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NCAA tournament preview: West Region

Pepperdine v Gonzaga
Forward Rui Hachimura will lead Gonazaga into the NCAA tournament.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

A look at the NCAA tournament’s West Regional:

TOP SEEDS

{1 GONZAGA ] Remember when the Bulldogs were considered plucky underdogs? That seems like eons ago for a team that secured a top seeding for the second time in three years.

[ 2 MICHIGAN ] Defending West Regional champions have gone 11-6 since a program-best 17-0 start, but three of those losses came against Michigan State, which is in the East Regional.

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[ 3 TEXAS TECH ] Chris Beard could solidify his standing as one of the nation’s hottest coaches — and a possible candidate at UCLA — with another deep run after last year’s Elite Eight.

[ 4 FLORIDA STATE ] The Seminoles, usually something of an afterthought in the loaded Atlantic Coast Conference, have the length and athleticism to play with anyone.

CINDERELLA SEARCH

It may be counterintuitive to consider a team that was once No. 6 in the country an underdog, but Nevada’s mid-major status continually has left it overlooked. Can the Wolf Pack more closely resemble the team that started 14-0 than the one that seemed average by season’s end?

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TOP PLAYERS

Rui Hachimura, forward, Gonzaga

The first Japanese national to play in the NCAA tournament when he participated in the Bulldogs’ run to the national championship game in 2017, Hachimura has blossomed into a possible lottery pick.

Ignas Brazdeikis, forward, Michigan

He’s right-handed but prefers to shoot with his left hand, just one of his many talents. The Big Ten Conference freshman of the year leads the Wolverines in scoring (14.9 points per game) and energy.

Markus Howard, guard, Marquette

Few players have the green light that Howard has to shoot from anywhere. He’s averaging 25 points, sixth best in the nation, and scored 53 against Creighton.

NCAA tournament preview: South Region »

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NCAA tournament preview: East Region »

NCAA tournament preview: Midwest Region »

RIM SHOTS

Gonzaga’s chances for a Final Four run were bolstered by the return of forward Killian Tillie from the foot injury that sidelined him for most of the season.

Arizona State was among the last teams in, which salvaged three bids for the Pac-12 Conference. It looked like a one-bid conference for much of the season.

The matchup between St. John’s and Arizona State features coaches who were All-Americans in Chris Mullin (St. John’s) and Bobby Hurley (Duke).

Murray State’s Ja Morant (24.6 points, 10 assists, 5.5 rebounds per game) may be the most well-rounded player in the regional.

HOW THEY MATCH UP

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Thursday | Salt Lake City

16 Play-in winner (matchup below)

vs. 1 Gonzaga (30-3, at-large)

Top seed or not, Gonzaga is usually a safe bet in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Coach Mark Few’s teams have gone 16-3 in opening games, last losing in 2008.

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9 Baylor (19-13, at-large)

vs. 8 Syracuse (20-13, at-large)

Syracuse didn’t have to sweat out making the tournament for the first time since it received a No. 3 seed in 2014. The Bears’ seeding dipped because of their current four-game skid.

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Thursday | Hartford

12 Murray State (27-4, Ohio Valley champion)

vs. 5 Marquette (24-9, at-large)

There may not be a bigger contrast among first-round opponents considering the Golden Eagles have lost five of six games and the Racers are on an 11-game winning streak.

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13 Vermont (27-6, America East champion)

vs. 4 Florida State (27-7, at-large)

The Seminoles’ 1-4 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play seems as dated as the Charlie Ward era for a team that’s 14-2 since then, including a win over Virginia in the ACC tournament.

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Friday | Tulsa, Okla.

14 No. Kentucky (26-8, Horizon champion)

vs. 3 Texas Tech (26-6, at-large)

The Red Raiders lead the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and held their opponents to 60.8 points per game during a recent nine-game winning streak.

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11 Play-in winner (matchup below)

vs. 6 Buffalo (31-3, Mid-American champion)

The senior-laden Bulls have won 12 consecutive games and won’t be able to sneak up on anyone after they buffaloed Arizona in the first round last season.

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Thursday | Des Moines

10 Florida (19-15, at-large)

vs. 7 Nevada (29-4, at-large)

The Wolf Pack’s hopes may hinge on whether Jordan Caroline, their No. 2 scorer, can return from the tendinitis that sidelined him for Friday’s loss to San Diego State.

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15 Montana (26-8, Big Sky champion)

vs. 2 Michigan (28-6, at-large)

Grizzlies vs. Wolverines sounds like one of those “Who would win?” children’s books. Unfortunately for Montana, it’s outclassed in every aspect besides its mascot.

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Wednesday | Dayton, Ohio

11 Arizona State (22-10, at-large)

vs. 11 St. John’s (21-12, at-large)

The Sun Devils seek to avoid the indignity of playing their way out of the NCAA tournament before the first round for a second consecutive season.

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16 Fairleigh Dickinson (20-13, Northeastern champion)

vs. 16 Prairie View A&M (22-12, SWAC champion)

The prospect of this game having any lasting impact seems fairly ridiculous (get it?), as it’s a battle for the right to be first-round fodder for Gonzaga.


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