2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: West Region

March 15, 2018
By K. Becks

To say that the West Region is wide open is the understatement of the Tournament prior to it kicking off.

A No. 1 seed no one is quite sold on? Check. Tough middle tier seeds that have a legitimate shot to make it to the Final Four? Check. Plenty of teams riding a hot streak coming into the Big Dance? Check.

If you’re the kind of person that likes to pick one region to store all of your mad predictions, this would be the one to choose. No one is safe in the wild West.

Let’s take a closer look at the West Region.

Round of 64 Games to Watch

#5 Ohio State vs. #12 South Dakota State (Thursday, approximately 4 PM ET)

Fans in Columbus that don’t know the name Mike Daum yet will definitely become acquainted come Thursday afternoon, and they make not be the biggest fans come evening time. Daum runs a statline (23 points, 10 rebounds and 40 percent from three) that only one other player in the last 20 years – one Kevin Durant – has achieved. The junior is also 6’9″, 250 pounds, meaning that he’s a matchup problem for almost every team he faces. The Buckeyes have struggled this season against teams with one or two dominant players but have done a good job overall playing good help defense. They’ll need to show that in this game as Daum will require extra attention.

Ohio State has a stud of its own in Keita Bates-Diop, who gives the Buckeyes a go-to guy if this one is tight in the final minutes. Help from elsewhere on the floor would be welcomed by the Buckeye faithful as Bates-Diop had begun to cool off near the end of the regular season and Big Ten tournament time, but some of that may have been due to a compressed schedule that left him and the rest of the team gassed. The longer layoff for Ohio State thanks to an early conference tournament may have done wonders for the team, but the Jackrabbits are a real danger to end Chris Holtmann’s surprisingly successful first season as head coach.

#6 Houston vs. #11 San Diego State (Thursday, 7:20 PM ET)

Both of these teams are coming into the Tournament hot, which should result in an exciting game. The Cougars narrowly missed raising the AAC Tournament trophy, falling to Cincinnati in the final seconds. San Diego State stormed through the Mountain West tournament despite coming in as a five seed and raised eyebrows with a convincing victory overĀ  top seeded Nevada in the semifinals. The Aztecs have to be feeling confident after that result as well as the return of senior guard Trey Kell, who dazzled in the tournament final against New Mexico, dropping 28 points.

The Cougars are very well coach under Kelvin Sampson, who is making his first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2007. Houston holds opponents to the eighth lowest shooting percentage in the country while San Diego State is a decent shooting team, so the battle of strengths should be an interesting one. In the end, the 6 vs. 11 matchup has been as likely as any in the NCAA Tournament as of late to witness an upset and there appears to be little to separate these two teams.

Team That Could Make a Run

Providence

Ed Cooley has done a magnificent job at Providence, taking the Friars to the NCAA Tournament in five of his seven seasons with the program including each of the last four. The fact that Cooley has turned what is not truly known as a basketball school into one that is almost expected to make the Tournament each year is just amazing. The only tragic thing about it is that outside of the inner college basketball circle, Cooley is grossly underrated as a coach. However, 2018 may be the year that Cooley, and the Friars, finally are paid their due. The team has all the pieces necessary to make a real tourney run for the first time in over 20 years.

The backcourt is as solid as any in the Tournament, led by senior Kyron Cartwright and two 6’7″ guard/forwards Alpha Diallo and Jalen Lindsey. This length on the perimeter allows the Friars to play at a slower pace than teams like North Carolina, for example, that could very realistically end up being the second round opponent for Providence. However, the Friars are experienced enough to stick to their game plan and not be forced into a transition battle that they don’t want to engage in. Two seasons ago Providence had the opportunity to take down the top seeded Tar Heels in the Big Dance and it did not go well. If the Friars are given a similar chance in the 2018 Tournament, expect a much more competitive game.

My Picks

First Round

#1 Xavier over #16 Texas Southern

#8 Missouri over #9 Florida State

#5 Ohio State over #12 South Dakota State

#4 Gonzaga over #13 UNC Greensboro

#11 San Diego State over #6 Houston (upset alert)

#3 Michigan over #14 Montana

#10 Providence over #7 Texas A&M

#2 North Carolina over #15 Lipscomb

Second Round

#1 Xavier over #8 Missouri

#4 Gonzaga over #5 Ohio State

#3 Michigan over #11 San Diego State

#2 North Carolina over #10 Providence

Sweet 16

#4 Gonzaga over #1 Xavier (upset alert)

#2 North Carolina over #3 Michigan

Elite 8

#2 North Carolina over #4 Gonzaga

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