With the field for the 2021 men's NCAA tournament now official, we're breaking down each team in the field for you in the lead-up to the first tournament in two years. Here's what you need to know about the West region.
1. Gonzaga (26-0, West Coast champion)
By now you probably know that the Zags are attempting to be the first team to go undefeated since Indiana in 1976. A national title for Mark Few’s team would be the first in school history and make Gonzaga just the third school since 1990 to win a national championship while not being a member of a Power Five conference. The Bulldogs have the best offense in the country according to KenPom.com.
2. Iowa (21-8, at-large)
Iowa has a great shot at making the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999. Iowa won seven of their last eight Big Ten regular season games before losing to Illinois in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes are led by All-American forward Luka Garza, who averages 23.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Iowa also averages the most assists of any team in the country at over 19 per game.
3. Kansas (20-8, at-large)
The Jayhawks have bounced back from a midseason slump nicely and should be ready to go after withdrawing from the Big 12 tournament because of a positive COVID-19 test. Forward David McCormack was already absent from the Big 12 tournament because of coronavirus protocols and is expected to be back for the tournament. He was named the Big 12’s most improved player as he’s Kansas’ second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.
4. Virginia (18-6, at-large)
The Cavaliers were forced to back out of the ACC tournament after a positive COVID-19 test following a win over Syracuse. Like usual, the Cavaliers play extremely slowly and efficiently — Virginia ranks dead last in KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo rankings. The Cavaliers are the third-best team in the country from the free throw line (82%) and are led by senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff.
5. Creighton (20-8, at-large)
The Blue Jays went 14-6 in the Big East to finish second in the regular season before losing to Georgetown by 25 in the tournament title game on Saturday. Creighton averages nearly 10 threes per game but shoots just 64% from the free throw line. That could be a problem in a close tournament game. Marcus Zegarowski leads the team with 15.5 points per game and shoots over 41% from behind the arc.
6. USC (22-7, at-large)
The Trojans are back in the tournament for the first time since 2017 and are trying to advance past the first weekend for the first time since 2007. USC is the most underseeded team according to KenPom.com; the site has USC as the No. 14 team in the country. Evan Mobley leads the team with 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while his brother Isaiah averages nine points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
7. Oregon (20-6, at-large)
The Ducks won 10 of their last 11 regular-season games and then beat Arizona State easily to start the Pac-12 tournament. But Oregon lost to in-state rival Oregon State on Friday in the semifinals and were forced to get in the tournament as an at-large. Oregon played just one team ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game and that was USC. The Trojans beat Oregon 74-63. Both Chris Duarte and Eugene Omoruyi average 16.7 points per game.
8. Oklahoma (15-10, at-large)
Oklahoma surged in January with five consecutive wins. Three of them were over teams ranked in the top 10 at the time. Now OU enters the tournament having lost five of its last six games, though two were to Oklahoma State and two others were to Texas and Kansas. Austin Reaves leads the team in points (17.6 per game), rebounds (5.7) and assists (4.7).
9. Missouri (16-9, at-large)
Mizzou is a confusing team. The Tigers have wins over Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama but lost six of their last nine games to finish the season. Missouri has the most NCAA tournament appearances of any team without a Final Four appearance and that appears unlikely in 2021 given that a Mizzou win over Oklahoma probably means a game against Gonzaga in the second round. Guards Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith each average 14 points per game while center Jeremiah Tilmon is the team’s fulcrum.
10. VCU (19-6, at-large)
The Rams are back in the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in 10 tournaments. Can VCU win its first tournament game since 2016? VCU was second in the Atlantic-10 and lost the conference title game to regular season champion St. Bonaventure on Sunday. Sophomore guard Nah’Shon Hyland leads the team with 19.4 points per game and shoots 45% from the field while VCU is sixth in the country with 9.4 steals per game and fourth in the nation with 5.4 blocks a game.
11. Wichita State (16-5, at-large, play-in game)
The Shockers snuck into the tournament in the first year for coach Isaac Brown. He took over after the school parted ways with Gregg Marshall following multiple player mistreatment allegations against Marshall. While Wichita State went 11-2 in the AAC, the Shockers’ best non-conference win was at Ole Miss. Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game and shoots better from three than he does inside the arc.
11. Drake (25-4, at-large, play-in game)
The Bulldogs thought they had a signature win to start the season with an 80-70 victory over Kansas State but the Wildcats turned out to be the ninth-best team in the Big 12. That lack of a top-tier win left Drake as one of the last teams in the NCAA tournament despite their sterling record. Drake has five players that average over 10 points per game. One of them is leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill. He missed the MVC tournament after suffering a broken foot on Feb. 10 but could be available later this week.
12. UC Santa Barbara (22-4, Big West champion)
The Gauchos have won more than 20 games in each of Joe Pasternack’s four seasons with the school and are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011. Guard Jaquori McLaughlin leads the team with over 16 points per game and shoots over 40% from behind the 3-point line. As a team, UCSB gives up the 11th fewest 3-point attempts to opponents.
13. Ohio (16-7, MAC champion)
The Bobcats won nine of their last 10 games after dropping to 7-6 after a loss to Kent State on Jan. 16. Ohio averages nearly 81 points per game and scored over 80 in all but one of those wins over the last two months of the season. Junior guard Jason Preston averages 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game.
14. Eastern Washington (16-7, Big Sky champion)
The Eagles opened the season with three road losses to Pac-12 teams. But EWU was competitive against both Washington State and Arizona before going 16-4 the rest of the way. It’s the third NCAA tournament appearance in school history for EWU, a team led by junior forward Tanner Groves. He averages 16.4 points per game and 8.1 rebounds.
15. Grand Canyon (17-6, WAC champion)
The Antelopes are going to the NCAA tournament in Bryce Drew’s first season with the team. Grand Canyon gives up just 61 points per game and is led by Danish center Asbjorn Midtgaard. The senior 7-footer averages 14 points and 10 rebounds per game and shoots an astounding 70% from the field.
16. Norfolk State (13-7, MEAC champion, play-in game)
It’s the first NCAA tournament berth for the Spartans since they beat No. 2 seed Mizzou as a No. 15 seed in the 2012 NCAA tournament. This season, Norfolk State won its two MEAC tournament games comfortably and beat Morgan State for the conference’s automatic berth on Saturday. Norfolk State is one of the best teams in the country at getting to the free throw line but the team’s 70.6 free throw percentage ranks just 186th.
16. Appalachian State (17-11, Sun Belt champion, play-in game)
The Mountaineers hadn’t made an NCAA tournament since 2000 before beating Georgia State 8-73 on March 8 for the Sun Belt title. That came after back-to-back overtime wins over Texas State and Coastal Carolina to advance to the title game. Guards Michael Almonacy, Adrian Delph and Justin Forrest each average 13 points per game for a team that commits fewer than 14 fouls per game and doesn’t give its opponents many free throw opportunities.
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