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March Madness 2021: Analyzing the West Region

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Can Virginia make a surprise run in what might be the bracket’s toughest section?

NCAA Basketball-WCC Tournament-BYU vs Gonzaga Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

728 days since the last Selection Sunday, we finally have ourselves a NCAA Tournament bracket. And for the seventh consecutive time, the Virginia Cavaliers have earned a spot in the Big Dance.

Slated in the West Region, the selection committee named UVA a No. 4 seed following its 18-6 (13-4 ACC) showing in the regular season. This is the third time Virginia has received a No. 4 seed.

Let’s analyze what it all means for the Hoos’ chances at a second straight Final Four run.

The West Region

No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

Gonzaga is the bonafide favorite heading into the madness.

Headlined by the trio of Corey Kispert (19.2 ppg), Drew Timme (18.7 ppg), and Jalen Suggs (14.3 ppg), the Bulldogs didn’t only steamroll Virginia, 98-75, in December, but took care of fellow tournament teams Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and BYU en route to a 26-0 record.

These highlights should give you an idea of just how talented this “mid-major” is.

No. 16 Norfolk State Spartans/Appalachian State Mountaineers

Do either of these schools have some UMBC magic in them?

Well, it bears noting that Norfolk State is one of just eight programs ever to win a game as a 15-seed (the Spartans beat Missouri, 86-84, in 2012). And Appalachian State? Well, they only claim one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

History aside, whichever team does come out of Thursday’s play-in game will have a tall order in front of them.

No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners

Following a big win at then-No. 14 West Virginia on Feb. 13, the Sooners struggled down the stretch, losing five of their last seven to finish 15-10.

Still, led by the crafty Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves, Oklahoma is more than capable of winning a game - something they’ll look to do for a second straight tournament.

No. 9 Missouri Tigers

Similar to its opponent, Missouri reeled in the back half of their SEC schedule after a promising start to 2020-21. Since Feb. 6’s win over Alabama moved the Tigers to No. 10 in the national polls, six losses in nine tries - three of which came to non-tournament teams - sent Missouri to a seventh-place finish in the conference standings.

No. 5 Creighton Blue Jays

Putting aside Saturday night’s drubbing to Georgetown at Madison Square Garden (the Hoyas looked to be destined for a conference title, after all), the Blue Jays (20-8, 14-6 Big East) have been solid all season long.

Led by All-Big East performers Marcus Zegarowski (First Team), who leads the team in scoring (15.5) and assists (4.3), and Damien Jefferson (Second Team), Creighton boasts five players averaging at least ten points.

No. 12 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

Some of the pundits are bullish on the Gauchos, and for good reason.

Under Head Coach Joe Pasternack, Santa Barbara has been a steady force in the Big West of late, finishing each of the last three regular seasons with at least 21 wins (they went 22-4 in 2020-21). Virginia’s potential second round opponent is led by Jaquori McLaughlin (16.2 ppg, 40.4% from three) on the outside and 6’9 forward Amadou Sow (13.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg) on the inside.

No. 13 Ohio Bobcats

A few tidbits to consider for the Hoos’ opening round opponent. First, the Bobcats beat Kent State, who took UVA to overtime in early December, by 22 last Thursday (they also lost to them by 10 in January). Second, Ohio lost on the road to now-top seeded Illinois by just 2 on Nov. 27. Finally, the last time they appeared in the NCAA’s, a thirteenth-seeded Ohio beat four-seed Michigan and twelve-seed South Florida en route to the program’s third-ever Sweet Sixteen in 2012.

For more on the Bobcats, be sure to check out our in-depth analysis, here.

No. 6 USC Trojans

If you haven’t stayed up late enough to watch the Trojans on the West Coast, you might not know just how much potential this USC team has.

Head Coach Andy Enfield probably has his most talented player ever in center Evan Mobley (16.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg), who has an outside shot of going No. 1 in this year’s NBA Draft. Pair him with knockdown three-point shooters Tajh Eaddy, Isaiah Mobley, and Ethan Anderson (all above 39%), and this team has the potential to make a March run.

No. 11 Wichita State/Drake Bulldogs

Two of the last teams to make the tournament field, Wichita State and Drake finished first and second in their conferences, respectively.

A constant in the NCAA’s in years past, the Shockers are back in the field of 68 after a one-year hiatus. They are led by Co-American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Tyson Etienne (17.0 ppg).

For Drake’s part, the Bulldogs appeared to be doing their best Gonzaga impersonation - starting the season 18-0 - before four losses down the stretch doomed them to the bubble. Like Creighton, Drake offers five players all averaging above 10 points per game.

No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas is in a similar predicament to Virginia, having had to drop out of their conference tournament for COVID-related issues.

Assuming they’ll be able to compete come Saturday, Bill Self’s team will be a tough out in March (no shocker here). Since hitting a mid-season lull in January, Kansas has hit its stride, piling up signature wins over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and, most notably, Baylor.

If 6’10 big man David McCormack can return from COVID protocols in recent form, KU has a real shot of coming out of the West.

No. 14 Eastern Washington Eagles

Eastern Washington started 3-6. Since then, they’ve lost once, finishing 16-7 (12-3 Big Sky).

A big reason for the Eagles’ resurgence can be attributed to Big Sky Player of the Year Tanner Groves (16.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg). They’ll need him to play the part (and then some) if they hope to have any chance against the Jayhawks.

No. 7 Oregon Ducks

In case you haven’t noticed, Ducks Head Coach Dana Altman has found plenty of success in the NCAA’s of late (Oregon has reached the Sweet Sixteen, Final Four, and Elite Eight in their last three trips to the dance). His chances this year will go as far as his team’s shooting - particularly from Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte who both lead team with 16.7 ppg - take him.

Oregon enters the tournament with a record of 20-6 and a Pac-12 regular season title in hand.

No. 10 VCU Rams

Despite Sunday’s loss to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic-10 conference tournament championship game, the Rams find themselves in the Big Dance for the eighth time in nine tries.

VCU is powered by sophomore guard Nah’Shon Hyland, who earned Atlantic-10 Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in scoring (19.4).

No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa might not quite have been the cream of the crop in the Big Ten this season (hello, Michigan and Illinois), but they were the next best thing.

Of course there’s senior forward and National Player of the Year front-runner Luka Garza (23.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg), but don’t sleep on fellow upperclassmen Joe Wieskamp (47.3% from three!) and Jordan Bohannon (38.9% from three). Having led what was probably the best conference in college basketball in scoring this season (83.8 ppg), Iowa can fill it up at all levels of the game.

No. 15 Grand Canyon Antelopes

Have you seen Grand Canyon’s home court in action? If not, I direct your eyes here.

Electric.

Sadly, the Antelopes, in their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, won’t get to play their opening game there. At least they’ll bring a pretty good team to Indiana, having captured the WAC regular season and conference tournament titles.