NCAA Tournament West Region breakdown

Updated March 14, 2018 - 10:01 pm

Quick Hits

1. Xavier (28-5). Despite the program’s success through the years, this is its first No. 1 seed. The Musketeers have 27 wins in the NCAA Tournament, the most for a school without a Final Four appearance. Led by superstar Trevon Bluiett, they have all the ingredients to end that drought.

2. North Carolina (25-10). Roy Williams has one of the nation’s best rebounding teams and one with plenty of postseason experience despite losing several key pieces from last year’s national championship team. The Tar Heels will go as far as Joel Berry II and Luke Maye take them.

3. Michigan (28-7). The Wolverines might have been playing better than anyone else in the country when they won the Big Ten Tournament almost two weeks ago. It remains to be seen whether the layoff will affect them. John Beilein might be the nation’s best offensive coach, and this year’s team plays defense.

4. Gonzaga (30-4). The Bulldogs lost several key pieces from last year’s national runner-up, yet Mark Few again has his team ready to make a run. The Zags have an experienced backcourt and versatile and athletic frontcourt.

5. Ohio State (24-8). Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this Buckeyes’ season is that Chris Holtmann can coach. He took a team projected to finish in the bottom five of the conference and almost won a title. The Buckeyes appeared to tire at the end of the season, but they might be rejuvenated by the long layoff since the Big Ten Tournament.

6. Houston (26-7). Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars back in the field for the first time since 2010. His team has learned to adjust its style, as it can now win even if an opponent slows the pace.

7. Texas A&M (20-12). Billy Kennedy’s squad entered conference play expecting to win more games, but the Aggies endured a tough stretch that saw them tumble from the top 5 in the nation after an 11-1 start. They still have a massive front line that can be dominant on defense and the boards. It wouldn’t be shocking if they made a run or were eliminated in the first round.

8. Missouri (20-12). Michael Porter Jr. made an unexpected return for the Southeastern Conference Tournament after undergoing back surgery at the start of the season and could give the Tigers a huge boost if he plays near his enormous potential. The Tigers will be missing Jordan Barnett (13.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), who was suspended for one game after a DWI arrest.

9. Florida State (20-11). A typical Leonard Hamilton team that goes 10 deep and tries to use its depth and athleticism to win games on the defensive end. The Seminoles probably need to find a way to make outside shots to be a factor beyond the first round.

10. Providence (21-13). The Friars are capable of beating anyone in the field, with two wins over Xavier and one over Villanova. But it’s the same team that lost to Massachusetts and DePaul. Ed Cooley’s team usually defends well enough to stay in games. It will need Kyron Cartwright to be a star.

11. San Diego State (22-10). The Aztecs showed their late-season surge is for real with a run through the Mountain West Tournament that included a blowout win over UNR. It took awhile for the team to find its identity under first-year coach Brian Dutcher, but Trey Kell is as healthy as he’s probably going to get and Malik Pope has shown flashes of the potential that had him in the discussion to be a first-round pick after his freshman year.

12. South Dakota State (28-6). The Jackrabbits are one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams thanks largely to their ability to hit from the outside. They are particularly dangerous when they make 3s early and force defenses to extend, thus opening driving lanes. This is the fifth tournament appearance in seven years.

13. UNC-Greensboro (27-7). Wes Miller’s Spartans lock down on the defensive end. Sharpshooting junior Francis Alonso will need help on offense.

14. Montana (26-7). The Grizzlies are a backcourt-dominated, defensive-minded team. That can be successful in the tournament, but Montana might not have enough outside shooting to pull an early upset. This might be a good opportunity for Travis DeCuire’s team, which starts four juniors, to gain valuable experience for next season.

15. Lipscomb (23-9). The Bisons’ performance in the Atlantic Sun championship game saw them at their best and worst. After building a 32-point lead, Lipscomb squandered almost all of it when Kenny Cooper got into foul trouble and it couldn’t so much as get the ball across halfcourt for long stretches against the Florida Gulf Coast press. The Bisons don’t start a senior and can score from the outside, the post or on drives.

16. North Carolina Central (19-15). The Eagles are strong on the boards, and junior Raasean Davis scores 15.0 points per game on 67 percent shooting.

16. Texas Southern (15-19). Coach Mike Davis leads his team into the tournament for the second straight year after starting 0-13 and not playing a home game until January. The treacherous schedule prepared the Tigers for Southwestern Athletic Conference play and a dominant league tournament run.

Four players to watch

Killian Tillie, Gonzaga: The forward is on a ridiculous run, having hit 15 of his last 17 3-point shots.

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State: The forward emerged as one of the nation’s more impressive offensive players, averaging 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds.

Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: One of the most impressive talents in college basketball, Porter made a surprise return for the SEC Tournament after playing just two minutes all season. He’s a top 10 pick in the NBA draft and probably won’t be eased back into action with the absence of suspended Jordan Barnett.

Mike Daum, South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits will be a popular upset pick, and “The Dauminator” is a major reason. At a sturdy 6 feet 9 inches tall, Daum can make shots from anywhere on the floor and shoots almost 90 percent from the free-throw line. He will be a household name if they survive the weekend.

Three best potential matchups

Xavier vs. Gonzaga, Sweet 16: Two programs that have risen from midmajor status to college basketball elite.

Michigan vs. North Carolina, Sweet 16: It’s a safe bet someone on the Michigan sideline would be assigned the task of keeping track of how many timeouts the Wolverines have remaining.

Gonzaga vs. North Carolina, Elite 8: It seems like just last year that these teams were playing for the national championship.

Two bracket busters

South Dakota State: Mike Daum has plenty of help around him. This probably will be the upset picked on so many brackets that it’s almost worth it to pick against them.

San Diego State: The Aztecs are playing their best basketball and have a somewhat favorable matchup against Houston. A win potentially sets up a second-round game for coach Brian Dutcher against Michigan, where he was an assistant under Steve Fisher.

One left standing

Michigan: John Beilein, one of the best coaches in the country, has his team peaking, including on the defensive end, where the Wolverines have traditionally struggled.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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