Warning: I will not be responsible if you copy this bracket and are out of your NCAA Tournament pool by Sunday. However, if you do listen to my college basketball wisdom and win some money, I want 20% of the pot or at least a shout-out on your twitter or facebook page.
I don’t love the West Bracket. At. All. And by that I mean there is no stand out team who I want to pick going to the Final Four. Of all the brackets, this seems to be the most likely one to see a darkhorse emerges since I’m not sold on the top seed Gonzaga or #2 Ohio State.
West Bracket Overview:
Gonzaga was appropriately rewarded for their 2-loss regular season with a #1 seed. Yes, they crushed the weak WCC but still possess non-conference wins over seven “power six” conference schools and easily could have had only one loss had it not been for a buzzer beater loss at Butler. I don’t love any of the other teams in this bracket; Ohio State, New Mexico, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Arizona… all those teams have flaws and there isn’t a real “sexy” darkhorse sleeper.
Most Intriguing First Round West Bracket Game: #7 Notre Dame vs. #10 Iowa State
Talk about a contrast of styles… The Irish aren’t exactly an identical replica of their burn offense of the past couple seasons but they will certainly want to play a slowed down tempo against a Cyclone team that loves to spread the floor with shooters. Whoever controls the flow of the game ends up winning this one.
West Bracket Early Exit: #4 Kansas State
Despite all the success they have had this season, I just don’t trust Bruce Weber. I don’t. I can’t. Wisconsin will be a tough second round match-up for them and I will be incredibly surprised if K-State proves me wrong and makes the Sweet 16.
West Bracket Sleeper: #6 Arizona
I watch A LOT of Arizona basketball. They have a lot of positives; experience with guys like Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom, size with their three freshmen bigs, and they’ve pulled out some incredible close wins this season which is a huge plus come tourney time. Zona is more than capable of putting together a string of wins and making a run. Then again, they could lose in the opening round to a very tough, experienced Belmont team. Have I mentioned I hate this regional?
West Bracket Impact Players to Watch:
Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss
I can’t decide if I really, really like this dude or think he’s a huge d-bag. Either way, he has become a polarizing figure this college basketball season since he runs his mouth and pops his jersey more often than P Diddy pops bottles. Oh yeah, the dude can go off from downtown in the snap of a finger since he attempts about 11 three’s a game but can also shoot his team out of a game like he did by going 3-18 from deep in the Rebels recent loss to Mississippi State.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Besides his stellar lock down defense, Craft has become more assertive and hit some pretty clutch shots for the Buckeyes as of late. Ohio State has been searching for a true number two scorer to DeShaun Thomas all season. Some nights it is Craft, others it is Lenzelle Smith Jr. and occasionally LaQuinton Ross gets going. Their team defense is stout but OSU will need Craft to hit some shots this March to make a run.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
It’s truly amazing how Olynyk went from the odd man out last year and having to redshirt to now being a National Player of the Year candidate. The Dazed and Confused-looking big man is incredibly agile and versatile for a true seven footer. I could easily see him becoming a NCAA Tournament sweetheart if the Zags can live up to their number one seed.
Ian Clark, Belmont
The average college basketball fan has never heard of Clark but let me be the first to put you on notice. He was the Ohio Valley Conference Co-Player of the Year along with Isaiah Canaan of Murray State and was also the OVC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Clark is a very efficient scorer who fits perfectly into Rick Byrd’s system at Belmont.
MoMo Jones, Iona
MoMo was a crucial piece to Arizona’s Elite 8 run two years ago and has been asked to do a lot for the Gaels this season since they lost several key players from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Jones knows how to get buckets but is certainly going to have his hands full in Iona’s first round game against Ohio State since Craft will be checking him all game.
West Bracket Final: #3 New Mexico over #5 Wisconsin
Something crazy is going to happen in this bracket. Mark my words. The Lobos are battle-tested having played in a very solid Mountain West Conference and we can never underestimate Bo Ryan and the Badgers. New Mexico can effectively play with a big or small lineup with center Alex Kirk capable of causing problems in the paint or on the perimeter. It’s their typically aggressive defense that will propel them into the Final Four over a Wisconsin team that too often lives and dies by the three-ball. First to fifty wins and advances to the A-T-L.
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet (Yup, repeat champ… #humblebrag.)
You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.