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NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: West

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Gonzaga gets their chance to silence the critics with their first ever number one seed.

NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: West

March Madness really begins tomorrow when the Round of 64 kicks off with 16 games. Before that, we have to wait through the First Four games and continue to fret over our brackets. Before the NCAA Tournament really kicks off, we'll take a look at each region of the bracket and then go through pick by pick until we find a winner. Let's finish up with the West Region.

Overview:

The Gonzaga Bulldogs reached greater heights as a program this season than they ever have. They finished with their best record in school history (31-2), they became the first team in the WCC to go 16-0 (now that there are nine teams), they rose to the number one ranking in the AP and Coaches polls for the first time in school history, and also received their first ever number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But that will all mean squat in the eyes of the country if Gonzaga again falters in the tournament. Gonzaga has yet to advance past the Sweet 16 under head coach Mark Few, and even if the West Region isn't stacked with tons of talent, there are plenty of road blocks that could trip up Gonzaga as they look to head to their first Final Four. Ohio State is one of the hottest teams in the country, New Mexico was the top team in the top RPI conference (Mountain West), Kansas State has improved since dropping to Gonzaga earlier in the year and Wisconsin is a dangerous team as a five seed. This is as good a chance as Gonzaga will have to get to the Final Four, but they will definitely have to earn it.

Upset Lock:

I don't actually see any upsets as being locks in the second round, but a popular one is Belmont over Arizona. The Wildcats are loaded with talent, but they haven't been able to really put things together for long stretches of time. Belmont is an explosive team that can score with anyone and is incredibly dangerous as an 11 seed, but I still like Arizona's chances. 

Another place to look would be the winner tonight's Boise St./La Salle game (which I think will be La Salle, by the way) against Kansas State. Both of those teams flew under the radar and could give Bruce Weber's team a scare.

Juiciest Potential Matchup:

The only way Ole Miss and Ohio State could potentially meet is in the Elite Eight, but how incredible would it be to watch Marshall Henderson against Aaron Craft? Both players are aggravators, but for different reasons. Craft is one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation whose tenacious, physical defense can disrupt the headiest of guards. Henderson is one of the craziest players in the nation who is constantly running off ball screens to get looks from the perimeter and won't shy away from telling his opposition and their fans about how he is doing.

The game itself wouldn't be much of a contest, but watching Craft get in Henderson's grill on defense and then the eventual sparks fly between the two would be spectacular. It's an incredible longshot to happen, but crazier things have happened.

Bold Prediction:

I think it is almost bold nowadays to predict that Gonzaga will indeed make it to the Final Four. Everyone is riding high on how well Ohio State has played of late and the competition they are doing it against. At the same time, the same old arguments are being made against the Zags: They haven't played anyone! They are only number one because other teams lost! They play in a weak conference, that's only going to hurt them!

If that's your opinion sure. But if you haven't watched a Gonzaga game this year, you have missed one of the most balanced teams in the country. Gonzaga can score inside effectively with All-American center Kelly Olynyk and stud senoir Elias Harris. They can torch you from the perimeter with shooters like Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Drew Barham. They aren't as sound defensively, but this is a much better unit on that end of the floor than in recent years. The roster is also deeper than most would think, with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes a game. Mark Few has a skilled team with veteran players that seems like it was built for March, and they might end up surprising people who haven't been paying attention.

12 over 5?

I don't see Ole Miss taking down Wisconsin, especially with how stout their defense is, but watching Marshall Henderson try for the upset sure is going to be enjoyable. I could realistically see Bo Ryan and Henderson coming to blows at some point in the game.

Potential "Bracket Buster":

If Harvard hadn't been matched up with New Mexico, they would be a prime candidate for a first round upset. But like in the South, Pittsburgh is a dangerous team as an eight seed because of their ability to defend. If they can get you out of your rhythm and force you to play their style of game, Pitt can play with anyone. Ken Pomeroy has them ranked seventh in his adjusted rankings, just three spots behind Gonzaga, and have predicted a lot of success in the tournament. Jamie Dixon's Panthers are no ordinary eight seed, that's for sure.

Player to Watch:

Deshaun Thomas had himself a nice tournament last year, but this year he has played an even more vital role on offense for Ohio State. Without Jared Sullinger, Thomas has improved his scoring (19.5) and rebounding (6.2) for a Buckeyes team that has at times struggled on offense. Thomas can score in so many ways, too, and his versatility is a real weapon for Ohio State. Thomas can exploit smaller players in the post and stretch the floor when matched up against bigger players. He is probably the toughest matchup in the region, and he's Ohio State's one big advantage.

Honorable Mention: Tony Snell, New Mexico

The Pick: Gonzaga

I think too much has gone right this year for the Zags for them to have a let-down in the tournament. This team is tested, mature, and more than capable of achieving the one thing that has eluded them during Mark Few's tenure: a trip to the Final Four.

Don't miss out on the madness! Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see your the 2013 NCAA Tournament!


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