West Region Outlook
March 19, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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Midwest Region Outlook | East Region Outlook | South Region Outlook
With the brackets set, here is a quick look at the West region and some of the games and teams to pay attention to. Gonzaga earned a historic though controversial #1 seed but this could be a wide open region. Take a look at the West region in this snapshot.
Favorite: Gonzaga - While there are different opinions all around on who will come out of this region, Gonzaga is still listed as the favorite at 9/4. Ohio State and New Mexico are close behind and there are many that feel Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Kansas State are all viable contenders in what could be a wide open region. Gonzaga does not have the resume to be up at the top, but they did lose just two games and the Bulldogs pass the eye test. Facing a tough defensive team like Pittsburgh or Wisconsin would seem to be a big hurdle for this squad and the lack of legitimate competition in the last two months is certainly a concern. Gonzaga will get to play on the West Coast which could certainly help against Eastern contenders, but that advantage would be negated if they make it to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight games and have to face New Mexico or Arizona. While Gonzaga has slightly shorter odds than Ohio State to win this region as well as to win the national championship, the Buckeyes will likely be favored if they actually meet head-to-head. Gonzaga would only be a two or three-point favorite over potential foes Pittsburgh or Wisconsin, so while the Bulldogs can make a run, they are certainly rightfully pegged as a team that could also fall early and one has to be hesitant to pencil in Gonzaga to the Final Four, though it is not clear who the best alternative may be.
Final Four Sleeper: Kansas State - Should the bracket play to form, Wisconsin will likely be favored over Kansas State, but the Wildcats may be the forgotten team in this region. Kansas State has lost just seven games all season and every loss came against a NCAA Tournament team with three of those losses coming against Kansas. The location advantage should not be overlooked as the first two games for the Wildcats will be in Kansas City in an arena this team has already played games in this season. Wisconsin is certainly a dangerous team in that potential round of 32 matchup, but the Wildcats have veteran guards that won't be forced into careless mistakes and Coach Weber is certainly familiar with the Badgers. Should they have to face Gonzaga, it would be a great challenge, but the Bulldogs are likely to get a great second round test and they look like the most vulnerable of the top seeds. Given that Kansas State is sitting at 25/1 to win this region, this is a team with a lot of value and in a wide-open region and all of the teams in the path of the Wildcats have clear vulnerabilities. Kansas State beat Florida earlier this season and while they have struggled with rival Kansas, this is a team that can make a deep run in this region even though most are overlooking this team.
Sweet 16 Sleeper: Pittsburgh - The Panthers have efficiency rankings that peg them as a top 10 team, yet the Panthers were saddled with a #8 seed. That may be a blessing in disguise as they draw the most vulnerable #1 seed in their pod and while Wichita State is not an easy first round opponent, the Shockers certainly don't have any wins of substance that rival what the Panthers battled through in the Big East. This is a team that has defeated Georgetown and Syracuse this season and also played very tight games with Michigan, Marquette, and Louisville. Pittsburgh has some youth, but this is a team that improved tremendously as the season went on and may be able to peak at the right time. Pittsburgh might not be consistent enough on offense to make a Final Four run, but they will be a serious threat to knock off Gonzaga should they survive the opening game with Wichita State as slowing down Gonzaga's offense to Pittsburgh's pace could cause real problems for the Bulldogs. Jamie Dixon has been labeled with being a great regular season performer only to see his team often fail in the NCAA Tournament as a high seed, this year's team has the opportunity to turn the tables on that history and produce a great run as a lesser seed.
Best Opening Game: Arizona vs. Belmont - The Pac-12 did not get a whole lot of respect from the NCAA Tournament committee with teams like Oregon and California falling to the 12-line, but Arizona may be a team that is over-seeded. Arizona finished 25-7 on the season and wins over Florida and Miami certainly stand out. Arizona struggled in the Pac-12 however going 0-5 against UCLA, Oregon, and California. This team is reliant on four underclassmen that play significant minutes and they will face a veteran Belmont squad that starts five upperclassmen. This Belmont team was in the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, but they were dealt tough draws with elite defensive teams, falling in competitive games with Wisconsin and Georgetown. This year Belmont draws an Arizona team that is vulnerable to 3-point shooting and the Bruins have several players that will look to knock down long range shots regularly. Belmont won at Stanford earlier this season so they have proven they can hang with a quality Pac-12 squad and in the Bracket Buster the Bruins dominated an Ohio team that was in the Sweet 16 last season. This team is ready for this opportunity and if the shots are falling this could be a down-to-the-wire game.
Trendy Upset that won't be: Ole Miss over Wisconsin - Wisconsin is getting a little more national respect than usual this season as the Badgers are generally a team that many pundits peg for a first round fall. While Bo Ryan has had a few squads that have underachieved a bit in the Big Dance, he has only once lost in the first round in 11 straight trips to the tournament. Belmont and Montana were both popular upset picks the last two years and both went down by double-digits against the Badgers. Ole Miss is a team that would not have made the NCAA Tournament until a great SEC Tournament run and the overall body of work is rather shaky for the Rebels. Prior to beating Missouri and Florida in the SEC tournament, Mississippi had defeated exactly one NCAA Tournament team this season and this is a squad that also lost to several bad teams, including falling to Mississippi State and South Carolina this year in SEC play. Mississippi has some talent but this team often lacks discipline, playing up-tempo and often forcing questionable shots. That style of play won't often hold up well against an elite Big Ten defense and with top distributor Jarvis Summers unlikely to play with a recent concussion this could be a disastrous match-up for Rebels team. Ole Miss has the look of a team that may simply be happy to be in the field and still riding high after the conference tournament championship.
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