West Regional: Things falling into place for Arizona

Best round-of-64 matchup

Though Maryland earned a No. 6 seed and Xavier snuck in as a No. 11, only wrapping up a bid with a victory against Butler in the Big East tournament, the Musketeers are actually five spots higher in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings at No. 40. Xavier had an awful February, losing six in a row shortly after point guard Edmond Sumner tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. It undoubtedly took some time for the Musketeers to readjust, but they have a good, experienced core led by Trevon Bluiett, and Chris Mack is a proven NCAA tournament coach who has won at least one round in four of his six appearances. Maryland has been mediocre on defense this season, and they sometimes ask too much of point guard Melo Trimble, who averaged 17 points this season.

Potential upset

‘‘Dunk City’’ is back in the field, and don’t be surprised if Florida Gulf Coast does it again against a beatable No. 3 seed in Florida State.

The sleeper

Until the last week of the regular season, it didn’t seem as though Vanderbilt could make up enough ground to get into the field. But the Commodores closed strong, winning eight of their final 11 games — including twice against Florida and on the road against Arkansas — to secure their place in history as the first 15-loss team to receive an at-large bid.

The winner

If the West goes according to form, the regional final will pit arguably the two best coaches who have yet to reach a Final Four in Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Arizona’s Sean Miller. Both programs have had their hopes dashed on the second weekend in recent years, but the West sets up for one of them to break through this time. After heartbreaking Elite Eight losses to Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015, it feels as though everything is coming together for Arizona this time.

1. Gonzaga

Nickname: Bulldogs.

Location: Spokane, Wash.

Record: 32-1, 17-1.

Bid: West Coast champ.

Coach: Mark Few.

The elements are all in place, from the do-everything facilitator (Nigel Williams-Goss) to the athletic big man (Przemek Karnowski) to the supporting players who know their roles. Gonzaga doesn’t always light it up from long range, but it usually makes up for it with its athleticism and ability to get to the rim.

16. South Dakota State

Nickname: Jackrabbits.

Location: Brookings, S.D.

Record: 18-16, 8-8.

Bid: Summit champ.

Coach: T.J. Otzelberger.

Things looked bleak for South Dakota State, but it won the conference tournament as a No. 4 seed.

8. Northwestern

Nickname: Wildcats.

Location: Evanston.

Record: 23-11, 10-8.

Bid: Big Ten at-large.

Coach: Chris Collins.

Northwestern is making its first NCAA tournament appearance. What’s different between these Wildcats and Northwestern teams of the past? Style of play and confidence.

9. Vanderbilt

Nickname: Commodores.

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Record: 19-15, 10-8.

Bid: SEC at-large.

Coach: Bryce Drew.

At 9-11 in late January, it seemed tough for Vanderbilt to play its way into the field. But getting hot at the right time matters, and the Commodores’ strong finish against the No. 1 RPI schedule helped build their case.

5. Notre Dame

Nickname: Fighting Irish.

Location: South Bend, Ind.

Record: 25-9, 12-6.

Bid: ACC at-large.

Coach: Mike Brey.

Notre Dame plays a clean game. The Irish shoot 81 percent from the free-throw line as a team (best in the nation) and trail only UCLA in assist/turnover ratio. Bonzie Colson has been one of the 10 best players in college basketball this season.

12. Princeton

Nickname: Tigers

Location: Princeton, N.J.

Record: 23-6, 14-0.

Bid: Ivy champ.

Coach: Mitch Henderson.

Princeton struggled to begin the season, losing its first two games. But after defeating Bucknell on Dec. 22, the Tigers caught fire and have won 18 in a row.

4. West Virginia

Nickname: Mountaineers.

Location: Morgantown, W.Va.

Record: 26-8, 12-6.

Bid: Big 12 at-large.

Coach: Bob Huggins.

A balanced lineup — eight players average between six and 12.9 points — and Huggins’ frenetic full-court defensive pressure propelled West Virginia.

13. Bucknell

Nickname: Bison.

Location: Lewisburg, Pa.

Record: 26-8, 15-3.

Bid: Patriot champ.

Coach: Nathan Davis.

Bucknell started its conference season with four consecutive victories, dropped a game, then won seven in a row en route to winning the regular-season crown. The Bison led the league in scoring offense and scoring margin.

6. Maryland

Nickname: Terrapins.

Location: College Park.

Record: 24-8, 12-6.

Bid: Big Ten at-large.

Coach: Mark Turgeon.

Maryland is one of the more unpredictable teams in the field. Three of its losses were to teams playing relatively poorly. It’s hard to know what version of the Terps will show up on any given night.

11. Xavier

Nickname: Musketeers.

Location: Cincinnati.

Record: 21-13, 9-9.

Bid: Big East at-large.

Coach: Chris Mack.

Xavier was hit hard by injuries and never really recovered from the absence of point guard Edmond Sumner (knee). Trevon Bluiett is an exceptional talent who can take over a game.

3. Florida State

Nickname: Seminoles.

Location: Tallahassee.

Record: 25-8, 12-6.

Bid: ACC at-large.

Coach: Leonard Hamilton.

Florida State’s top-line talent could make it a tough out. Dwayne Bacon is a future pro, freshman Jonathan Isaac is an all-around talent and potent shot-blocker and Xavier Rathan-Mayes’ assist/turnover ratio of 2.76 is among the 25 best in Division I.

14. Florida Gulf Coast

Nickname: Eagles.

Location: Fort Myers.

Record: 26-7, 12-2.

Bid: Atlantic Sun champ.

Coach: Joe Dooley.

Florida Gulf Coast’s reputation has been built on offense, and this team is no exception.

7. Saint Mary’s

Nickname: Gaels.

Location: Moraga, Calif.

Record: 28-4, 16-2.

Bid: West Coast at-large.

Coach: Randy Bennett.

Denied an at-large opportunity a year ago, Saint Mary’s hopes to make the most of this one. The Gaels play a stingy man-to-man defense that keeps them in most games and are efficient on offense.

10. VCU

Nickname: Rams.

Location: Richmond, Va.

Record: 26-8, 14-4.

Bid: Atlantic 10 at-large.

Coach: Will Wade.

VCU has been — and still is — known for its tenacious defensive intensity. The Rams hold opponents to about
66 points a game.

2. Arizona

Nickname: Wildcats.

Location: Tucson.

Record: 30-4, 16-2.

Bid: Pac-12 champ.

Coach: Sean Miller.

Arizona wasn’t bad even without Allonzo Trier. But his midseason reinstatement has Wildcats fans thinking about the Final Four.

15. North Dakota

Nickname: Fighting Hawks.

Location: Grand Forks.

Record: 22-9, 14-4.

Bid: Big Sky champ.

Coach: Brian Jones.

There is a lot to like about North Dakota, which is in the tournament for the first time. The Fighting Hawks can shoot (48.5 percent from the field, including 38.5 percent from three-point range).


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