The First Four is over with and the field of 64 is set. We hit our first NCAA Tournament play with St. Bonaventure getting the outright win on Tuesday.
The West Region is the most wide-open according to a lot of the people who talk to the public about these sorts of things and I tend to agree. Not only does #1 Xavier appear to be the most vulnerable 1-seed, neither North Carolina or Michigan would have been as high as they both currently are without catching some major momentum down the stretch. Sometimes that means something and sometimes it can be deceiving. I’m not excited to buy either team.
There’s a lot to like about Gonzaga’s draw as the #4. The defending runner-ups have a potential Round of 32 matchup with Ohio State — a team it beat by 29 earlier this season — and then a Sweet Sixteen matchup with Xavier. The Bulldogs beat the Musketeers in the Elite Eight last season, though Gonzaga was a much different team.
The one problem I have with getting behind Gonzaga is the potential first round upset because it drew UNC Greensboro. The Spartans are led by a fearless coach and look ready to compete with whoever the committee matched them up with in the first round. However, UNCG is a 13-point underdog with the bookies.
That coach I mentioned is Wes Miller. A former UNC walk-on and national champion, Miller has been at the helm at UNCG since 2011 and has been building a Southern Conference powerhouse. Three consecutive seasons the Spartans have finished with a winning record in the conference and three consecutive seasons they have gone on to play in the postseason. They reached the CBI quarterfinals two years ago, the NIT last season and the NCAAs in 2018.
But it’s more than the results that speak to me about Miller’s ability to coach. If you listen to what he says and how he says it and read what people write about him, you get the sense that he really gets it and that his players love playing for him. Going into an NCAA Tournament game like this one, nothing is more powerful than that.
But what I love about Gonzaga is that still, after all these years, it is still a little upset-proof. Mark Few is still in his prime years as an energizer and he hasn’t forgotten where the Zags came from to get to where they are now. There is no way the Bulldogs will take this game lightly because, once upon a time, they were UNC Greensboro.
There also isn’t any one way to attack Gonzaga. It is a perfectly balanced team with size and shooting ability all over. The size, in particular, will disrupt Greensboro, who likes to slow it down and play a half court game. The Spartans are going to have to deal with the size, get off to a good start and then use the pressure Gonzaga starts to feel against it to close things out.
If the Spartans had drawn Texas Tech, or Auburn, or even Tennessee, I would have been compelled to take the straight-up upset because I believe that much in Miller. This is a monumental challenge against a Gonzaga team that has flown under the radar all season after losing all those pieces that got it to within a minute of a National Championship.
But I also believe UNCG will compete. So 13 points are more than enough for me.
Free Pick: Greensboro +13