2021 March Madness Bracket Predictions: West Region
The 2020-21 college basketball season has been historic for a lot of the wrong reasons. Now Gonzaga is trying to make this campaign historic for the right one.
Gonzaga is attempting to become the first undefeated college basketball team in 45 years. Not since Indiana’s 32-0 championship season in 1976 has any team run the table. But the top-seeded Bulldogs (26-0) have a legitimate chance to match those Hoosiers and lay their claim as one of the best college hoops teams of all time if they can win six straight games and a title.
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There is a certain level of certainty attached to Gonzaga right now. That’s dangerous in March. They are currently -400 favorites to win the West Region, one of the strongest favorites that I have ever seen to win a tournament bracket.
Compare that to the relative uncertainty surrounding so many teams looking to unseat the Bulldogs in the West Region. No. 3 seed Kansas and No. 4 seed Virginia both had to withdraw from their respective conference tournaments because of positive coronavirus tests. No. 2 seed Iowa is dealing with a lingering injury to one of its best players (Joe Wieskamp), and No. 5 seed Creighton is coming off a 25-point beating in its conference tournament title game.
The inevitability of Gonzaga versus the ambiguity of their opponents will be the top storyline in the West this March. And with that in mind, here are Doc’s Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the West Region:
No. 1 Seed: Gonzaga Bulldogs (-400 to win West Region)
Very rarely does the consensus favorite at the start of the NCAA Tournament end up cutting down the nets at the end of the NCAA Tournament. That said, this Gonzaga team is head and shoulders better than any other team in the field, and the Bulldogs have a golden opportunity to complete the first undefeated season since 1976. Gonzaga is stacked and has absolutely no weakness. They are the No. 1 scoring team in the nation, averaging a jaw-dropping 92.6 points per game while making an insane 55.3 percent of their shots from the field. Seriously: stop and think about those numbers for a second. The last team to stay within 10 points of the Bulldogs was West Virginia…back in Dec. 2. And they beat Kansas, Iowa and Virginia by an average of 15.3 points per game this season.
Gonzaga NCAA Tournament Predictions: The Bulldogs are going to win this region, and I have them winning the national title. They have size, talent, experience, depth and great coaching. Mark Few was denied a title in 2017. But it is only a matter of time before he gets one, and this is his best team yet.
No. 2 Seed: Iowa Hawkeyes (+350 to win South Region)
Luka Garza is an absolute man-beast and probably the most unstoppable force in college basketball. At 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds, Garza is like a giant, mobile refrigerator that is immovable in the post while also capable of stepping out and hitting 3-pointers. He is the sun, and everything Iowa does revolves around his domination inside. Iowa is one of the top shooting teams in the nation, with Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon, C.J. Fredrick and Connor McCaffery leading the nation’s No. 4 3-point shooting attack (39.6 percent). Toughness and defense are the questions for Iowa. They always are. Can the Hawkeyes get stops in the final five minutes of games? That is going to determine how far along the line Iowa will go before they eventually fall to an opponent that simply outworks them.
Iowa NCAA Tournament Predictions: It’s odd to say this about a team that is a No. 2 seed that spent a good portion of the year in the Top 10 nationally, but here goes: Iowa has a zero percent chance of winning a national title. Garza is absurd. But guys like Tim Duncan and Shaq never made the Final Four either, so it won’t be surprising when the Hawkeye big man goes home earlier than you would expect.
No. 3 Seed: Kansas Jayhawks (+1400)
We don’t even know who is going to be available when the Jayhawks take the court, so it is impossible to break down their chances out West. Even at full strength, Kansas is nowhere near the juggernaut they have been in past seasons. They’ve fashioned a competitive team built on smothering defense and Bill Self’s guile. The Jayhawks had gone 8-1 in their last nine games, including a 13-point win over Baylor, before COVID forced their withdrawal from the Big 12 Tournament. They won a game there without leading scorer David McCormack, who didn’t travel with the team due to a positive Coronavirus test. But since then someone else in the program has tested positive, and the whole team’s availability is up in the air.
Kansas NCAA Tournament Predictions: None. I don’t have a prediction for this team because we don’t know who is playing. It’s impossible to project how far the Jayhawks can go when we have no idea about the makeup of their squad. I will say that even if they are at full strength, they aren’t good enough to win this region, so I think Kansas is barely worth our time.
No. 4 Seed: Virginia Cavaliers (+1350)
Like Kansas, Virginia won the first game it played in its conference tournament but was then forced to withdraw due to a positive Coronavirus test within the program. We likely won’t know until Friday what the story is with this group. Virginia is another team that, like Kansas, has Sweet 16 potential but not Final Four potential. The Cavaliers won a weak ACC this season thanks to a cupcake schedule. They lack any semblance of depth, and their top three players, Sam Hauser, Kihei Clark and Jay Huff, simply aren’t good enough to carry Virginia very far in this field.
Virginia NCAA Tournament Predictions: Virginia’s team is in isolation at the moment. They can’t practice, and preparation for this tournament will be minimal. This team really isn’t that good. Virginia doesn’t have a single win this season against any opponent seeded higher than No. 8 in this tournament, so I think it is farcical to think that they are a real Final Four threat.
No. 5 Seed: Creighton Bluejays (+2000)
Creighton really gave everyone the full range of the Bluejay Experience with its effort in New York last week at the Big East Tournament. Creighton absolutely eviscerated Butler in a 31-point quarterfinal win. Then they showed high-end ability on both ends of the court in a gutsy three-point win over surging Connecticut in the semifinals. Finally, Creighton was a shocking no-show in a 73-48 embarrassment in the conference championship game. Needless to say, it is anyone’s guess what Bluejays squad is going to show up this weekend. Guards Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock are both capable of taking over a game. And super senior Denzel Mahoney can get it done inside and out. If any of their role players can step up around them – looking at you Damien Jefferson and Alex O’Connell – and if they find a way to rebound and make free throws then Creighton could be a pleasant surprise. If not they could be an early victim.
