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2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: West Region


NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-North Carolina vs Syracuse Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Sick of hard-hitting analysis of the 2018 NCAA Tournament? Up to your eyeballs in expert picks chock-full of astute takes on players to watch and budding upsets?

Fear not, friends: your pals at Anonymous Eagle are here to inject some half-baked, homespun “insight” into the proceedings, with our annual region-by-region tour, as we go Anonymously Through the Brackets.

For each region, we’ll give you our patented Anonymous Eagle Half-Arsed Analysis with: a gutless pick to win the region; a sleeper regional champ; a CRUSH YOUR MAN upset special; a player/team we’d pay to watch; a player most likely to carry his team singlehandedly to the Sweet 16, and the best player in the region that you’ve never heard of before.

Without further ado, here’s Connor on the West.....

The West region is largely considered the weakest region, with the lowest 1-seed (Xavier) being sent all the way out to Los Angeles if they make the regional final. But I’m of the belief that there are no real “weak” regions. It’s the NCAA Tournament after all, so the odds of an exciting region are high. If every higher seed wins out and the region goes chalk, you can catch me outside, but that’s unlikely, so I offer you my best advice below.

The problem with this region, and this year’s tournament in general, is that it feels very top heavy. Fans talked all year about how there were no great teams, and there aren’t but all the good teams are clustered near the top and everyone else is left out to dry. This region in particular feels fairly straightforward, so we can only hope that it is the opposite of that.

Xavier has the top seed in the region but also feels really vulnerable, as they’ve played close games against a lot of not-great teams, but just managed to win all of them. But maybe that speaks more to their ability to win a tight game. And why shouldn’t they? They have guys like Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin to make plays. That’s as good a trio as you’ll find in the region.

I’ll speak more on the Tar Heels of North Carolina later, but it’s an experienced team with an experienced coach with a favorable draw. Everything about that spells Final Four. Which would be their third consecutive trip to the national semifinal, which I think people (me) tend to forget. That’s pretty amazing. And even though they’ve lost talent each year, they made it back last year so why not now?

Michigan, whose plane did not crash this year, is once again riding a smoking hot streak into the tournament, but the tricky part in determining the value of that is how hot it still is after a week between the Rutgers Invitational and the Big Dance. LOL the Big Ten.

Gonzaga and Ohio State are equally dangerous and equally maybe not dangerous at all. The Zags play excellent team basketball, which works nine times out of 10, but in a tight spot in the tournament, who does Mark Few turn to when he needs a bucket? He has plenty of options and maybe none of them are cold-blooded killers. Ohio State has the opposite problem. Keita Bates-Diop, who I’ll touch on later, is The Guy, and if he can’t cook, the Buckeyes have to force everything. So there does feel like there’s a decent drop-off from the top-3 seeds to numbers 4 and 5, who I do expect to meet in the second round.

The next litter of seeds are, at the very least, fun. Houston has some excitement to their game and Rob Gray, who has a manbun, and Texas A&M has talent capable of beating anyone in the region (but I wouldn’t put money on that) despite how disappointing the season has been for them. Missouri and Florida State are both wild cards, and who doesn’t love a card that is wild? Not me, that’s for sure.

Almost every seed 10-14 is capable of an upset that would largely come on the back of a star player. We saw what Kyron Cartwright almost did in the Big East Tournament, Malik Pope finally looks like the NBA-caliber player he could be for San Diego State, Mike Daum will Daum-inate you (I’m sorry), and Ahmaad Rorie is a name to know for Montana Grizzlies.

Lipscomb is also here.

GUTLESS WONDER Pick To Win The Region

North Carolina I honestly wasn’t sold on the Tar Heels, and still barely am, but watching their ACC Tournament run, even including the loss to Virginia, I do think Roy Williams is in a good position to reach his 10th Final Four. Theo Pinson seems to have become the primary ball distributor, which I think is a good role for him, since he can’t shoot. Joel Berry has proven he can show up in March, even after a somewhat up-and-down season. Cameron Johnson is capable of putting up 20 in a pinch. And Luke Maye is — well, you know:

I also don’t think their road is very difficult. Texas A&M hasn’t been the same without former Marquette guard Duane Wilson, and Providence played three OT games in the Big East Tournament. Michigan got hot late but has had a week and a half of sitting on their butts. And when it comes down to it, I think the Heels are just flat-out more talented than the other teams in the region. It helps that Williams is one of the best coaches in the country. After some early stumbles (they lost at home to Wofford, that’s still hilarious), I didn’t have any faith in the Tar Heels, but they made me a believer just in time. A 10-loss #2 seed is pretty ridiculous, and a 10-loss #2 seed in the Final Four is quite a stretch, too, but if there’s any team best suited to coming out of this region, it’s UNC.


