The Gonzaga Bulldogs snared the No. 4 seed and ended up with probably one of the better paths in the bracket, landing in the West Region. Many people consider the Xavier Musketeers one of the worst No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament this season.
There are also quite a few storylines for Gonzaga in the West Region, and the chance for one of them to be potentially realized rather quickly on Saturday. Gonzaga has the opportunity to face off against the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes, a team Gonzaga beat by 29 points earlier in the year, but also a team that is looking much stronger since.
Then, of course, there is No. 1 seed Xavier, and the No. 2 seed North Carolina Tar Heels. Gonzaga beat Xavier in the Elite Eight last season en route to the first Final Four in school history, and denying the same history for Xavier at the same time. As we all remember, the Zags lost to the Tar Heels in the championship game, so there is the potential for some revenge on both sides of the coin.
Right off the bat, staring at this bracket, it is exciting to dream about another Gonzaga Final Four run. Legitimately, it isn’t necessarily that far fetched. Both Michigan and North Carolina are strong teams, but the Zags can’t possibly face either squad until the Elite Eight. Xavier didn’t accidentally fall in as a No. 1 seed. However, they also are the lowest KenPom ranked No. 1 seed, and actually are ranked lower than Gonzaga.
We are going to hear a lot of chatter about how Gonzaga is one of the dark horse contenders for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Although we have watched this squad rather fitfully struggle at various points of the season, the Zags are rolling at the proper time, emphasized by a 20 point win over BYU in the WCC Tournament championship.
The other big reason for the chatter is the KenPom rankings. Generally speaking, outside of the 2014 UConn outlier, the teams that win the NCAA Tournament have a balanced stellar offense and defense. The Zags are the only team in the West Region that has both an offense and defense ranked within the top 20 by KenPom.
That right there is the big reason to get excited. For as good as Xavier’s offense is—there defense is rather suspect for a No. 1 seed, only ranked No. 59 in the nation. North Carolina suffers from the same issue, with a top flight offense that is backed by a good, but not great, defense.
Of course, it is also called March Madness for a reason. UNC Greensboro isn’t going to be the easiest out. They play a brand of grind out games similar to the horror shows we saw take place against San Diego and Pacific this season. Also, they come in at No. 82 by KenPom, the second highest ranking of the No. 13 seeds by a large spread—nearly 30 spots.
And Ohio State in the second round is hardly going to be a gimme. Spare yourself the “well we beat them before so we’ll beat them again” thought process and just know that the Buckeyes are playing much better basketball since Gonzaga saw them in the first game of the PK80 Invitational. Ohio State owns wins over Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue (on the road against the Boilermakers). Granted, Ohio State lost three times to Penn State this season...
Then there is the potential Xavier matchup in the Sweet 16. Xavier has to be chomping at the bit to face Gonzaga again, and there is no way that Trevon Blueitt, JP Macura, and company have forgotten about the loss last year.
As always, March is the best time of year. We have a few days to stare at the brackets before the Zags take the court on Thursday morning. Enjoy the relative peace and quiet in your sports brains until then.