Sweet Sixteen Preview: West Region

Sweet Sixteen Preview: West Region

This article is part of our NCAA Tournament Preview series.

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

Site: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA
Tip-off: Thursday, March 24, 7:09 p.m. EST

The West region is the only region in the tournament with all four of the top seeds in the Sweet 16, but none of the teams faced an easy path to make it to the regional semifinal.

Gonzaga entered the NCAA Tournament as the top seed, but the Zags faced a pair of close matchups in the first two rounds, similar to the other No. 1 seeds in the tournament. Georgia State kept the first-round matchup close throughout the first 30 minutes of the game before Gonzaga went on a 24-1 run en route to a 93-72 win. The team was unable to generate that separation against Memphis in the second round, as the Bulldogs trailed by 10 points at halftime before Drew Timme scored 21 points in the second half.

Duke's defense returned in the first round of the tournament, as the team held Cal State-Fullerton to just 61 points in the comfortable victory. That changed in the second round during the much-anticipated final showdown between Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils and Tom Izzo's Spartans. Michigan State led with just over five minutes remaining, but the Blue Devils closed out with a well-rounded performance in which four starters scored at least 15 points.

Texas Tech put together a dominant 97-62 win over Montana State in the opening round, but they faced some trouble against No. 11 Notre Dame after

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

Site: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA
Tip-off: Thursday, March 24, 7:09 p.m. EST

The West region is the only region in the tournament with all four of the top seeds in the Sweet 16, but none of the teams faced an easy path to make it to the regional semifinal.

Gonzaga entered the NCAA Tournament as the top seed, but the Zags faced a pair of close matchups in the first two rounds, similar to the other No. 1 seeds in the tournament. Georgia State kept the first-round matchup close throughout the first 30 minutes of the game before Gonzaga went on a 24-1 run en route to a 93-72 win. The team was unable to generate that separation against Memphis in the second round, as the Bulldogs trailed by 10 points at halftime before Drew Timme scored 21 points in the second half.

Duke's defense returned in the first round of the tournament, as the team held Cal State-Fullerton to just 61 points in the comfortable victory. That changed in the second round during the much-anticipated final showdown between Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils and Tom Izzo's Spartans. Michigan State led with just over five minutes remaining, but the Blue Devils closed out with a well-rounded performance in which four starters scored at least 15 points.

Texas Tech put together a dominant 97-62 win over Montana State in the opening round, but they faced some trouble against No. 11 Notre Dame after the Fighting Irish upset Alabama to make it to the second round. The Red Raiders' staunch defense was on full display, as they held Notre Dame to just 53 points during Sunday's matchup. However, they required a 10-1 run late in the game to eke out the 59-53 victory.

Arkansas staved off an upset bid from No. 13 Vermont in the first round of the tournament. JD Notae's playing time in the first half of the matchup was limited after he picked up a pair of fouls, but he scored 17 points in the second half to help propel the Razorbacks to a 75-71 win. Arkansas had a nine-point lead over New Mexico State in the second round but managed to contain Teddy Allen during the low-scoring 53-48 win.

Now that the teams are set, let's dive deeper into the Sweet 16 matchups.

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Arkansas

Key Matchup: Chet Holmgren vs. Jaylin Williams. Holmgren has been a consistent force for the Bulldogs this season, and he's a key reason why the team was able to earn the top seed in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. However, he's shown some glimpses of inconsistency recently. He picked up a strong 19-point, 17-rebound double-double during the first-round win over Georgia State, but he's been held without double-doubles in four of his last five appearances. On the other side, Williams has recorded double-doubles in each of the first two NCAA Tournament games after he failed to accomplish the feat in any of his three prior appearances. For a pair of programs that thrive inside the arc, the matchup between Holmgren and Williams under the basket will be an important factor in Thursday's matchup.

Gonzaga will Win IF: The Bulldogs can control the offensive boards. Gonzaga shot just over 50 percent from the floor in each of the first two rounds of the tournament, which is down from the team's 61-percent mark on the season. While a slight decrease in efficiency isn't usually an issue against WCC opponents, those second chances on the offensive side of the ball will be important against the Razorbacks. Gonzaga logged 16 offensive boards in the first round before securing 10 rebounds on the offensive side against Memphis in the second round, and Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme will need to step up in the frontcourt once again if the team hopes to avoid another close encounter in the Sweet 16.

Arkansas will Win IF: The Razorbacks can limit Gonzaga's effective field-goal rate. A key to Gonzaga's success during the 2021-22 campaign has been its effective field-goal percentage and two-point rate, both of which are the best in the nation, per KenPom. While Arkansas' offense propelled the team to the win over the Catamounts in the first round of the tournament, the Razorbacks needed their defensive efforts against New Mexico State since Arkansas shot just 27.5 percent from the floor. Gonzaga has the advantage on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, so the Razorbacks will need to slow down the Bulldogs' scoring attack if they hope to keep up, especially since Arkansas is so inconsistent on offense, particularly from long range.