Missouri “Bold,” to me, demands picking a seed high than 5, as the five best teams in the region are all decent picks for the Final Four. Of any seed higher than that, Missouri likely has the best shot to make it to San Antonio. They’re undermanned (they started the year with 14 bodies but have only eight available for their opening game), but talented, especially if No. 2 recruit Michael Porter Jr. can get back in the swing of things after missing pretty much the entire regular season. They live and die by the 3-ball, so if you feel like they can get hot and Porter Jr. can get his lungs back, they’re dangerous. This would be a good pick for those of you contrarians who won’t watch Marvel movies and think music should only be listened to on vinyl.

CRUSH YOUR MAN Upset Special

(11) San Diego State over (6) Houston The Aztecs are riding a 9-game winning streak heading into their matchup with the Cougars, which includes two wins over a very good Nevada team and a Mountain West tournament championship. First-year HC Brian Dutcher was Steve Fisher’s associate head coach for 18 years, so he’s no stranger to the Big Dance. Sure, neither is Kelvin Sampson, but this is less an indictment of Houston than it is an appraisal of SDSU, who are really talented despite not actually putting it together until the end of the season. It’s very simple. They’re riding a hot streak, and they pair that with good tough defense and a deep, long roster. I like them to win this one. Before you say “Connor, are there any real stats that prove the Aztecs are going to win?” let me remind you that your dog didn’t use any real stats when he beat you each of the last three years. So.

Player I’d Pay to Watch

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State KBD is probably a top-5 candidate for National Player of the Year, yet I still feel like he’s underrated. The redshirt junior averaged 19.5 points and 8.8 boards per game for a Buckeyes team that wasn’t even supposed to sniff the NCAA Tournament. He’s been so good, in fact, that he’s significantly helped his draft stock for the upcoming NBA Draft, should he choose to declare. So, if he’s probably going to be leaving us so soon, why not pay to see him play? He’ll be a great matchup with South Dakota State’s Mike Daum in the opening round, and if OSU gets the W, he’ll be fun to watch against Gonzaga’s frontcourt. Is he the best player in the region? Maybe not, but he’s probably someone you haven’t seen too much of this year (unless you watch a lot of the B1G, in which case, why), so he should be a high priority for you to check out.

The Chiropractor Special aka Who Can Put The Team On His Back?

Rob Gray, Houston – Did I just say I like San Diego State to beat Houston in the first round? Yes. Am I going to give you reason to do the exact opposite right now? You bet your pants I am. Gray is fully capable of dropping 25 or 30 a game en route to like an Elite Eight appearance or something. My man just gets buckets. In his last seven games, he’s put up 30 three times. He’s not the best 3-point shooter, but that makes him more dangerous, as teams can’t just keep an eye on him out on the perimeter. He’s going to infiltrate every line of your defenses and somehow have an open layup, he’s so crafty. His supporting cast is good, but many of their opportunities come from Gray collapsing the defense and kicking it out to a shooter (he’s only averaging 4.5 assists, but he initiates almost all the offense). He’s got the potential to single-handedly bust your bracket. Plus, he’s got a manbun.

Best Guy You’ve Never Heard Of

Garrison Mathews, Lipscomb - In the template for these region previews, we called this “aka the Mike Daum category,” so I’m not going to pick Daum, the South Dakota State forward who’s probably the best mid-major player in the country. Instead, let me direct your attention to Lipscomb junior guard Garrison Mathews. My guy can fill it up. He averaged 22.1 points per game for the 23-9 Atlantic Sun tournament champions. He scored 43 points in game earlier this season, which, if you’re keeping score at home, is a lot. He’s a pretty good shooter at 39 percent from 3 and is a good rebounder for his size (he’s 6-5). I’m not saying he’s going to lead Lipscomb to an upset of North Carolina, but unless there are better games on (there will be), you should tune in and watch this man work.