2022 March Madness Bracket Predictions: West Region
The West is the Land of Broken Dreams.
How many have pushed west toward their manifest destiny only to have their hopes crushed into oblivion? Yet the lure of “the west”, the land of the future, remains powerful. And the West Region will serve as a staging ground of utter heartbreak again over the next two weeks.
Gonzaga is still trying to claim that elusive first title. Duke is trying to win just one more crown for the venerable creator of its storied program, and Michigan State will attempt once more into the breach for its aging leader.
These aren’t the only hopes and dreams at work in the West Region. But they are the primary storylines of what is, talent-wise, one of the softest regions in the entire tournament.
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Here are Doc’s Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the West Region:
No. 1 Seed: Gonzaga Bulldogs (-200 to win West Region)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Mark Few will bring a powerhouse Gonzaga team into the NCAA Tournament in search of his first career national title. Ho-hum. The Bulldogs walked through their pathetic excuse for a conference to a No. 1 seed yet again, and they posted gaudy statistics along the way thanks to a litany of blowouts. At some point, Few and the Gonzaga brass need to embrace the fact that pasting lightweights in the WCC doesn’t properly prepare this group for the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has slaughtered teams because 6-foot-10 center Drew Timme and 7-foot center Chet Holmgren were simply too big and too skilled. Teams like Duke, Texas Tech, Connecticut and Arkansas aren’t going to be intimidated by the Bulldogs, though, and any one of those squads could bounce the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga NCAA Tournament Predictions: Last year’s tournament runners-up will try to get over the hump in this dance. I’m not holding my breath. The Bulldogs enter The Big Dance as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. There hasn’t been a No. 1 team that has won it all since Kentucky in 2012. There is no doubt in my mind that last year’s team was better than this group. And if they couldn’t cut down the nets, I don’t think that this group will.
No. 2 Seed: Duke Blue Devils (+380 to win South Region)
This is the last hurrah for Mike Krzyzewski, one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time. It has been kind of comical watching the Blue Devils let Coach K and the Duke faithful down over the last few weeks. First, they got blown out in Cameron Indoor in his final home game. Then the Blue Devils got blown out in his final ACC championship game. Can they go for the trifecta with an NCAA tournament flop? This is a young squad that features three true freshmen starters. They have not been impressive so far in March, and you have to wonder if the emotional weight of the last few weeks has taken a toll on this group’s psyche. Duke is 3-7 against the spread in its last 10 games overall and 0-6 ATS in their last six NCAA tournament games, so caveat emptor with these guys.
Duke NCAA Tournament Predictions: Duke beat Kentucky and Gonzaga on neutral courts back in November, so they can play at that level. But the Blue Devils have exactly four wins over NCAA Tournament teams since late November (one which came against Notre Dame, who is in the play-in game), so it is not as if the Blue Devils have proven their mettle. No one can convince me that this team is truly a title-contender, and I think Coach K’s career will end in disappointment.
No. 3 Seed: Texas Tech Red Raiders (+550)
I have been off on Texas Tech all season long. This group is legit. The Red Raiders nearly won the Big 12 tournament last weekend and have proven themselves by being one of the toughest outs in their conference this season. Texas Tech boasts a Top 10 field goal defense that it uses to smother the life out of opponents. Four of Texas Tech’s five starters are fifth-year senior transfers. And that doesn’t even count fifth-year senior reserve Marcus Santos-Silva. This is a rugged, experienced, mentally tough team that can beat anyone in the field. And they won’t go down without a fight; five of their nine losses this season have come by four points or less.
Texas Tech NCAA Tournament Predictions: This team lacks the high-end talent to win a national title. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t cause some problems for vulnerable top seeds along the way. Texas Tech does have to endure a 10:45 a.m. EST opening tip in its first game. Assuming they can dispatch Montana State, I think these Red Raiders have the goods to make an Elite Eight run and get a rematch with a Gonzaga team that beat them 69-55 in December. That is if their lack of shooting doesn’t sink them first.
No. 4 Seed: Arkansas Razorbacks (+1200)
Head coach Eric Mussleman has taken five straight teams to the NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight run with the Razorbacks last March. Mussleman lost five of his top eight players from last year’s squad but has filled in the gaps with big-time transfers like Stanley Umude, Au’Diese Toney and Chris Lykes. Senior J.D. Notae is the straw that stirs the drink for the Razorbacks, who enter the tournament with wins in 15 of their last 18 games. Mussleman has made his name for his ability to weave together transfer players. And after some early lumps – they went 1-5 with all five losses coming against non-tournament teams between Dec. 11-Jan. 8 – he has his team playing its best basketball at the right time.
Arkansas NCAA Tournament Predictions: There is no doubt that Arkansas has some serious firepower. They are also an underrated defensive team, and Notae gives them a true go-to guy. However, Arkansas can’t shoot (No. 301 in 3-point shooting). And it is tough to go deep in March without the ability to hit the three-ball. I think the Razorbacks will struggle to escape the opening weekend.
No. 5 Seed: Connecticut Huskies (+1600)
What you see is what you get with Dan Hurley’s Huskies. Connecticut is a physical, rugged squad that digs in on defense, crushes the boards, and makes opponents work for everything on both ends of the court. The Huskies lean on super-senior point guard R.J. Cole and uber-athletic wing Adama Sanoga on offense. Everything else is done by committee. And it’s a small committee, as injuries have limited the Huskies rotation to just seven players. Every game this team plays seemingly comes down to the final five minutes, so they won’t rattle in a tight spot. The X-factor for this team is Tyler Polley. The fifth-year forward has had an up-and-down career. But if he gets hot from 3-point range (he shot 42 percent from 3-point range in 2018 and 2019), it would make a massive difference for this group.
