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2017 NCAA Tournament: West Region Preview

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Vanderbilt is the most confusing team in the tournament, and West Virginia should have gotten Duke’s seed. Meanwhile, Xavier waits down the bracket.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
“What on earth is happening out there?”
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Banners’ coverage of the 2017 NCAA Tournament! Here we will give you the same info that you can get hundreds of other places on the web processed slightly differently and with our own slant as you prepare to immerse yourself in all things college basketball in the most glorious four days on the sporting calendar. We will break the bracket down region by region to get you completely prepared to pick and, more importantly, root with the best information available.

This is where region previews become a lot less fun. Xavier lands in the West, and that means these are the games where mildly interested friends will say “could that team play Egg-savier?” while you do things like try no to hyperventilate or chew your fingernails down to the first knuckle. There is nothing like the exquisite torture of watching your team play an elimination game, and that takes place here in the West Region.

Overseeded:

#6 Maryland

Here are the seeds of the teams around the Terps in the KenPom rankings. Out, #9, #9, Out, Out, #12(aq), 10, Out, Out, Out, Out. Maryland should be in, sure, but they should, by any stretch of any reasonable imagination, be on the same seed line as Creighton, SMU, or UC. They may very well belong in a 6/11 or 7/10 game, but it isn’t as the single digit seed. They sport one more top 30 KenPom win than Xavier, and three losses worse than anything the Musketeers managed. They also have five 200+ wins, including one against a non D-I team. Yes, that’s the resume of a six seed.

(This does not mean I’m predicting an upset, because I do not anger the gods).

Underseeded:

#4 West Virginia

This group beat Iowa St. twice, Virginia, Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma St., Kansas St. twice, and TCU. They had a relatively poor loss to Temple, but otherwise lost to no one worse than #66 in the KenPom. And they went 26-8 with five of those losses coming to the murderer’s row the also beat up on. Toss in probably the nation’s most terrifying defense, and a four seed just doesn’t make sense. Duke fanboys who think they had an argument to being higher than the lowest two seed should be thankful the committee didn’t swap them and the Mountaineers like it rightfully could have.

Easy to like (non-Xavier division):

#8 Northwestern

This is the story that you are going to hear over and over until they lose, which may not take long, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one. Much like NKU, Northwestern is dancing for the first time. Unlike NKU, it took the Wildcats 77 years to do it, not one. This team may not go far after getting paired against Vandy with Gonzaga waiting, but their heave against Michigan that bolstered their bid won’t be soon forgotten.

Fun to watch:

#9 Vanderbilt

Is your idea of fun having no idea what will happen next? I give you the Vanderbilt Commodores. They don’t know what they need to do to win: They lost games where opponents made one three pointer, and games where opponents made 13. They lost games where they shot 69% inside the arc, and games where they shot 28% inside the arc. They won a game when they made five threes, and they won a game where they poured in an unholy 19. They can grab 54% of their misses and beat you, they can grab 11% of their misses and beat you. They can lose when opponents corral only 20% of their missed attempts, or games when they get half. In other words, these guys are basketballing chaos. They could get hot and hammer Gonzaga, they could lose to to Northwestern by 20. God might know, the Dores almost certainly do not.

Easy to hate:

#5 Notre Dame/#14 FGCU

You might have noticed from the other region previews that we tend to enjoy teams that play fast and loose and chuck the ball with abandon. These two teams are the opposite of that. Much has been made of Mike Brey’s burn “offense.” The dirty secret is that, for 20 seconds, it isn’t an offense, it’s four guys standing and then running an end of half or end of game set every time down the floor. Unlike the actual ends of halves or games, though, this is frightfully dull to watch. Calling Mike Brey an offensive mastermind is akin to destroying the internet and then pretending that someone drawing in the dirt is entertaining.

If that sounds like a blast, you just wish the players doing it couldn’t shoot as well and weren’t quite as athletic, check out FGCU. This is not your grandmother’s Dunk City squad. These guys are grind it out, force it inside, shoot a three pointer only if forced, never run, old man at the YMCA ball. They put the ball up, then they crash the glass. They don’t run or shoot from deep, and they really don’t want you to, either.

Danger team:

#12 Princeton

The Tigers aren’t the traditional threat that likes to run and shoot from deep. What they do that makes them dangerous is both slow the pace and turn you over. Princeton runs the Princeton offense, they shoot passably well, and they don’t turn the ball over in their own right. When on defense they defend the glass very well and force turnovers on over 20% of opponent’s possessions. That means that any team that likes to play equally slowly could run into trouble if they let the Tigers start getting extra possessions. Notre Dame in the first round certainly fits that bill, and WVU in the second would create perhaps the most intriguing clash of styles in the field.

Best matchup:

#6 Maryland v. #11 Xavier

You could easily argue that this matchup is seeded backwards or that these two should have met in an 8/9 game. KenPom has Xavier as a one point favorite, Vegas has the Terps as a point and a half favorite. Experts everywhere are split. This one is going to be a dogfight between two teams trying to redeem seasons that didn’t go to plan.

Player to watch:

Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Just how good is Saint Mary’s? Like Gonzaga, they have to answer for playing in a terrible conference but, like Gonzaga, they pounded the competition in their non-conference schedule. KenPom thinks they are 15th, the selection committee thinks they earned a seven seed. A lot of what they to do dispel the questions will be based on how their 6-11 center plays. Landale is top 20 in the nation in both rebounding rates, he’s 37th in usage rate, and he shoots 63% from inside the arc. Landale is going to get the ball early an often. He’s a very good player, and he likely holds Saint Mary’s fate in his hands.