Now that the full field of 68 has been released and Gonzaga has rightfully earned the No. 1 overall seed, it becomes time to take a closer look at who the Zags could face in the West region.
The Bulldogs’ first opponent will be determined by the winner of the First Four play-in game between Norfolk State and Appalachian State. The NSU Spartans are 16-7 on the year and punched their ticket after winning the MEAC tournament championship. This is their first NCAA tournament since 2012, when they pulled off a memorable 15-over-2 upset of Missouri. Appalachian State, meanwhile, won four games in as many days to claim the Sun Belt championship as the fourth seed. The 17-11 Mountaineers are in the tournament for the first time since 2000.
There are many other potential matchups of note in the West. Assuming the Zags advance past their 16-seed opponent in the opening round, they will take on either No. 8 Oklahoma or No. 9 Missouri. Both of these teams struggled down the stretch, combining to lose ten of their final thirteen games. The Sooners went 3-2 against Kansas and West Virginia in Big 12 play, including two wins over the Mountaineers, so far the only team Gonzaga hasn’t beaten by double digits. Missouri, meanwhile features two 14-point-a-game scorers in the backcourt as well as center Jeremiah Tilmon, who averages 12 points and nearly a block and a half per game. A potential matchup between Drew Timme and the 6-10, 260 pound Tilmon would be something to watch for if Missouri advances.
The three names that stand out in this region, however, come in the form of the second, third, and fourth seeds. Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia all managed to get into the same side of the bracket as GU, and a rematch with at least one of these teams is almost bound to happen. So how have these three fared since their matchups with the Zags?
Iowa comes in as the No. 2 seed in the West with a 21-8 record on the season. They are once again led by player of the year candidate Luka Garza, who leads the team in scoring, rebounds, and field goal percentage. The Hawkeyes finished 14-6 in the Big Ten, good enough for third in the conference, and won eight of their final ten games before bowing out to eventual conference champs Illinois in the tournament semifinals. Gonzaga remains the only loss for Iowa this season outside of the gauntlet that was the Big Ten, so this could be quite the Elite Eight matchup if both teams advance.
The Hawkeyes share the bottom half of the West bracket with No. 3 Kansas. KU comes in at 20-8 overall, and 12-6 in conference. After falling to the Zags in the opening game of the season way back in November, the Jayhawks went unbeaten in the rest of nonconference, including wins over Creighton and Kentucky. Despite losing five of seven in the middle of Big 12 play, they were still the second seed in the conference tourney. However, positive COVID tests forced them to withdraw. It was announced that three players will not be traveling to Indianapolis for the first weekend of the tournament, and it remains to be seen whether or not Kansas will be at full strength should they advance.
The 4th seed in the West and possible Sweet 16 matchup for Gonzaga comes in the form of the Virginia Cavaliers. The ACC’s regular season champions fell to Georgia Tech in the conference title game and lost three of their final five games in the regular season. Somehow, things managed to get worse for Tony Bennett’s team as most of the roster has been forced to quarantine due to contact tracing for COVID-19. Even if they are able to play in the first round, they will not be able to travel to Indy until Friday. The Cavaliers are also scheduled to face a popular upset pick in 13-seed Ohio in the opening round, so another meeting with the Zags is far from certain.
The full slate of first round matchups in the West region looks like this:
- #1 Gonzaga vs. #16 NSU/ASU
- #8 Oklahoma vs. #9 Missouri
- #5 Creighton vs. #12 UC Santa Barbara
- #4 Virginia vs. #13 Ohio
- #6 USC vs. #11 Wichita St./Drake
- #3 Kansas vs. #14 Eastern Washington
- #7 Oregon vs. #10 VCU
- #2 Iowa vs. #15 Grand Canyon
It’s finally time folks. Fill out your brackets, get your work excuses ready, and, as always, Go Zags.