NCAA West Region preview: Xavier, Michigan look like teams to beat
THE TOP 4 SEEDS
Xavier, North Carolina, Michigan, Gonzaga
WHO SHOULD WIN
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.
IF NOT THEM
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.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
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.
BEST FIRST ROUND MATCHUP
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.