2022 NCAA tournament region preview: West

<p>Both Paolo Banchero of second-seeded Duke and Drew Timme of first-seeded Gonzaga were named Wooden Award finalists, and they could meet again in the Elite Eight of the West region.</p>

Both Paolo Banchero of second-seeded Duke and Drew Timme of first-seeded Gonzaga were named Wooden Award finalists, and they could meet again in the Elite Eight of the West region.

With the first round of the NCAA tournament set to tip off Thursday, the Blue Zone breaks down each of the four regions, catching you up on all of the contenders and sleepers ready to make a run to the Final Four in New Orleans. Check out our other region previews: South, Midwest and East.

The No. 1 seed: Gonzaga Bulldogs

The Bulldogs held down the No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll for the final five weeks, so it is no surprise that they are positioned at the top of the West once again. After their undefeated campaign was spoiled by Baylor in the national championship game just under a year ago, Gonzaga has its sight set on the title. 

Head coach Mark Few’s squad has been dominant all season. They started the season in the same top spot they finished in, even with a few bumps along the way. The Bulldogs have the best scoring offense in the nation, averaging almost 88 points per game and are ranked first in adjusted offense according to KenPom. Their defense is no breeze either, led by seven-foot freshman center Chet Holmgren, who averages 3.6 blocks and 9.6 rebounds per game.  

Gonzaga is led by two Naismith semifinalists, junior forward Drew Timme and Holmgren. Their frontcourt is dangerous, to say the least. Both have explosive offensive capabilities and prioritize high-efficiency shots, as is evident in their field goal percentages: both rank in the top 20 in the nation. The Bulldogs are more than just their stars; they are surrounded by a supporting cast of Julian Strawther, Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton, all of whom have led the team in scoring and have the ability to be game-changers themselves. 

The other contenders: Playing spoiler

The Zags have only dropped three games this season, but two of those familiar faces are back to haunt them. Second-seeded Duke and sixth-seeded Alabama both topped Gonzaga just eight days apart back in November. Third-seeded Texas Tech swept Baylor, a No. 1 seed, in both of their matchups this season, and fourth-seeded Arkansas knocked second-seeded Auburn out of the top spot in the AP poll after an overtime victory in February. 

The West is deep, and any team could step up and make a run. It is head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season with the Blue Devils, and they are coming off of a brutal loss in his final home game against rival North Carolina and a disappointing ACC championship loss to Virginia Tech. Duke will be looking to right the ship and deliver a championship to Durham and their beloved coach. Their sights are set on the title, nothing less. 

The Razorbacks, led by senior JD Notae, can match up with any team in the nation. Notae scored 28 and 30 points in wins over Auburn and Kentucky, respectively. Arkansas has played five ranked teams, only dropping one of those matchups, their regular season finale at Tennessee. They are a powerful and threatening No. 4 seed. 

If they can survive Notre Dame in the First Four, Rutgers also presents a unique challenge in the region. It rattled off four-straight ranked victories in February and spoiled Purdue’s undefeated record in December. Though their play is more inconsistent, and they have lost four of their last six, the Scarlet Knights have proven that they can compete. 

The potential Cinderella: Vermont

The Catamounts have flown under the radar all season long, but they have put together a respectable resume that only features five losses, all but one of which occurred on or prior to Dec. 7. The duo of seniors Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu have combined for over 33 points per game, and Vermont plays cleanly, ranking ninth in the nation with less than 10 turnovers per game. The Catamounts are no doubt riding a hot streak, as their average margin of victory over the past three games is almost 37 points. 

Arkansas does pose a difficult first matchup, but its play has been far more inconsistent than that of Vermont. The Razorbacks dropped five games to unranked opponents over a four week stretch in December and January. If the Catamounts can ride their wave of explosive offense and shut-down defense past Arkansas in the first round, they can hang around with anyone. It will be a whole-team effort to shut down Notae and company, but one that Texas A&M just accomplished in the SEC tournament semifinals. 

The regional narrative: Heavyweight battle

Barring any major upsets or breakdowns, Duke and Gonzaga will have to battle for a spot in the Final Four. Both teams have evolved since November, and if the first matchup was any indication of the potential second, it would be an Elite Eight game like no other. 

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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