The 26-0 Gonzaga Bulldogs are the No. 1 seed in the West Region and the top seed in the entire NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga is the first undefeated team to reach the NCAA Tournament since the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Here’s a look at the West Region of the NCAA Tournament as March Madness 2021 gets set to tip off Thursday:
1. Gonzaga (26-0)
Coach: Mark Few (22nd season)
Post-ing up: The top-ranked Bulldogs sealed their 19th league tournament title to become the 20th team in Division I history to enter the NCAAs undefeated. Will they be the eighth of those and the first since Indiana (1976) to seal the deal? All eyes will be on their two potential lottery picks, freshman point guard Jalen Suggs and senior forward Corey Kispert, as well as sophomore big man Drew Timme.
16. Appalachian State (17-11)
Conference: Sun Belt
Coach: Dustin Kerns (2nd season)
Post-ing up: It came together late for the Mountaineers, who won their last four games to punch their first ticket to the tournament in 21 years. Senior guard Michael Almonacy of Long Island, a Stony Brook transfer, made it possible, averaging 24.6 points in the Sun Belt Tournament.
16. Norfolk State (16-7)
Coach: Robert Jones (8th season)
Post-ing up: Senior guard Devante Carter does a little bit of everything for Norfolk State, leading the MEAC champion in scoring, rebounding and assists. It has been nine years since the Spartans were last dancing, when they stunned No. 2 Missouri in the first round behind Queens native and former Knicks forward Kyle O’Quinn in a memorable tournament.
8. Oklahoma (15-10)
Conference: Big 12
Coach: Lon Kruger (10th season)
Post-ing up: The Sooners were ranked as high as seventh in the country around midseason, but a late four-game swoon bridging February and March endangered their tournament status. Senior Austin Reaves took over point guard duties this year, flipping spots with sophomore De’Vion Harmon, and led the Sooners in scoring, rebounding and assists.
9. Missouri (16-9)
Coach: Cuonzo Martin (4th season)
Post-ing up: Martin relies on the veteran leadership of seniors Dru Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith and junior Xavier Pinson, who are the team’s top four scorers. Missouri finished 8-8 in the SEC, but out-of-conference wins early in the season against Oregon, Wichita State and Illinois went a long way.
5. Creighton (20-8)
Conference: Big East
Coach: Greg McDermott (11th season)
Post-ing up: One of the most aesthetically pleasing teams in the country, Creighton is elite offensively, led by dynamic point guard Marcus Zegarowski and a host of knockdown shooters. The entire starting five averages in double figures. Any one of them can wreck a game.
12. UC Santa Barbara (22-4)
Conference: Big West
Coach: Joe Pasternack (4th season)
Posting up: The Gauchos have been knocking on the door for several years, finishing second in the Big West the last three seasons before winning the league outright this winter. Oregon State transfer JaQuori McLaughlin keyed the breakthrough, leading UC Santa Barbara in scoring (15.9), assists (5.3) and steals (1.6).
4. Virginia (18-6)
Coach: Tony Bennett (12th season)
Post-ing up: The Cavaliers didn’t get to defend their 2019 national title when last year’s tournament was scrapped, and they still may not this year after having to forfeit their ACC semifinal because of a positive COVID-19 test. Bennett’s team won the ACC regular season (13-4) behind two seniors: forward Sam Hauser and 7-1 center Jay Huff.
13. Ohio (16-7)
Coach: Jeff Boals (2nd season)
Post-ing up: Junior guard Jason Preston is versatile, as dangerous a creator as a scorer, and he has plenty of options when defenses swarm. Ohio has five players who average in double figures and are ranked 29th in offensive efficiency by KenPom.com. The Bobcats are a threat, nearly upsetting Illinois and blowing out Horizon champion Cleveland State.
6. USC (22-7)
Coach: Andy Enfield (8th season)
Post-ing up: USC has Final Four potential. It can just as easily go out in the first round. It’s one of the more intriguing teams in the field. The Trojans’ best player, projected top-five pick Evan Mobley, is a freshman. They shoot poorly from the free-throw line (65 percent) and aren’t great from deep (34.4 percent), but they did win four of seven games against tournament teams.
11. Wichita State (16-5)
Coach: Isaac Brown (1st season)
Post-ing up: Brown was an assistant for much of the Shockers’ string of seven straight tournament appearances from 2012-18. He led them to a first-place finish in his first year as replacement for Gregg Marshall, who resigned. Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne, an Englewood, N.J., native who played 6 ball at Long Island Lutheran, shared AAC Player of the Year honors with Houston’s Quentin Grimes.
11. Drake (25-4)
Conference: Missouri Valley
Coach: Darian DeVries (3rd season)
Post-ing up: Gotta love the Drake. The Bulldogs earned a bid for the first time since 2008 and only the second time since 1971. They were 40-87 in the four seasons before DeVries, the former Creighton assistant, was hired — and 69-28 thereafter. Leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill missed the MVC tourney with a foot injury, but he might return this week.
3. Kansas (20-8)
Conference: Big 12
Coach: Bill Self (18th season)
Post-ing up: Despite last year’s cancellation, the Jayhawks, for now, will extend the nation’s longest streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 31. We’ll see if they actually play after withdrawing from the Big 12 Tournament due to a positive COVID-19 result. Self’s selfless squad was the only team to beat Baylor in the regular season. Five players averaged between 10 and 14 points, led by junior guard Ochai Agbaji.
14. Eastern Washington (16-7)
Conference: Big Sky
Coach: Shantay Lagans (4th season)
Post-ing up: The Eagles lost their top two scorers from last year’s Big Sky regular-season champion, but didn’t take a step back. Tanner Groves was a key figure in their run to the tournament, going from a reserve to Eastern Washington’s rock, scoring in double figures in all but one game.
7. Oregon (20-6)
Coach: Dana Altman (11th season)
Post-ing up: Few coaches are better at integrating new talent and making the pieces fit on an annual basis than Altman. Transfers Eric Williams Jr. (Duquesne), LJ Figueroa (St. John’s) and Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers) have all played big roles in their first season for the dangerous and deep Ducks.
10. VCU (19-7)
Conference: Atlantic 10
Coach: Mike Rhoades (4th season)
Post-ing up: Sophomore guard Bones Hyland more than doubled his scoring output to lead the A-10 with more than 19 points per game, earning him conference Player of the Year honors. Sophomore forward Hason Ward provides the inside balance, with 2.4 blocks and nearly six boards per game.
2. Iowa (20-7)
Conference: Big Ten
Coach: Fran McCaffery (11th season)
Post-ing up: The fourth-ranked 3-point shooting team in the country at 39.6 percent, the Hawkeyes hammer the opposition from a distance. National Player of the Year favorite Luka Garza can beat you inside and out, and has plenty of help from an underrated ensemble cast, led by All-Big Ten second-team selection Joe Wieskamp.
15. Grand Canyon (17-6)
Coach: Bryce Drew (1st season)
Post-ing up: One year out of coaching and Bryce Drew isn’t just back in the sport, he’s back in the NCAA Tournament, leading the Antelopes to their first field of 68 bid. They share the ball, average 16.4 assists per game, and feature a true center in 7-footer Asbjorn Midtgaard, a Wichita State transfer who averaged a double-double this year.