2017 NCAA Tournament Preview: West Region

March 15, 2017

The West Region can be accurately characterized as the region where unfilled potential is in no short supply.

The coaches of the top three seeds (Gonzaga, Arizona, Florida State) have throughout their careers been wildly successful as a whole, yet none of them have ever lead their team to the Final Four. Bob Huggins, head coach of the No. 4 West Virginia Mountaineers, has been to more NCAA Tournaments than any other active coach without making a national title game.

One would think 2017 is the year where something has got to give. With so much talent on the first seed lines, conventional wisdom would say that one of these four coaches will finally break through and achieve what has eluded them for the entirety of their illustrious coaching careers. But several landmines are planted within this region, ready to blow it up for the favorites at a moment’s notice.

Gonzaga is perhaps the most scrutinized team in the Tournament this season. No one wants to give them full credit for what they have achieved, yet everyone acknowledges that the talent is there to run the table. What will it be for the Bulldogs?

Let’s take a closer look at the West Region to help us find out.

First Round Games to Watch

#7 Saint Mary’s vs. #10 Virginia Commonwealth (Thursday, 7:20 PM ET)

The Gaels may not have a lot of sexy victories to flaunt, but they are still being regarded as one of the most underseeded teams in the Tournament. They’ll have a chance to prove that against the Atlantic 10’s resident bully for the 2016-2017 regular season, VCU. The Rams will look to feed it inside frequently, where 250 pound Mo Alie-Cox and 240 pound Justin Tillman have been able to muscle their way to the basket all season. Saint Mary’s is tough, though, with seven players on the roster from Australia, most notably 6’11”, 255 pound junior Jock Landale.

Landale is bigger and more refined than VCU’s bears, which could be a problem for the Rams. When Tillman and Alie-Cox got into foul trouble this season, the Rams were a different team offensively. Don’t be surprised if the Gaels employ a strategy of slashing to the basket to try and get those two to commit early infractions. If they can do so, it may be a relatively easy victory for Saint Mary’s. VCU defends the basket well, though, so the chances of the Gaels running away with things even if they lose their bigs doesn’t seem likely.

#3 Florida State vs. #14 Florida Gulf Coast (Thursday, 9:20 PM ET)

Dunk City returns to the tournament for the second time since that magical run in 2013 and is poised to do some damage once again. Talented offensively, the Eagles had the fifth best field goal percentage in the country during the regular season and feature four players that average double-digits in scoring. Brandon Goodwin, a transfer from UCF, will return to his hometown to take on the Seminoles, which could provide a bit of motivation for a player whose future in college basketball once seemed in doubt.

Florida State will be a very tough team to beat, however. The Seminoles have been mediocre over their last 10 games, but are the tallest team in the country and shoot the ball almost as well as the Eagles. Although Florida Gulf Coast probably won’t see the seven foot towers for more than about 10 minutes apiece, there will still be a size difference between these two squads for most of the game. The Eagles haven’t lost the carefree way of playing that delighted fans four seasons ago, however, and fundamentally are better. It would certainly be something if the underdogs were able to beat a major Florida school in Orlando.

Team That Could Make a Run

Notre Dame

I used to be wary of choosing the Fighting Irish to go very far in the NCAA Tournament, but recently Mike Brey coached teams have done particularly well in March. If Notre Dame plays the way it did the last month of the regular season, it is a squad capable of making it to a third straight trip to the Elite Eight. This team plays smart, with good guard play and seven players that aren’t afraid to take a shot from behind the arc.

Notre Dame gets the most out of its personnel, which is important considering the region the Fighting Irish were dealt. Although only 6’5″, Bonzie Colson averages a double-double with over 10 rebounds per game, meaning that this team won’t be intimidated by teams like Gonzaga that possess a ton of size. Teams like West Virginia, a likely second round opponent, will think twice before pressing an experienced backcourt that can burn Huggy Bear’s often overzealous defense and turnover prone offense. If the Fighting Irish survive the first weekend, they’re as likely as any to reach Phoenix given the way they play.

My Picks

First Round

#1 Gonzaga over #16 South Dakota State

#8 Northwestern over #9 Vanderbilt

#5 Notre Dame over #12 Princeton

#4 West Virginia over #13 Bucknell

#11 Xavier over #6 Maryland (upset alert)

#14 Florida Gulf Coast over #3 Florida State (upset alert)

#7 Saint Mary’s over #10 Virginia Commonwealth

#2 Arizona over #15 North Dakota

Second Round

#1 Gonzaga over #8 Northwestern

#5 Notre Dame over #4 West Virginia

#14 Florida Gulf Coast over #11 Xavier (upset alert)

#2 Arizona over #7 Saint Mary’s

Sweet 16

#5 Notre Dame over #1 Gonzaga (upset alert)

#2 Arizona over #14 Florida Gulf Coast

Elite 8

#2 Arizona over #5 Notre Dame

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