Connecticut NCAA Tournament Predictions: I think that the Huskies have dark horse potential in this region. Connecticut doesn’t have the top-end talent to make a run to the Final Four. They also don’t have any clear weaknesses. I’ll be surprised if they don’t manage at least one upset over either Arkansas or Gonzaga.
No. 6 Seed: Alabama Crimson Tide (+2100)
The Crimson Tide are your typical all-offense-no-defense squad. They are No. 12 in the country in scoring, averaging 80.1 points per game, and they hung 91 points on Gonzaga in a road win over the Bulldogs on Dec. 4. Alabama is also ranked No. 327 in points allowed, though, and they surrendered 82 points in a loss to Georgia, UGA’s only SEC win. You just never know what you are going to get with this group. Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly are both proven scorers, and the team has athletes to spare. Alabama awaits the winner of the Rutgers-Notre Dame play-in game.
Alabama Tournament Predictions: This might be the most boom-or-bust team in the whole region. Alabama plays at a break-neck speed, and they shoot a ton of 3-pointers. If they get hot, then this team can go on a run. Or they will flame out in their opener. I don’t see any in between for these guys.
Best first-round match up: No. 4 Arkansas (-5) vs. No. 13 Vermont
This is already a trendy upset pick, and the public is all over the Catamounts, with 70 percent of the early action coming in on Vermont. UVM is 22-1 since Dec. 8 and is coming off an astounding conference tournament run, winning its three games by an average of 36.7 points per game. Vermont is the No. 4 most experienced roster in college basketball, and they are in the Top 20 in field goal offense and points allowed. Vermont is a small team. But other than 6-foot-10 Jaylin Williams, the Razorbacks won’t be bringing much post heft into this one. Finally, a No. 13 seed has won at least one game in 26 of the last 36 NCAA tournaments, including two such upsets (Ohio and North Texas) last March.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 5 Connecticut
Arkansas-Connecticut would be a sweet second round affair. But it seems like we rarely ever get the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup that the bracket foretells because one of those two high seeds usually get bumped off in the first round! This game wouldn’t be a work of art since both rely on their defense to set the tone. But it would feature two big-name teams and several high-level athletes going at it with a slot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 11 Rutgers/No. 11 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Alabama
Because Rutgers and Notre Dame are two very different teams with two very different styles, Alabama will have the disadvantage of not having the full week to prepare for its opening opponent. Beyond that, both Rutgers and Notre Dame are pretty good and more than capable of punching their way past the shaky Crimson Tide. An upset from one of the First Four survivors has almost become a given in NCAA tournament betting; major conference teams that survive the First Four have won their second game (against a first-round opponent) in 10 of the last 11 years. Last year No. 11 UCLA used its First Four win to springboard the Bruins to a Final Four run.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 7 Michigan State/No. 10 Davidson vs. No. 2 Duke
Either way, Duke’s second round opponent is going to be a live one. If it is Michigan State, then Tom Izzo will be trying to end the career of one of his most esteemed contemporaries. Coach K is 12-3 in 15 career matchups with Izzo. This would be the sixth year in a row that the two teams have squared off, and the first March matchup since Michigan State beat the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight in 2019.
If Davidson upsets Sparty in the first round, then it would set up a David vs. Goliath in-state matchup with a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line. Davidson hasn’t beaten Duke since 1982 (25 straight losses), and this game would essentially be the Wildcats’ national championship.
Dark Horse team: No. 5 Connecticut
On the one hand, Connecticut has been trending downward with a 2-8 ATS mark over its last 10 games. On the other, I feel like this team has the talent, experience and athleticism to outperform its seed. If the Huskies survive for a Sweet 16 showdown against Gonzaga, they will be fearless. And, as those wins over Auburn and Villanova show, this is a team that is more than capable of beating a Top 10 opponent.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 3 Texas Tech
As I said earlier, I’ve underestimated Texas Tech all season long. I had my doubts about new head coach Mark Adams and his ability to weave in so many new faces for the Red Raiders. Texas Tech also played one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the nation. And prior to Jan. 6, they had exactly one win (in OT) over a team ranked in the Top 175. Tech has been rock solid since then, going 15-6. But their grinding defensive style, shaky 3-point shooting, and the fact that they drew a crappy time slot for their opening game, have me worried that this team will flop. And if they don’t, are they capable of going toe-to-toe with Duke or Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively? How the Red Raiders fare will have a major impact on this bracket.
2021 West Region Predictions: For all the smack I talk about Gonzaga, they are still the overwhelming favorites to escape this region for a reason. Honestly, I think the West is the weakest bracket on the board. This region is littered with shaky boom-or-bust squads (Duke, Memphis, Alabama) and high-seeded opponents that are limited offensively but solid defensively (Arkansas, Connecticut, Texas Tech, Michigan State). Both tracks have traditionally been a recipe for first round flameouts. I don’t love either Duke or Gonzaga. So I will say that someone other than the two top seeds gets hot and runs the table out West.
Either that, or Gonzaga will roll. Frankly, with this sketchy mix of opponents, anything is possible.
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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