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NCAA tournament preview: West Regional

NCAA tournament preview: West Regional
Trevon Bluiett #5 of the Xavier Musketeers reacts with teammates late in the second half against the St. John's Red Storm during the Big East basketball tournament Quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on March 8. (Mike Lawrie / Getty Images)

A look at the NCAA tournament’s West Regional:

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FRIDAY :: Nashville

1 Xavier (28-5, Big East champion)

vs. 16 Play-in winner (see matchup below)

The magic number for the Musketeers is 80 — they are 23-1 this season when holding opponents to 80 points or fewer.

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8 Missouri (20-12, at-large)

vs. 9 Florida State (20-11, at-large)

A Missouri win would be a victory for NBA evaluators who’d get to see potential top-three pick Michael Porter Jr. more than three times this season.

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THURSDAY :: Boise, Idaho

5 Ohio State (24-8, at-large)

vs. 12 South Dakota State (28-6, Summit champion)

South Dakota State flirted with upsets in the last two tournaments and Ohio State, a team that lost to Penn State three times, is definitely vulnerable.

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4 Gonzaga (30-4, West Coast champion)

vs. 13 NC Greensboro (27-7, Southern champion)

Gonzaga has been to 20 straight tournaments and hasn’t lost in the first round since 2008, but the Spartans have a top-notch defense.

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THURSDAY :: Wichita, Kan.

6 Houston (26-7, at-large)

vs. 11 San Diego State (22-10, Mountain West champion)

San Diego State is one of the most balanced teams in the field, and Houston’s got some top-line talent. This could be the best game in the region’s first round.

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14 Montana (26-7, Big Sky champion)

vs. 3 Michigan (28-7, Big Ten champion)

We’ll find out if Michigan is one of the most rested teams in the country or the rustiest against the Big Sky champion.

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FRIDAY :: Charlotte, N.C.

7 Texas A&M (20-12, at-large)

vs. 10 Providence (21-13, at-large)

Providence coach Ed Cooley split his pants during the Big East tournament — a tough act for him to follow in the NCAA tournament.

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2 North Carolina (25-10, at large)

vs. 15 Lipscomb (23-9, Atlantic Sun champion)

North Carolina’s Luke Maye, one of the most improved players in college basketball, will try to build on a breakout performance in last year’s early rounds.

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WEDNESDAY :: DAYTON, OHIO

16 NC Central (19-15, MEAC champion)

vs. 16 Texas Southern (15-19, SWAC champion)

Texas Southern began the season with a 13-game losing streak, and if it wins here, it’ll end the season by starting another losing streak against Xavier.

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Top Seeds

[ 1 XAVIER ] For the first time in program history, Xavier is a No. 1 seed thanks to a veteran roster and an underrated coach in Chris Mack, who led Xavier to the Elite Eight a year ago.

[ 2 NORTH CAROLINA] Last season’s national champion has been inconsistent this season, but it’s the best rebounding team in the nation, which usually matters this time of year.

[ 3 MICHIGAN ] The Wolverines put together an impressive run through the Big Ten Conference tournament, but they haven’t played in more than a week. Will that help or not?

[ 4 GONZAGA ] Mark Few’s team is looking to build on a trip to the title game a season ago. A rematch with North Carolina in the regional final could be in the cards.

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Cinderella search

Providence has shown it can play with — and beat — the best teams in the country, including Villanova and Xavier, which the Friars have beaten twice.

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Top players

Trevon Bluiett, guard, Xavier

Bluieitt is a flat-out scorer who has four years on his resume at Xavier. Last year in the tournament, he scored 20 points or more in three straight games before being slowed in the regional final.

Joel Berry, guard, North Carolina

A huge reason why the Tar Heels won the NCAA title a season ago, Berry runs the Carolina offense with calm and precision, and he can get his points, too.

Michael Porter Jr., forward, Missouri

The best player in the region played only two games this season because of a back injury. A sure-fire lottery pick regardless, he has returned to try to help the Tigers in the postseason.

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Rim shots

• Houston has won 10 of its last 12 games with strong guard play from Rob Gray (18.1 points and 4.7 assists per game), and an experienced coach in Kelvin Sampson. Its first-round game with San Diego State could be a good one.

• Four No. 15 seeds have advanced since 2012, and Lipscomb, playing in its first NCAA tournament, plays with more pace than almost anyone in the country.

• Porter’s younger brother, Jontay Porter, could play himself into a first-round draft pick if he continues a late-season surge.

• The region features both teams from last season’s title game (North Carolina and Gonzaga), an Elite Eight team (Xavier) and a Sweet 16 team (Michigan).

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