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Gonzaga Basketball

Tough West Region could present obstacles for Gonzaga, top seeds

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said focusing on seeds too much will “mess with people’s minds.”  (By Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

There are numerous ways to rank the NCAA Tournament’s four regions, but three indicators show the West can make a strong case as the toughest at the top.

Adding up the top four seeds in each region by the selection committee’s 1-68 seed list, the West (Kansas, UCLA, Gonzaga and UConn) checks in first at 31. The South, with top overall seed Alabama, is next at 33, followed by the Midwest at 35 and the East at 37.

Adding up the top four seeds by NET ranking, the West is tops at 26, followed by the East (45), South (54) and Midwest (60). By KenPom’s rankings, the West is easily in front at 23, followed by the East (48), Midwest (53) and South (62).

The third-seeded Zags (28-5), who take on No. 14 Grand Canyon in the opening round Friday in Denver, could face a challenging road in the West Region, anchored by top seed Kansas. The Jayhawks were in contention for the top overall seed with a national-best 17 Quad 1 wins. Texas, seeded second in the Midwest, was second with 14.

Coach Bill Self, who led Kansas to the national title last season, missed the Big 12 Tournament after undergoing a heart procedure, but he’s expected to be back for March Madness.

UCLA came up just short against Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament title game. The Bruins, who won the regular-season title by four games, are No 2 in KenPom, No. 3 in the NET and No. 5 on the selection committee’s seed list.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark (Achilles injury) is expected to miss the tournament, but there is optimism Bruins center Adem Bona (shoulder) could return.

Gonzaga is sixth in the NET, eighth in KenPom and 10th on the seed list.

UConn is eighth, fourth and 13th, respectively. The Huskies (25-8) finished tied for fifth in the Big East after an impressive nonconference run. They won six straight before falling to Marquette 70-68 in the conference tournament. Marquette is a No. 2 seed in the East.

“The most important thing is that’s a long way off,” said Zags coach Mark Few, when asked about the strength of the West Region. “We have to survive and advance with Grand Canyon, literally. The seeds mess with people’s minds when they’re not in our industry, and it’s just not how it is, especially when we talk about how crazy the year was in college basketball. The amount of parity and how tough it is to get any kind of win, we experienced that in our league this year, right?

“Just go through all of Grand Canyon’s games and every one of them was close, maybe a one- or two-possession game. It’s hard to get to what’s down the road in the bracket.”

Few mentioned he’s watched a number of TCU’s games. The sixth-seeded Horned Frogs are a potential second-round opponent for the Zags.

“The one nobody is talking about is TCU,” Few said. “They’re really, really good. Really athletic and (coach) Jamie (Dixon) has them playing a lot faster this year. They went into Kansas and won by 25 or something. When they’re at full strength, they’re really something.”

TCU will open against the Arizona State-Nevada First Four winner.

Few is also quite familiar with fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s, which went 1-2 against the Zags this season, and 10th-seeded Boise State, led by former Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice.

The only chance of a fourth GU-Saint Mary’s meeting is if both teams win three games. The Gaels face No. 12 VCU on Friday in Albany, New York.

Boise State, which opens against No. 7 Northwestern, made the Big Dance for the second straight season. Forward Tyson Degenhart, a Mt. Spokane High graduate, leads BSU at 14.3 points, followed by Rice’s son Max at 13.9.

The earliest Gonzaga and Boise State could meet is in the Sweet 16 if both teams win twice.

“He’s done an awesome job,” Few said of Rice. “They’ve yet to win a game in the tournament, but they have a great shot this year.”

The upper half of the bracket includes eighth-seeded Arkansas facing No. 9 Illinois. Arkansas knocked off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 last season. The Razorbacks have a number of new faces, but they have talented players, including guard Anthony Black, who took a recruiting visit to Gonzaga.