What to know about every team in the West regionMarch 13th, 2023
With the field for the 2023 men’s NCAA tournament now official, we’re breaking down each team in the bracket in the lead-up to the tournament. Here’s what you need to know about the West region.
[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Men’s | Women’s]
The defending national champions are set to have Bill Self back on the sideline after he missed the Big 12 tournament after a heart procedure. And this team looks a lot different than it did a season ago when it won the national title. Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun are in the NBA and Jalen Wilson has taken the mantle as the team’s go-to player.
Just two of Kansas’ seven losses have been by single digits. It’s been a bit odd to see such a good team get blown out like Kansas has been at times in 2022 and 2023. That’s part of the reason why the West looks to be the most wide-open region in the tournament. Wilson averages 20 points per game for the Jayhawks and three others average at least 10 points per game. Wilson has also scored at least 20 points in six of those seven losses as teams have been content to let Wilson cook and attempt to shut his teammates down.
No. 2 UCLA (+1200)
The Bruins are set to be without third-leading scorer Jaylen Clark due to an Achilles injury. If Clark was in the lineup, this team may be the favorite to win the West. UCLA lost by two to Arizona in the Pac-12 title game and still feature Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell. Freshman Amari Bailey also averages over 10 points per game. UCLA allows just 60 points per game and opponents shoot just 31% from three. A potential Sweet 16 game with Gonzaga in Las Vegas could be raucous.
No. 3 Gonzaga (+1800)
The Zags enter the NCAA tournament on a nine-game win streak after losing to St. Mary’s in overtime on Feb. 4. Drew Timme is once again the focal point for Gonzaga’s offense as he averages 21 points per game. Julian Strawther averages 15 points per game and shoots almost 43% from three. This is an incredibly experienced team that will not surprise anyone if it makes the Final Four again. Gonzaga leads the country with 87.5 points per game and shoots nearly 60% from inside the arc.
No. 4 UConn (+1600)
The Huskies finished fifth in the Big East and lost to eventual tournament champions Marquette in the conference tournament semifinals. All eight of UConn’s losses this season have come to Big East opponents as well. The Huskies beat tournament teams Alabama and Iowa State in November by a combined 37 points. Adama Sangoo averages 17 points and seven rebounds while Jordan Hawkins scores 16 points per game. Don’t be surprised if UConn is a very slight underdog in a potential Sweet 16 game against Kansas given how good their national title odds are.
No. 5 St. Mary’s (+4000)
The Gaels tied with Gonzaga for the regular season West Coast Conference title and play an extremely different style than the Zags. St. Mary’s gives up just 60 points per game and is one of the most methodical teams in the country. Just four teams play at a slower pace according to KenPom.com. Guards Logan Johnson and Aidan Mahaney combine to average nearly 30 points per game and the Gaels also allow just 16 three-point attempts per game. A great way to limit your chances of getting upset is to prevent your opponent from shooting threes.
No. 6 TCU (+3500)
The Horned Frogs lost early in the season to Northwestern State and responded by winning 11 games in a row. TCU has shown it’s capable of beating good teams — the Horned Frogs beat Kansas, Texas, Kansas State and Baylor this season. But it also split games with the three Big 12 teams that didn’t make the tournament. Mike Miles leads the team with 17 points per game and Emanuel Miller and Damion Baugh each averaged over 12 per game. Like Iowa State, a Sweet 16 run for TCU will be further proof of the strength of the Big 12.
No. 7 Northwestern (+15000)
The Wildcats finished second behind Purdue in a muddled Big Ten and lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament. A five-game win streak in February got Northwestern solidly into the NCAA tournament but that streak was followed by three consecutive losses before Northwestern clinched second with a win over Rutgers in the final game of the regular season. Boo Buie averages 17 points per game and Chase Audige averages 14 but the Wildcats shoot just 32% from three as a team.
No. 8 Arkansas (+5000)
Arkansas underachieved over the course of the season without Nick Smith for much of the season. But he’s back and has scored at least 12 points in his last six games. The Razorbacks can be streaky, and that term applies to losing streaks (they had two 3-game losing streaks in the SEC) and even over the course of a single game. Just look at how Arkansas collapsed against Texas A&M in the SEC tournament. This is a team that has made the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons and could be a popular pick to upset Kansas if it beats Illinois.
No. 9 Illinois (+8000)
Illinois has been a maddening team for Illini fans all season long with just two victories over Big Ten teams that made the NCAA tournament. But Illinois is in largely because it beat the teams it should have beaten in the conference and also took down UCLA early in the season and beat Texas in December. This is the perfectly unpredictable opponent for Arkansas. Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon averages 17 points per game while former Baylor player Matthew Mayer averages 13 points per game.
No. 10 Boise State (+20000)
The Broncos finished second in the Mountain West in the regular season and lost to fellow NCAA tournament team Utah State in the conference tournament. The Broncos beat San Diego State on Feb. 28 and also beat Utah State by 23 in January while scoring a non-conference win over Texas A&M in December. Five players average at least 10 points per game for the Broncos and Boise State is one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country while being one of the worst on the offensive glass.
No. 11 Mississippi State (+25000)
Mississippi State is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019 in Chris Jans’ first season with the team and the Bulldogs have to beat Pitt for a chance at TCU. MSU had a horrid start to SEC play. The Bulldogs won one of their first eight games before a five-game win streak that included wins over Missouri and Arkansas. The Bulldogs also beat Texas A&M on Feb. 25. Tolu Smith leads the team with 16 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
No. 11 Pitt (+20000)
The Panthers went 14-6 in the ACC after an 8-4 start to the season. A six-game conference win streak that included victories over Miami and North Carolina propelled Pitt into the tournament, though the Panthers have lose three of their last four games and were blown out by Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. Pitt’s guards carry the scoring load for the team and the Panthers shoot 26 threes a game.
No. 12 VCU (+25000)
The Rams went 15-3 in the A-10 to win the regular season title and beat Daytona 68-56 in the conference title game. VCU enters the tournament on a nine-game win streak after a loss to the Flyers on Feb. 7 and is in the tournament for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons. VCU has a very balanced scoring attack led by guard Ace Baldwin (13 points per game) and ranks No. 17 in KenPom.com’s adjusted defense rankings.
No. 13 Iona (+50000)
All signs point to this being the final season for Rick Pitino at Iona after he’s been linked to open jobs at St. John’s and Texas Tech. The longtime college coach’s Gaels went 17-3 in conference play and won each of its MAAC tournament games by double digits. Iona enters the tournament with 14 wins in a row and sophomore guard Walter Clayton averages 17 points per game while forward Nelly Junior Joseph scores 15 per game and averages 9.4 rebounds.
No. 14 Grand Canyon (+100000)
Grand Canyon finished sixth in the WAC but won the conference tournament to advance to its second NCAA tournament in three seasons. Rayshon Harrison scores nearly 18 points per game while Gabe MCGlothan averages 13 points and eight rebounds. The Antelopes shoot 38% from three on 23 attempts per game.
No. 15 UNC Asheville (+100000)
The Bulldogs won the regular season Big South title with a 16-2 conference record and defeated Campbell 77-73 in the conference title game for a ninth consecutive win. This is UNC Asheville’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016 and the team has never been higher than a No. 15 seed in any of its five NCAA tournament appearances. Drew Pember scores 21 points per game and averages over nine rebounds a contest.
No. 16 Howard (+100000)
It’s Howard’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1992. The Bison were a No. 16 seed in their first NCAA tournament that season. Their first-round opponent 31 years ago? Kansas. Howard beat Norfolk State 65-64 to get to the tournament and leading scorer Elih Hawkins shoots 47% from three.
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