March Madness West Region Preview

March Madness

The West region of this year’s March Madness bracket has so much to offer for every college basketball fan. The region is highlighted by the No. 1 team in the country in Gonzaga. The West also holds Duke, who is the two seed. Fresh off an ACC tournament championship loss and amid coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s final season. The college basketball world will indeed be tuned in. Along with the region’s top dogs, significant upsets could be seen in the region. Vermont seems to be a huge upset pick over the Arkansas Razorbacks. They have two-time America East Player of the Year Ryan Davis to support the third-best shooting offense in college hoops (57.3 effective field goal percentage). Vermont is also the No. 1 team in the defensive rebound rate.

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Georgia State (16) vs. Gonzaga (1) 

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 4:15 pm
Where to Watch: TNT
Spread: Norfolk State +23.5 (-110) | Gonzaga -23.5 (-115)
MoneyLine: Norfolk State +850 | Gonzaga -1000
Over/Under: Over 149.5 (-110) | Under 149.5 (-110)

No need to overthink this one. Gonzaga is looking to return to the final four and a championship game after losing Baylor last year. The Bulldogs are led by Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, who are both Wooden Award finalists for the nation’s best player. Gonzaga finished as West Coast champions and will look to keep the momentum going in the tournament. This squad is one of the most up-tempo teams in the country and will be hard for Georgia State to keep up with. 

Georgia State deserves all the praise for making the tournament. After starting the season with a 6-9 record, they have managed to win 12 of their last 13 games, including the Sun Belt championship. The Panthers will look to Senior guard Corey Allen who put up back-to-back 29-point efforts in the Sun Belt Conference tournament and has been a consistent force for the Panthers’ offense since arriving five seasons ago. He’ll need to come up big for Georgia State to advance.

Projected Winner: Gonzaga

CSU Fullerton (15) vs. Duke (2)

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 7:10 pm
Where to Watch: CBS
Spread: CSU Fullerton +19 (-110) | Duke -19 (-110)
MoneyLine: CSU Fullerton +1175 | Duke -3500
Over/Under: Over 146 (-115) | Under 146 (-105)

One of the most historic blue blood programs will look to advance quickly past their first-round matchup with CSU Fullerton. Despite losing in the ACC championship to Virginia Tech, this Duke Blue Devils team focuses on the ultimate prize. A team led by ACC freshman of the year and likely NBA lottery pick Paolo Banchero will be a significant threat in the West. The Seattle Washington native averages 17 points while also grabbing 7.8 rebounds per game. Along with Wendell Moore Jr. and AJ Griffin, this team is dangerous in the West.

For CSU Fullerton, senior E.J. Anosike averaged 18 points and 13.7 rebounds to help the Titans earn the automatic bid with a Big West title. This is an older roster that sees their top four scorers all shoot over 77 percent from the line, but they recorded more turnovers than assists for the season as a team. While the odds are against them, this is March, and anything can happen. 

Projected Winner: Duke

Montana State (14) vs. Texas Tech (3) 

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 1:45 pm
Where to Watch: TNT
Spread: Montana State +15 (-110) | Texas Tech -15 (-110)
MoneyLine: Montana State +775 | Texas Tech -1500
Over/Under: Over 132.5 (-110) | Under 132.5 (-110)

No upset here. Texas Tech is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Along with their intense defense, their offense excels in the backcourt. They know how to get their guard play at their best while getting all five guys involved on the offensive end. Senior forward Bryson Williams is the team’s scoring leader, while junior guard Kevin McCullar tops the team in rebounds and assists. Williams averages 13.5 points per game, including 17 in the Big 12 championship loss to Kansas. This Tech team is strong and should quickly advance to the next round. 

Montana State’s rank in the top 50 nationally in effective field goal percent thanks to an experienced veteran core. Senior point guard Xavier Bishop directs the offense as the primary scorer and distributor. At the same time, junior forward Jubrile Belo provides rebounding and efficiency, shooting over 58 percent from the field for a third-straight season in Bozeman. Bishop averages 13.9 points per game and is shooting 41.5 percent from the field. Washington transfer Raequan Battle is a scorer who finished the season strong and could be a difference-maker in the Dance. 

Projected Winner: Texas Tech 

Vermont (13) vs. Arkansas (4) 

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 9:20 pm
Where to Watch: TNT
Spread: Vermont +5 (-110) | Arkansas -5 (-110)
MoneyLine: Vermont +180 | Texas Tech -220
Over/Under: Over 139.5 (-110) | Under 139.5 (-110)

If there’s a massive upset in the West first round, look no further than Vermont. Star guard JD Notae leads Arkansas, averaging 18.4 points per game for the Razorbacks. The Razorbacks have multiple scoring options with four players averaging double digits and also rank well above average in most defensive metrics. This team’s most significant weaknesses are a lack of size and poor perimeter shooting, but they have the talent and experience needed to make a deep run.

Vermont is the team riding momentum. They rolled through the America East Conference tournament with three blowout victories and enters the NCAA tournament with 22 wins in their past 23 games. They defeated the UMBC Ramblers by 39 points to claim the America East championship. Led offensively by the scoring of senior forward Davis and senior guard Ben Shungu, the Catamounts are well above average on both sides of the ball. Their offense, which ranks among the best in the land in several categories, could make them a tough draw. Vermont has upset potential written all over them.

