After looking at the South, Midwest and East Regions, we've finally reached the West. This region has a disputed 1-seed in Gonzaga, despite their 31-2 record. Of all the regions, this one is the most wide open as the potential is there for five different teams to realistically reach the Final Four. Let's look at the region.
THANKS FOR ATTENDING
Southern (16) is somewhere in the South. Iona (15) stole Seton Hall's tourney spot a year ago; now they will play Ohio State and lose big. Harvard (14) has been undergoing it's greatest run of basketball under Tommy Amaker. This team isn't as good as last year's team, and should be in trouble against New Mexico.
TALE OF TWO MID-MAJORS (AND TWO TEAMS WHO MAY AS WELL BE)
Wichita State (9) are good enough to win in the tourney, but I think they drew a bad matchup with Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Belmont (11) is more than capable of winning in the first round. It probably isn't an upset if they were to beat Arizona (6), who's struggled to the finish line. That's a toss-up. Finally, we have Ole Miss (12) who had to play their way into the field by winning the SEC Tourney. If Marshall Henderson stays hot, the Rebels have a chance against Wisconsin. Problem is that Wisconsin's style will wear down Mississippi and they are pretty hot themselves.
RETURN OF THE EXPLORERS
Last night, La Salle (13) played very well in knocking off Boise State in the last First Four game. Now they have a date with Kansas State and the question will be if the Explorers can keep the hot hand that they did last night in Kansas City, the city where some the glory days of legendary basketball program occurred when they won a national title in 1954. I think the size that the Wildcats pose will be too much for La Salle's guard-heavy lineup, but let's hope that they won't be strangers from the tourney for another 21 years.
BIG EAST (SOON-TO-BE ACC) UNDERACHIEVERS
Notre Dame (7) once again gets to try to avoid another early loss in the tourney. They've only made it into the Sweet 16 once under Mike Brey. This year, being a 7 means avoiding a first round loss. That won't happen as Iowa State (10) will shoot on the Irish all day. Pittsburgh (8) also have a mixed tourney history, but at least they reached the Elite 8 under Jamie Dixon. Back in 2011, I swore off the Panthers after their loss to Butler, as controversial as it was (the loss, not my swearing them off), but I see that matchup with Gonzaga (1) and I just think that Pitt will have an answer for Kelly Olynyk and the defend the floor at the same time. My biggest upset: Pitt over Gonzaga.
BIG TEN TITLE GAME REMATCH?
Yes, Ohio State (2) and Wisconsin (5) can face each other again in the regional final. The question is will they? As well-coached and disciplined in their style that the Badgers are, there always comes a point in the tourney that it's not enough to outlast. I see that happening against Kansas State, who's only crime is not being able to beat Kansas. Problem with Ohio State is they are playing a New Mexico team who probably should be the 2-seed in this region (or at least some other region) and are perhaps stronger defensively as the Buckeyes are.
New Mexico (3) vs. Kansas State (4). The Lobos were put in a fortunate region, which isn't filled with teams that have an abundance of high caliber NBA talent. The Wildcats will play a slow style, just like New Mexico and want to keep the scoring down in the 40s-50s. The difference: New Mexico is outstanding at shooting free throws and not allowing opponents to shoot them, while Kansas State is awful in both. Yes, I said to avoid picking the Mountain West, but I'm making an exception for the Lobos.
West Region winner: New Mexico