The West Region can’t be this easy, right? The sportsbooks certainly think there’s only one winner here, as Gonzaga is considered to be so far ahead of the field that you’ll have to pay some juice to take the Bulldogs.
It’s not easy to go against the tournament favorite, but doing so has been the smart play in recent years. In four of the past five tournaments, the No. 1 overall seed has failed to make the Final Four, and in two instances, they were gone by the end of the first week. I’m not suggesting the same fate will meet Gonzaga, but I am saying there are better places to put your money. Here are my picks in the West.
They’re the best team on paper for a reason, and that’s because their size and speed is almost unmatched in college basketball. Few teams have one player to match up with Drew Timme, and Timme’s not even the first option the Bulldogs have. Chet Holmgren is a likely lottery pick and controls the paint, making Gonzaga a matchup nightmare for anyone.
But can they be beaten? Yes, they can. Duke and Saint Mary’s have both done it, and the way to do it is to either take advantage of lack of depth or force Timme and Holmgren away from the basket. It’s hard to do, but the right team (e.g., Texas Tech or Duke) can pull it off.
The Value Play: Texas Tech, +600
The Red Raiders might not be pretty to watch, but they’re certainly effective. Texas Tech will grind you down, make you play at a slow pace, and generally make your life unpleasant for 40 minutes. In short, they’re a rich man’s version of Saint Mary’s, which Gonzaga already proved susceptible to once before.
The concern here is 3-point shooting. In order to win, Texas Tech has to get good shots from inside the perimeter. With the possible exception of Bryson Williams, the Red Raiders don’t have anyone who can shoot them back into a game. Texas Tech has to muck things up to get to the Final Four — and that’s fine with the Red Raiders.
The Sleeper: Alabama, +3300
The Crimson Tide have been one of the most aggravating teams to figure out this season. Alabama has the talent to beat Gonzaga (which it did), but also found a way to lose to Georgia, which didn’t beat anyone else in the SEC. With how fast Alabama plays, it can overwhelm anyone in the region if it’s hitting shots.
However, the Tide haven’t hit their 3-pointers anywhere near as well as they did last season, and they’re coming into the tournament on a three-game skid after losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament. This team could easily make a run, but it could just as easily lose to Rutgers or Notre Dame in the first round.
Team to Avoid: Duke, +500
I might be crazy to pass on the Blue Devils here, but I have a feeling Duke is too immature to get out of this region and is going to do something stupid. Weird things happen to the Blue Devils in Greenville, S.C. (they lost here as a No. 2 seed in 2017), and Duke’s youth will show up at some point. There’s a good chance it happens against an experienced Davidson squad in South Carolina.
There’s no value with Gonzaga. I’m not interested in paying that kind of juice over four games, so I’ll instead look at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders beat Gonzaga in a regional final in 2019, and I think they can do it again; I’ll take Texas Tech at +600.
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