West Region: Sweet Sixteen
By Zachery Bonzheim
The first weekend of the Big Dance has ended and the tournament was full of upsets, close games, surprise, and broken brackets. The West has seen its fair share of drama as an 11 seed in Xavier has cruised to the Sweet Sixteen and the number one, Gonzaga only beat Northwestern with the help of the refs. Let’s begin by recapping round one and two.
#1 Gonzaga beat #16 South Dakota State (66-46)
#8 Northwestern beat #9 Vanderbilt (68-66)
#5 Notre Dame beat #12 Princeton (60-58)
#4 West Virginia beat #13 Bucknell (80-86)
#11 Xavier beat #6 Maryland (76-65)
#3 Florida State beat #14 Florida Gulf Coast (86-80)
#7 Saint Mary’s beat #10 VCU (85-77)
#2 Arizona beat #15 North Dakota (100-82)
Round One Summary: There was only one upset… All of the higher seeds won in the first round with the exception of the highly anticipated and greatly regarded Maryland/Xavier game. Many bracketologists and experts had Maryland around the 8 seed and Xavier higher than an 11 seed. What happens when a highly overseeded team plays one of the most underseeded teams? An upset… that was expected. The Trevon Bluiett and Melo Trimble matchup were everything we hoped for and more. It is worth noting how easily Saint Mary’s cruised over VCU and how Florida State and Notre Dame struggled against much worse opponents.
P.S. Northwestern left the first round of the West Region with a 100% winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament.
#1 Gonzaga beat #8 Northwestern (79-73)
#4 West Virginia beat #5 Notre Dame (83-71)
#11 Xavier beat #3 Florida State (91-66)
#2 Arizona beat #7 Saint Mary’s (69-60)
Round Two Summary: There was only one upset… XAVIER AGAIN. This region has been as chalk as possible with the major exception of Xavier. The top two seeds, Gonzaga and Arizona struggled to beat a pair of 8 and 7 seeds. Northwestern was in the game with huge momentum until a missed goaltend and a technical in reaction handed the game to Gonzaga. Northwestern’s record year was cut short due to poor officiating. In the official’s defense, they could not review the play and none had the angle to see the goaltend. Saint Mary’s was under-seeded as a seven and proved it by taking #2 Arizona to the breaking point. Notre Dame and Florida State, two teams perhaps overseeded that struggled in the first round against much lower opponents got demolished in round two against competitive teams. Xavier’s whopping of Florida State was historic. A huge storyline to follow into the Sweet Sixteen is that the lower seeds, #4 West Virginia and #11 Xavier have cruised to this point while #1 Gonzaga and #2 Arizona struggled in the second round. How could momentum affect the next round?
Sweet Sixteen Preview
#1 Gonzaga vs #4 West Virginia- March 23rd, 7:39 PM, San Jose, TBS
#2 Arizona vs #11 Xavier- March 23rd, 10:05 PM, San Jose, TBS
Both games will be held Thursday, March 23rd, on TBS, in San Jose at the SAP Center. SAP holds 18,543 for basketball games. Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center holds 6,000; West Virginia’s WVU Coliseum holds 14,000; Arizona’s McKale Center holds 14,644, and Xavier’s Cintas Center holds 10,250. All teams will be playing in front of crowds larger than their average home games.
#1 Gonzaga vs #4 West Virginia
This game will be very good. Press Virginia’s nationally recognized press defense against the amazing offensive firepower of Gonzaga will be on display. Right now momentum is with West Virginia as they cruised past Notre Dame. Gonzaga struggled against Northwestern who is great in their own right and could have won that game, but they are not the quality of West Virginia. I expect this to be a very close game. Gonzaga will have the crowd to their advantage, but West Virginia will have the momentum. The matchup to watch will be in the guard play. Nigel Williams-Goss will need to lead the Zags while Jevon Carter will be going all out at 100 miles a minute.
Prediction: West Virginia 81-80
#2 Arizona vs #11 Xavier
Xavier is cruising. They have looked flawless so far and Trevon Bluiett has looked like an All-American. Arizona will have a huge advantage in location and the dominance of Lauri Markkanen. Bluiett has been the best player in the West Region so far and he will be the player to watch closely all day. Allonzo Trier and Trevon Bluiett will battle it head to head. Expect a battle similar to that of Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges’ in the Kansas/Michigan State game. This game is a huge toss up, Arizona was my personal favorite to make it out of the region, but Xavier has made me a believer.
Prediction: Xavier 88-85
Top 5 Players in the West Sweet Sixteen
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier, Junior, Guard
Jevon Carter, West Virginia, Junior, Guard
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, Junior, Guard
Allonzo Trier, Arizona, Sophomore, Guard
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, Freshman, Center
This region is exceptionally special because the talent the top two teams carry is unmatched. Xavier and West Virginia’s overall dominance has been unmatched creating some huge matchups. The best part is that the four most important players left in this region are all guards. At this point, nothing in the region would surprise anyone. If Xavier or West Virginia won by 20, people would just note their momentum. If Arizona or Gonzaga won by 20 people would just look at their talent. The close game is of course expected at this point, but nothing would be a surprise.