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Friday, May 20, 2022

NCAA Tournament: West Regional Breakdown

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With the 2022 NCAA Men’s Tournament bracket now set, we’re taking a look at every team on the field. This is what to look for in a western region spearheaded by Gonzaga and Duke.

[Regional breakdowns: West | East | South | Midwest]

No. 1 seed Gonzaga (26-3, WCC champion)

Gonzaga earned a No. 1 seed for the fifth time in the show’s history this season and his second in a row. The Bulldogs have twice advanced to the national championship game as the No. 1 seed, losing to North Carolina in 2017 and Baylor last season. Those are also the show’s two Final Four appearances. They earned the No. 1 seed this season despite the loss of first-round NBA draft picks Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert last season. Chet Holmgren, a 7-foot freshman who is averaging 3.6 blocks per game and shooting 41.2% from 3-point distance, projects as a tall lottery pick. This is a true powerhouse who ranks in the top five in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency and is the favorite to win his first national title for a reason.

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No. 2 seed Duke (28-6, overall)

Mike Krzyzewski’s latest team is once again one of the most talented in the country. The Blue Devils got to hear as many as five names in the upcoming NBA draft, led by projected lottery picks in first-year forwards Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin. Junior flanker Wendell Moore, second-year center Mark Williams and first-year guard Trevor Keels also got their names heard in June. The Blue Devils face a tough road, but they have the talent to win it all.

Mike Krzyzewski and Duke won a matchup in November against Mark Few and Gonzaga. Will they meet again in a regional final? (Lance King/Getty Images)

No. 3 seed Texas Tech (25-9, overall)

Mark Davis replaced Chris Beard this season after Beard left for Texas. But this team still bears Beard’s stamp as one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. The Red Raiders mounted a suffocating defense until the 2019 national championship game and enter this NCAA tournament ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency. Senior forward Bryson Williams leads the offense with 13.7 points per game while shooting 40.5% from 3-point range. Duke faces a potentially nasty Sweet 16 matchup here if both teams make it through the first weekend.

Seeded No. 4 Arkansas (25-8, overall)

A powerhouse in the 1990s under Nolan Richardson, Arkansas has been to six Final Fours, including three from 1990-95. It beat Duke in the 1994 national championship game, but hasn’t been to a Final Four since 1995. This Arkansas team finished the regular season in first place in a tough SEC and is a threat to secure its seventh berth in the Finals. Four with wins. over Auburn, Kentucky and a sweep of LSU. But you’ll probably have to go through Gonzaga first.

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No. 5 seed UConn (23-9, overall)

UConn won the Big East regular season before losing to Villanova in the conference tournament semifinals. The Huskies are in their fourth season under head coach Danny Hurley and back in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. This team has a long shot at securing the program’s fifth national championship, but it can play the best teams in the nation, having posted wins over No. 2 seeds Auburn and Villanova this season.

Seeded No. 6 Alabama (19-13, overall)

Few teams have a more impressive win list this season than Alabama. The Crimson Tide claims wins over No. 1 seed Gonzaga, No. 1 seed Baylor, No. 3 seed Tennessee, No. 5 seed Houston and No. 6 seed LSU. They also lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament and gave Georgia its only SEC win. They enter the tournament on a three-match losing streak. Good luck cracking this team.

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Seeded No. 7 Michigan State (22-12, overall)

This is not a typical Tom Izzo powerhouse. The Spartans finished in seventh place in the Big Ten regular season and lost in the conference tournament semifinals. A team projected to field much-hyped freshman Emoni Bates instead relies on a senior-laden lineup with three senior starters after Bates recommitted to Memphis. The Spartans rank outside the top 90 in both defensive and offensive efficiency. Getting past Duke to the second weekend would be a huge win for this team.

