NCAA West Region preview: Xavier, Michigan look like teams to beat

Billy Kennedy and the Aggies have an intriguing first-round matchup. Getty Images


Xavier, North Carolina, Michigan, Gonzaga



Last year Chris Mack’s Musketeers were able to turn an 11-seed into an Elite Eight run, and were able to carry over their postseason success into a strong early season start, opening the season 15-1. Xavier has a strong offensive core of Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura and Quentin Gooden, which led them to averaging 85 PPG this season. Their challenge will be on the defensive end, where they were exposed against Villanova and a hot-shooting Arizona State early in the season. 



What Xavier can do with their offense, Michigan can do with their defense. They gave up just 63.5 PPG this season and ranked fifth nationally in defensive efficiency. They are tough on the offensive end as well. Moe Wagner, Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all averaged double-digit scoring this season. The Wolverines also protect the basketball, ranking sixth nationally in assist/turnover ratio. If everything is clicking, the Big Ten champions could be the first team from their conference to make a Final Four since Michigan lost the title game in 2013. 


Trevon Bluiett- Xavier

After sparking his team to a deep postseason run last year, Bluiett has continued to be one of the best players in the country. He has averaged 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game this season and has established himself as one of the best players in Xavier history. He is one of the few players in the country that can put a team on his back and will them to a Final Four. 

Moe Wagner- Michigan

Wagner is problematic for opposing defenses because he is so versatile on the offensive end. He is a 40% 3-point shooter, but is by no means a finesse big. Wagner is mean around the basket and averages 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The adjustments teams have to make to defend Wagner often open things up for the rest of the Michigan offense. 

Joel Berry- North Carolina

The Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 Final Four, Berry is looking to lead his team to back to back titles. Berry has more experience than arguably any player in the tournament, and has led the Heels to back-to-back Final Four appearances. He is averaging 17.1 points and 3.3 assists per game, and if Carolina has another deep run in them, it will be because Berry leads them to it.


Texas A&M vs. Providence

Talk about teams headed in opposite directions. The Friars battled their way to the Big East title game, and gave Villanova all they could handle before finally falling to the Wildcats. The Aggies, who are as talented as anyone in the country on paper, have underachieved all season. They fell victim to the magical run of Alabama’s Collin Sexton. The Aggies strong frontcourt of Robert Williams and Tyler Davis will be pushed by the combo of Alpha Diallo and Rodney Bullock. If the Aggies play to their potential, they should win here, but that has been the story of the season for Texas A&M. 


San Diego State

The Aztecs, as usual, are powered by their defense. They are ranked 36th nationally in defensive efficiency, and do a great job of defending without fouling. San Diego State wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t blitzed through the Mountain West tournament, and have now run off nine straight wins. They have big wins this season, including a win over Gonzaga and two wins over Nevada. If Brian Dutcher’s squad isn’t fat and happy after making it to this point, they could give Houston all they want and more. 

With only four games on the slate this week and the Coogs off, there was still some exciting football in the AAC this week. Let's take a look at week 11:

Coogs had a week off

With a week off, the Coogs also stayed out of the news. No crazy rumors or stories from national media members to address this week. The team had a normal week of practice in preparation for their big game next week against Memphis as the Tigers come to town ranked No. 21 sporting an 8-1 record.

Other key results

Tulsa 34, UCF 31: To say the luster is off UCF as a bully in the AAC would be accurate. While they have tons of talent, nobody fears them the way they did in years past. They've lost more games this year than they have the past two years.

SMU 59, ECU 51: Whenever a top team in the conference struggles to beat a bottom feeder, two narratives are put out: A) the favorite underestimated the underdog, or B) the underdog caught the favorite off guard. Either way, SMU put another notch in the win column and continues to march towards a decent bowl game.

Temple 17, USF 7: The Owls became bowl eligible with a well balanced offensive attack against the Bulls. 167 yards through the air and another 153 on the ground kept the attack even. Despite a -60 penalty yard margin, the Owls managed to grind out a win.

Stars Of The Week

Shane Buechele, QB, SMU: Buechele's 33/46 for 414 yards and five touchdowns were very necessary to pull out the eight point win over ECU. He put up video game numbers partly because...

James Proche & Kylen Granson, WRs, SMU: ...these two combined for 21 catches for 305 yards and accounted for all five of Buechele's passing touchdowns. They caught 73.6% of Burchele's passing yards. Had ECU applied more pressure and/or covered better, they may have won this game.

Cincinnati Rushing Attack: In a 45-point win, you'd imagine there were some crazy number put up. The Bearcats ran the ball 43 times for 307 yards for a 7.1 yards per carry average and four touchdowns. For comparion sake, UConn ran 40 times for only 148 yards and of course didn't score a touchdown.

Games To Watch This Week

Tulane @ Temple

#24 Navy @ #15 Notre Dame

#20 Cincinnati @ USF

Players To Watch This Week

Malcolm Perry, Navy: Facing the #15 ranked Fighting Irish in a midday showdown on national television gives Perry a chance to shine. I can't wait to see what he can do against a defacto Power 5 school.

Justn McMillan, Tulane: Going East and facing Temple at 11am CST will be a slight body clock test for the Green Wave. McMillan is their leading passer and rusher. He, like the aforementioned Perry, will get to prove himself on the road against a tough opponent.

Cincinnati Rushing Attack: The Bearcats average 202.4 yards per game on the ground. USF averages giving up 194 yards per game on the ground. I fully expect the game to be won or lost depending upon who wins this battle.

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