One of my favorite columns to write each year comes just hours before the bracket, when I can still dream that Gonzaga will somehow be setup with the favorable draw that will lead the Zags to their first-ever Final Four. This season, Gonzaga probably had a chance to go as high as a five-seed with a victory over St. Mary's in the WCC Tournament. Instead, it appears that the more likely case will now be that the Zags will be a 7 or 8 seed when the brackets are announced at 3 p.m. When all of you are getting ready to fill out your bracket, be sure to visit the Yahoo Bracket Challenge.
If the Zags end up being in the 7 or 8 seed, there is a group of 8-10 teams that they could reasonably face in the second round. Here are the opponents I would want to see, and why:
Creighton: The Bluejays do have an excellent player in Doug McDermott, and I'm sure many of you are having flashbacks back to Stephen Curry carrying Davidson deep in the tournament. However, one thing the Bluejays don't do is play defense. This Gonzaga team has enough different guys, ranging from Elias Harris, to Guy Landry-Edi to Mike Hart that it would be possible to make McDermott uncomfortable and force his teammates to beat you. Antoine Young and Grant Gibbs are both valuable contributors, but I think Gonzaga would have too many offensive options for the Blue Jays to keep up.
Kansas St.: The Wildcats are a strong defensive team that won some impressive games late in the season. However, this isn't a team that has the talent to win games when it isn't playing at its best. Rodney McGruder is an excellent player that has improved every year. However, he is also the kind of guy that GBJ has proven to make uncomfortable throughout the season. Kansas St. is also wildly inconsistent, as highlighted by wins over Baylor and Missouri and being swept by Oklahoma.
Harvard: The Crimson have been a great story, earning their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1946. However, when you actually look at their resume for signature wins, the only victory that really jumps off the table is a 46-41 victory over a Florida St. team that didn't hit its stride until ACC play. The only other victory over an NCAA Tournament opponent was against Vermont, which is not an easy place to win. This isn't a great offensive team, and I think they would have trouble keeping up with Gonzaga.
Who I don't want to see:
UNLV: Despite a late season swoon, there is no way I want to see the Rebels in the opening round. This team pushes the tempo and when it gets hot from behind the arc, UNLV can be nearly impossible to guard. While they have struggled away from Vegas, this is a team that beat UNC, New Mexico, San Diego St., Nevada and Cal during the regular-season.
Saint Louis: If there is one coach I don't want to face when he has nearly a week to prepare, it's Rick Majerus. This Saint Louis team executes his offense to near perfection, and has five guys that can score from the perimeter. Three different guys average in double-figures, and on the defensive end, this is one of the best groups in the country. Majerus has proven tournament success and is one of the best in the business when it comes to preparing for an opponent.
VCU: Do any of you remember the NCAA Tournament last season? There was a team in the Final Four that pressed nearly the entire game, lit it up from the perimeter and got hot at the right time of year. Unfortunately for whoever has to face VCU, it seems the Rams are playing by the same script this season. As much as I love GBJ and Kevin Pangos, I don't want to see our freshman guards have to try and handle the aggressiveness and tenacity of the VCU pressure defense. The Rams have won 17 of 18 entering the tournament and this is a group that knows how to win and has one of the best young coaches in college basketball.
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