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No. 1 Seed Overview: Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Zags finished up their regular season undefeated and won the WCC Tournament with a strong comeback victory over BYU. They began the 2020-21 campaign as the top team in Vendetta’s Preseason Rankings, and they enter the NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed. They will be an extremely popular pick to bring home the title and look to be the first undefeated NCAA Champion since 1976.
Mark Few’s squad sits atop the KenPom ratings, with the No. 1 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and the No. 10 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Freshman phenom Jalen Suggs proved why he will likely be a top selection in the 2021 NBA Draft with his play in the WCC Tournament.
The frontcourt will be anchored by WCC Player of the Year Corey Kispert and fellow All-WCC First Team recipient Drew Timme. All-WCC First Team member Joel Ayayi and WCC Sixth Man of the Year Andrew Nembhard would be top-two options at almost any other Division I program; at Gonzaga, they are the fourth and fifth options.
Taking out the Zags in March Madness will be a monumental task. Most teams could have the best game of their season and still lose by double digits to Mark Few and company. Heat Check CBB did a statistical analysis into which teams are over-seeded and under-seeded this year. Gonzaga came in as the most under-seeded team this season despite being the No. 1 overall seed. That’s how dominant the Zags are this season. Do not fall into the trap of discounting them for their WCC competition.
Sleeper Team to Win Region: No. 6 USC Trojans
Some things will definitely have to break right for the Trojans to advance far in the tournament. However, they are certainly capable of beating both Kansas and Iowa. Seeing USC and future NBA lottery pick Evan Mobley in the Elite Eight is not as much of a longshot as it may seem. They would probably need Gonzaga to stumble early on to have a real shot at the Final Four, but if you’re looking for a sleeper pick, here you go.
Double-Digit Seed Most Likely to Make Noise: No. 13 Ohio Bobcats
Ohio made waves early on in the season when point guard Jason Preston outplayed Ayo Dosunmu in a two-point loss to then-No. 3 Illinois. Ohio followed that game up with a 101-46 win over Cleveland State, who are currently in the tournament field as a No. 15 seed. The Bobcats have a top-30 offense per KenPom and are certainly capable of causing some big problems for both Virginia and Creighton in the early rounds.
Player to Watch: Luka Garza, Iowa Hawkeyes
Luka Garza is the presumptive National Player of the Year. Iowa will go as far as he goes. Garza is currently averaging the second-most points of any player in the tournament at 23.7 per game. If the Hawkeyes superstar continues to play high-level basketball, their ceiling drastically increases.
Most Intriguing First-Round Game: No. 7 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 10 VCU Rams
This should be a fantastic matchup. The Ducks are a top-20 offensive side and VCU are a top-20 defensive team. Oregon’s offensive ceiling has many already tabbing them as an under-seeded threat. However, I find it extremely interesting that they are 16th in Offensive Efficiency, but 242nd in Adjusted Tempo. VCU’s stingy defense should seriously challenge Oregon’s bid as a sleeper team.
This is definitely Gonzaga’s region to lose. They have already beaten No. 2 Iowa, No. 3 Kansas, and No. 4 Virginia this year as part of their non-conference schedule. The Zags have a fantastic draw in the West, and they should be the heavy favorite to get to the Final Four. I expect mostly chalk in this region, with Gonzaga coming out on top.
Region Final Prediction: No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 2 Iowa
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