We continue our five-part series of the hypothetical NCAA tournament with week three - picking the West Region.
The West Region
This region has some good teams in the middle of the pack that could make for some interesting matchups. At least a handful of teams in this region had Final Four potential. Let’s take a closer look.
The virtual lock: No. 1 Gonzaga.
Coach Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs have never won a national title, but the Zags were on track to bring a championship banner to Spokane. They led the nation in scoring offense at 87.4 points per game, scoring margin (nearly 20) and win percentage. They were second in field goal percentage and fourth in assist to turnover ratio.
An upset pick and a potential Cinderella: No. 7 Arizona over No. 2 San Diego St.
Back in November, I wrote an article on my top three college basketball players to watch this year. One of them was Arizona’s freshman point guard Nico Mannion. From his passes and three-point shot to his dribbling and finishing ability, the kid is fun to watch. Mannion only averaged 14 points a game, but he is more than a scorer, and if I was an opposing coach, I wouldn’t want to face him.
I think Mannion would have carried the Wildcats to the Sweet Sixteen, but First Team All-American Myles Powell and Seton Hall would have been too much.
The tossup: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 Oklahoma.
At first glance, this one may seem like a tossup, but LSU was the stronger team. Oklahoma went 9-9 in the Big 12 while the Tigers went 12-6 in the SEC, which says a lot.
The Regional Final: No. 3 Seton Hall over No. 1 Gonzaga, 83-76.
I want to think Few and the Zags would have made the Final Four and won the first national title in school history, but it takes a lot to sell me a team from the West Coast Conference, even if it is Gonzaga.
In the NCAA tournament, the team that has the better star player usually prevails. Powell averaged more than 20 points a game in each of his last two seasons and averaged double figures in scoring his freshman and sophomore years.
Propelled by Powell, the Pirates won a share of the Big East, arguably the strongest league. They had a few letdowns, but I think the Big East had them well prepared for a national semifinals appearance.
Editor’s Note: The preceding are the opinions of the writer and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Marine Corps or Department of Defense.