West Region – March Madness Complete Breakdown
The regular season is over, conference tournaments have completed and Selection Sunday has came and went. The most wonderful time of the year is upon us: March Madness.
Winning a national championship is something special in every sport, but college basketball has the unique importance of the Final Four. With a tournament this large, breaking it down into four mini-tournaments is the way to look at it. Each region has its own twists and turns that give us four separate sets of storylines to follow. Let’s go in-depth, region-by-region, to break down the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
In my estimation, the West is the most difficult region, and it isn’t all that close. You have one of the most efficient offensive teams ever in Gonzaga, one of the most efficient defenses in the country in Texas Tech and another elite defensive team in Michigan. Buffalo, Nevada, Florida, Marquette and Florida State all have shown very high ceilings and are capable of beating any other team in this region.
Syracuse and Baylor as the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds have beat the best teams in their respective conferences, and the Orange’s zone can be tough to deal with in a tournament. Even Arizona State and St. John’s, the No. 11 seeds who will play Friday for the chance at Buffalo in the first round, are in the tournament because of their great wins during the regular season. This region is going to be a bloodbath, there is no doubt about it.
Top Five Threats (By KenPom)
- 1 Gonzaga (2),
- 2 Michigan (5),
- 3 Texas Tech (9),
- 4 Florida State (14),
- 6 Buffalo (22)
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup
10 Florida vs 7 Nevada
You can’t ask for much better matchups than this in the first round. On one side, you have the scoring of Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline, the distribution of Cody Martin and the shooting of Jazz Johnson. On the other, there’s KeVaughn Allen and Andrew Nembhard defending on the perimeter and Keyontae Johnson and Kevarrius Hayes to shut it down in the post. The Wolfpack have shown the potential for a high-flying offense with a balance attack, while the Gators established themselves as one of the country’s best defensive teams with one of the slowest tempos in the NCAA.
If you don’t trust my opinion, KenPom puts Nevada at 25 and Florida at 28, further proof of how even these teams are. Both are capable of a run to the Sweet 16 or further, but only one can advance to the second round. Both teams like a physical game, too, so expect some sparks to fly.
Most Intriguing Possible Second Round Matchup
6 Buffalo vs 3 Texas Tech
It was difficult to choose only one, but I’m going with Buffalo-Texas Tech because of the stylistic differences. Texas Tech enters the tournament ranked as the most efficient defense in the country according to KenPom, and the eye test agrees. The Red Raiders rotations are as perfect as you can ask, and they’re constantly flying around the floor, drawing charges and cutting off driving lanes. They’ve improved offensively the last few weeks, but make no mistake: this is a defensive team first, and Texas Tech’s adjusted tempo ranks 226th in KenPom.
Buffalo plays a totally opposite brand of basketball, running up and down the floor, taking and making as many shots as possible. The Bulls play with the ninth-highest tempo in the NCAA and would do everything they could to score in transition before Texas Tech could set up defensively in the half court. No matter how well you defend, Buffalo has a few players, like Jeremy Harris, Nick Perkins and CJ Massinburg, who will score no matter what if they’re playing at their best. The Bulls have had consistency issues this season, even within individual games, but their best can undoubtedly hang with and topple Texas Tech.
Most Intriguing Possible Sweet 16 Matchup
4 Florida State vs 1 Gonzaga
Gonzaga is one of the most efficient offenses ever, but it hasn’t seen a defense like Florida State in months. The Seminoles knocked off Virginia in the ACC Semifinals, the Cavaliers’s only loss to a team not named Duke this season. Virginia plays a much different style from Gonzaga but is still an extremely efficient offensive team. Florida State has the athletes to run the floor with the Bulldogs, and it cleans up well enough on the offensive glass that run outs might be harder to come by than usual for the Zags.
There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Gonzaga to repeat its Final Four run from 2017, and everyone wants to see how far this version, which many have called Gonzaga’s best team ever, can go. Assuming the first two rounds don’t trip Gonzaga up, this will be a difficult one to navigate.
Most Intriguing Possible Elite Eight Matchup
2 Michigan vs 1 Gonzaga
Michigan plays with one of the slowest tempos in the NCAA, and Gonzaga thrives in transition. The Wolverines are second in defensive efficiency in KenPom, the Bulldogs are the most efficient offense in KenPom. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke against Jon Teske, Josh Perkins against Zavier Simpson, Zach Norvell against Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole? Really, what more could you want? Texas Tech would pose a unique threat to Gonzaga with its defense, but the individual matchups we would see in a Michigan-Gonzaga meeting would be unbelievable.
Marquette will get Murray State in the first round, and casual and hardcore fans alike know that means Ja Morant will be on the other side of the floor. For as deadly as a scoring guard like Morant can be in the tournament, Marquette is on upset alert for other reasons. This team relies heavily on its deep shooting. When it’s flowing, it’s flowing and nothing can be done to stop it. If Markus Howard in particular is feeling himself, the game is over. But the Golden Eagles are going up against one of the best defenses against threes. Murray State has held opponents to 28.2 percent from deep on the season, the fourth lowest in the NCAA, and ranks 19th in true shooting percentage allowed. Add in Morant’s scoring ability, and if the Racers can hold Marquette’s shooting in relative check, it could be enough to move to the second round.
The Cinderella concept is a tricky one. Buffalo fits the tradition makeup of a talented mid-major side making a deep run, but the Bulls are seeded well. I’m still going with Buffalo as a Cinderella, though, because of the program’s basketball history, or lack thereof. If you don’t like it, too bad.
This team has the tools of a team that can make a long run in the tournament. It’s well rounded and brings serious production off the bench, going nine deep. It has multiple guards who can catch absolute fire at any moment and take over a game. It’s one of the best rebounding teams in the country. There are weaknesses here, namely inconsistency, but this is basically the same team that whipped Arizona in the first round last year. It was Buffalo’s first-ever tournament win, and the program has never been beyond the second round. That’s why this team would be a Cinderella, and the opportunity to go to the Sweet 16 or further is absolutely there for the taking.
3 Texas Tech over 1 Gonzaga
Texas Tech found its offensive identity in February, and the defense has been there since the season’s opening tip. The Red Raiders have the perimeter scoring ability required for success in the modern March Madness, with Jarrett Culver averaging 18.5 points per game and asserting himself as one of the best scorers in the country. Davide Moretti has come on late in the season, shooting 47.8 percent from three, even more deadly when considering the drive and kick ability of Culver and Matt Mooney, the third guard who rounds out most of Texas Tech’s scoring.
Gonzaga’s forte is transition, but Texas Tech could effectively control the tempo with its guards and defense, limiting possessions and keeping Gonzaga on its heels with rotations and charge drawing left and right. There aren’t many teams in the country that can slow this Bulldogs offense down, but Texas Tech is undoubtedly one of them.