NCAA Bracket 2021: Complete Guide to West Region

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2021

NCAA Bracket 2021: Complete Guide to West Region

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    The West Region of the 2021 NCAA tournament is headlined by the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who enter March Madness as the No. 1 team in the country.

    They will look to make history with an undefeated season, but standing in their way will be No. 2 seed Iowa, No. 3 seed Kansas, No. 4 seed Virginia and a few others viable contenders further down the seeding lines.

    The West Region is also loaded with future NBA talent, with Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs and USC freshman Evan Mobley both expected to be among the first players selected in the 2021 NBA draft.

    Before the tournament gets underway, here's a full breakdown of the West Region.

First-Round Schedule

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    Ochai Agbaji
    Ochai AgbajiEric Gay/Associated Press

    All first-round games in the West Region will be played on Saturday, March 20. Game times are in ET.

    No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Eastern Washington, 1:15pm, TBS

    No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara, 3:30pm, truTV

    No. 6 USC vs. winner of No. 11 Wichita State/No. 11 Drake, 4:30pm, TNT

    No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon, 6:25pm, TBS

    No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Ohio, 7:15pm, truTV

    No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Missouri, 7:25pm, TNT

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. winner of No. 16 Norfolk State/No. 16 Appalachian State, 9:20pm, TBS

    No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 VCU, 9:57pm , TNT

Must-See Games

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    Austin Reaves
    Austin ReavesCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 VCU

    The Oregon Ducks enter the NCAA tournament on a roll with a 10-1 record in their last 11 games to close out the regular season. With Pac-12 Player of the Year Chris Duarte (16.7 PPG, 43.0 3PT%) and Eugene Omoruyi (16.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG) leading the charge offensively, they are a dangerous No. 7 seed with momentum on their side.

    On the opposite end, VCU is a pesky opponent that ranks among the national leaders in steals (9.4) and blocks (5.4) per game. That impactful play on the defensive end, coupled with potential first-round pick Nah'Shon Hyland (19.4 PPG) leading the way offensively, is going to make things extremely difficult on the Ducks.

              

    No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Missouri

    The No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed is the perfect spot for two teams that have shown the potential to beat anyone in the nation while also laying more than a few eggs along the way.

    The Sooners finished with a 5-9 record in Quadrant 1 games, but their resume includes victories over Alabama and Kansas at home. The Tigers beat Illinois, Alabama and Arkansas this year but stumbled to a 3-6 record in their last nine games entering the tournament.

    The winner of this game is capable of giving Gonzaga a run in the second round. It could also get blown out by 20 points against the Zags. After all, these are the wild cards of the region.

Top Storylines

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    1. Will Kansas and Virginia both avoid a COVID-19 exit?

    The West Region features two teams in No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Virginia that had to withdraw from their conference tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test.

    "Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of men's basketball, has said that a team needs just five healthy players to play in an NCAA tournament game," wrote Mark Schlabach of ESPN.

    The Jayhawks' and Cavaliers' availability on two of the top seed lines in the region will be a major talking point in the days to come.

        

    2. A potential Gonzaga vs. Iowa rematch

    The No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs and No. 2 seed Iowa Hawkeyes would meet in the Elite Eight if the West Region plays out as chalk, and those two teams have already squared off once this year.

    With Gonzaga ranked No. 1 in the nation and Iowa close behind at No. 3 back on Dec. 19, the Bulldogs came away with a 99-88 victory to solidify their place as one of the nation's elite teams.

    Luka Garza scored 30 points for Iowa in that game, while Gonzaga had four players in double figures, led by freshman Jalen Suggs with 27 points. The Bulldogs knocked down 13 three-pointers in that win, beating the Hawkeyes at their own game.

        

    3. Gonzaga playing for an undefeated season

    The Bulldogs are the 20th team in 82 years of NCAA tournament play to enter March Madness with an undefeated record, as well as the first since Kentucky in 2015, according to Matt Norlander of CBS Sports.

    The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers are the last team to run the table and finish the year as undefeated national champions, so there is history on the line in the West Region.

Players to Watch

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    Evan Mobley
    Evan MobleyMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Evan Mobley, USC and Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

    It's become a foregone conclusion that Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft for some time now, but the No. 2 spot on draft boards is still up for grabs.

    USC freshman Evan Mobley (16.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.0 BPG) and Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs (14.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG) are both prime candidates to be second to hear their name called on draft night, so scouts will be tuning in closely to the West Region.

    The two would potentially meet up in the Elite Eight.

        

    Luka Garza, Iowa

    The two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, Luka Garza had his No. 55 retired by the Iowa Hawkeyes this year after he became the school's all-time leading scorer.

    The 6'11", 265-pound forward is averaging 23.7 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 54.7 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from beyond the arc with 37 threes made on the year.

    He's surrounded by knockdown shooters on the perimeter, but the Iowa offense runs through Garza on the inside. The Hawkeyes will advance as far as he can carry them.

