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West Region: Wide open race for the Final Four

March Madness officially gets under way today with 16 games on the schedule. The West region of the NCAA tournament has the nation’s No. 1 ranked team the Gonzaga Bulldogs. This region is destined for a number of upsets and the Bulldogs must still prove their worth after reaching No. 1, but only playing in a weak West Coast Conference.

Within the region, teams that could make life difficult for Gonzaga are Wichita State, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Arizona and New Mexico. All five teams are capable of beating any team in the country. Of course, Ohio State cannot be overlooked, as the surging Buckeyes just won the Big 10 tournament and could give Gonzaga their biggest test.

Gonzaga was given the top seed in the region and with a record of 31-2, the Bulldogs are deserving of the top seed. Many consider this the best team Gonzaga has had since Mark Few became the head coach. Kelly Oynyk the seven foot center from Canada is unknown by many fans around the country, but everyone will get to see him play in this region. He led the team in scoring this season with 17 points a game, despite playing only an average of 25 minutes in game.

Gonzaga’s only weakness is its schedule. The Bulldogs played only six games this season versus teams that are in this year’s 64-team NCAA tournament. Three of those six were against conference rival Saint Mary’s and they won all three.

The team that could give the Bulldogs their toughest game in the region is Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost three out of four in February, but then won eight straight, with six of the eight wins against teams that are appearing in this tournament.

Deshaun Thomas the junior forward for the Buckeyes, leads them in scoring with 19 points a game. The Buckeyes have a very tough defense that will dictate the pace of a game.

The team that will surprise in the region and could make a run deep into the tournament is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Big East conference was tough this season for Notre Dame but they still ended up 11-7 versus conference teams. The Fighting Irish are tough down low this season, something they have lacked over the last couple of years.

With Tom Knight, Garrick Sherman and the team’s top player Jack Cooley, the Irish have a very tough frontcourt. The team’s backcourt has great shooting skills from three-point land, which helps to spread out the opposing defense. The Irish played their way into the semifinals of the Big East tournament but did not have the luck of the Irish, as they were matched up against Louisville. They face Ohio State in the region’s second round, if both teams advance, and if Notre Dame’s guards can hit from the outside it will open their inside game and that could prove to be the difference.

Some have said that Pittsburgh is capable of upsetting Gonzaga early in the tournament. Pittsburgh finished a tough fourth in the Big East and is seeded eighth in the region. If both Gonzaga and the Panthers win the first round, this could be an intriguing matchup over the weekend.

Upsets could be the order of the day, weekend and throughout this region. The region is wide open and if Gonzaga can win and move on to the Final Four, it will finally quiet their doubters.

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