Team to beat: No. 1 Gonzaga
ANAHEIM – (Site of West Regional Final) – The Gonzaga Bulldogs have reached the Sweet 16 in four straight seasons and feel they have a roster worthy of their second NCAA title game appearance in three seasons. Forward Killian Tillie appears back in form after missing 22 games due to two separate foot injuries.
No. 2 Michigan; No. 3 Texas Tech
The Wolverines beat defending champion Villanova by 27 points and No. 1 seed North Carolina by 17 so there is nobody in the West bracket that appears intimidating. The Red Raiders won three games in the 2018 tourney before Villanova sent them home, and they play a hard-nosed brand of basketball under third-year coach Chris Beard.
Possible Must-see matchups
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Florida State
Both teams have to win twice to set up a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 battle won by the Seminoles. Gonzaga had trouble matching up with Florida State’s stable of athletes last season when it scored a season-low 60 points, and many of those same Seminoles still dot the roster.
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Texas Tech
The Wolverines draw Montana in the first round for the second straight season and last year’s tourney dash ended with a loss to Villanova in the national title game. The Red Raiders are capable of ending Michigan’s hopes in the Sweet 16 with a pesky defense that allows just 59.3 points per game.
No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Arizona State
The Bulls opened eyes last season with an 89-68 first-round dismantling of Arizona and big man Deandre Ayton and they certainly have their eyes set on another win over a major-conference foe. Arizona State will carry some momentum but they will have their hands full with a Buffalo squad that has set a MAC record with 31 wins.
No. 12 Murray State vs. No. 5 Marquette
Two of the most productive players in the nation take the stage in Murray State guard Ja Morant and Marquette sharpshooter Markus Howard. The Racers have won 11 straight games but Morant will need some help from the supporting cast to deliver an upset of the Golden Eagles.
No. 10 Florida vs. No. 7 Nevada
The Gators are a flawed team that lost four of their last six games but always appear ready to put things together. So a victory over the Wolf Pack is certainly a strong possibility as Nevada played a light schedule and displayed signs of wilting down the stretch with three losses in its last eight games.
No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Florida State
The Catamounts come from the same league (America East) as UMBC, which pulled the biggest shocker of all-time last March against Virginia as a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed for the first time. Vermont can keep this game in range if it knocks down 3-pointers and who knows how seriously an ACC team like Florida State will take the Catamounts.
Get to know
Murray State do-it-all guard Ja Morant is considered the possible No. 2 overall choice in the NBA Draft if he chooses to leave school after two seasons. Morant averages 24.6 points and 10.0 assists while winning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year honors and has brought national respect to the Racers.
Marquette guard Markus Howard puts up 3-point shots from all over the court (he has made 116) and is averaging 25.0 points while being named Big East Player of the Year. Howard posted 10 30-point outings — topped by a school-record 53 versus Creighton — and has knocked down five or more 3-pointers on eight occasions.
Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura has been a model of consistency with a 20.1 scoring average and 19 outings of 20 or more points. The West Coast Conference Player of the Year reached double figures in every game but the last one when he was limited to nine in the Bulldogs’ 60-47 loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game.
Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver is projected to be selected in the top half of the first round of the NBA Draft if he decides to enter it after two seasons. The homegrown Lubbock product is the Big 12 Player of the Year and is averaging 18.5 points with 11 20-point outings.
Buffalo guard CJ Massinburg is the leader of the Bulls and he won Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors. Massinburg has knocked down 86 3-pointers while averaging 18.3 points and his top effort of the season came in an overtime road win over West Virginia when he had 43 points and 14 rebounds and buried nine 3-pointers.
Vermont forward Anthony Lamb makes the Catamounts go and he is averaging 21.1 points as the America East Player of the Year. He recorded 15 20-points efforts this season with a high output of 42 in a double-overtime victory over St. Bonaventure.
Predicting the West
Gonzaga has the pieces to make a Final Four run but there is something about that 47-point scoring output against Saint Mary’s that makes four straight wins seem improbable. Look for Texas Tech to get past Michigan in the Sweet 16 and go on and win the region.
(13) Vermont vs. (4) Florida State, Thursday, 2 p.m. ET, TBS
(12) Murray State vs. (5) Marquette, Thursday, approx 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS
(10) Florida vs. (7) Nevada, Thursday, 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT
(16) Prairie View A&M or FDU vs. (1) Gonzaga, Thursday, 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV
(15) Montana vs. (2) Michigan, Thursday, approximately 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT
(9) Baylor vs. (8) Syracuse, Thursday, approximately 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV
(14) Northern Kentucky vs. (3) Texas Tech, Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET, TNT
(11) Arizona State vs. (6) Buffalo, Friday, 4 p.m. ET, TNT
— Staff Report with wire service info by Field Level Media