2024 NCAA Tournament Preview: West Region

March 21, 2024

Let’s preview the West Region.

First Round Games That Could Go Either Way

#8 Michigan State vs. #9 Mississippi State (Thursday, approximately 12:15 PM ET – CBS)

Tom Izzo may have the pedigree in March, but Chris Jans has put together an incredibly scrappy team at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are experienced, apart from freshman guard Josh Hubbard, who conveniently happens to be the team’s best scorer and has had a hot hand as of late. It would be a disappointment if this game was anything but a single digit battle right down to the end, but in Around The Corn’s opinion, only one of these teams is set up well to handle a potential second round matchup with North Carolina.

#5 Saint Mary’s vs. #12 Grand Canyon (Friday, approximately 10:05 PM ET – TruTV)

The Lopes will look to earn their first Division I NCAA Tournament victory in the classic 5 vs. 12 matchup against the West Coast Conference’s other juggernaut, after falling to Gonzaga in the 2023 Big Dance. Unlike the ‘Zags from a year ago, the Gaels will likely want to keep the pace of this game slow and limit the opportunities for Grand Canyon’s Tyon Grant-Foster, one of the region’s most exciting players and most interesting stories. If Grant-Foster is the most interesting story, what Bryce Drew has managed to do with that program in a relatively short amount of time isn’t far behind.

#4 Alabama vs. #13 Charleston (Friday, approximately 7:35 PM ET – TruTV)

Congratulations to Nate Oats for recently securing the bag, but it would be bulletin board material for the haters if the Crimson Tide were to bow out in the first round of the Tournament following its coach becoming one of the most handsomely paid in the game. Alabama boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country, but Charleston won’t be afraid of a track meet and is good enough from behind the arc to give the Crimson Tide’s suspect defense some real issues.

#6 Clemson vs. #11 New Mexico (Friday, approximately 3:10 PM ET – TruTV)

New Mexico comes into this game as a slight favorite, which should tell you all you need to know about this game’s potential to go either way. The Lobos are riding a high after winning the Mountain West Tournament and have one of the best backcourts in the country as well as NBA talent in the post with JT Toppin. Clemson isn’t flashy but has the talent inside to neutralize Toppin’s effectiveness.

#7 Dayton vs. #10 Nevada (Thursday, approximately 4:30 PM ET – TBS)

The Flyers bring star power with DaRon Holmes II, who would be a handful for any team in the Tournament to stop. Luckily for Nevada, its success this season has been in large part due to strong defensive play and solid backcourt contribution offensively. Both teams hit from a decent clip from behind the arc, and there is no doubt that each will make runs at some point in this game. Expect plenty of lead changes in this one with the final possessions playing a part in determining the victor.

Team That Could Make a Run

Mississippi State

Homer pick? Think again. The Bulldogs have flirted with upsets all season long, which should have been a warning sign for teams like Tennessee and Auburn that lost to or struggled to beat Mississippi State in the SEC tournament. Chris Jans preaches physicality on offense and effort on defense, and his team has responded positively to the philosophy.

The Bulldogs are a group that have played a lot of games together, but is likely to rely on its youngest starter, rising freshman Josh Hubbard, to take the reigns when a big moment is needed. Mississippi State enters Charlotte with some of the game’s blue blood programs, but has the ability to make a deeper run than all of them.

Remember The Name

Josh Hubbard, Mississippi State

Hubbard is the only non-senior comprising Mississippi State’s regular starting five but is arguably still the team’s most important player. When he gets hot, Hubbard’s play is electric. As the SEC’s leader in three pointers made per game, Hubbard has the green light to let it fly for an offense that values good shot selection.

It has been awhile since a fab freshman has taken March by storm, but if the Bulldogs are able to find a way into the Tournament’s second weekend, Hubbard will almost certainly be on the national radar heading into the Sweet 16.

Jaelen House, New Mexico

If you recognize the last name and think, “wow, am I old?”, we’ll spare you the obvious answer. The son of former NBA player Eddie House, Jaelen is the leader of an excellent backcourt for Richard Pitino that according to some pundits has put a few higher seeded teams in the West Region on upset alert.

House’s ability to score the basketball is complemented on the defensive end, where he averages nearly two steals per contest for a Lobos team that ranks in the top 20 nationally in the category.

Around The Corn’s Picks

First Round

#1 North Carolina over #16 Wagner

#8 Mississippi State over #9 Michigan State

#5 Saint Mary’s over #12 Grand Canyon

#13 Charleston over #4 Alabama (upset alert)

#11 New Mexico over #6 Clemson (upset alert)

#3 Baylor over #14 Colgate

#10 Nevada over #7 Dayton (upset alert)

#2 Arizona over #15 Long Beach State

Second Round

#8 Mississippi State over #1 North Carolina (upset alert)

#5 Saint Mary’s over #13 Charleston

#3 Baylor over #11 New Mexico

#2 Arizona over #10 Nevada

Sweet 16

#8 Mississippi State over #5 Saint Mary’s (upset alert)

#2 Arizona over #3 Baylor

Elite 8 #2 Arizona over #8 Mississippi State

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