The most wonderful time of the year is finally back, and this season it’s made all the more wonderful by the fact that fans will be back in the stands for the first time since 2019. It’s going to be wall-to-wall basketball from noon Thursday to sometime late on Sunday, and we’re going to be here and on Twitter following along with you the whole time. The weekend will end with 16 teams still alive, but it starts with 68. Here’s your roadmap for how they’re getting there in the West region.
If you are just now getting up to speed on the college basketball season, welcome to a region that has the two teams you have most likely already become familiar with! The top overall seed in the tournament, Gonzaga, will be looking to make it back to the title game and get the National Championship that eluded them last year. Meanwhile, Duke will be making their final run under Mike Krzyzewski and trying to send him out a winner. A sniveling, whiny, unlikable winner.
Can Gonzaga be stopped?
It has been 8 years since the NCAA Tournament did not feature the Bulldogs in the Sweet 16, and they are as good a bet as any in the field to feature in the second weekend again. That being said, this region does feature 2 of the 3 teams who have beaten them this season and the size and athleticism of seeds 2-6, their likely opponents beyond the first two rounds, are unlike the level they saw in WCC play. Still, they are #1 for good reason and have the balance and proficiency on both sides of the ball to realistically hope to claim the first title in school history.
Easiest team to cheer against: #2 Duke
You may be swayed by the media’s stomach turning 5 month love in for Mike Krzyzewski as he navigates his last season of college basketball, but I think the sport will be better off without him. If his constant bellyaching at referees doesn’t get to you, see his abysmal treatment of any media member who doesn’t approach him with doe eyed infatuation. He’s as graceless a loser as the sport has seen and it will be a relief when we see the back of him for the final time.
I also don’t care for Theo John.
Most fun team to cheer for: #10 Davidson
Quick quiz: what is the best part about basketball? If you said offense, you are correct. Led by offensive savant Bob McKillop, the Wildcats play some of the best in the nation, featuring a starting 5 where everyone shoots over 37% from three. The only thing they do well on defense is rebound so that they can run down and jack another one of those sweet, sweet triples. It doesn’t hurt that if they get hot they could knock out Michigan State and Duke before the dust has settled on the first weekend.
Player to Watch: Ryan Davis, Vermont
Davis is the back-to-back America East Player of the Year and will be a huge part of the reason if Vermont shock Arkansas in the first round. He scored from just about everywhere on his way to 17.2/5.7/1.3. He dropped 19 on Providence back in December and was out injured for the only loss the Catamounts took in 2022.
Best first round matchup: #4 Arkansas vs. #13 Vermont
Arkansas got off to a slow start last year against Colgate, before a 15-2 run saw off the whatever Colgate’s mascot is (don’t feel like looking it up). This season, the Razorbacks have been done no favors by the committee in drawing #59 KenPom Vermont who has lost once since December 7th. It must be said that Vermont’s best win in that time was over the Colgate Raiders (finally decided to look it up), but they won their conference tournament games by 39, 32, and 39, so it is safe to say they have been playing some good basketball. Arkansas comes into this one fresh off a pummeling from Texas A&M and will be well served to get off to a good start to keep the Catamounts from gaining a foothold early.
Boom or Bust team: #6 Alabama
This team beat Gonzaga, Houston, Tennessee, and Baylor. They also lost to Iona, Missouri, and Georgia. Nate Oats’ style is to play fast and shoot a lot of threes and, when they are going in, it is beautiful and successful. The major drawback with this roster is that they don’t have a soul shooting over 36% from deep and somehow ended the season shooting 2% worse than Xavier. This team staggered down the stretch, but still has the capability to knock off anyone in the region if they are hitting.
Underseeded: #8 Boise State
The Broncos were 13-6 in Quads 1 and 2, finished 26th in KenPom and 29th in NET. They racked up more Q1 wins than 2 of the 4 seeds and all of the 5 seeds and finished higher in WAB than the 5, 6, and 7 seeds in their own region. The geniuses in the lab over at ESPN stuck them at 56th in BPI, behind Saint Louis, Vanderbilt, and St. John’s, which torpedoed their teamsheet rank and landed them 1.5 seeds lower than a team with their Q 1 and 2 record and WAB would normally get.
This bracket has set favorably for Gonzaga, with a 2 seed who should not have been on that line and a 3 seed who struggles to score. Arkansas and UConn are both intriguing potential matchups for the Bulldogs, but beyond that I don’t see who is going to stop Gonzaga’s procession to another Final Four.