West Region Preview: Underdogs No More: Gonzaga on Top
The Gonzaga Bulldogs received their first No. 1 seed in the school's history, and got even luckier when Ohio State--and not Georgetown, Miami, or Duke--became the region's No. 2 seed.
Gonzaga is a mid-major Jesuit school, but this is their 15th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Only Kansas and Michigan State have currently made more consecutive tournament appearances than the school from Spokane, Washington. Kelly Olynyk, a Player of the Year candidate, and Elias Harris give Gonzaga one of the nation's best one-two punches up front. The two often play the high-low game to perfection, as well. Gonzaga also has a bevy of sharpshooters, like Kevin Pangos, that forces defenses to be honest and not collapse on Olynyk and Harris.
In the top half of the bracket, Marshall Henderson and No. 12 Ole Miss will battle No. 5 Wisconsin in a contrast of styles that will be must-see television. And the winner of Boise State-La Salle may well make the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 4 Kansas State and then the winner of the Ole Miss-Wisconsin game, where they will face Gonzaga, if Gonzaga can take care of business against either Pittsburgh or Wichita State.
In the bottom half of the bracket, No. 6 Arizona and No. 3 New Mexico are on a collision course for a significant second round match-up. Not only do the two schools have two of college basketball's rowdiest, most dedicated, and passionate fan bases, but Arizona and New Mexico are the most talented teams from the Pac-12 and the Mountain West Conferences, respectively. Many in the Pac-12 felt the selection committee disrespected the conference. And Arizona versus New Mexico will be a grudge match between the two conferences.
The winner of Arizona versus New Mexico will most likely face Ohio State, a team that survived the Big Ten Conference tournament. The Big Ten was rated as the toughest conference this season, and either Arizona or New Mexico will have an opportunity to knock off the team representing the nation's best conference--and give west coast basketball the respect many feel has not been given.
Gonzaga may have trouble with Wisconsin, but Wisconsin may not be able to score enough points to ultimately keep up with Gonzaga's high-octane offense. Most likely, Gonzaga has a clear path to the Elite Eight, where they will most likely play Arizona, New Mexico, or Ohio State. A team like Miami or Georgetown, teams that combine both physicality with individual playmakers, would have given Gonzaga the most trouble. But Gonzaga's Olynyk and Harris will force the Ohio State big men out of their comfort zones if these two teams meet for a trip to the Final Four. Gonzaga should also power past Arizona or New Mexico as well.
Gonzaga, a team that became the top-ranked team in the country for the first time in school history this year, got as favorable a draw as they could have received, especially given that they were considered only the fourth-strongest No. 1 seed.