NCAA Tournament 2021 West Region Preview: Can Anyone Topple Undefeated Gonzaga?
(CBS Local)- College basketball fans have gotten used to seeing the Gonzaga Bulldogs near the top of the bracket each year. This season is no different with Gonzaga picking up the top overall seed in the tournament after running undefeated through the regular season to a West Coast Conference championship. Now, the biggest question is: Will 2021 finally be the year that Gonzaga wins the NCAA Tournament?
The answer will be known in a few short weeks. But, based on how the bracket shook out, it looks like the 'Zags have a pretty good chance of making it to the Final Four to give themselves a shot at cutting down the nets. Let's take a look through the 18 (including First Four) teams in the region for a preview of how things could shake out.
No. 1 Gonzaga
The Bulldogs are the fifth team since the 1975-76 Bob Knight coached Indiana team to enter the tournament undefeated. No team since that Hoosiers squad has finished off the unbeaten season however. But, this Bulldogs team could be the one to do it. They rank 1st in Ken Pomeroy's ratings with the most efficient offense and the tenth most efficient defense. Speaking after the bracket reveal Sunday night, ESPN's Jay Bilas said the consistency and offense of the Bulldogs makes them tough to pick against.
"They're the best team. Usually what separates this team isn't that they can't be beat. It's just that they're high level consistent more than anybody," said Bilas on Sportscenter with SVP. "Gonzaga has been unbelievably consistent. In their bracket, 2 seed, 3 seed and 4 seed, they have already played them and they beat the hell out of them. Gonzaga is a beautiful offensive team."
No. 2 Iowa
The Hawkeyes were one of the top teams all year long in the Big Ten, considered the best conference in college basketball this season. And, they were the most efficient offense in that conference, rating 2nd behind only Gonzaga in Pomeroy's rankings. Led by senior center Luka Garza (23.7 PPG 8.8 RPG), the Hawkeyes offense can run with anybody. The questions have come defensively. They ranked 223rd of 347 Division I teams allowing opponents 71.9 PPG. In the December matchup with the 'Zags, they gave up 99.
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No. 3 Kansas
The Jayhawks and Bulldogs met to open the season and Gonzaga put on a show winning 102-90. The biggest question entering the tournament however is what this team will look like. Bill Self said three players won't travel to Indy initially after a couple positive tests within the program that forced them to withdraw from the Big 12 tourney last week. The Jayhawks have been one of the country's better defensive teams, but how they play without some missing pieces initially will be the story to watch here.
No. 4 Virginia
The Cavaliers, like the Jayhawks, had to withdraw from their conference tournament due to COVID. Head coach Tony Bennett said Sunday that the team won't travel to Indy until Friday due to most of the team being in quarantine following positive test results. Questions about who travels and who doesn't aside, you know what you're getting from Virginia. They're going to force you to execute in the half court and work their offense for good shots. It's why they are 12th in Ken Pom's offensive efficiency (33rd defensive) despite running at the nation's slowest tempo. The trio of Sam Hauser, Jay Huff and Trey Murphy lead the way in scoring and pose problems defensively because of their size (Hauser's the smallest at 6'8").
No. 5 Creighton
After finishing second in the Big East, the Blue Jays made a run to the conference tournament title game before falling to a red-hot Georgetown team. Five players average double figures, and they are among the nation's top teams in threes made per game (9.7) and attempted (26.7). Free throw shooting is a question mark, as the Jays hit just 64.2% of their attempts from the stripe (327th DI). That could hurt them in a tight game in the tournament.
No. 6 USC
The Trojans peaked at 17th in the AP Poll in mid-February when they ripped off seven straight wins in Pac-12 play. After that stretch, they finished 4-4 and were knocked out of the conference tournament by Colorado in the semifinals. They rate highly in Pomeroy's ratings checking in at 13th overall which would suggest they're underseeded here. They also have a potential game changing player in freshman center Evan Mobley, who averages 16 points and 8 rebounds while adding three blocks per game. Mobley could use the tournament as an opportunity to further stamp his spot as a top prospect in the Draft.