Creighton NCAA Tournament Predictions: Creighton has a brutal first round matchup with a dangerous Santa Barbara squad. If they do survive, though, they should make it out of the opening weekend before throwing a high-scoring scare into Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
No. 6 Seed: USC Trojans (+1100)
The Trojans have just the right mix of talent and defense to be considered a major X-Factor in this bracket. Freshman center Evan Mobley is a force and a future lottery pick. His sophomore brother, Isaiah, is a perfect compliment in the post, and the Trojans have some intriguing backcourt pieces that could make or break their tourney hopes. USC has talent. The issue is chemistry. Tahj Eaddy, Drew Peterson, Isaiah White and Chevez Goodwin, USC’s highest-scoring perimeter players, are all transfers in their first year with the Trojans. The lack of cohesion hasn’t hurt this team defensively. Instead it shows up in extended periods of shaky offensive play. When all else fails, feed Mobley. If USC does that, they can play with anyone.
USC Tournament Predictions: I think that USC is going to slap the winner of the Wichita-Drake play-in game. Then I think they have a great chance to end whatever is left of Kansas. I think USC has a Sweet 16 ceiling. We will see.
Best first-round match up: No. 8 Oklahoma (-2) vs. No. 9 Missouri
Oklahoma and Missouri have proven that they can beat anyone in the country or lose to anyone in the country. So it is fitting that these two get to have a knife fight where the winner is rewarded with a shot at Gonzaga. These are two of the most experienced teams in the country; six of Oklahoma’s top seven players are juniors and seniors, while seven of Missouri’s top eight guys are upperclassmen. The result should be an absolute battle between two veteran teams stocked with players that don’t want their seasons (or their careers) end.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 5 Creighton
Here we have the proverbial contrast in styles, with Creighton’s up-tempo approach matched against Virginia’s deliberate technique. Clark and Zegarowski are two of best point guards in the country, and this would be an absolute duel between the veteran triggermen. Both Virginia and Creighton have spent time in the Top 10 this year. And at one point this game would’ve made for an intriguing Elite Eight showdown. Instead it could determine who survives the opening weekend.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 5 Creighton (-7) vs. No. 12 UC-Santa Barbara
Of course, we may not get a Creighton-Virginia matchup in Round 2 if the Bluejays can’t handle the Gauchos in the vaunted 5-12 first round matchup. Santa Barbara is 18-1 since Jan. 1, and they rolled through their conference tournament, winning the semifinals and championship games by 16 points apiece. Transfers JaQuori McLaughlin (Oregon State) and Mile Norris (Oregon) are a tough inside-out duo, and junior Amadou Sow is underrated for a Gauchos team that is No. 20 in field goal offense and No. 15 in scoring defense. Creighton will be UCSB’s first Top 100 opponent this season. But Big West teams posted at seeds No. 12 or better are 3-3 straight up in their last six attempts as opposed to a 0-14 SU record for one posted as a No. 13 seed or worse.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 7 Oregon
Iowa may have toiled in the toughest conference in college basketball this season, but they really didn’t prove themselves in the nonconference. The Hawkeyes’ nonconference strength of schedule was No. 286, with a win over North Carolina and a loss to Gonzaga their only meetings with teams that are currently in the field. The ability to beat teams that you are unfamiliar with is a crucial element of success in The Big Dance. That hasn’t exactly been the forte of an Iowa program that hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 yet this century and has just one Sweet 16 appearance since 1989.
Dark Horse team: No. 7 Oregon
This Oregon team didn’t get fully healthy until February this year. Once they did, though, they were clearly the best team in the Pac-12. The Ducks are 11-2 in their last 13 games, with a road loss at USC and an upset loss to out-of-their-minds-shooting Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament. Dana Altman is one of the best coaches in college basketball, and he has led the Ducks to the Sweet 16 four times in the last seven tournaments. Eugene Omoruyi and Eric Williams can do it all on both ends of the court, and Chris Duarte is a legit go-to guy. If L.J. Figueroa can keep his hot shooting going (22-for-40 from 3-point range in his last nine games), this team is capable of making another deep run.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 4 Virginia
It’s odd to think about, but Virginia actually enters this tournament as the defending NCAA Tournament champions. It has been 14 years – not since Florida won back-to-back titles – since a defending champion survived the Sweet 16, and I just don’t see it with the Cavs this year. That said, I absolutely hate betting against this squad because of their quirky, slow-down, defensive-oriented style. In the last two tournaments we’ve seen Virginia lose to a No. 16 seed and win a national title. It doesn’t get any more volatile than that.
2021 West Region Predictions: I hate to get swept up with public sentiment, but I don’t see any way that Gonzaga doesn’t win this bracket. This team is a godless killing machine, and they have the most NBA-caliber talent on their roster. Beyond that, all the other top seeds in this region are a mess. We’ve seen Gonzaga slaughter Iowa and Virginia already this season, and I don’t think that any rematches would go any differently for the underdogs. In fact, Gonzaga’s toughest test in this region is likely to come from its second round opponent, with seasoned Oklahoma and Missouri teams ready to max out against this juggernaut.
In the end it won’t matter. Gonzaga simply has too many answers, too many options, and too many guys that can make shots. The Bulldogs will roll.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 12 of 14 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and you can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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