The West Region for the NCAA Tourney features the Kansas Jayhawks and is largely considered the toughest of the regions this season that sees the UCLA Bruins, Gonzaga Bulldogs, and the UCONN Huskies as the other top seeds. What makes this region tough is there are some really solid teams up and down the region that could provide some difficult matchup problems for the higher seeds.
#1 Seed | Kansas Jayhawks | Big 12 | 27-7 | NET: 9th | Kenpom: 9th
The Kansas Jayhawks have enjoyed another stellar season under the direction of head coach Bill Self who won the regular season Big 12 Championship for the 64th time in program history. The Jayhawks are led by likely 1st Team All American Jalen Wilson who is averaging 20.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. Wilson is the 6th overall player according the Kenpom’s National Player of the Year rankings but also has a phenomenal player behind him in freshman Grady Dick who is averaging 14.1 points in his own right. The Jayhawks downfall may be their high propensity for turnovers at times throughout the season having nine games of 15 or more turnovers and going just 4-5 in those games. The Jayhawks have also struggled with 3 point shooting at times this season with 12 games under 30% with 5 of their losses coming in those games and shooting just 34% on the season.
#2 Seed | UCLA Bruins | Pac 12 | 29-5 | NET: 3 | Kenpom: 2nd
The UCLA Bruins seemed to be on the track to a #1 seed but the early season losses to Illinois and Baylor could not be overcome going 18-2 in the PAC 12. Following a season that saw UCLA get beaten by UNC in the Sweet 16, UCLA has rebounded under the leadership of Mick Cronin and led by PAC 12 Player of the Year Jaime Jazquez, Jr. and former Purdue target Tyger Campbell. The two guards combine for over 30 points a game and 7 assists.
The Bruins this season have excelled on the defensive end where they are the #1 ranked Kenpom adjusted defense with all five of their losses coming to NCAA Tourney teams. UCLA does a good job taking care of the ball where they have 20 games of 10 turnovers or less but also pressure their opponents with a defense that forces turnovers and steals. Through the season, UCLA had 12 games where they generated 10 steals or more along with only two games all season where they did not force at least 10 turnovers.
#3 Seed | Gonzaga Bulldogs | WCC | 28-5 | NET: 6th | Kenpom: 8th
An opponent that the Boilers are familiar with, Gonzaga shared the regular season title with St. Mary’s and are led by the player who many assumed would be the National Player of the Year in Drew Timme. Timme has had a great season averaging 20.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists but is missing the type of player that complimented him so well last year in Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard once they left for the NBA.
Gonzaga had one of the hardest non-conference schedules this season where they played eight eventual NCAA Tourney teams with two of those teams being #1 seeds (Alabama & Purdue), a #2 seed (Texas), and a #3 seed (Baylor). Gonzaga would go 5-3 in those 8 games with losses to Purdue, Texas, and Baylor.
#4 Seed | UCONN Huskies | Big East | 25-8 | NET: 8th | Kenpom: 4th
UCONN appeared to be headed to a #1 seed early in the season before a 2-6 stretch found them dropping all the way out of the rankings before storming back and finishing 9-2 in their last 11 games. Head Coach Dan Hurley is in his 5th season and following a tough first year, has turned around a program that enjoys four national titles since 1999. UCONN has one of the more dynamic scoring combinations in the country with Adama Sanogo averaging 17 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and Jordan Hawkins averaging 15.9 points per game.
UCONN can get itself into some problems when they don’t take care of the ball as they have 19 games with 12 or more turnovers but do force a number of turnovers as well having 18 games of 12 or more forced. UCONN does have a common opponent with Purdue in Marquette and they lost two of the three matchups this season.
Look Out For | #12 VCU Rams | MAAC Champion | 27-7 | NET: 58th | Kenpom: 58th
In this region, I could have easily chosen from an additional 3 or 4 schools considering many are looking at the West as the most loaded region. TCU played in the rough and tumble Big 12 but finished a bit like dragging yourself across the finish line in a marathon with cramps in your calves as they went 5-8 over their last 13 games. Iona is led by Rick Pitino and won the always tough Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Title and will play a tough brand of basketball that he is known for. VCU, though, might be the team that makes a run as a lower seed into a Sweet 16 and maybe even an Elite 8.
VCU plays in one of those sneaky tough conferences that many who follow the bigger conferences may not know much about in the Atlantic 10 but it is consistently one of the more competitive conferences in the country. VCU, as many Boiler fans know, play a hard brand of basketball to handle on short notice to handle on offense. Ranked as the 17th best defense in the country according to Kenpom, VCU can muddy up a game that opponents will find difficult to adjust to. VCU has also gone 22-3 over their last 25 games and defeated 5 NCAA Tourney teams throughout the course of the season.