While no one is going to be initially stunned with the lineup in this region, a closer look reveals that there is more quality here than first meets the eye.
For many across the country, Gonzaga is the Notre Dame of College basketball: a team with a fantastic record that is very good, but seems largely unproven against the heavy hitters. They've won 31 games and 13 in a row, but of those last 13, only 2 were against a tournament team (St. Mary's, an 11 seed). They played only five other at-large tournament teams all season (Butler, Illinois, KSU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) and went 3-2. They fairly received a 1-seed, in my opinion, but now they will need to go out and justify that on the court. It may not be easy. The pundits will tell you that the type of team Gonzaga would fare least well against is one that wants to play a more physical brand of basketball. If that's the case, then the committee didn't do them any favors as they could potentially face one of the more physical teams in the tournament in Pitt in the second round.
With the possible exception of Kansas State, the 1-8 seeds in this region comprise a pretty threatening group. If the chalk holds, the second-round matchups promise to be very good games with a good mix of really tough, defensive-minded teams (Wisconsin, Pitt, OSU) and athletic teams (Arizona, New Mexico, Gonzaga).
There are some strong teams amongst the lower seeds, as well. Belmont is one of the best shooting teams in the country (a quality that always gives a team some upset potential), Ole Miss just beat Florida and has a player that can beat you all by himself in the polarizing Marshall Henderson, and Boise St. has wins against Creighton, New Mexico and UNLV (and lost to Michigan State by only 4).
OSU and New Mexico are serious threats here, with New Mexico being the trendy Dark Horse. Tony Snell is legit and Steve Alford has proven himself to be a solid head coach. OSU has the best defensive player in the tournament in Aaron Craft (who has recently started finding his offense), an All-American-caliber scorer in Deshaun Thomas, and the Big 10 Tournament Crown. My guess is Gonzaga doesn't make it to the Final 4 on most people's brackets. The time was when they were a bracket buster as a low seed, now they might just be able to do it again as a 1.
Best First Round Matchup: Arizona v. Belmont. Two teams that can score, share the ball, and shoot. I like it.
Dark Horse: I'll go away from the New Mexico trend and take Wisconsin. I doubt there is a more confounding style of basketball to play against or to watch. It's the grindiest of the grindy, but it's damn effective. They are always good for a 4- or 5-seed, and they always seem to get at least to the Sweet 16. That would potentially pit them against Gonzaga, who, as already mentioned, doesn't favor a physical style of play.They also played really well coming down the stretch.
The "Who?!" Award: You've obviously heard of Boise St. in a football context, but neither they nor their first round opponent La Salle have much currency with the casual college basketball fan. The committee has taken some heat for giving the A-10 and the Mountain West five overall bids while conferences like the ACC and PAC 12 got only four. La Salle is especially difficult to figure, with losses to the likes of Central Connecticut and Charlotte and very few quality wins.The Explorers feature four players who score in double figures. As mentioned above, Boise St. played a reasonably tough schedule and their two top scorers are just sophomores.
The All-Atlas Squad (Team Carriers): Lamont Jones, Iona (23 ppg); Marshall Henderson, Miss. (20 ppg); Ian Clark , Belmont (18 ppg); Deshaun Thomas, OSU (19 ppg); Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga (17 ppg, 7 rpg).
Upset Special: I like the potential of Belmont over Arizona, but I'm just not a Kansas State believer. If they get Boise St. (and I think they will), they are going down. The Broncos have some great 3-point shooters on their team, a quality that lends itself nicely to upsets.
Best Potential Second Round Matchup: New Mexico v Arizona. Two very good, very athletic, well-coached teams who have flown under the radar a little (particularly in the case of New Mexico). Also, for those of you who are geographically challenged, their states are right next to each other. Border war !!!!
Best Mascot: The Wichita State Shockers. It's just so versatile! So many things to so many people...
Worst Mascot: LaSalle Explorers. Oh no, not the Explorers! They might find out where we live and put it on a map!!! Run !!!!!!
The All-Digger Phelps Team (names most likely to be mispronounced): Przemek Karnowski (Gonazaga); Nayandigisi Moikobu (Iona); Anthony Drmic (Boise); Igor Hadziomerovic (Boise); Nkereuwem Okoro (Wichita St.)
God Shammgodd Award (for best name): This is a tough one. Lots of candiates: Yondarious Johnson (Southern); Rohan Brown (La Salle... Tolkien fans for parents, perhaps?); Bubu Palo (ISU); Chadrack Lufile (WSU); but the Winner has to be Wichita State's Derail Green in a squeaker over Cade Peeper of Mississippi.
Home Cookin' Award (most advantageous geographical placement): New Mexico and Arizona will play in Salt Lake and then in LA if they advance. For their go-anywhere fanbases, that might as well be down the street.
The Cold Fries in the Lobby of the Comfort Inn Award (for getting screwed on your geographical placement) - OSU got the Duke treatment: shipped out to the 3-seed's back yard. Thanks for nothing.
The Cincy/Pitt/Wake Award (for Perennial underperformer to avoid picking for a deep run): Kansas State. Don't do it, people!! I got a baaaaad feeling (which probably means you should put them right into your Final Four).
The All- Tyrion Lannister Team (tiny threats): Thomas Marshall 5-9 (Southern); Angel Rodriguez 5-9 (KSU); Tavon Sledge 5-9 and Spencer Boateng 5-9 (Iona).
The I-Must-Have-Misread-That Award: Pittsburgh's Steven Adams is one of 18 children
The Gates-Gonzalez Award (for players with a possible future in the NFL): Thomas Gipson, KSU (6-7 270lbs); Evan Ravenel, OSU (6-8 260 lbs)