Ryan Mayer 

The bracket has been released and the prognostication has begun. As you fill out your bracket and take in advice from your favorite sources on which teams to pick, allow us to add one more voice to the mix with our bracket preview series. We’ll go region by region and break down each and every matchup on the road to the Final Four.

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Now, it’s on to the West region where the ‘Zags find themselves sitting atop the bracket once again hoping to make it to Mark Few’s first Final Four.

#1 Gonzaga vs #16 South Dakota State

The Bulldogs have one of their most complete teams ever, and rank in the Top 10 in both offense and defensive efficiency. The Jackrabbits have one potential NBA prospect in Mike Daum who will be fun for fans to watch in a tournament setting, but no 16 over 1 upset here.

Pick- Gonzaga

#8 Northwestern vs #9 Vanderbilt

This matchup is pretty close, as you would expect for an 8/9 game. You know the story about Northwestern at this point, it’s their first tournament appearance ever. The Commodores were in the tournament last year, albeit the First Four where they were run by Wichita State, but there’s some guys back from that team. Flip a coin, but I’ll take the Wildcats here.

Pick- Northwestern

#5 Notre Dame vs #12 Princeton

The Fighting Irish are the only team in the country to have made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. Go ahead, look it up. The Irish once again return a bunch of experienced players and an offense that hums to the tune of the 16th best offensive efficiency rating in the country. They find themselves in a matchup with a similar team in Ivy representative Princeton. The Tigers don’t turn the ball over, are efficient on offense and are strong inside defensively. The difference? Tournament experience. Mike Brey has taken his team (many of the same guys) on deep runs the past two years. They survive this challenge.

Pick- Notre Dame

#4 West Virginia vs #13 Bucknell

You know what the Mountaineers game is: Full court press, throwing waves of bodies at their opponents to try and force the game into a chaotic mess. That game plan can work against a Bucknell team that averages 13.3 turnovers per game. No upset here, Huggins and company move to the next round.

Pick- West Virginia

#6 Maryland vs #11 Xavier

The Terps started the year very well, running up a gaudy 20-2 record prior to the start of February. Since then, they’ve gone 4-6 in 10 games to end the year including getting bounced by Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Xavier on the other hand struggled in mid-late February as well after losing star guard Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL. They righted the ship somewhat with a pair of wins over DePaul and then a win over Butler in the second round of the Big East tournament. The Musketeers have started to figure it out as of late, I’ll take the upset.

Pick- Xavier

#3 Florida State vs #14 Florida Gulf Coast

A lot of people will hop on the Dunk City hype train because of what they’ve done in the tournament previously. They played Baylor and Michigan State tough early in the year, and they could pull the upset. The concern is the length of Florida State inside as FGCU doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well from three (35%) and like to pound the ball inside. That’s tough to do against a long, athletic Seminoles team that allows opponents to shoot just 41.2 percent from the field. The Eagles make it close in a fun game, but Florida State escapes.

Pick- Florida State

#7 Saint Mary’s vs #10 VCU

The Gaels have been a Top 25 team all year long and they rate out pretty highly efficiency-wise (15th offense, 26th defense). The problem is, the toughest team they’ve played all year is Gonzaga, which is fine, but that’s the only Top 25 team they’ve played and they lost by an average of 13.6 points in those three contests. VCU on the other hand, has beaten Princeton and Middle Tennessee State and played Baylor, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island and Dayton close. Give me the Rams in the 10/7 upset.

Pick- VCU

#2 Arizona vs #15 North Dakota

Everybody join me in welcoming North Dakota to the Dance for the first time. Now, they face an Arizona squad that’s been peaking over the past month or so going 9-1 in their last 10 with the lone loss coming against UCLA. Wildcats advance.

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Pick- Arizona

Round of 32

#1 Gonzaga vs #8 Northwestern

The Wildcats don’t have an answer for Przemek Karnowski down low. That’s the determining factor for me here.

Pick- Gonzaga

#5 Notre Dame vs #4 West Virginia

Mike Brey’s team takes care of the ball, just 9.4 turnovers per game, and can shoot the lights out. Those are the teams that cause the Mountaineers to struggle. Irish to the Sweet 16.

Pick- Notre Dame

#11 Xavier vs #3 Florida State

The Musketeers have no answer for the Seminoles length and though I think they make it tough on Florida State to score, I think they struggle to score themselves and the Seminoles squeak by.

Pick- Florida State

#10 VCU vs #2 Arizona

This might be the best Arizona team Sean Miller’s had, and it’s also one of the most balanced with six guys averaging nine points or more and seven guys playing 23 minutes or more per game. That balance helps against a tough VCU team that uses at least ten guys per game. The Wildcats keep dancing.

Pick- Arizona 

Sweet 16

#1 Gonzaga vs #5 Notre Dame

This one’s a struggle for me as I really like both teams. I’ll go with Notre Dame in a tight one with VJ Beachem taking over for the Irish against a Bulldogs team that really doesn’t have an answer for him on the wing.

Pick- Notre Dame

#3 Florida State vs #2 Arizona

The Seminoles have the size to match up with Arizona and the guards to match Allonzo Trier and Kadeem Allen. Both teams are deep. But, Sean Miller’s group is deeper and a little more experienced. Give me Arizona.

Pick- Arizona

Elite Eight

#5 Notre Dame vs #2 Arizona

Mike Brey vs Sean Miller for the right to go to the Final Four in Phoenix. These two teams are experienced, can shoot, and play tough defense. The difference for me in this game is the depth that the Wildcats have. If any of the Irish get into foul trouble, they’re going to have problems while the Wildcats can just go to someone else in the rotation. I have Sean Miller picking up his first Final Four appearance.

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Pick- Arizona