The NCAA Tournament field has been set, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the top overall seed for the second year in a row. Sixteen other teams make up the West Region, with familiar faces and intriguing stories all down the bracket. So who will the Zags see on a potential trip to the Final Four? Let’s take a look.
Gonzaga will open the festivities against 16-seed Sun Belt champions Georgia State, and are currently a 23.5 favorite to win according to DraftKings. The Panthers have some March lore in their history, after the 2015 GSU team, led by Coach Ron Hunter and his son R.J., upset Baylor in the first round. Coach Hunter has since departed, but the success has continued under Rob Lanier, who leads the team to their third NCAA Tournament appearance in five years. The Panthers have won ten straight games and are led by all-conference third team selections Kane Williams and Corey Allen, the latter of which scored 29 points in the SBC title game.
Assuming the Zags handle Georgia State, they’ll be faced with either #8 Boise State or #9 Memphis. The Mountain West champion Broncos beat San Diego State, 53-52 in the conference title game, winning the MWC championship for the first time in program history. They’re led by the trio of Abu Kigab, Marcus Shaver, Jr. and Emmanuel Akot, who combine for nearly 40 points per game.
The Tigers come in as the ninth seed after falling to Houston in the AAC final. It’s been a rollercoaster season for Penny Hardaway’s squad, who went from a preseason Top-15 team, to off the bubble, back to being firmly in the field. They’ll be without star freshman Emoni Bates due to injury, but still feature 2022 AAC Freshman of the Year and conference first team selection Jalen Duren.
Just like 2021, there will be plenty of rematch potential in the region. Tops on that list is Duke, the #2 seed. The Blue Devils won the ACC regular season title before falling to Virginia Tech in the conference finals. The #8 overall seed, Duke is 2-2 overall in the last four games, and looks more vulnerable than the team that beat the Zags back in the fall. (On a side note, how awesome would it be for the Zags to eliminate Coach K this year?)
Texas Tech is the third seed in the West after running all the way to the Big 12 title game under first year head coach Mark Adams. The nation’s top defensive team according to KenPom, the Red Raiders own quite a few quality wins this season, including two over Baylor. They also have some recent history with the Zags, including the 69-55 Gonzaga win in December and the March 2019 game that we will not speak of.
Another familiar face comes in the form of sixth-seeded Alabama, possibly the biggest enigma of this college basketball season. The Crimson Tide went 9-9 in SEC play with losses to Georgia, Iona, and an early season Memphis team, but earned their spot in the tournament with wins over Gonzaga, Baylor, and Houston. The team is led by All-SEC guard Jaden Shackelford, who torched the Zags in Seattle and is averaging nearly 17 ppg.
The West Region also features a pair of sleeper picks that, while they likely won’t end up meeting Gonzaga, could upset some people’s brackets. #10 seed Davidson was the top team in the Atlantic-10 regular season and features a pair of star players in Foster Loyer and Hyunjung Lee. They’ll be taking on #7 Michigan State in the first round. At #13 are the America East champion Vermont Catamounts, led by conference player of the year Ryan Davis. UVM dominated the AEC this season and played close games against Maryland and Providence. They’ll play #4 Arkansas.
The full slate of first round matchups in the West looks like this:
- #1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Georgia State
- #8 Boise State vs. #9 Memphis
- #5 UConn vs. #12 New Mexico State
- #4 Arkansas vs. #13 Vermont
- #6 Alabama vs. #11 Rutgers/Notre Dame
- #3 Texas Tech vs. #14 Montana State
- #7 Michigan State vs. #10 Davidson
- #2 Duke vs. #15 Cal State Fullerton
It’s finally time folks. Fill out your brackets, get your work excuses ready, and, as always, Go Zags.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.