Plenty of storylines before NCAA Tournament hits Las Vegas
Southern Nevada will host the West Regional semifinal and final, but here are some things to watch over the tournament’s first week of games.
It’s your turn, Las Vegas.
Your very own One Shining Moment.
The NCAA Tournament is coming to Southern Nevada when T-Mobile Arena hosts the men’s West Regional semifinals and final on March 23 and 25.
That’s right. A college basketball Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
But before such a party commences, an entire week of games across four regions must be decided. As usual, the bracket is full of compelling storylines.
In honor of Las Vegas welcoming a regional, here are some to keep an eye on:
L is for look out for small-school names and big-time games. Oral Roberts definitely qualifies and is good enough to repeat its Sweet 16 run of two years ago. Max Abmas is one of the best guards in this tournament. Also watch the likes of Charleston, which is 31-3 and meets San Diego State in the first round; the best of the lot is arguably Florida Atlantic and its 31 wins.
A is for a scary Gonzaga team. Mostly because the Zags aren’t, as in recent times, considered by some a legitimate title contender. Which might make them more dangerous than ever. A 3 seed in the West, the Zags have one of the event’s best players in Drew Timme, the school’s all-time leading scorer who averages 20 points and seven rebounds this season. Also keep an eye on former Liberty High star Julian Strawther.
S is for shredding of brackets. Good luck in your office pool figuring out this latest edition of 68 teams. There really is no clear-cut favorite to win it all. Houston is the second No. 1 overall seed and might be without star Marcus Sasser (groin). He will at least be hobbling a bit. UCLA will get some love as a possible finalist, but the Bruins are without defensive key Jaylen Clark (leg). Even a No. 1 seed in Kansas has its coach (Bill Self) dealing with a heart issue. Forget about just picking those 5-12 upsets. Underdogs could be winning all over the bracket. Suggestion: Fill out yours in pencil and have an eraser nearby.
V is for victory and which teams will advance to the Final Four. The picks: UCLA, Texas, Alabama and Marquette.
E is for extremely tough for Kansas to repeat. The committee sure made things difficult on the defending national champions, putting the Jayhawks in the bracket’s toughest region out west. Should seeds play out, Kansas would have to defeat Howard, Arkansas, Connecticut and UCLA to advance to the Final Four. And we didn’t even mention the likes of Gonzaga lurking in the bottom half of the region.
G is for good on the Mountain West. The conference sends four teams — San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State and UNR — into the tournament for a second straight year. That makes 21 bids for the Mountain West since 2013. The league champion Aztecs have the highest seed as a 5 in the South Region, while Boise State and Utah State were awarded 10s and UNR will deal with Arizona State in a First Four game as an 11 seed.
A is for a most dominating player in the draw. That would be Purdue center Zach Edey. He carried Purdue through the Big Ten season and tournament, but how will that translate to the NCAAs? It’s a near-impossible scout for opponents because nobody has the kind of 7-foot-4-inch inside presence that Edey is.
S is for sleeper. Think of Miami. It’s a 5 seed in the Midwest Region and has the type of skilled guards who win in March. Isaiah Wong is a senior who heads such a group as the team’s leader in scoring and assists. Remember, Miami was a No. 10 seed that found itself in the Elite Eight last year. If the injured Norchad Omier — he departed an ACC Tournament game against Duke — is healthy, Miami has its needed big and another deep run in it.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.