Andy Behrens, Pete Thamel, Krysten Peek and Preston Johnson break down the West Region of the 2021 NCAA men’s tournament field - including number one overall seed Gonzaga.
ANDY BEHRENS: All right, let's dive into the brackets. Let's start talking about some actual matchups in the West Region. Let's start off with Virginia and Ohio. Virginia-- in a crazy situation right now. We all know that. They had a lot of players who aren't even going to be able to practice for a week going into this thing. Wonderful team all season. They get Ohio. The Bobcats rolled through their conference tournament. They gave Illinois a scare early in the season. Is this an upset possibility, Pete?
PETE THAMEL: I think it has to be. The uncertainty surrounding Virginia would make you foolish to pick them deep in your bracket this year. They're not even getting to Indianapolis until Thursday. KP is going to give us a little bit of an update on them later on. But I am in love with Ohio wing Jason Preston. He's averaging 16.6 points a game. His story is so unreal.
He actually left basketball, enrolled at UCF as a regular student, and he was studying, of all things, journalism. That's right. He wanted to be a sportswriter. And then he got a call from a prep school, came back out. He lit up the MAC Tournament-- scored 22 and 1/2 points per game. I talked to Ohio coach Jeff Boals this weekend. He said they're writing a movie on his life.
KRYSTEN PEEK: You know what, Pete, this might be an upside, but let's start talking about Virginia and their situation, and the potential that they could win this first game of the tournament. Of course, they were hit with COVID issues, but Coach Bennett said that most of his team is now in quarantine, but there are some players that are able to get some shots up.
Of course, they're not going to be able to get on the court altogether-- maybe one practice before Thursday-- they're not heading there until Thursday night, like I told you. And the player in question won't even be able to play for the first two rounds. I'm rolling the dice on this one and saying a great college coach like Tony Bennett will get his players to rise for the occasion in the first game and get that W.
PRESTON HOHNSON: From a betting perspective, I think this match up is really interesting, because Virginia would technically be a double digit favorite if we were under normal circumstances, which were not. And so, how do you impact that uncertainty, which Pete alluded to, with them not really being able to practice, they're going to show up later, and they're playing a guy-- I mean Preston in the Illinois game that you referenced, Andy. They went into Illinois, they lost by 2. It was 77-75. Preston dropped, like, 31, 8, and 6. I mean, he's dominant. He can lead a team even against a Virginia pack line defense within double digits. So now the sports market, the betting markets, they're around 8 1/2, 8.
I think that's closer to fair, considering the uncertainty with Virginia. It's not one I can bet on. I'm passing. But I am rooting for Ohio. I think it would be a great story to see them, you know, going to the next round.
ANDY BEHRENS: All right. Next match up that we want to dive into here. Let's talk about Oregon and VCU. The winner just moves on to get stomped by Iowa Hawkeyes. Let's not think about that just yet. Oregon-- a team that is 36, I believe, in KenPom right now. They got handled by Oregon State in the conference tournament. VCU-- pretty frisky, great defensively. What do we think about this one, Pete?
PETE THAMEL: I really think VCU is going to struggle in this matchup, Andy, because their style is predicated on them having the athletic advantage. Obviously, we're all excited to see Bones Hyland on a big stage-- the most dominant player in the Atlantic 10. But I really feel like Oregon-- I'm going to I'm going to double down on what Preston said earlier in his rugrats commentary-- Oregon is such a difficult matchup.
I talked to a coach out west this week. He said Oregon's the one team you never want to see in your NCAA Tournament bracket. They play man, they go to a 1-3-1, they go to a 2-2-1. You never know what defense they're going to play. And they are methodical on offense with great athletes. So they're going to bring you down to the last 10 seconds of the shot clock. And Altman's going to do a great job manipulating the game. I think Oregon controls the tempo against VCU in that way and cruises to a win here.
KRYSTEN PEEK: You know, I've got to disagree with you, Pete. I think this game will be a lot closer than people think it will, because on the other side the ball, like you said, is 6'3" sophomore guard Bones Hyland. He's one of the highest recruits VCU has ever landed and is playing a bit like Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley right now. And he scored 28 points in 29 minutes against Dayton late in January. And if he gets hot, I think you should look for VCU to get this one.
PRESTON HOHNSON: So I actually think Oregon-- I said, you know, like rugrats-- they're going to be pesky, they're going to give everyone trouble. This is kind of high-- this point spread, 6 points. I think I, kind of, am in between what Pete and Kristin are, because I do expect Oregon to advance. And it's a team that I was hoping going into this--oh, I'm going to back them in the first round, maybe even the second round if they can. But 6 points, it's too high. So if anything, I would actually look to the VCU side.
But I guess history-- or you know, potential that Oregon brings to the table is that Will Richardson-- and the upside we're not really seeing is that he didn't play a game until early February for the Ducks, and he's shooting 40% from 3. So adding a 40% shooter is huge in a tournament setting. With Chris Duarte, who's their go-to guy, going to be a potential first round pick, an NBA prospect, he shoots 43% from 3. So they have the weapons. And they have-- defensively, Altman's scheming is correct. They're going to advance. I just wish this was more like minus 4, minus 4 and 1/2 as opposed to minus 6. So I got it to just stay away.