        

    Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU

    If you're looking for this year's mid-major breakout star, Nah'Shon Hyland could be the guy.

    B/R NBA draft writer Jonathan Wasserman had the VCU standout at No. 31 on his latest big board, and he was recently named Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year.

    The 6'3" guard is a 37.2 percent shooter from deep on 180 attempts, and he's averaging 19.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

Favorite Most Likely to Fall

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    David McCormack
    David McCormackEric Gay/Associated Press

    No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks

    Even if Kansas is able to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak, it may still be without David McCormack, who ranked second on the team in scoring (13.4 PPG) and rebounding (6.1 RPG) during the regular season.

    The 6'10" big man was set to miss the Big 12 tournament as a result of COVID-19 protocols, and while he was expected to be ready for the NCAA tournament, that is far from guaranteed.

    "It does change a lot,'" head coach Bill Self told reporters prior to the conference tournament, "because as you guys know, we've actually gotten better playing through David the second half of the season, and he's had a really good last 10 to 15 games. He's been really good for us. So that's different."

    Kansas was playing well at the end of the season with an 8-1 record in its last nine games, but the abrupt halt to its Big 12 tournament run and the ensuing COVID-19 concerns could set it up for a disappointing NCAA tournament.

    Don't sleep on Eastern Washington, a high-scoring team that moves the ball well and can hold its own on the glass, as a potential upset pick in the first round.

Most Likely Cinderella

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    Andy Nelson/Associated Press

    No. 7 Oregon Ducks

    Earlier this week, I highlighted the Oregon Ducks as a team with the potential to be a bracket-buster, highlighting a few different reasons they could surprise.

    Here are the bullet points:

    • An 11-2 record in their last 13 games.
    • An experienced seven-man rotation with four seniors and two juniors.
    • An efficient offense that shoots 37.9 percent from beyond the arc and does a good job taking care of the basketball.
    • Five players who are 6'6" or taller in the rotation, creating inevitable matchup problems.

    If they can find a way to slow down Luka Garza inside, they are plenty capable of upsetting No. 2 seed Iowa and advancing to the Sweet 16.

Who Will Make the Sweet 16?

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    Marcus Zegarowski
    Marcus ZegarowskiFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    No. 1 Gonzaga

    Detractors are going to point to an easy road through the West Coast Conference, but Gonzaga had eight Quad 1 wins on the year, seven of which came on the road or at neutral sites.

    Joel Ayayi would be the go-to player on a lot of teams, and he's their fourth option offensively. Jalen Suggs could score 30 on any given night, but he's happy to play his role and defer to Corey Kispert and Drew Timme for the most part.

    Make no mistake. This is the team to beat.

        

    No. 5 Creighton

    The Bluejays are an experienced squad with three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup. They take care of the ball, have shooters all over the floor and are an extremely dangerous offensive team when Marcus Zegarowski gets rolling.

    The question is defense, but the slow, grind-it-out style No. 4 Virginia plays could actually work to Creighton's favor in what should be an evenly matched second-round game.

        

    No. 6 USC

    Even if David McCormack is back, Kansas is going to have a tough time handling Evan Mobley inside. The Jayhawks are not entering the NCAA tournament under the best of circumstances after having to bow out of the Big 12 tournament, and that could pave the way for the Trojans to pull off the upset and advance to the second weekend.

        

    No. 2 Iowa

    The Ducks have legitimate Cinderella potential, but getting past Luka Garza and Iowa is a tall order.

    They have the length to make things tough on the Hawkeyes shooters on the perimeter but lack the pure post presence required to slow down Garza. He's one of the few players in the country capable of carrying his team to victory, and he'll do just that with a huge second-round performance.

The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be...

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    Luka Garza
    Luka GarzaMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Iowa

    Boring?

    Sure, but even without the COVID-19 cloud hanging over Kansas and Virginia, these are the two best teams in the region by a wide margin.

    Creighton matches up well with No. 4 Virginia in the second round, but it will be overwhelmed by No. 1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. The Bluejays don't have the defensive chops to slow down a high-powered Gonzaga offense, and that could make for a lopsided exit from the tournament.

    On the other side of the bracket, USC star Evan Mobley is the type of athletic post player capable of getting Luke Garza into foul trouble, but Iowa has enough secondary weapons to pull out a victory against the Trojans even if its star doesn't have his best game.

    The top two seeds survive.

And the Final Four Team Is....

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    No. 1 Gonzaga

    As we mentioned earlier, Gonzaga and Iowa have already squared off once this year, and the Bulldogs came away with a 99-88 victory even though Luka Garza poured in 30 points.

    Someone else on the Hawkeyes roster must step up in a big way for Iowa to have a chance. But while guys like Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon are capable of big nights offensively, they will have their hands full on both ends of the floor against Joel Ayayi and Jalen Suggs.

    The Hawkeyes gave the Zags their best shot earlier this year as Garza had one of his best games of the season, and they still lost by double digits. What more can they do?

    It's on to the Final Four for still-undefeated Gonzaga.

         

    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted.

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