2021 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: West Region Betting Angles & Predictions
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Suggs (1).
The top seed in the bracket has to feel pretty good about its draw. Both of the Zags’ potential second-round opponents played their best basketball last month and have faded of late. Neither has the type of defense needed to contain the buzzsaw that is the Gonzaga offense.
Beyond that, the committee is forbidden from re-aligning teams that have previously met early in the tournament, yet loaded up the high seeds in this region with a rogue gallery of teams the Zags have already beaten. This is in part due to how many Big Ten and Big 12 teams earned high seeds and needed to be separated into different regions.
Gonzaga has already played and defeated Kansas and Virginia this season on neutral courts. The Zags led Kansas by as many as 18 and stretched a lead to 33 against Virginia. The Jayhawks and Hoos are also the two teams who most recently pulled out of power conference tournaments with COVID-19 issues.
Lastly, the 2-seed in this region is also a previous Gonzaga victim. The Bulldogs beat Iowa with relative ease in December as well. Iowa topped Big Ten foes with pace and shooting but couldn’t keep up with the lightning-quick Zags.
Beating any of those teams again is no sure thing, but Mark Few has to like having a blueprint on tape for taking out the best teams in his region.
NCAA Tournament: West Region
First Four Matchups
(16) Appalachian State vs. (16) Norfolk State
This one is going to be an ugly one.
Both of these teams rank outside the top 200 in offensive efficiency and shoot under 47% from inside the arc.
Appalachian State went on a magical run during the Sun Belt tournament, winning four games in four days, all by single digits with two of those games going into overtime.
However, this Mountaineers squad is not aesthetically pleasing on the offensive end of the floor. Appalachian State shoots a ton of 3-pointers (43.9% of its field goal attempts) but is barely hitting over 32% of them. Defensively, Norfolk State allows under 32% from 3-point range, so App State is likely going to have some struggles from the perimeter.
Offensively, Norfolk State does really only two things well. It shoots 3s at over 37% and also gets to the free-throw line at the 27th-highest rate in the country. However, it has little-to-no size inside, as four of its five starters are under 6-foot-7.
That has caused some issues scoring inside, as the Spartans are hitting only 54.8% of their shot attempts at the rim, per Hoop Math. Appalachian State allows one of the lowest free-throw rates in the country and gave up under 35% from 3-point range during Sun Belt play, so the Spartans are likely going to have some struggles on the offensive end of the floor.
Norfolk State plays at a middle-of-the-pack pace compared to the national average, but Appalachian State really likes to slow it down, ranking 310th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom.
So, this is likely going to be a grind-it-out game played in the half-court. I have 132.22 points projected for this game, so if you can find under 135.5 or better, I think it's worth a bet.
(11) Drake vs. (11) Wichita State
Given the chaos that surrounded Wichita State in November, this is a well-earned at-large bid for the Shockers.
They finished first in the AAC with an 11-2 record and earned valuable Quad I wins over Houston and at Ole Miss.
They will face a Drake team that battled through key injuries to star point guard Roman Penn (left foot) and are still awaiting the return of leading-scorer ShanQuan Hemphill (foot surgery).
The defensive-oriented Shockers held AAC opponents to just 28.9% from 3, while the Bulldogs shot almost 37% from beyond the arc. This is a matchup between two of the great stories of the 2020-2021 season squaring off in the first round.
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Appalachian State / Norfolk State
Gonzaga is going to be a massive favorite over either of these teams, but if you’re interested in betting the Zags, Appalachian State is the team you’d like to see advance to the weekend.
Norfolk State isn’t a threat to compete with the Zags, of course, but the Spartans at least have the potential to get hot and put on an offensive show. They rank in the top 40 nationally from beyond the arc, nailing better than 37 percent of their 3s on the season. The Spartans don’t take an inordinate amount of long balls, either, so Gonzaga can’t expect to be gifted with poor shot selection against its overmatched opponent.
For a 16 seed to stay anywhere close to arm’s reach, it needs to shoot the lights out. Appalachian State doesn’t have that gear and is already coming off its hottest stretch of the season. Norfolk State does.
(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Missouri
This is an interesting matchup between two teams that were looking great heading into February but struggled down the stretch. Both teams are probably glad to see the other in the first round, and one will right the ship and move on to the Round of 32.
Both teams play tough defense but don’t shoot it very well. This could be a good under look at the right number, ideally in the high 130s or low 140s. As for a side, I think the Sooners are the way to go. Oklahoma has a slight edge offensively, and has more scoring options than the Tigers. De’Vion Harmon’s defense will be key for the Sooners in this matchup. If he can shut down Dru Smith or Xavier Pinson, the Tigers will have a really tough time putting up points. I’d imagine this line comes out close to a pick’em, and I’d play Oklahoma up to -3.
(5) Creighton vs. (12) UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Barbara got a great draw in this troublesome 5 vs. 12 matchup.
