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2017 March Madness West Regional Winner Predictions

TBD() @ TBD()

  • Where: .. Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Orlando, San Jose
  • When: March 16, 2017 12:15 pm EST
  • Moneyline: Gonzaga (+155) Arizona (+220) West Virginia (+500) Florida State (+550) Notre Dame (+900) Saint Mary's (+1000) Maryland (+3300) Northwestern (+5000) VCU (+5000)

NCAA Tournament “regions” are deceptive when it comes to geography. In fact, the West Regional could be re-named “teams playing in a western venue.” March Madness bids in the “West” include West Virginia, Florida State, Notre Dame, and other contenders from much closer to the Atlantic Ocean.

But the Pacific Time Zone is home for the two top seeds, #1 Gonzaga and #2 Arizona. Can either justify their  seeding and make it to Phoenix? Or will the region title go to an interloper from a land far away?

Gonzaga, a program in midst of a transition from lovable upstart to established national power, has endured the type of criticism in 2016-17 common when schools take off the Cinderella slippers and cement their reputation. How will the “Zags” relatively new role of hunted, not hunter, affect psychology headed into the big dance?

Should wagerers be confident in the Bulldogs despite a regular season scant in wins over big-time competition? Or does a money line bet on a major-conference squad to win the West hold more value?

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Zig-zagging to national prominence

Odds to Win West Regional March MadnessGonzaga’s first run at a national title was in 1999, when the Bulldogs shocked the planet by making the Elite Eight as a #10 region seed. A second Elite Eight run, in 2015, helped emboss long-time coach Mark Few and the program from Spokane as something more than a feel-good story.

But 2017 could be special. The Bulldogs have lost exactly once, to BYU in the final game of the regular season…just before winning the West Coast Conference tournament. The 2016-17 campaign included wins over Arizona, Iowa State, and Florida, and a pair of triumphs over rival St. Mary’s. The first and last teams in that list, of course, are also seeded in the West bracket of the NCAA Tournament.

It will take more than reputation for Gonzaga to play to its (+155) odds to advance to the Final Four. Luckily, their ample talent is underrated due to geography (after all, many older sportswriters are in bed by 10 PM EST). Nigel Williams-Goss is a top-level guard averaging 17 ppg, and senior center Przemek Karnowski is an absolute terror in the paint, measuring 7’1″ and at least 300 pounds.

Does Arizona have the ingredients?

The Pac-12 tournament champions are a trendy pick to overwhelm the Zags and reach the Final Four, but we have doubts about the team’s completeness and consistency. The Wildcats, however, boast possibly the most unique student-athlete in the college game in Lauri Markkanen.

Markkanen has been called the best basketball player ever born in Finland and one of the most versatile cagers in the NCAA. The Suomi native is seven feet tall – and a three-point shooting specialist. He loves to pass and shoot on the perimeter, but averages over seven rebounds per game. The massive Finn is not leading the Wildcats in scoring, though. That honor goes to sophomore guard Allonzo Trier, who is averaging 17+ points an outing.

Talent is not the issue; what could be a problem is the ‘Cats lack of consistency. In a February match-up, Arizona lost to Oregon by more than 20 points. Yes, they took revenge on the Ducks in the PAC-12 tourney. But national-title contenders do not simply get blown out by above-average conference opponents.

Gonzaga also beat the Wildcats convincingly in a regular season contest.

Does too many good teams equal less value?

The plethora of talented spoiler bids in the West may cancel itself out. Gonzaga or Arizona could conceivably fall to any one of them – but the minefield of a draw is keeping value off of the upset bids.

Notre Dame made a stirring run at an ACC tourney title, and Bonzie Colson is one of the best and most well-rounded players in the country. But a loss to Duke dampened spirts, and the Irish will likely be faced with beating Princeton, West Virginia and then Gonzaga all in a row.

WVU enjoys third-best odds to reach the Final Four at (+500) on the money line, and the Mountaineers’ trademark full-court press was good enough to frustrate Kansas 85-69 in a mid-season win. But the squad lost to Oklahoma and Kansas State in the same week. When the press doesn’t generate turnovers, West Virginia has only modest offensive talent to pick up the slack. Florida State, meanwhile, is a mirror image of the Mountaineers – terrific offense at times, but woefully inconsistent defense that will be exposed in the bracket of 68.

Finally there is Saint Mary’s, a program of tradition and fundamentals. Jock Landale is an excellent forward who averages 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds, and is surrounded by a pretty good supporting cast. But two regular-season losses to the Bulldogs loom large. So does their 74-56 defeat at the hands of the Zags in the WCC post-season. Given the Gaels complete failure to challenge the conference rival lurking in their end of the bracket, even the (+1000) odds from book-makers seem far too generous.

Power-conference or not, take the Bulldogs

Much has been made of Gonzaga’s supposedly weak conference slate, as major-conference beat writers would prefer that the team’s 32-1 record turns out to be a mirage. They will be sorely disappointed.

The 2016-17 Bulldogs are 4-0 against their two most dangerous potential opponents en route to the Final Four. With Williams-Goss anchoring the inside, Few’s squad will eschew the normal run-shoot-harass tactics of undersized small-conference teams and go straight for the throat with inside shots and physical defense.

Arizona, Notre Dame and a host of other seeds will make things interesting, but nothing will stop the underrated steam-roller from Spokane on the way to their first Final Four appearance. Wager your units on Gonzaga and watch those pesky strength-of-conference naysayers pipe down as the tourney heats up.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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