The West region is headed by No. 1 seed Gonzaga, who won the West Coast Conference after going undefeated. They’ll be favored, but challenges should come from Iowa and Kansas further down the bracket. Creighton is the team to keep an eye for possible upsets, as they finished 20-8 and second place in the regular season in the Big East.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Norfolk St./Appalachian St., Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TBS
Gonzaga bulldozed their way to an undefeated 26-0 mark so far, and leads the nation in effective field goal percentage at 61%. With three Wooden Award nominees in Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, and freshman Jalen Suggs, only once this year did they fail to win by double digits. They are the favorites to win the national championship.
The Norfolk State Spartans are making their second-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament as the MEAC champion. The last time the Spartans made the tourney was in 2011-12, where they upset No. 2-seed Missouri in the second round. But then they lost to the No. 7-seed Florida Gators in the third round. The Spartans will be hoping that they can recapture that magic from years ago and pull another upset this year in the tournament.
Appalachian State shocked the Sun Belt after winning the conference tournament title as a four seed earlier this month. For the vast majority of the season, the Mountaineers were average at best, but went on a hot streak to capture the Sun Belt crown and their first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2000.
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon, Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 6:25 p.m. ET, TBS
If you’re a fan of the all-offense, no-defense style of basketball, you’re going to love this Iowa Hawkeyes team. Iowa comes in as the No. 74 ranked team in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency, but they make up for it by being the top-ranked adjusted offensively efficient team. Luka Garza came into the season as the potentially the top player in college basketball, and he’s done his part, leading the country in points per game at 24.7.
The Grand Canyon Antelopes have been denied their chances of making the NCAA Tournament losing the WAC championship game in both 2018 and 2019. But they will be in the tournament for the first time in school history after defeating the New Mexico State in the title game.
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Eastern Washington, Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 1:15 p.m. ET, TBS
The Kansas Jayhawks certainly did not dominate the Big 12 as it has for many years in the 2020-21 season, as the Baylor Bears took on that role this season. The strength of this Kansas team comes on the defensive end where the Jayhawks come in at No. 6 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Kansas is not as good on the offensive end, though the Jayhawks have a very balanced scoring attack with all five starters averaging in double digits. Their health and status entering the event are the question.
Eastern Washington is back in the NCAA Tournament for the third time ever. The Eagles are 0-2 in March Madness and notched their first appearance and Big Sky conference title since 2015 this year. Maybe the third time will be the charm for Colin Cowherd’s alma mater.
No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Ohio, Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, TruTV
The Virginia Cavaliers have established their brand of basketball, and everybody knows what’s coming. Of every Division 1 team to play a college basketball game this season, Virginia ranks as the slowest team in the country in terms of possessions per game. Virginia had a stretch in which they won 11 of 12 games but struggled in late February with three straight losses. They are led by a pair of senior forwards with Sam Hauser and Jay Huff.
The Ohio Bobcats are in the field of 68 as the Mid-American Conference champions. They also bring a potent offense that is efficient (55.8% eFG) and has great ball movement (6th in assists per game in Division I). Senior Dwight Wilson (14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds per game) will lead a group of five starters that all average double figures in scoring.
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara, Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, TruTV
The Creighton Bluejays are led by their offense heading into the NCAA Tournament. All five of their starters are averaging more than 10 points per game, making this a difficult team for opponents to prepare for on short notice. Creighton shoots 55.7% in terms of effective field goal percentage, the best of any team in the Big East. The Bluejays have improved on the defensive end, but getting stops consistently can be a concern.
The Gauchos are the Big West winners, with a record of 22-4, 13-3 in the conference. Their 79-63 win over UC-Irvine in the league final got them here, and it’s the first appearance in The Big Dance for USCB since 2012.
No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Wichita St./Drake, Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, TNT
The USC Trojans are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2016-17 season, and the biggest strength for this group comes on the glass. The Trojans are the best rebounding team in the Pac-12 thanks to brothers Isaiah Mobley and future NBA Lottery pick Evan Mobley. The 7-foot freshman leads the conference with 8.5 rebounds per game and a team-high 16.2 points per game. As a team, USC ranks No. 18 in adjusted defensive efficiency, so this will be a tough out in the tournament.
The Wichita State Shockers survived life on the bubble, thanks to their ability to pull off close victories throughout the season. The Shockers will not light up the stat sheet statistically, but they simply find ways to win. Their offense is better than their defense, and Wichita State is led by Tyson Etienne, whose 17.3 points per game ranked No. 4 in the AAC. Fellow guard Alterique Gilbert scores 10.2 points per game with team highs with 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
The Drake Bulldogs are making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in school history. The last time Drake went dancing, it was 2008 and lost to Western Kentucky 101-99 in the first round. The Bulldogs will be hoping for a better fate this season as one of the mid-majors who could pull an upset or two in the tournament.
No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 VCU, Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, TNT
The Oregon Ducks will be making their 17th NCAA tournament appearance in school history and their third in four seasons. The last time Oregon was in the NCAA tournament, they defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the first round and UC Irvine in the second round in 2019. Their run eventually came to an end to the Virginia Cavaliers in the regional semifinals. This year, Oregon should be in the running for one of top 16 seeds, especially if they can come away with the Pac-12 tournament championship.
All of VCU’s defensive metrics was aided by their masterful work of procuring steals and blocks. They averaged 9.4 steals and 5.4 blocks per game, good for sixth nationally in both categories.
No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Missouri, Saturday, March 20
Time/TV: 7:25 p.m. ET, TNT
The Oklahoma Sooners have been one of the good surprises of the 2020-21 college basketball season as one of the most consistent Big 12 teams outside of the Baylor Bears. In Lon Kruger’s 10th season in charge of the program, he should be pretty excited about a potential NCAA Tournament run that nobody could have predicted prior to the start of the year.
After consecutive below .500 seasons, the Missouri Tigers are back in the NCAA Tournament in the team’s fourth season under Cuonzo Martin. Missouri plays better on the offensive end than they do defensively, and they are led by a pair of experienced guards Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith. Keep an eye on Jeremiah Tilmon, who is a big presence down low for the Tigers, and his performance is crucial for Missouri’s tournament success.