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2019 NCAA Tournament West Region Preview

A great guard matchup highlights a region with some intriguing teams.

Big East Basketball Tournament - Semifinals
In my dreams, my shot looks like this.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Welcome to Banners’ coverage of the 2019 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.

Overseeded: #11 Arizona St.

Much like Belmont, these guys are overseeded because they shouldn’t be here at all. ASU is 61st in the KenPom, 54th in Massey, and 68th in T Rank. If analytics aren’t your thing, The Sun Devils best win was Mississippi St back on November 19th and they’ve not beaten a top 50 team since January 19th. They’ll play St. John’s, who also doesn’t have a great resume but at least plays in a good conference.

Underseeded: #10 Florida

28th in the KenPom, 25th in T Rank, 33rd in Massey, 31st in NET. All of that, plus two wins over LSU and eight quad one wins got the Gators a seed one above bubble cut line. Washington, Baylor, Mississippi, and UCF all somehow got better seeds than Florida. The committee did a great job this year, but this one they got wrong.

Easy to like: #5 Marquette

Am I supposed to hate these guys? I don’t, it’s not like they are Butler. We’re always here for brothers doing things together, and Marquette has the Hauser’s just sticking threes and celebrating awkwardly. Markus Howard doesn’t come across as even remotely hateable. There are unlikable conference rivals, but these guys aren’t one of them. Butler is. Screw those guys.

Fun to watch: #6 Buffalo

Buffalo plays insanely fast, heaves threes like if they make enough they might become fours, and gambles to force turnovers. Everyone is going to talk about CJ Massinburg (tip from someone living in a MAC city, he’s stone cold behind the arc right now), but Buffalo’s centers are shooting 38.1% and 35.6% behind the arc in not insignificant sample sizes. Even if these guys obliterated your graduate alma mater by, say, 36 in the MAC tournament, you’d still like to watch them play.

Easy to hate: #8 Syracuse

Jim Boeheim remains the face of all that is wrong with college coaches. Where John Calipari at least has the sense to come across as the semi-charismatic huckster he is, Boeheim is nothing more than a whiny old man. He plays the same defense those old guys at the YMCA who really should’t be there play, and his offense basically consists of dragging God’s own sport out back and beating it with a shovel. Syracuse is just a reprehensible, blatantly cheating, cesspool of basketball degeneration.

Danger team: #7 Nevada

Buffalo could also fit here, but since digital ink has been spilled on them, it’s the Wolfpack. Nevada has solid guards, shoots the three often and fairly well, and takes care of the ball as well as anyone in the nation. 5-3 in their last eight, Nevada doesn’t come in red hot, and they haven’t played a challenging schedule. They aren’t a lock, but they could get hot and find themselves in the Elite Eight.

Best matchup: Marquette-Murray State

This is the one that everyone is talking about. Ja Morant (more on him later) is a one man team, but his supporting cast does enough to keep teams honest. The Racers lost to Auburn by five, should have eliminated Belmont by beating them in the OVC final, and crushed the teams they should have crushed. They play in a bad conference, and they dominated it.

Marquette is almost the exact opposite. Markus Howard uses the ball a lot, but his teammates bring more to the table then Morant’s do. The Golden Eagles also play in a legitimately good conference where they are tested day in and day out. This is the kind of game that makes the tournament great.

Player to watch: Ja Morant

There’s no need to get cutesy here and pick someone else. If late night ESPN+ streams aren’t your thing, you may not have seen Morant this year. He’s a whipcrack quick 6-3 guard who is going to have the ball in his hands at almost all times. He doesn’t dominate the ball in a bad way though, as he takes only 29.2% (109th nationally) of the shots when he is on the floor. What Morant does do with the ball is pass it and pass it well. His assist rate of 51.6% is first in the nation by over five percent. That comes coupled with a turnover rate of only 22%, essentially the same as Quentin Goodin. Morant isn’t a great outside shooter, but he gets to the rim, and he can finish both in the lane and at the line. Don’t miss him, even if it’s only for one game.