I won’t beat around the bush too much, because the truth is you’re probably already scrolling past this. For those of you who aren’t... hi there!
The Missouri Tigers had their name called on Selection Sunday and, while it was a welcome change from the past two years of not going dancing, it was a bit of gut punch. Despite having the wins of a team with a 5 or 6 seed, the Tigers’ recent run of poor play dropped them all the way to a number nine seed... the first number nine seed, as it turns out.
What’s worse is that the Tigers, who have a pretty winnable game in the opening round of the (figurative) West region, are on a collision course with Gonzaga, the only unbeaten team in the tournament. It’s a tough draw for Missouri, but one the Tigers played themselves into over the past few weeks. But, I digress.
We figured it would be helpful to at least take a brief look at all the teams occupying the West region. There’s a chance Missouri could play any one of these teams in the coming weeks, and we’ll have previews ready for any of them should that be the case. Think of this is a nice little pre-tournament meet-and-greet, a Pregame Wine and Cheese Reception if you will. Peruse and mingle as you see fit.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
How they got here: WCC Champion
Record and KenPom Rating: 26-0 (1)
Notable Wins: Iowa, Kansas, Virginia, West Virginia, BYU x3
Two-sentence synopsis: Gonzaga is a terrifying death machine, holding KenPom’s most efficient offensive rating by more than six points. Did we also mention they’re a top 10 defense in the country?
Trending: UP. Doth the gods trend upward? Can one improve on perfection?
2. Iowa Hawkeyes
How they got here: Big 10 At-Large
Record and KenPom Rating: 21-8 (5)
Notable Wins: Purdue, at Ohio State, at Maryland, Wisconsin x2, Rutgers x2
Two-sentence synopsis: Luka Garza is KenPom’s pick for the National Player of the Year, but the Hawkeyes are more than just their star. They’re a crisp, well-coached, sharp-shooting team with the offensive firepower to keep up with — or run away from —anyone.
Trending: UP. Iowa ran into the Brad Underwood buzzsaw in the Big 10 final, but the Hawkeyes are about as dangerous as anyone not named Gonzaga — they’re 7-2 in their last nine, with several high quality wins amongst them.
3. Kansas Jayhawks
How they got here: Big 12 At-Large
Record and KenPom Rating: 20-8 (22)
Notable Wins: Creighton, at Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor
Two-sentence synopsis: Bill Self’s team is a defensive menace, mostly because they make opponents work for their shots. They’re not nearly as dynamic on offense, where they only rank in the top 100 in two of KenPom’s main factors (off. rebounding and block percentage).
Trending: DOWN. The chickens had been playing their best ball of the season as of late, winning eight of their last nine (including a win over Baylor), before the Big 12 Tournament came around. One round in and Kansas was sent packing with an outbreak of COVID... and a cloud of uncertainty over whether or not they’ll be available to play at all.
4. Virginia Cavaliers
How they got here: ACC At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 18-6 (11)
Notable Wins: at Clemson, Georgia Tech x2, at Louisville, Syracuse x2
Two-sentence synopsis: If you’ve watched one Virginia basketball game under Tony Bennett, you’ll never live to forget it. Brutally slow and numbingly efficient, the Cavaliers are painful to watch if you’re not a sicko.
Trending: DOWN. Like Kansas, Virginia had to exit their conference tournament because of COVID concerns. If the Cavaliers play at all, they’ll likely be shorthanded.
5. Creighton Bluejays
How they got here: Big East At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 20-8 (19)
Notable Wins: at St. John’s, UConn x3, at Georgetown, Villanova
Two-sentence synopsis: The Bluejays are an efficient offensive power with a few notable weaknesses (particularly their physicality.) They’re a little more bland on the defensive end, though that’s hardly a bad thing as they still rank 40th in KP adjusted defense.
Trending: DOWN. Creighton beat UConn in the Big East Tournament before getting wiped out by Georgetown. And even though they’d probably be a DOWN because of their .500 record over the past several weeks, their recent off-the-court drama is probably still weighing heavily on the locker room.
6. USC Trojans
How they got here: Pac 12 At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 22-7 (14)
Notable Wins: BYU, at Arizona, at UCLA
Two-sentence synopsis: Tall as the redwoods in their home state, USC boasts one of the country’s best interior defenses. You better bring some shooters because the only way around them is over them... or you could just foul them and make them miss a bunch of free throws.
Trending: DOWN. This is a tough call for the Trojans, who have lost four of their last eight, including a tight match up with Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament. But the Trojans also needed two overtimes to get past Utah in the opening round just a few weeks after losing in Salt Lake City.
7. Oregon Ducks
How they got here: Pac 12 At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 20-6 (36)
Notable Wins: at Arizona, Colorado, at Oregon State
Two-sentence synopsis: Like they were when they faced Missouri, the Ducks are a veteran-laden team that likes to shoot from deep and often succeeds in doing so. They’re a bit top heavy, however, and mostly rely on their defense being “good enough.”
Trending: UP. The Ducks had a midseason lull, but have won 11 of their last 13, a stretch of games that includes a lot of quality wins. They ran into their in-state rival Beavers, a buzzsaw bid-stealer, in the Pac-12 Tournament.
