2013 NCAA Tournament Preview: West Region - Gonzaga or New Mexico?

Jonathan Daniel

While there's a slew of mid-majors in the West Region, there is really only one who will make it to Los Angeles. The question remains: who will make it to Atlanta?

The last regional bracket to be announced was the West Regional, where West Coast Conference double-champions Gonzaga earned their first ever No. 1 seed. While there's much debate among the talking heads whether or not the Zags deserved the seed, the fact remains that this is a great accomplishment by the Bulldogs.

However, the issue remains: can they get to Atlanta?

Being the number one seed means that you get to face an "easier" schedule: Gonzaga has to get through Southern University in the first round, either Pitt or Wichita State in the round of 32 (look for the Shockers to shock Pitt into an early exit), and most likely an over-seeded Big Ten/Big 12 team for the Sweet 16 match. If Gonzaga moves on like they should, we could potentially see a very intriguing matchup with New Mexico.

The Lobos were snubbed as a No. 3 seed, with the committee favoring Ohio State over them as the last No. 2 seed in the bracket. The Lobos had a better final RPI and strength of schedule than the Buckeyes, but Ohio State ended strong, winning the Big Ten conference tournament, the best conference in the country this year. If we assume that up to the Sweet Sixteen, the highest seed moves up, we can be looking at a Ohio State/New Mexico matchup; one that I believe New Mexico can win easily as long as Tony Snell and Kendall Williams remain hot.

If this Elite Eight matchup does happen, it will then come down to who can shut down the other team's strengths. We've seen New Mexico shut down forwards before (we saw it in the MWC final where the Lobos held the UNLV starting forwards to 15 points...all coming from Anthony Bennett), but can they shut down Kelly Olynyk? Can the Zags defense slow Williams and Snell? If this matchup does happen, it can be one of the most intriguing of the tournament.

Some other observations:

  • Boise State versus La Salle should be a great Dayton game, and I think the winner (regardless of who it is, though I'm pulling for my alma mater here) can possibly beat Kansas State to make it to the Round of 32
  • Keep an eye on Wichita State and also Belmont. The Shockers should beat Pitt who had a very questionable loss against Rutgers earlier in the season, and at times have been known to let their guard down. Belmont can hope for a key upset against Arizona, who slipped at the end of the season, winning only two of their last five games.
Three mid-major players to watch:

1. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga: Do we need to say anything more? The Canadian from Kamloops has simply been dominant, averaging 17.5 PPG and 7.2 RPG. While Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos have also contributed significantly to this team, Olynyk is the life force.

2. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: The Shockers will face an early exit from this tournament if their junior guard doesn't show up for the opening game versus Pitt. Example: Early only had 15 points total in the MVC tournament, including two points against Creighton in the final. If he doesn't score, Wichita State can set the snooze button time for "next season."

3. Ramon Galloway/Tyreek Duren, La Salle: I'm packaging these two players together as one for La Salle, because combined, they average 32.0 PPG, which is less than the Boise State combo of Anthony Drmic/Derrick Marks at 33.6 PPG. For the Explorers to leave Dayton and move on, this duo must out-score the Bronco duo.

Check out the full bracket and print one of your own. And don't forget to compete in the Mid-Major Madness bracket contest.

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