The West region is undoubtedly the weakest region in this year’s bracket, mostly because it houses the weakest No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the tournament in Gonzaga and Ohio State.
Gonzaga is the great unknown. The Bulldogs have struggled against the few legitimate opponents they’ve played, but also have wins over tournament teams like Kansas State and St. Mary’s. They fell victim to unlucky number 13 twice, when they lost to both Butler and Illinois when they were ranked No. 13 in the country. And perhaps the most alarming thing for Gonzaga is that Butler and Illinois both were relatively over-ranked at the time.
Gonzaga’s signature win is a one-point victory over Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys are an inconsistent team (as shown by their loss to Virginia Tech). Typically, picking No. 1 seeds in the tournament is the safest bet, but Gonzaga is far from a lock for even the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs are unblemished, but also unproven.
Ohio State, despite its Big Ten Tournament title, may be over-seeded as a No. 2 seed.
The Buckeyes are only 5-7 against ranked opponents and have looked pretty helpless in some of those losses. But they certainly didn’t win the Big 10 by accident, and their defense was a big reason they brought back the trophy.
Ohio State will sink or swim by their defense. If it runs into an opponent who can score in bunches (like Gonzaga), it could be in serious trouble.
And even though the West lacks strong one and two seeds, it might have the best No. 3 seed in the pool in New Mexico.
The Lobos don’t do one particular thing amazingly; they just play well in all facets of the game. They don’t turn it over or take bad shots. They do move the ball well and earn their share from the foul line. New Mexico flew under the radar all year and could very well make the West its own.
Another team that’s quietly had a very good season is Kansas State. The Wildcats are always around in March and are always good for a win or two in every tournament, and it shouldn’t be any different this season.
But the most intriguing team in the West is the Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin’s shown time and time again that they can beat anyone, as they’ve beaten both Michigan and Indiana twice. The Badgers use the same formula in every game.
If teams dread playing Ohio State’s defense, then they have nightmares about Wisconsin. It rebounds well, slows the game down and doesn’t give opponents open looks, especially from behind the arc. Wisconsin knows how to keep games close and has been great at closing them out late. If the Badgers get rolling, they too could sneak into the Elite 8 and beyond.
Other interesting matchups are between Pittsburgh and Wichita State, as well as Arizona and Belmont. Any four of those teams could make some serious noise if they can get out of the first round.
The West is the one region where you can throw every team’s seeding out the window because so many of them are so evenly matched. It may lack a consistent, proven contender, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be extremely entertaining.