With the field for the 2023 Men’s NCAA Tournament now official, we’re breaking down each team in the bracket in the lead-up to the tournament. Here’s all you need to know about West Zone.
[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Men’s | Women’s]
Defending national champion Bill Self is ready to get back on the sidelines after missing the Big 12 tournament following a heart procedure. And this team looks very different than it did a season ago when it won the national title. Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun are in the NBA and Jalen Wilson has taken over as the team’s go-to player.
Only two of Kansas’s seven losses have been by single digits. It’s a little strange to see such a good team like Kansas getting blown out so many times in 2022 and 2023. This is the reason why the west appears to be the most open field in the tournament. Wilson averaged 20 points per game for the Jayhawks and three others averaged at least 10 points per game. Wilson has also scored at least 20 points in six of those seven losses as teams are content to cook off Wilson and try to shut down his teammates.
No. 2 UCLA (+1200)
The Bruins are set to be without third-leading scorer Jaylen Clark due to an Achilles injury. If Clarke was in the lineup, this team may be the favorite to win the West. UCLA lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 title game by two and still featured Jaime Jacquez and Tiger Campbell. Freshman Amari Bailey is also averaging over 10 points per game. UCLA allows just 60 points per game and opponents shoot just 31% from three. A potential Sweet 16 game with Gonzaga in Las Vegas could get raucous.
No. 3 Gonzaga (+1800)
The Zags enter the NCAA Tournament on a nine-game win streak after losing to Saint Mary’s in overtime on February 4. Drew Timme is once again the focal point for Gonzaga’s offense as he averages 21 points per game. Julian Strother is averaging 15 points per game and shoots about 43% from three. This is an incredibly experienced team that won’t surprise anyone if it makes the Final Four again. Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring with 87.5 points per game and shoots nearly 60% from inside the arc.
No. 4 Yukon (+1600)
The Huskies finished fifth in the Big East and lost in the conference tournament semifinals to eventual tournament champion Marquette. All eight of UConn’s losses this season have also come to Big East opponents. The Huskies defeated tournament teams Alabama and Iowa State by a combined 37 points in November. Adama Sanogo is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds while Jordan Hawkins is averaging 16 points per game. Wouldn’t be surprising if UConn is a very slight underdog in a potential Sweet 16 game against Kansas, considering how well their national titles are.
No. 5 St. Mary’s (+4000)
Gail tied with Gonzaga for the regular season West Coast Conference title and played a vastly different style of play than the Zags. St. Mary’s gives up only 60 points per game and is one of the most organized teams in the country. According to KenPom.com only four teams play at a slow pace. Guards Logan Johnson and Aden Mahne average nearly 30 points per game, and Gayle also allows only 16 three-point attempts per game. A great way to limit your chances of getting upset is to prevent your opponent from three shooting.
No.6 TCU (+3500)
The Horned Frogs lost to Northwestern State early in the season and responded by winning 11 games in a row. TCU has shown it is capable of beating good teams – the Horned Frogs beat Kansas, Texas, Kansas State and Baylor this season. But it split the games with the three Big 12 teams that did not make the tournament. Mike Miles leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game and Emanuel Miller and Damian Baugh each average over 12 per game. Like Iowa State, a Sweet 16 run for TCU would be further proof of the power of the Big 12.
No. 7 Northwestern (+15000)
The Wildcats finished second in the Big Ten to Purdue and lost to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. A five-game win streak in February put Northwestern firmly in the NCAA Tournament, but that streak was followed by three consecutive losses as Northwestern finished second with a win over Rutgers in the final game of the regular season. Boo Bui averages 17 points per game and Chase Audies averages 14 but the Wildcats shoot only 32% from three as a team.
No. 8 Arkansas (+5000)
Without Nick Smith for most of the season, Arkansas underachieved during the season. But he’s back and has scored at least 12 points in his last six games. Razorbacks can be streaky, and the term applies to losing streaks (they had two three-game losing streaks in the SEC) and even during a single game. Just look at how Arkansas fell against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. This is a team that has made the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons and could be a popular pick to upset Kansas if it beats Illinois.
No. 9 Illinois (+8000)
Illinois has been a maddening team for Illini fans throughout the season, managing just two wins over Big Ten teams that made the NCAA Tournament. But Illinois is massive because it beat teams it should have beaten in conference and also swept UCLA early in the season and beat Texas in December. This is an absolutely unexpected opponent for Arkansas. Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon averaged 17 points per game while former Baylor player Matthew Meyer averaged 13 points per game.
No. 10 Boise State (+20000)
The Broncos finished the regular season in second place in the Mountain West and lost in the conference tournament to fellow NCAA tournament team Utah State. The Broncos defeated San Diego State on February 28 and Utah State on January 23 while earning a non-conference victory over Texas A&M in December. Five players are averaging at least 10 points per game for the Broncos and Boise State is one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country while being one of the worst on the offensive glass.
No. 11 Mississippi State (+25000)
Mississippi State is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019 in Chris Jens’ first season with the team and the Bulldogs need to beat Pitt to earn a chance at TCU. MSU had a terrible start to SEC play. The Bulldogs won just one of their first eight games before going on a five-game win streak that included wins over Missouri and Arkansas. The Bulldogs also defeated Texas A&M on February 25. Tolu Smith leads the team in scoring with 16 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
No. 11 Pit (+20000)
The Panthers fell to 14–6 in the ACC after an 8–4 start to the season. A six-game conference win streak, including wins over Miami and North Carolina, propelled Pitt into the tournament, however the Panthers lost three of their last four games and were ousted in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament by Duke. . Pitt’s guards lead the scoring for the team, and the Panthers shot 26 threes a game.
No.12 VCU (+25000)
The Rams won the regular season title at 15–3 in the A-10 and defeated Daytona 68–56 in the conference title game. VCU enters the tournament on a nine-game win streak after losing to the Flyers on February 7 and is in the tournament for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons. VCU has a very balanced scoring attack led by guard Ace Baldwin (13 points per game) and is ranked No. 17 in KenPom.com’s adjusted defense rankings.
Number 13 Iona (+50000)
All signs point to this being the final season for Rick Pitino at Iona after he was linked to open jobs at St. John’s and Texas Tech. Gayle, a longtime college coach, went 17–3 in conference play and won each of his MAAC tournament games by double digits. Iona enters the tournament with 14 consecutive wins and sophomore guard Walter Clayton is averaging 17 points per game, while forward Nelly Jr. Joseph is scoring 15 per game and averaging 9.4 rebounds.
No. 14 Grand Canyon (+100000)
Grand Canyon finished sixth in the WAC, but won the conference tournament to advance to its second NCAA tournament in three seasons. Rayshawn Harrison is averaging nearly 18 points per game while Gabe McGlothan is averaging 13 points and eight rebounds. The Antelopes shoot 38% from three on 23 attempts per game.
No. 15 UNC Asheville (+100000)
The Bulldogs won the regular season Big South title with a 16–2 conference record and defeated Campbell 77–73 in the conference title game for their ninth consecutive win. This is UNC Asheville’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016 and the team has finished no higher than the No. 15 seed in any of its five NCAA tournament appearances. Drew Pember averaged 21 points per game and over nine rebounds in one contest.
No. 16 Howard (+100000)
This is Howard’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1992. The Bison were seeded 16th in their first NCAA tournament that season. His first round opponent 31 years ago? Kansas. Howard beat Norfolk State 65–64 to go into the tournament, and leading scorer Elijah Hawkins shot 47% from three.