Creighton just got trampled by a surging Georgetown squad and has stumbled recently, losing three of its past six. UCSB, meanwhile, handled business in its conference tournament to get the automatic bid.
(4) Virginia vs. (13) Ohio
This is a matchup of totally contrasting styles of play.
We all know what Virginia does. The Cavaliers play at a snail’s pace (dead-last in the country) while relying on being uber-efficient in their half-court offense and defense. They score 68 points per game and allow just 60.
Meanwhile, Ohio blitzed its way through the MAC. It averages more than 80 points per game, and scored 85, 87 and 84 in its three conference tournament wins. The Bobcats did it all on the back of Jason Preston. The junior guard averaged 23 points per game on better than 50% shooting during the Bobcats’ tournament run.
Ohio is going to try to upset Virginia by pushing the pace and scoring a lot. Meanwhile, Virginia will try to grind this game to a halt and win a slow-paced, half-court game. I actually lean Ohio to cover in this one. I think Preston could make some magic happen against a Virginia team that will be coming off a COVID pause.
(6) USC vs. (11) Wichita State / Drake
I love this USC team and think they are a dark horse to make the elite eight. The Trojans are the tallest team in America and have arguably the most talented freshman in 7-footer Evan Mobley.
USC is elite at both ends of the floor and can beat you in a multitude of ways. Offensively, the Trojans average more than 1.06 points per possession and shoot well from all over the court. They also have the 10th-highest offensive rebounding rate in the country.
The height discrepancy is going to pose a major problem for either Wichita State or Drake. The Bulldogs only have one player that stands over 6-foot-6, while Wichita State’s tallest player is 6-foot-8.
Either Wichita State or Drake is also likely going to struggle to score on USC’s defense, because the Trojans are top-20 in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Since USC is the tallest team in the country, trying to score inside on its 2-3 zone is a nightmare: The USC defense ranks second in the nation in 2-point percentage allowed. Neither Drake nor Wichita State likes to shoot a lot of 3-pointers — and unfortunately for either squad, the 3-ball is really the only chance either team stands at upsetting USC.
If you want to grab openers after the Drake vs Wichita State game on Thursday, my projected line for USC against Drake is -7.53 and against Wichita State is -7.41.
(3) Kansas vs. (14) Eastern Washington
Eastern Washington is a team nobody wants to play right now and Kansas is going to have its hands full. The Eagles play an incredibly fast tempo (28th in Adj. Tempo per KenPom) and have been shooting teams right out of the gym. Eastern Washington has won 13 of its last 14 games and did come within three points of both Washington State and Arizona at the beginning of the season.
Kansas will presumably get David McCormack back, but the Jayhawks still have some COVID issues that caused them to bow out of the Big 12 Tournament. It’s still unclear who will be available for Kansas, so this is a potential upset spot since Kansas isn’t elite offensively, ranking 59th in offensive efficiency.
I have the Jayhawks projected as a -11.03 favorite in this one, but keep an eye on the Jayhawks all week long as we start to get more news about who is or isn’t available to play.
(7) Oregon vs. (10) VCU
The Oregon Ducks have an interesting matchup against the surprise from the Atlantic 10 in the VCU Rams.
The Rams replaced their whole starting lineup this year but didn’t miss a beat through their “Chaos” defense. I like Oregon in this one, as it has taken care of the basketball all season long.
VCU relies on forcing turnovers and has struggled with coughing the ball up itself. Oregon ranks first in the Pac-12 in forcing turnovers, and that should be a key statistic to watch in this one.
The Ducks have the length and size to be able to slow down VCU star Nah'shon Hyland. All five starters on the Ducks are 6-foot-5 or taller, and they have won 11 of their last 13 games.
VCU struggled to slow down the St. Bonaventure offense in the A-10 Championship. It will have its work cut out for it in this game with Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte, who both average 16.7 points per game.
Turnovers will ultimately doom the Rams, and I see the Ducks advancing in this one — although the committee did them no favors, potentially looking at Iowa, Kansas, and Gonzaga after they move past VCU.
(2) Iowa vs. (15) Grand Canyon
This is a fairly intriguing matchup for the Antelopes. No, teams aren’t exactly lining up to battle Luka Garza and the hot-shooting Hawkeyes. But Grand Canyon does have a ton of size that should give the presumed National Player of the Year some trouble.
Wichita State transfer Asbjorn Midtgaard leads Grand Canyon in scoring, standing at 7-feet and 270 pounds. Garza’s worst performances this season have come against big men he could not bully around on the block. His worst shooting nights from the field against the size of Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Rutgers’ Myles Johnson, and the size of North Carolina.
Defensively, Garza will need to battle with Midtgaard or chase stretch-four Alessandro Lever out to the perimeter. Grand Canyon doesn’t have the shooting to hang wire-to-wire with Iowa, but the Lopes have the size to pull out a cover and contain Garza.