No. 7 Oregon
The Ducks finished atop the Pac-12 standings but were knocked out of the conference tournament by eventual champion Oregon State. Dana Altman's group is one of the country's more efficient offenses (16th in Ken Pom) but, like Iowa, they're shakier on the defensive side. They do hit threes at a high clip (37.9%) which could make them dangerous in tournament play as they're not overly reliant on the three ball either (22.1 attempts per game 151st DI).
No. 8 Oklahoma
The Sooners end of the season was uninspiring, dropping five of their last six including four straight to end the regular season. Granted four of those losses came against Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma State (twice) and by a combined 19 points. Lon Kruger's group is led by the dynamic back court combo of Austin Reaves (17.7 PPG) and De'Vion Harmon (12.9 PPG). They have found themselves in plenty of shootouts this year which makes the matchup against Missouri fun.
No. 9 Missouri
The Tigers, like the Sooners, are led by a pair of guards in Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith (28.2 PPG combined) with big man Jeremiah Tilmon patrolling the paint. The Tigers finished 7th in the SEC, but knocked off both Oregon and Wichita State in out of conference play. Cuonzo Martin's group ranks 51st in offensive efficiency and 58th on defense.
No. 10 VCU
The Rams may have a different head coach, but the 'Havoc' defense largely remains. They're going to try and run their opponents ragged, rotating nine players regularly. They rank 12th in defensive efficiency this season and they're 11th in the country in turnovers forced averaging nearly 17 per game (16.77). But, their offense has struggled to find consistency outside of Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland.
No. 11 Wichita State/No. 11 Drake
The Shockers saw plenty of turmoil this year with former head coach Gregg Marshall resigning just prior to the season due to allegations of physical and verbal abuse against players. Under Isaac Brown, they finished 1st in the AAC and had close losses against Missouri and Oklahoma State in out of conference play. They're efficient offensively (56th) but have struggled to slow opponents (103rd).
Drake was the talk of the country after running out to an 18-0 start but foot injuries to their top two scorers, Roman Penn and ShanQuon Hemphill, left them looking not quite the same down the stretch. Plenty of history between these teams as former MVC rivals, will make for a fun First Four matchup.
No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
The Gauchos are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2010, winners of the Big West crown. Joe Pasternack's group is getting some buzz as a potential upset in the first round. The always dangerous 12-seed, UCSB makes free throws at a high clip (75%), doesn't foul a ton (14.8 opponent attempts per game) and has guard Jaquori McLaughlin who can light up the box score (16.2 PPG, 40% 3PT).
No. 13 Ohio
The Bobcats won the MAC to get into the tournament for the first time since 2012. They were a 13 seed then too and made a run to the Sweet 16. Repeat this time around? Well, they certainly have the offensive firepower (80.3 PPG, 29th in efficiency) with five players averaging double figures. The question is defensively where they gave up 73.3 PPG.
No. 14 Eastern Washington
The Eagles last tournament appearance was in 2015 with high-scoring guard Tyler Harvey leading the way. This time around, the offense is more evenly spread but the tempo is among the fastest in the nation (28th in Ken Pom). That clashes with their opponent, the Jayhawks, who are on the slower side (186th). Could they pull the upset? Depends what the Kansas squad that shows up in Indy looks like following the COVID pause last week.
No. 15 Grand Canyon
Welcome to the tournament to the Antelopes. The first time dancing for GCU after making the jump to Division I in 2013. Unlike many of the smaller schools, the Lopes are led by a pair of towering big men in Asbjorn Midtgaard (7' 270) and Alessandro Lever (6'10" 235). That size will be needed against Iowa and center Luka Garza. The 'Lopes play at one of the country's slower paces while Iowa is in the Top 100 in that category. Watching that play out will be fun.
No. 16 Norfolk State/No. 16 Appalachian State
The champs of the MEAC and Sun Belt respectively. A big accomplishment for both teams as Norfolk State was last in the tournament in 2012 when they upset 2-seed Missouri. Appalachian State is back for the first time since 2000. The Mountaineers are looking for their first ever tournament win which could come in First Four action. Either way, the reward is playing Gonzaga.
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