West Regional: Xavier is the top seed; expect them to make it through
Best round-of-64 matchup: Texas A&M vs. Providence. This game presents a classic contrast of lineups and styles. The Aggies usually start three frontcourt players who stand 6-9, 220 pounds; 6-10, 240; and 6-10, 265. They also start a freshman at guard. The Friars usually start three guards — two of whom are seniors — and a nominal forward, Rodney Bullock, who averages more than four three-point attempts a game. Providence is coming off a run to the Big East tournament final that included a win vs. Xavier, the West Region’s No. 1 seed. Texas A&M won its final three regular-season games, then failed to make the SEC quarterfinals.
Potential upset: Ohio State better be careful against 12th-seeded South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were in the tournament in 2016 and 2017, so they know the drill. As a team, they shoot 40 percent from three-point range (and 43 percent of their field-goal attempts this season have been threes). They also 76 percent from the free-throw line. In addition, with 6-9, 250-pound junior forward Mike Daum (23.8 points, 10.4 rebounds), they have the kind of singular talent who can tip a game. South Dakota State has the ability to spread out opponents, make threes, then start going to the basket. The Buckeyes will be well-advised to get ahead early.
The sleeper: Can last season’s national runner-up really be considered a sleeper? Well, Gonzaga is a No. 4 seed this time, and nobody is talking about how this team really is the best one Mark Few has ever had. Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura are formidable up front, and Silas Melson and Josh Perkins give Gonzaga a starting backcourt comprising a senior and a redshirt junior. This an actual West Coast team in the West Region that will be playing at western sites.
The winner: In the spirit of Gonzaga’s breakthrough last season, the pick is Xavier. Rugged and led by senior guard Trevon Bluiett, the Musketeers got to the round of eight as a No. 11 seed last season before losing to the Zags in the West Region final.