No. 8 seed Boise State (27-7, MWC champion)

The Broncos enter the NCAA tournament on a roll having won eight of their last nine games, including a victory in the Mountain West championship game over San Diego State. Their reward is a tough first-round matchup with Memphis and a potential second-round date with Gonzaga if they can beat the Tigers. They relied on their defense of the top 25 to secure their MWC tournament title and they will need to do the same to come out of the tournament with a win.

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 19: Jalen Duren #2 and Penny Hardaway of the Memphis Tigers watch against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during a game on November 19, 2021 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.  Memphis defeated Western Kentucky 74-62.  (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Five-star freshman Jalen Duren has thrived for Penny Hardaway’s Tigers. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

No. 9 seed Memphis (21-10, overall)

In her fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Penny Hardaway finally claimed her first NCAA offer. But it wasn’t a sure thing until the end of the season. A 9-8 start that included three- and four-game losing streaks seemed more disappointing for Hardaway after securing a consensus top-two draft class. But the Tigers finished strong with a 12-2 record down the stretch to earn an overall offer. Eleven of those wins came with freshman star Emoni Bates sidelined with a back injury. The prospect who once drew comparisons to LeBron James and Kevin Durant is a long shot to compete in the tournament. Are the Tigers better off without him? Fellow five-star freshman Jalen Duren (12.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.2 blocks per game) is the player to watch here.

No. 10 seed Davidson (27-6, overall)

Bob McKillop’s Wildcats are back in the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence. Davidson won an overall bid after falling to bid thief Richmond in Sunday’s Atlantic 10 championship game. If the Wildcats can warm up from a distance, and they can, they can be a threat to any tournament opponent. The eighth-ranked 3-point shooting team in the nation (38.65%) earned a win over No. 6 seed Alabama and is certainly a threat to Michigan State in the first round. But a cold night of shooting likely spells doom for a team that ranks 143rd in defensive efficiency.

No. 11 seed Rutgers (18-13, overall) or Notre Dame (22-10, overall)

Rutgers snuck out of the bubble despite a quarterfinal loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament. His silver lining, which includes four straight wins in February against ranked opponents Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois, was too tempting for the committee to let go. Notre Dame also snuck in after its own quarterfinal conference tournament loss to Virginia Tech. Its lead includes a second-place finish in the ACC regular season and wins over Kentucky and North Carolina. Either team could present a challenge in a matchup with Alabama.

No. 12 seed New Mexico State (26-6, WAC champion)

The Aggies won their bid with their fourth WAC championship since 2017. They feature WAC Player of the Year Teddy Allen, who thrived at NMSU after transferring from Nebraska averaging 19.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. They will need to rely on their top 50 defense to stand a chance of pulling off an upset.

No. 13 seed Vermont (28-5, AEC champion)

Vermont enters tournament play on a tear, having won 22 of their last 23 games. His only loss since early December is an overtime loss to Hartford on February 14. The Catamounts are strong on both ends of the floor, ranking in the top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency. They will be a popular surprise pick at 13/4 against Arkansas.

Seed No. 14 Montana State (27-7, Big Sky)

The Bobcats earned their fourth NCAA tournament bid and first since 1996 thanks to a Big Sky tournament championship win over northern Colorado. They also clinched the league regular season title with a 16-4 conference record. Texas Tech in the first round is a tall order. If they’re going to have any chance of keeping him a game, they’ll lean on his 38th-ranked 3-point shot (36.9%)

No. 15 seed CS Fullerton (21-10, Big West champion)

The Titans earned a date with Duke thanks to a Big West championship victory over Long Beach State. They rank outside the top 100 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They enter the tournament on a four-game winning streak, but have little chance of making things interesting against Duke.

No. 16 seed Georgia State (18-10, Sun Belt champion)

The Sun Belt champion Panthers boast a better defense than the average No. 16 seed, ranking 70th in the nation in defensive efficiency. Their No. 245-ranked offense is a problem. The entry tournament plays hot, having won 10 games in a row. Don’t count on 11 in a row with Gonzaga waiting in the wings.

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