season and Big East regular-season championship. Scoring seniors like Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura have gotten the Musketeers this far, but there are some landmines ahead. The most notable is last year’s champion, the North Carolina Tar Heels. Led by Wooden Award candidate Luke Maye, the Tar Heels put together a fantastic resume which includes victories over top-tier teams like Tennessee and Duke. North Carolina couldn’t quite finish ACC play with a tournament victory, but they’re feeling good nonetheless entering March Madness.
A popular pick to come out of the West Region is Michigan. The Wolverines, led by John Beilein, are as hot as any team, winning their last nine in a row, which included four victories en route to a Big Ten Tournament title. The top four is rounded out by Gonzaga, the sole NCAA tournament representative from the West Coast Conference. The Zags haven’t lost since January and have only lost four times since the season began, three of those losses coming to other tournament teams. Mark Few’s squad has been here before; they were in the title game last year where they lost to North Carolina in a tightly contested battle. His players are battle-tested and ready for another run in March.
As for teams below the four line, Ohio State is a name to look out for. The Buckeyes have only struggled against one team all year (and fortunately for them, that team is in the NIT), grabbing big wins over other Big Ten opponents like Purdue and Michigan. Chris Holtmann has done a fantastic job in his first year as head coach, and a deep tournament run would be a cherry on top. Houston is worth mentioning too. The Cougars have won ten of their last twelve, including victories over the other American Conference tournament teams, Cincinnati and Wichita State. Houston could bust a couple brackets if they keep up the pace.
Which Cinderellas are contenders for the crown? Two come to mind: Providence and San Diego State. Providence has been spotty at times, but when they’re on, they’re really on, as the Friars have defeated top seed Xavier twice this season already. Then there’s San Diego State, a Mountain West bid thief that has won their last nine on the way to a conference tournament victory. They’ll play Houston in the first round, likely to be one of the more overlooked matchups.
So, who in the West region is most likely to reach the Final Four? Right now, it looks like the fan favorite: Michigan. The Wolverines have looked unstoppable as of late, earning victories over Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State in the past month. If Beilein’s squad keeps rolling the way it does, there’s an excellent chance that Michigan will return to the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
DJ Bauer is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.