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Bracket Analysis: West Region

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Long known as one of the premier mid-major programs in the country, Xavier took the next step this season, winning the Big East regular season title and locking up their first ever No. 1 seed. They now land as the top seed in perhaps the weakest region in the bracket, with a clear path deep into the Tournament. The strength to this Musketeers' team is their backcourt, led by All-Big East veteran Trevon Bluiett, steady sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin and lights-out shooter J.P. Macura. That high-scoring trio helped Xavier have the nation's 11th highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 84.3 points per game. The big X-factor for the Musketeers will be on the other side of the ball, where their inconsistent defense will have to step up in a big way. They allowed 74.5 PPG (235th nationally) and they really struggled to defend teams in the low post. The good news is that most of the teams in the top-half of the West Region don't really run their offense through the paint, which really plays to Xavier's strengths. Due to the fact they aren't a traditional power, a lot of people see this Musketeers team being the first top seed to loss this March. However, this is a skilled and experienced team, led by perhaps the nation's most underrated head coach, Chris Mack. Also, this is a program that has proven they can win in the Big Dance. They have advanced to the Sweet 16 or beyond six times in the past decade, and are amazingly consistent. They should be able to advance deep into the Tourney once more this year.

Rated as the No. 1 recruit in the nation by most scouting services prior to the season, we have seen just 25 minutes of Michael Porter in '17-'18 with eighth-seeded Missouri. Its hard to get much of an impression from just 25 minutes of play, but Porter's talent level and potential is astounding. The big question is: can he lead this Mizzou on a dark horse run? Porter is far from the only contributor on this roster, as his brother, Jontay, and senior Kassius Robertson have been key to a great second half from this Tigers team. However, while Missouri has shown flashes of real promise, with wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M, they have had bouts of real inconsistency. Much of that can be attributed to the real youth on this roster, and incredibly streaky shooting. Opening up against ninth-seeded Florida State will be an interesting test, as will a possible future date with Xavier. Both of those teams have great guards, and can attack on the drive very well, which is an issue for a team that doesn't have any great defenders. Even so, the Tigers could become the mystery-type team able to make a huge run, if they play up to their talent level. It just appears like it will hinge on what the Porter brothers are able to do.

Playing at South Dakota State, Mike Daum doesn't get much national attention but in reality, he is one of the best players in the Field of 68. Daum, a 6'9" junior forward, is averaging 23.8 points per game and 10.4 RPG, while shooting an impressive 46% from the field and 42% from deep. He has been a major reason why the Jackrabbits managed to go 28-6 overall and finish first in the Summit League. Daum, along with freshman David Jenkins Jr. and Reed Tellinghuisen makes SDSU one of the more dangerous dark horses in the bracket. The Jackrabbits open Tournament play with fifth-seeded Ohio State, certainly a great team, but a beatable squad. Beyond swingman Keita Bates-Diop, the Big Ten Player of the Year, the Buckeyes lack an interior presence that can contain Daum and also aren't very deep, which could haunt them against a SDSU team that runs the floor as well as anybody in the country. Beyond that, there are plenty of opportunities for this South Dakota State to make some serious moves and become a Cinderella story. Possible future meetings with Gonzaga and Xavier will obviously be tough, but this Jackrabbits team is incredibly skilled and they have the talent to really cause some chaos, especially in a region that could really be wide-open.

After winning their second straight Big Ten Tournament, Michigan once more looks like a team set to have a great NCAA Tournament. They have the dominant low presence (Mo Wagner) they need and plenty of shooters to guide one of the country's most explosive offenses. They are also one of the more experienced teams in the field, led by proven veterans such as Wagner, sharpshooting Duncan Robinson, Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rakham and Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews. Head coach John Belein also gives them a significant advantage; the savvy coach is great at adapting to different teams and in late game situations. The Wolverines are just the type of team you can feel confident about this time of year, a time when its hard to really feel confident in a sport filled with parity. The biggest question is rust, as they have taken a week off because the Big Ten Tournament was moved up. Taking a week off when you're hot doesn't usually help, but perhaps it could make them more fueled for a stretch run. When they're playing down the stretch and everybody is else is tired, having fresher legs could actually be a huge advantage. So, perhaps, their biggest question mark is actually a huge asset for a team already playing great basketball.

Texas A&M probably is never going to play like the team that was once ranked eighth nationally again in 2017-2018, but the Aggies are not to be taken lightly as the seven seed out West. They are a very lengthy, physical team that runs their offense inside-out. Massive center Tyler Davis is a load for any team to handle, and their collection of guards are hard-nosed and excel through contact. The big issue during this team's early conference-play slide was the loss of their point guard, veteran Duane Wilson. Freshman guard T.J. Starks has stepped up in a big way, and down the stretch the Aggies played great basketball. This is still a team that doesn't shoot the ball very well and they aren't particularly deep, but they may be one of the more dangerous seven seeds in the field. If they can get past an underrated Providence team and use their size to overtake North Carolina in Round 2, this is yet another team that could make some serious noise.

Picking the West

First Round

1 Xavier over 16 NC Central/Texas Southern... A lot of people consider Xavier the weakest No. 1 seed in this Tournament. Even so, the Musketeers should roll over this First Four winner.

8 Missouri over 9 Florida State... The addition of Michael Porter helps the Tigers overcome a good shooting Florida State squad.

12 South Dakota State over 5 Ohio State... Chris Holtmann has done a superb job in his first season with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes could be in store for an upset against Mike Daum and SDSU.

4 Gonzaga over 13 UNC Greensboro... This Gonzaga team isn't at last year's level, but good guard play and big man Rui Hachimura puts the Bulldogs over the top.

6 Houston over 11 San Diego State... The Aztecs are a team that plays great defense and has solid depth, but Houston is playing great basketball and should keep rolling.

3 Michigan over 14 Montana... There may be some rust on this Michigan team after taking a week off, but they should still fend off the Big Sky Champ.

7 Texas A&M over 10 Providence... The Friars are very overlooked playing in the tough Big East, but they just don't have the size or length to deal with A&M.

2 UNC over 15 Lipscomb... Lipscomb, the Atlantic Sun Champ, comes from a conference that has produced some major Cinderella stories, but they won't beat UNC here.

Second Round

1 Xavier over 8 Missouri... With their impressive talent level, Missouri should give Xavier quite a scare, but the sweet-shooting of J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett helps the Musketeers come out on top.

4 Gonzaga over 12 South Dakota State... A rematch of last year's opener for Gonzaga should go the same way as the first: with the Bulldogs moving on.

3 Michigan over 6 Houston... Former Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson will be eager to take down a former Big Ten rival, but the Wolverines should keep on rolling.

2 UNC over 7 Texas A&M... If Tyler Davis and Robert Williams dominate down low, there could be an upset opportunity here, but the Tar Heels are just too skilled and deep to lose in the second round.

Sweet 16

1 Xavier over 4 Gonzaga... An upset of former mid-major powerhouses should be exciting, but Xavier's high-octane offense pushes them to victory here.

3 Michigan over 2 UNC... Mo Wagner versus Luke Maye should be a great battle, but the Wolverines' impressive crop of guards secures the win.

Elite Eight

3 Michigan over 1 Xavier... Both of these offenses are flaming hot, but the Wolverines balance and depth helps them take down the top seed out West.

West Region Champ: 3 Michigan Wolverines

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