- Can Mark Few lead the Bulldogs through a deep West Region to the program's first Final Four?
Breaking down the West Region of the 2017 NCAA tournament:
State of the No. 1 seed
The Zags rolled through the regular season, piling up non-conference wins against teams like Iowa State, Florida and Arizona (albeit without Alonzo Trier), until Feb. 25, when BYU spoiled senior night in Spokane. GU responded by handily winning the WCC tournament over St. Mary’s. The Zags have been off longer than almost everyone, because the WCC tournament wrapped up last Tuesday; they have talent inside and out, with All-American point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a Washington transfer, running the show and 7’1”, 300-pound Przemek Karnowski patrolling the paint. Oh, and they bring another 7-footer off the bench in freshman Zach Collins. They’re efficient offensively and smart defensively, and, after blowing their shot at a perfect regular season and hearing the haters, eager to prove they can get Mark Few to his first Final Four. They’ll hear nonstop about that expectation, though, and might fold under that pressure.
Could No. 4 seed West Virginia make a run to the Final Four? Don’t count anything out, though it’ll be tough to get past Notre Dame, Gonzaga and Arizona. It helps to have one of the best defenses in the country. The Mountaineers, with their suffocating full-court press, average 10.4 steals per game, best in the country. They can play at a borderline chaotic pace, which has the ability to send other teams into a frenzy. They’re also battle tested, having come from the Big 12. Remember: Bob Huggins’s guys were this close to sweeping Kansas in the regular season before falling in overtime at KU. Getting to Phoenix would probably help them forget about that loss.
Don’t sleep on Florida Gulf Coast. You probably remember Dunk City from 2013, but the Eagles have become a legit mid-major program, and are making their second consecutive tourney appearance. They have five players who average nine points or more, led by Brandon Goodwin (18.2 ppg, 51.6% from the field). They’ll need everyone to score to knock off the No. 3 seed Seminoles, who play in the nation’s toughest conference (the ACC got nine teams in) and are tournament ready.
Player to watch
Prezmek Karnowski, Gonzaga. Karnowski is the player almost no team has: A 7’1”, 300-pounder who runs the floor well, is a great defender and a terrific passer. He’s the best passing big man in college basketball, a fact, which comes in handy when the Zags put both him and fellow 7-footer Zach Collins on the block. It’s tough to simulate his size in practice and good luck getting around him in the paint. Karnowski only averages 12.6 points and six rebounds per game, but that’s partially because Gonzaga has blown out its share of opponents.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona. If it weren’t for UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Markkanen (15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) would have been the Pac-12 freshman of the year. The Finnish 7-footer kept Arizona afloat while Trier was suspended, and he can stroke it from three (42.3% on 155 attempts).
You’re going to hear a lot about
Northwestern. The No. 8 seed Wildcats are making their first NCAA tournament in school history, and it’s been a long time coming (78 years, to be exact). Northwestern made it dramatic at the end of the regular season, dropping three of four games during a stretch in mid-February before beating Michigan at the buzzer in a game that sealed its trip to the Big Dance. The Wildcats the feel good-story of March—but how long can they last?
In a rematch of one of the early season premiere games, expect Gonzaga and Arizona to meet for a trip to the Final Four. Neither coach has ever been, though Arizona’s Sean Miller has gone to three Elite Eights in the last seven years (he lost twice to Wisconsin in the Frank Kaminsky era). When Gonzaga won 69-62 in December, the Wildcats were without All-Pac-12 guard Alonzo Trier. He’s back now, and the Wildcats are hot after winning the Pac-12 tournament against banged-up Oregon.