By Connor Buestad | firstname.lastname@example.org
As far as depth goes, this isn't the best year for west coast teams in the NCAA tournament bracket. But among the teams that made their way in, most of them could make major waves over the next couple weekends. Below, we preview some of the teams and players you should pay attention to while navigating through Bracketville, USA.
1. UC Davis (16 seed, "First Four" play-in game)
The Aggies are in the Big Dance for the first time in school history after winning the Big West Conference. For the majority of their existence they have been D2, but head coach Jim Les now has them D1 and doing damage against more traditional hoop programs. The seeding committee was not exactly gracious to Davis in their first trip to Bracketville. Not only is Davis a 16-seed, but they will have to participate in Wednesday's play-in game at Dayton University vs. North Carolina Central (3:40 tip on TRU TV). Davis is led by a senior from Sacramento High named Darius Graham. Standing just 5 foot 10, Graham is known for his all-out hustle and all-around grit. If the Aggies can get through their first game, they'll earn a date with the Kansas Jayhawks. A team hungry after a Big-12 tourney loss to TCU. Thanks committee!
2. Saint Mary's College (7-seed, West Region)
Randy Bennett's Gaels were relieved to hear the news on Selection Sunday that they did indeed receive an invite to the tourney, despite not winning the WCC. But anytime you have the #1 ranked team in America at the top of your league for the majority of the season, you get the benefit of the doubt. As usual, St. Mary's is extremely well coached and efficient on offense, while smart and tough on defense. Nobody describes the Gaels as overly athletic, but they are led by Jock Landale, who is as smooth as they come in the low post. Blessed with immaculate footwork, Landale has steadily improved his game over his three year career in Moraga. Once a plump freshman who lumbered down the court, Landale has thinned out and looks great in his 6'11" frame. Like Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova before him, Landale developed his ball skills down under in Australia. If he gets hot in Round 1 versus VCU, the Gaels should march on to face Arizona in the Round of 32 with nothing to lose.
3. Gonzaga (1-seed, West Region)
1999 was the year Gonzaga came out of absolute obscurity to make an Elite-8 run that put the Zags on the map. Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm still are treated like royalty in Spokane, as they should be. Since that run in '99, Gonzaga has been to the tournament 18-straight times under current coach Mark Few. Of course, none of those 18 trips have resulted in a trip to the Final Four. Here in 2017, most pundits concede that this is Few's best collection of talent. From inside to outside, Gonzaga seemingly has no holes to speak of. A mixture of homegrown talent and transfers has resulted in talent all over the court. One such transfer, Jordan Mathews, came up to play for Few after leaving Cuonzo Martin's Cal program last spring. The loss of Mathews threw a wrench in Martin's best laid plans, and the Bears ending up as a 1-seed in the NIT (Not In Tournament). Meanwhile, Mathews figures to be a difference maker for the Zags throughout the month of March.
4. Arizona (2-seed, West Region)
Somehow, the Arizona Wildcats may just be flying under the radar this year. Rest assured, they are very, very good. They won 30 games this year, including a 16-2 record in the Pac-12 and a conference tournament championship. As a 2-seed in the West, they could very easily meet Gonzaga in the regional final with a trip to Phoenix on the line. The squad is deep, with weapons scattered throughout the floor. And they are battle tested too, including a close loss to Gonzaga in pre-conference play.
5. Oregon (3-seed, Midwest Region)
The Ducks finished at the top of the Pac-12 Conference alongside Arizona, with an identical 16-2 league record. Unfortunately, they lost inside presence Chris Boucher to an ACL tear last week, so Oregon will be limping into the tournament. Injuries aside, the Ducks will never be out of a game with Dillon Brooks on the floor, who proved himself as a buzzer-beating savant this season, saving multiple games for his team in crucial moments. If Oregon expects to make it to Phoenix, they'll likely have to navigate through Louisville and Kansas to do so.
6. UCLA (3-seed, South Region)
Lonzo Ball's hype train has just reached maximum capacity. There's not much more that the media can say about him or his overzealous dad LaVar who claims his son is better than Steph, or his youngest brother LaMelo, who is an high school basketball internet phenomenon. Fortunately we will quickly find out what Lonzo can produce on amateur basketball's biggest stage. If the brackets play out as planned, Ball will face-off with Kentucky in the Sweet 16. If he passes that test, he'll likely get a shot at North Carolina. Here's to hoping it plays out that way, as God knows how much drama that will create. Who knows what the Ball family is capable for the remainder of March, but it will certainly be fun to watch.