NCAA Tournament Preview: West Region

No. 16 NC Central/Texas Southern vs. No. 1 Xavier

This could be the best team Chris Mack has coached at Xavier. Rugged and talented, the Musketeers have every trait needed to make a deep run into March. Fortunately for Mack, the team has been gifted a rather easy region.

However, before we analyze a potential date with Missouri or Florida State, Xavier must get past one of NC Central or Texas Southern. This shouldn’t be much of a challenge — particularly with Trevon Bluiett playing like one of the best players in the country.

Winner: Xavier

No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida State

This is a highly intriguing game. Missouri and Florida State are both equipped with depth and athleticism across the board. Each program looks to wear out its opponent by consistently shuttling players in-and-out from the sidelines. Missouri is the better defensive team — whereas Florida State scores more efficiently .

The teams also mirror each other in terms of possessing lead guards (Kassius Robertson, Terance Mann) to go along with productive forwards (Jordan Barnett, Phil Cofer). When further delving into the analytics, a few things bode well for Mizzou in this game. For one, Missouri ranks No. 25 in opponents’ field-goal percentage. Florida State ranks No. 68 in the same category.

Additionally, the Porter brothers make a world of difference. They are the two-best pro prospects for either team. Michael Porter may not be 100-percent, but he was able to get some minutes leading up to the NCAA Tournament. With another week of practice, he should be even sharper against the Seminoles.

Winner: Missouri

No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State

Watch out for the Dauminator!

Many are picking Ohio State to get upset in this contest — and for good reason. South Dakota State is No. 1 in the country in not turning the ball over, as the Jackrabbits average only 12 turnovers per 100 possessions. Duly, the team ranks No. 9 nationally in offensive efficiency — a mark clearly aided by Mike ‘The Dauminator’ Daum. The 6’9″ forward averaged 23.8 PPG and 10.4 RPG this season. Not only can he score around the basket, but he also shoots a blistering 42.1-percent from three-point range. Lastly, SDSU has won 19 of its last 20 games.

As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have lost three of their last five games. OSU struggles in both scoring the basketball (No. 115 nationally) and in rebounding (No. 107 nationally). The team also shoots a pedestrian 35.3-percent from beyond the arc.

Simply put, this game screams ‘upset’.

Winner: South Dakota State

No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro

Though Gonzaga made it to the National Championship Game in 2017, this year’s team may be collectively better top-to-bottom. For one, it’s a more athletic group. Forwards Killian Tillie, Johnathan Williams, and Rui Hachimura can all run the floor, block shots, and score around the rim. Veteran guards Silas Melson and Josh Perkins have been joined by talented freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. The Chicago native may be the most talented guard to play at the school in roughly a decade.

Defensively, Gonzaga is a respectable No. 19 nationally in field-goal percentage defense. The ‘Zags also only allow 67.1 points per contest, and are a top-15 team in rebounds per game. When looking at the bigger scope of things, Gonzaga lost three games this year by a total of 11 points (including a double-overtime thriller versus Florida). As such, this team was extremely close to finishing with a 33-1 record.

Winner: Gonzaga

No. 11 San Diego State vs. No. 6 Houston

San Diego State is a trendy to pick to upend Houston in a classic 6/11 tilt. However, we should pump the breaks before jettisoning the Aztecs on to the round of 32. Yes, their dismantling of Nevada in the Mountain West semifinals was impressive. Wins during the season versus Nevada (again), Georgia, and Gonzaga are certainly noteworthy achievements. With all of this said, SDSU doesn’t match-up well with Houston.

The Cougars are well-coached, and have proven throughout the season to have elite defensive capabilities. Houston ranks No. 8 nationally in field-goal percentage defense. Kelvin Sampson’s team is also a top-30 club in rebounds per game and points allowed. Diminutive guards Rob Gray and Corey Davis Jr. combine for 32 PPG. San Diego State struggles to shoot from beyond the arc (33.9-percent). As a result, Houston should be able to clamp down on the Aztecs — showcasing the defensive skill that led to victories over Wichita State, Cincinnati, Arkansas, and Providence.

Winner: Houston

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 14 Montana

The Wolverines enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the field. Led by the efforts of Moe Wagner, Michigan hoisted the Big Ten Tournament Championship trophy. Unlike some of John Beilein’s teams in the past, this group can defend exceptionally well. The Wolverines allow only 63.5 points per game — a mark registered within the top-10 nationally.

Montana relies heavily upon the guard duo of Los Angeles native Michael Oguine and former Oregon transfer Ahmaad Rorie. Both are quick, dynamic, and can cause problems when penetrating the lane. This could ultimately be a better game than people realize, though Michigan should win largely because the Grizzlies have no answer for Wagner.

Winner: Michigan

No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence

Texas A&M underachieved relative to their talent level this season. The frontcourt trio of Robert Williams, D.J. Hogg, and Tyler Davis is as good as one will find in the country. However, injuries and inconsistency led to the Aggies finishing in the bottom-half of the SEC. A lack of depth and talent in the backcourt has hindered Texas A&M versus better competition.

On the other hand, Providence’s potency on the offensive end of the floor sits squarely with its lineup of guards. Alpha Diallo, Isaiah Jackson, and Jalen Lindsey are all big, long guards. Kyron Cartwright is a slithery option leading the team in assists. Lastly, leading scorer Rodney Bullock sets the tone down low in the post.

Neither team has set the proverbial world on fire in recent weeks. Texas A&M is a fantastic rebounding team, and Providence surely will have to be tough on the boards to have any chance in this contest. The Friars’ collective pedigree — coupled with overall experience (wins over Xavier Villanova, Butler, Creighton) should will Ed Cooley’s team to a razor-thin victory over the bigger Aggies.

Winner: Providence

No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Lipscomb

The Tar Heels are a bit of a perplexing bunch. At times, North Carolina looks good enough to win the National Championship. Then again… Roy Williams’ team also appears to be one without much of an identity on either side of the floor. This is the same squad who’s beaten Duke, Michigan, Ohio State, Arkansas, Miami, Clemson and Davidson. It’s also one that lost to Wofford at home.

North Carolina should have absolutely no problem with the Bisons of Lipscomb. Though Garrison Matthews is a threat (averaging 22.1 PPG), the team as a whole shoots only 33.1-percent from three. For any Cinderella hoping to knock off the bully on the block, shooting the three-ball well seems like a prerequisite for accomplishing such a feat.

Winner: North Carolina 

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