Projected Winner: Vermont

New Mexico State (12) vs. UConn (5) 

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 6:50 pm
Where to Watch: TNT
Spread: New Mexico State +7 (-110) | UConn -7 (-110)
MoneyLine: New Mexico State +250 | UConn -300
Over/Under: Over 131.5 (-110) | Under 131.5 (-110)

Despite losing the Big East championship to Villanova, UConn looks to make some noise. The Huskies aren’t the best shooting squad, but they are dominant on the offensive boards and get many second chances. The Huskies corral nearly 40% of offensive rebounds, led by 6-foot-9 forward Adama Sanogo. Sangogo is averaging 8.9 rebounds per game, which is 33rd in the country. Defensively, they do an excellent job of avoiding foul trouble and blocking shots but can be susceptible to opponents who shoot the three well. Don’t overthink this game. 

New Mexico State gets 31.5 points a night from a pair of tall guards in Teddy Allen and Sir’Jabari Rice, making them a tough matchup for anyone. Their super-sized backcourt aids them in producing an elite rebound rate, and it’s possible their 26-6 record undershoots their potential: they haven’t lost a game by more than four points since mid-January. As the one seed, the Aggies claimed the Western Athletic championship and look to make the first-round upset.

Projected Winner: UConn

Rutgers/Notre Dame (11) vs. Alabama (6) 

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 4:15 pm
Where to Watch: TNT
Spread: TBD
MoneyLine: TBD
Over/Under: TBD

Alabama enters the tourney having lost three of their last four games, but overall this team has a powerful resume that includes non-conference wins over Gonzaga and Houston. As the sixth seed in their conference tournament, they fell to Vanderbilt. The Crimson Tide once again is the sixth seed. The Crimson Tide runs a guard-heavy offense led by Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly, which relies heavily on three-pointers. Unfortunately, Alabama is barely shooting over 30 percent as a team from deep, so their success in that area is entirely volume-based. This group can make a deep run if they get hot, but the reliance on perimeter shooting makes this a very explosive offense.

Either Notre Dame or Rutgers has a great chance of knocking off Alabama. The Irish started the season 4-5 but bounced back for a 22-10 record. While they may not be as strong on the offensive end, they play with heart and hustle, elevating themselves to a win. On the other hand, Rutgers will now make back-to-back tournament appearances for the first time since the 1970s. The Scarlet Knights went 12-8 in conference play during the regular season and earned a double-bye for the conference tournament, falling to Iowa 84-74. Look for Ron Harper Jr. and company to make some noise.

Projected Winner: Rutgers/Notre Dame

Michigan State (7) vs. Davidson (10) 

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 9:40 pm
Where to Watch: CBS
Spread: Michigan State -1 (-110) | Davidson +1 (-110)
MoneyLine: Michigan State -120 | Davidson +100
Over/Under: Over 140.5 (-110) | Under 140.5 (-110) 

March arrived at the perfect time for everyone in East Lansing. After a rough February stretch, the Spartans have picked up some much-needed momentum and confidence entering the Dance. Michigan State will look to Gabe Brown, who was recently named on the Big Ten third team, as he leads in scoring with 11.5 points per game. He shoots from 41 percent from the field and is always in the right place to impact a basketball game. Along with him is Max Christie. Christie was recently named on the all-Conference freshman team, as he’s shooting 38 percent from the field. After getting knocked out in the first four last year, expect the Spartans to make some noise this time around. 

Davidson was the one seed and the best team all year for the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. However, their championship aspirations were offset when Richmond upset them 64-62 in the championship. They will look to bounce back come the tournament. The Wildcats operate with as little urgency on offense as any team in the field but don’t mistake that for an unwillingness to score the ball. They are led by a quartet of players who average over 11 points and shoot over 38 percent from distance, scoring versatility that can be tough to defend. Sometimes they struggle to create turnovers, but they are a difficult matchup, even for more skilled teams if they dictate the tempo. This will be an exciting matchup for Sparty in the first round.

Projected Winner: Michigan State

Boise State (8) vs. Memphis (9) 

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 1:45 pm
Where to Watch: TNT
Spread: Boise State +2.5 (-110) | Memphis -2.5 (-110)
MoneyLine: Boise State +125 | Memphis -145
Over/Under: Over 133 (-100) | Under 133 (-110) 

Boise State is the Mountain West champions and looking to make a statement in the tournament. The Broncos are boosted by a strong defense and are a particularly stout rebounding team. They can be a bit streaky from three-point land. They use size to their advantage. The Broncos are led by Abu Kigab, who averaged 14.7 points per game. Second-leading scorer Marcus Shaver Jr. is the only rotation player shorter than 6-foot-5. Boise State won’t go out without a fight.

Despite getting blown out in the AAC tournament championship, Memphis looks like a Cinderella story under head coach Penny Hardaway. After starting 9-8 and losing much of their December to a COVID pause, Memphis returned to finish the regular season 10-1. Since January 20, they’ve clamped down on defense, holding opponents to 38 percent shooting. Offensively, Memphis leans on their bench with a deep rotation and balanced scoring. The Tigers turn the ball over frequently, but they also force as many. Memphis is heating up, and Boise State could be in the way.

Projected Winner: Boise State

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