8. Oklahoma Sooners
How they got here: Big 12 At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 15-10 (39)
Notable Wins: West Virginia x2, Kansas, at Texas, Alabama
Two-sentence synopsis: We’ll have a full scout coming later this week, but Oklahoma is a lot like other teams on the 8/9 seed line — good at a lot, great at nothing. They take care of the ball on offense, though, which helps them maintain a top 40 unit in KenPom.
Trending: DOWN. Since a thrilling 2OT victory over West Virginia, Oklahoma is 2-5, it’s only two wins coming over lowly Iowa State. If anyone is down worse than Missouri, it’s the Sooners.
9. Missouri Tigers
How they got here: SEC At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 16-9 (51)
Notable Wins: Illinois, Alabama, at Arkansas, at Tennessee, at Florida
Two-sentence synopsis: Let’s not and say we did.
Trending: DOWN. But you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?
10. VCU Rams
How they got here: A10 At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 19-7 (45)
Notable Wins: at St. Bonaventure, St. Louis, Dayton x2
Two-sentence synopsis: Would you be shocked to hear that VCU is going to wear you out with their hyper-athletic defense? The Rams rank 4th in block percentage and 3rd in steal percentage, boasting an overall 12th ranked defense that carries a lethargic offense.
Trending: DOWN. The Rams are only 3-3 in their last six games, including a bad home loss to George Mason and tight home wins over SLU and Dayton.
11. Drake Bulldogs/Wichita State Shockers
How they got here: Missouri Valley/AAC At-large
Record and KenPom Rating: 25-4 (53)/16-5 (74)
Notable Wins: Loyola-Chicago/at Mississippi, Houston
Two-sentence synopsis: Drake’s offense will keep them in a lot of games, as the Bulldogs are sound in possession and take good shots. Their defense can’t afford many slip-ups, though.
Wichita State is sort of the same, with one glaring exception — they’re one of the worst two-point offenses in the country. The Shockers will have to get some threes to fall if they want to do anything of substance.
Trending: DOWN (Drake). It’s hard to fault a team who can count 50 percent of their losses to one team. But Drake is just 2-2 in its last four, including two squeakers against Missouri State and Bradley.
UP (Wichita State). Before its AAC Tournament loss to Cincinnati, the Shockers had won their last eight, including a thriller over Houston.
12. UCSB Gauchos
How they got here: Big West Champions
Record and KenPom Rating: 22-4 (69)
Notable Wins: None
Two-sentence synopsis: There’s nothing overly special about the Gauchos, who have middling offenses and defenses. Their special gift may be that they simply don’t make a ton of mistakes with the ball — they rate well at not giving up blocks or steals on the offensive end.
Trending: UP. Since the calendar turned to 2021, UCSB is 18-1 with only seven of their wins coming in single digits.
13. Ohio Bobcats
How they got here: MAC Champions
Record and KenPom Rating: 16-7 (78)
Notable Wins: Buffalo x2, Toledo
Two-sentence synopsis: Awh, hell yeah, now this is a Cinderella team waiting to happen. Ohio let’s it ride with a skilled, pass-happy and efficient offense and then sort of wings it on the other end.
Trending: UP. Maybe the most questionable of the UPs on this list, as the Bobcats ended their regular season with a 20-point home loss. They did take out the MAC’s two leading teams on the way to the MAC Championship, though, and that can’t be ignored.
14. Eastern Washington Eagles
How they got here: Big Sky Champions
Record and KenPom Rating: 16-7 (110)
Notable Wins: None, though it should be noted they played Arizona to 3 points on the road
Two-sentence synopsis: Eastern Washington isn’t exceptional at much, but it bets that it can keep up with anyone — they play at a top 30 pace. If the game turns physical, the Eagles can capitalize at the free throw line, where they rank sixth in free throw percentage.
Trending: UP. On January 22, the Eagles were 3-6 with their only good showing the three-point loss to Arizona. Since then, EWU is 13-1 with a conference tournament title under their cap.
15. Grand Canyon Antelopes
How they got here: WAC Champions
Record and KenPom Rating: 17-6 (108)
Notable Wins: None
Two-sentence synopsis: Grand Canyon is pretty weird, sporting a defense that would be elite if they weren’t so ambivalent about hunting steals — they’re top 25 in effective field goal percentage, defensive rebounding and two-and-three point defense. Their offense isn’t anything special, but they do rank 15th in two-point percentage, so keep them away from the paint.
Trending: UP. Grand Canyon lost three of its last five games in league play, but walked through the WAC Tournament, with both wins coming in at 18+ points, to grab an auto-bid.
16. Appalachian State Mountaineers/Norfolk State Spartans
How they got here: Sun Belt/MEAC Champions
Record and KenPom Rating: 17-11 (209)/16-7 (200)
Notable Wins: None
Two-sentence synopsis: We’re really starting to stretch here, y’all. Appalachian State is just frankly not very good — the most charitable thing I can say is they don’t foul a lot on defense?
Norfolk State can go kick bricks. Here’s a second sentence.
Trending: UP. The Mountaineers were a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt team before reeling off four straight wins in the conference tournament. Norfolk State has only three losses since early January, all coming to Coppin State, whom they played three times in the course of two weeks.