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Can Xavier Shock The World And Win The West Region?

Entering the NCAAB tournament, not much was thought of Xavier. The team was struggling mightily without Edmond Sumner in the lineup and their usually steady defense was nowhere near what it once was. Then March happened.

The Musketeers blew past Maryland in the first round thanks to a big second half and then the team absolutely dominated Florida State in the Round of 32. The biggest factor in that win over Florida State was coach Chris Mack. His half-court zone defense stifled a young FSU team and allowed the Seminoles to score just 66 points. Now, Xavier won’t have that edge moving forward as the remaining coaches in the West are Sean Miller, Bob Huggins and Mark Few.

So that edge is likely gone for Xavier. Mack is just as good a coach as those three but he doesn’t hold a significant edge.

At a team level, FSU and Arizona have similar makeups. They are driven by a score-first point guard and have freshman bigs that can shoot. Theoretically, the blueprint is there for the Musketeers to beat the Wildcats.

However, it’s a different ball game in a potential West Region final against West Virginia or Gonzaga. Both of those teams have the depth to contend with Xavier’s bench and play a brand of basketball that could exploit Xavier. Freshman Quentin Goodin has been getting better for the Musketeers but even the most well-seasoned players get frustrated against WVU’s defense. And, though Rashid Gaston has performed admirably for Xavier down low, Gonzaga’s combination of Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins could dominate the Muskies.

Not to say that Xavier can’t do this, in fact, I think the Musketeers have a good chance of making it to the Elite Eight. However, every opponent at this point of the tournament is game and the flaws that can be exposed will be getting fewer. Xavier can win this bracket but things need to be going right. If Trevon Bluiett slumps, if Goodin starts turning the ball over, if the bench stops scoring, then Xavier could be out of the tourney with a whimper.

2017 NCAA Tournament – West Region Betting Odds

Odds as of March 20 at BetOnline

  • Arizona +140
  • Gonzaga +160
  • West Virginia +350
  • Xavier +1200

Archived Article

A lot of people take a look at the March Madness bracket and see the West Region as the easiest path for the top seeds. It’s easy to see why, as the middle of the bracket is filled with some pretty nondescript programs. Let’s face it: every pundit is saying that Gonzaga got the easiest path to the Final Four for any No. 1 seed in any region.

Let’s dive into the 2017 March Madness West Region and take a good look to find bettors some value or some bets to avoid.

Favorites: Gonzaga Bulldogs (+160)

As I said above, Gonzaga has a pretty easy path to at least the Elite Eight. Their first-round match with San Diego State is a cakewalk and a second-rounder against either Northwestern or Vanderbilt shouldn’t exactly strike fear into the Zags. The Sweet 16 could be a little more challenging as they could have a date with West Virginia or Notre Dame, both teams that have proven to be able to hang with the best teams in the nation. Assuming the Bulldogs get to the Elite Eight, they could be facing a scary Arizona team, if chalk holds. Still, Gonzaga beat the Wildcats early this season in non-conference play.

This Gonzaga team reminds me a lot of Villanova last year. They both feature versatile all-Americans in the backcourt (Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Hart), a deep rotation of players and a squad committed to playing just as tough defensively as they do offensively. Gonzaga’s numbers actually compare favorably to Villanova’s last year entering the Madness, though the Bulldogs do play in the much easier WCC. Plus, both programs have dealt with years of people questioning and saying they can’t win the big one.

This isn’t your daddy’s Gonzaga squad. This team is an offensive juggernaut that can play from the outside in or inside out thanks to the versatility of their backcourt and Przemek Karnowski’s inside presence and passing ability.

Overrated: Florida State Seminoles (+800)

I’m going to open this by saying that I’ve been extremely high on this FSU squad since before the season began. I even wrote about the Seminoles offering tremendous value for bettors before the opening tipoff. And this team still shows all the things that excited me before the season started. They are supremely athletic, they can run almost any opponent out of the gym and Dwayne Bacon has been a monster offensively.

However, this team is terribly streaky and has been bad away from Tallahassee. The Seminoles have spent much of the conference schedule alternating small winning and losing streaks without really patching together any prolonged success. However, it’s the road factor that really terrifies me about FSU. Every loss the Seminoles have had this season has come on the road or at a neutral site, including embarrassing losses to Temple, Georgia Tech and Pitt. Maybe this won’t be a big issue in the first two rounds, as FSU will be playing in Orlando less than a two-hour flight down the coast. But come the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight, FSU will need to travel to the other side of the country to play in San Jose.

We have really seen star Jonathan Isaac show his age on the road, as the freshman is averaging just 8.8 points while shooting 40.4 percent away from Tallahassee in ACC play. Though his rebounding numbers have been climbing in those affairs — he posted 12 and 15 rebounds in FSU’s two conference tournament games — without him scoring more, the Seminoles start to become much more dependent on their backcourt. I’m not saying that Isaac is a bad player or that he won’t be great in the NBA, but he is young and still figuring out how to use his size. If he doesn’t implement it properly during the tournament, I don’t think FSU can survive too long.

Dark Horse: Xavier Musketeers (+5000)

Xavier is a good basketball team, despite what their recent record says. They are clearly capable of beating good teams — they have victories over Butler, Creighton and Providence – but have struggled in a strong Big East. However, the Musketeers have a very winnable couple of games to open the slate. Xavier opens the tourney against Maryland, which turns the ball over a lot and has not exactly been on the right side of the ledger lately. A second-round contest would then see the Musketeers facing either FSU or FGCU, both teams Xavier can bully physically. At that point, you have an experienced Xavier team rolling and feeling confident, which is a dangerous thing.

Many people will point to Edmond Sumner’s absence and write off Xavier, which I can understand. Xavier is not as good without him in the lineup. Malcolm Bernard is a good passer but is turnover-prone himself. If the senior can do a better job holding on to the ball, then Xavier should outperform its seeding. Plus, Trevon Bluiett has the ability to take over a game. The junior has averaged 18.1 points per game this season and has scored more than 20 on 16 occasions, including a ridiculous 40-point performance that saw him shoot 9-for-11 from deep against Cincinnati.

It’s not going to be easy for the Musketeers. They have an uphill battle and are still trying to cope without Sumner. However, if this team clicks, then they can shock the world like Syracuse did last tourney.

2017 NCAA Tournament – West Region Betting Odds

Odds as of March 14 at Bovada

  • Gonzaga +160
  • Arizona +200
  • West Virginia +550
  • Florida State +800
  • St. Mary’s +1200
  • Notre Dame +1200
  • Maryland +2200
  • Northwestern +5000
  • VCU +5000
  • Vanderbilt +5000
  • Xavier +5000
  • Florida Gulf Coast +10000
  • Princeton +12500
  • Bucknell +15000
  • North Dakota +20000
  • South Dakota State +20000

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