Player to Watch: JD Notae, G, Arkansas. Notae has been the Razorbacks' leading scorer this season, but availability has been an issue for him early in the NCAA Tournament due to foul trouble. He was held scoreless in the first half of the team's narrow win over Vermont after picking up two fouls, and he played just 31 minutes against New Mexico State before fouling out. Notae is one of the few players on the team who can shoot three-pointers with some consistency, so his ability to generate results on the scoreboard will be particularly important against Gonzaga's potent offense.

Prediction: The Razorbacks displayed a versatile skill set to reach the Sweet 16, but I predict that Gonzaga's well-rounded attack will win out in the Sweet 16 after the Bulldogs displayed some vulnerabilities in the first two rounds of the tournament. While JD Notae, Jaylin Williams and Stanley Umude have the potential to perform well on the scoreboard and in the rebound column, all five of Gonzaga's starters averaged double-digit scoring totals this year, and the Bulldogs can beat teams from inside or from long range. After a pair of close matchups to begin the tournament, I think Gonzaga will be able to regroup en route to a second consecutive Elite Eight appearance.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

Key Matchup: Paolo Banchero vs. Bryson Williams. Each program's leading scorer resides at power forward, which should create an important matchup in the frontcourt. Banchero will also be forced to shoulder an even larger load if A.J. Griffin is limited or unavailable after he sustained an ankle injury in Sunday's win over Michigan State. Banchero has stepped up in a significant way during postseason action, as he's posted double-doubles in three of his five appearances between the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. Williams has been less effective than Banchero in rebounds and assists, but the fifth-year player has scored at least 14 points in each of his last three appearances while shooting 53.7 percent from the floor during that time. Texas Tech's defensive efficiency is the best in the nation, per KenPom, so Banchero's ability to generate production in the scoring and rebound columns against Williams will be especially important if the Blue Devils hope to create separation on the scoreboard.

Duke will Win IF: The Blue Devils can remain effective from beyond the arc. Texas Tech has a well-rounded defense that is dominant in most areas, but one area where the Red Raiders have shown some vulnerability is against three-point attempts. Duke had two late-season losses leading up to the NCAA Tournament. While North Carolina secured the victory in the regular-season finale by putting up 94 points on Duke's home court, the Blue Devils' loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament came while Duke put up just 67 points behind 20-percent shooting from beyond the arc. The team's ability to drive up the score will be especially important against Texas Tech, and Trevor Keels and Paolo Banchero will need to step up in the Sweet 16 if A.J. Griffin's ankle injury proves to be a concern.

Texas Tech will Win IF: The Red Raiders are efficient from the floor. Texas Tech's defense hasn't been a concern this season, and the team has been able to win in a variety of ways. This has been on display early in the NCAA Tournament, as the Red Raiders put up 97 points against Montana State before beating Notre Dame in a matchup where both teams were held under 60 points. While Texas Tech's strength is on the defensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils are likely to generate some offensive production since the team has the fourth-highest offensive efficiency in the nation, per KenPom. Two of the Red Raiders' last three wins have come while scoring under 60 points, but the team will likely need to generate more offensive production in the Sweet 16 while hoping to contain Duke on defense.

Player to Watch: A.J. Griffin, F, Duke. Griffin's status leading up to Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup is certainly worth monitoring after the freshman was unable to return late in Sunday's win over the Spartans due to his apparent ankle injury. While the Blue Devils were able to step up in the closing minutes to secure the comeback win, the team will likely struggle more over a full game if Griffin is limited or unavailable. It's encouraging that Griffin was able to remain in the bench area while testing out his injury after exiting the game, but coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn't yet indicated whether he thinks the freshman will be available for the Sweet 16. Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach will need to handle increased roles if Griffin faces any limitations, and the team needs all the offensive help it can get against Texas Tech's defense.

Prediction: Both Duke and Texas Tech overcame second-half deficits to advance to the Sweet 16. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, I fully expected Texas Tech to beat Duke to advance to the Elite Eight, but I'm less sure after Duke's strong performances against Cal State-Fullerton and Michigan State. While the Red Raiders have shown some offensive inconsistency, I think their defense will be enough to send Duke packing. Notre Dame had an efficient performance against Alabama that included shooting 62.5 percent from beyond the arc. However, the Fighting Irish converted just 32.1 percent of their three-pointers in their second-round loss to Texas Tech, showcasing the power of the Red Raiders' defense. While Duke's offensive prowess has been on display in the first two rounds of the tournament, I expect that the Red Raiders' defense will be able to contain Duke enough to pick up the win in the Sweet 16.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Shebilske
Jason joined RotoWire in 2019 as his first position covering fantasy sports. In addition to RotoWire, he writes for Sports Broadcast Journal.
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