West Region First Round Picks
The round of 64 is finally here, which means the madness of March has truly arrived. Each of the four regions will see hardcourt battles today, but none will likely be as wild as the West.
The highly-touted Gonzaga Bulldogs will experience their first action, along with the team I like to win the West – New Mexico. Who will advance? Who will fall? No matter what happens, the excitement is sure kicking into full gear. Let’s take a closer look at the four match-ups in the West region today.
#16 Southern +22 vs #1 Gonzaga -22
Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Southern University will get its shot at the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs today in a game that odds makers are predicting to be a blowout. Gonzaga’s 14-game winning streak and its number one seed certainly speak to that logic, but first round games can sometimes be trouble, even for the nation’s elite.
And since Gonzaga has still not faced many premium opponents, we can’t be so certain that they are in that elite class. Will they advance past Southern? Almost certainly. But by 22 points? It’s possible, but it seems more unlikely.
Southern will be giving Gonzaga its best effort and the Zags – who have all the pressure of high expectations on their shoulders – may come out of the gates with a little rust to shake off. There’s no question that the Bulldogs should earn the win, but I like Southern to cover +22 today.
#9 Wichita State +4 vs #8 Pittsburgh -4
On paper, these two teams match up pretty well, which means the committee did a good job at seeding them at number eight and number nine. However, Pitt comes from a much stronger conference – the Big East compared to WSU’s Missouri Valley Conference- so we have to give the Panthers’ season numbers (69.6 PPG, 55.4 PPG allowed) a little more merit.
Considering Pitt is a little more battle tested and that it has a tougher defense, I like the Panthers to escape a close one, but cover -4 today.
#11 Belmont +5 vs #6 Arizona -5
Based on their seeding, the Wildcats are one of the more overrated teams in the tournament, whereas the Bruins of Belmont may be one of the most underrated. Upset alert anyone? I think yes.
The Wildcats limped down the final stretch of the season, losing three of their last five games, while Belmont capped off its regular season schedule with six consecutive victories, including an Ohio Valley Conference title.
Belmont comes into the match-up shooting a blistering 49.4 percent as a team on the year, which is good for fourth best in the country. Arizona can score the ball too, as it averaged 73.3 points per game on the season, but if the Bruins get hot, this game could get very upsetting for the Cats.
Take Belmont to pull off the shocker today and cover +5.
#14 Harvard +11 vs #3 New Mexico -11
With its well balanced offense, strong defense and tournament experience, New Mexico is the team I like to come out of the West region and advance to the Final Four. So naturally, I’m taking the Lobos to advance past the smarties at Harvard. The real question is: Can they cover the 11-point spread?
With their strong half-court game, the Lobos aren’t really known for running opponents out of the gym, as they averaged a seven-point margin of victory during the regular year. Meanwhile, Harvard – who heavily relies on perimeter shooting – can win big if they get hot, and lose big if they run cold.
Harvard will only be able to hang close if it hits three-point shots, and against New Mexico’s stingy D, that will be a much taller order. Look for New Mexico to just barely cover -11 this one, as it takes control down the stretch.