ANDY BEHRENS: Pete, give us another team to watch in this region.
PETE THAMEL: Well, I'm going all in on Santa Barbara. The Gauchos. Gwyneth Paltrow is their most famous, alum and she could be cast as Cinderella. JaQuori McLaughlin is the best player on Santa Barbara, and it's not surprising he's a transfer. Former top 100 prospect. I'm sure KP saw him in a lot of AAU gyms. He went from the beavers to the Gauchos, and he has thrived. Most talented player in the Big West. 16.2 points per game.
But there's plenty of more roster geography to play with transfers when you look at this Gauchos roster. They've got a transfer from Pacific, a transfer from Oregon, a transfer from Nevada. And their second best player Amadou Sow was a high major recruit. So they are loaded. They've won 18 of 19. They have all those traits you want out of your 12 seed to pull that upset.
ANDY BEHRENS: KP, let's say I'm an NBA fan. Let's say my team has a lottery pick. Who am I scouting? What are the players that I'm really keying in on in this region?
KRYSTEN PEEK: I mean, it's no question the player that everybody wants to watch is freshman Jalen Suggs. He's the highest recruit to ever go to Gonzaga, and he's averaging 14.3 points and 4.5 assists per game on a loaded Gonzaga team. But let's look at the first real test that Gonzaga is going to have-- it's going to be Oklahoma. And do not sleep on point guard De'Vion Harmon and this Oklahoma team. The sophomore guard put up 23 points on Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State late in the season. So look for this potential fun matchup in the second round between those two point guards.
ANDY BEHRENS: Preston, make us a little money in this region. What are your best bets here?
PRESTON HOHNSON: So I got two. I got a point spread, and I also have a total that I like. And we'll start with Drake. I think this is the best side to bet. It's the play in game. They're going up against Wichita State. Drake's getting two points. My personal projection actually makes Drake a small favorite, and that is despite Hemphill, who they lost-- their leading scorer-- a few weeks back to injury.
Look, they played fine without him. They ended up upsetting Loyola Chicago by a point in an overtime game without him. They play the game very slowly. They try to minimize variance. They've been extremely elite defensively.
And where I really like their value is that they have one of the best turnover margins in the entire country. They value possessions. And they also attack the offensive glass to create extra possessions, and it gets what? Wichita State, they rank 333rd in the country in defensive rebounding rate. So Drake's going to be able to do more of that. And I think ultimately Wichita-- they're just kind of overvalued from a market perspective. So considering, I'd make Drake a small favorite. We're getting two points. I like them there.
And then the total-- Eastern Washington - Kansas. Over 142 and 1/2. I think it's actually moved in the recent minutes, since we kind of put this graphic and stuff together. But I like it up to 144. My projection is 146.9, and a lot of that has to do with Eastern Washington and their ability to push tempo and shoot the ball. They're efficient from anywhere, any location on the table. But they're not going to get any stops, either. Kansas will do their thing. So I like the over there on the Eastern Washington - Kansas matchup.
ANDY BEHRENS: All right. Now is when we find out if any of you has the boldness, the vision, the imagination required to pick Iowa to win this region. Let's start with you, Pete, for your winner.
PETE THAMEL: We'll leave that to you, Andy [? caucus. ?] That is your-- that is your realm. I am just embracing the chalk. I'm on a chalk rocket for Gonzaga to get out of this region. They can nod-- they can sleepwalk through the first two weeks and get out of this West.
KRYSTEN PEEK: I'm with you, Pete. And I'm going with Gonzaga. And I had two NBA scout tell me that when BYU was up at 12 at halftime on the Zags, they came out-- Jalen Suggs didn't even warm up with this team. He went straight to the half court and just stared down the BYU team. And the scout said to me that's when I knew he was going to take over the game. and that's what you want heading into the NCAA tournament and ultimately getting you to the championship game.
PRESTON HOHNSON: It's Gonzaga for me. I'm sorry, Andy. I actually think Oregon might end up upsetting Iowa anyways. But Gonzaga, they were the favorite before the season. Nothing has changed. They've obviously won every single game. I've talked to people and they say, well, how good Gonzaga are they really, because it's Gonzaga. They've never done it before. It doesn't mean they can't do it this year.
And they're a tier above the next tier, which is, really, Baylor and then, kind of, everybody else. They're just a few points better, if you're looking from a point spread perspective on a neutral court. They're the next best team, therefore, you know, I just have them coming out of this region more often than not. I got to trust it.
ANDY BEHRENS: I did not have Preston pegged as the sort of coastal elite that would come in here and hate on the teams from the heartland. Like, you know that there's no way I'm coming on a show like this and not predicting the Iowa Hawkeyes to go to the Final Four. Some of this, honestly, is just a contrarian play against Gonzaga. I'll talk about that a little bit more later on. Like, it's hard to win a pool if you've got the Zags winning the whole thing, because everybody's going to have the Zags winning the whole thing.
Iowa gave them a game. Yes, it was a double-digit margin, but it required Jalen Suggs to just absolutely go supernova earlier in the season, hit seven 3's. He was great. He can be great again. It's possible. But Iowa has senior leadership. They have the player of the year in Luka Garza. They are a legit, great team. They are a contender. And they are going to be my pick to come out of the West.