NCAA Tournament: West Region preview


By Shannon Ryan - Chicago Tribune



NCAA Tournament West Region preview.

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Get to know No. 1

Gonzaga (32-1, 8 RPI, 77 SOS)

The Bulldogs are often picked to bow out early because they’ve famously never made the Final Four. They made it through 29 games this season without losing before stumbling against BYU. They have impressive victories against Arizona, Iowa State and Florida and beat Saint Mary’s three times. Will Gonzaga make it to Phoenix?

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Cinderella

No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast

This is the Eagles’ third NCAA Tournament appearance in five years, starting with their stunning Sweet 16 run in 2013. They lost by only nine at Baylor and by one at Michigan State. Central Florida transfer Brandon Goodwin averages 18.2 points for a team that can rebound and drive the lane and should be inspired to face Florida State in Orlando, Fla.

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Best first-round matchup

No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 9 Vanderbilt

Two sons of coaches square off in the Wildcats’ Chris Collins, son of former NBA coach Doug Collins, and the Commodores’ Bryce Drew, who succeeded his father, Homer, as Valparaiso’s coach before moving on to Vanderbilt a year ago.

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Free throws

No. 4 seed West Virginia is the best team in the nation at forcing turnovers and owns an 8.2 average turnover margin. … After a school-record 20-2 start to the season, No. 6 Maryland has lost six of its last 10. … The brackets could force an Elite Eight rematch between Gonzaga and Arizona. The Bulldogs won the earlier meeting 69-62 on Dec. 3 in Los Angeles. … No. 12 Princeton won the first Ivy League tournament Sunday to qualify.

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Players to watch

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

The West Coast Conference player of the year has been a positive addition since transferring from Washington. The junior guard ranks in the nation’s top 10 in free-throw shooting (91 percent) while averaging 16.9 points and shooting 52 percent from the field.

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Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

Despite standing only 6-foot-5, the junior forward has flourished going against big men this season on a guard-heavy Irish team. He has 19 double-doubles and was dominant in the ACC tournament, scoring 21 against Virginia, 18 against Florida State and 29 against Duke — all NCAA Tournament teams.

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Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

The 7-foot freshman from Finland helps the Wildcats the most when he is hitting 3-pointers, shooting 43 percent from behind the arc. He went through an 0-for-11 slump in late February and early March before hitting a combined 8 of 17 in wins against Colorado and UCLA. He didn’t attempt any in the Pac-12 championship win against Oregon.

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By Shannon Ryan

Chicago Tribune