The West is the weakest of the four regions in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. However, there is plenty of intrigue and a few teams that can do damage in the Big Dance.
No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Gonzaga won their conference tournaments, while No. 1 Xavier won the Big East regular-season crown. However, the Musketeers did lose twice to Villanova in 2017-18.
Oh, and don’t forget this region has North Carolina as well.
The Tar Heels, along with the Wolverines, are strong contenders to reach the Final Four out of the bottom half of this regional bracket. Meanwhile, Gonzaga will look to repeat its Final Four breakthrough from last season, but it may be the time for Chris Mack and Xavier to claim its own regional title.
Keep an eye on No. 11 San Diego State, which came on strong late in the year. Houston is a very good team, but the Aztecs may have the goods to knock off the Cougars. Tenth-seeded Providence should also be a dangerous test for No. 7 Texas A&M, which will be without injured guard Duane Wilson, unless the Friars are fatigued from playing three straight overtime games in their conference tournament.
The round-of-32 game to keep an eye on is Houston-Michigan. Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars have beaten four teams in this field (Arkansas, Providence, Wichita State twice and Cincinnati), so John Beilein’s squad will have to be ready for Rob Gray and Co. A win over Houston would set up a potential clash with North Carolina, and that game would feature a ton of good, veteran players on the floor. Can Michigan, behind seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson, remain hot after claiming its conference tournament title but having to sit out an extra week?
On the flip side, UNC comes into this tournament with 20 Final Four appearances and six national championships. Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has won three national titles, been to nine Final Fours and is seventh in NCAA history in wins with 841. That’s quite a pedigree.
This region might lack potential Cinderellas. No. 12 seed South Dakota State has a fantastic player in 6-foot-9 forward Mike Daum, but Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop poses a tough matchup in that 5-12 game. Bates-Diop was the Big Ten Player of the Year after averaging 19.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game for Chris Holtmann’s squad.
Meanwhile, UNC-Greensboro claimed the Southern Conference regular-season and conference titles, but it faces a Gonzaga program that has won nine straight first-round NCAA Tournament games.
Other notes: Missouri may be overmatched against Florida State in its opener. No. 2 scorer Jordan Barnett has been suspended after a DWI, guard Cullen VanLeer is hurt and guard Terrence Phillips was dismissed from the team. Can Michael Porter Jr., who has logged 25 minutes all season, carry the load for Mizzou? That’s asking a lot from last year’s No. 1 recruit in the nation. He will continue to try and shake off more rust this week.
Texas Southern started the season 0-13 after playing all of those games on the road, but head coach Mike Davis rallied the squad to win 12 of its final 16 contests and claim the SWAC championship for the third time in four seasons. The Tigers have scored at least 78 points in seven consecutive games.
Can Providence, which has made five straight NCAA Tournament appearances — something that had never been accomplished previously at the school — get to the Sweet 16 for the first time under Ed Cooley?
My pick: Xavier