The field for the 2015 NCAA Tournament was announced on Sunday, and the West Coast Conference had two teams make the field. For the fourth consecutive year, the WCC will be a multiple bid league as both the Gonzaga Bulldogs and BYU Cougars will be heading to the Big Dance.
Mar 10, 2015; Sioux Falls, SD, USA; North Dakota State Bison guard Kory Brown (22) shoots in the first half against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits during the championship game of the Summit League Conference at Denny Sanford Premier Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
As expected, Gonzaga was named a #2 seed. They have been a lock for the NCAA Tournament all season, and have been set as a #2 seed for a number of weeks. They appeared to be heading for a #1 seed, but they lost their final game of the regular season to BYU in Spokane. With a weak strength of schedule compared to other elite teams, it knocked them down to a #2 seed where they have stayed despite bouncing back and winning the WCC Tournament including defeating BYU in a rematch.
The Bulldogs have been placed in the South region, and they open against #15 seed North Dakota State. The big advantage for the Bulldogs will be that they are playing their first two games in Seattle where they should have a very large contingent of local fans cheering for them. The Bison won the Summit League, but the have very little experience against top teams. They have just two wins over top 100 RPI teams, both of them being against South Dakota State who at #94 is barely a top 100 team. They should pose little trouble for the Bulldogs.
In the next round, the Bulldogs will face either Iowa or Davidson. Iowa boasts some very impressive wins over teams like North Carolina and Maryland, and they would pose a very tough threat. If you think the Bulldogs are going to disappoint in March again, that’s certainly a spot where they could stumble. Davidson was less impressive, and a more appealing matchup. With it being a #7 vs. #10 game, it’s a toss-up as to which opponent the Bulldogs will face.
If the Bulldogs can make the Sweet Sixteen, they will likely face #3 seed Iowa State. The Cyclones are flying high after winning the Big 12 Tournament, and the pessimistic Gonzaga fan probably believes this will be the end of the road for their team. The Cyclones have played in big games against big opponents, and they’re built for a deep run.
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If the Cylcones are upset before they reach that game, the opponent would likely be #6 SMU or #11 UCLA. The Bulldogs have already easily handled both those teams, so they are appealing matchups. It appears that if the Bulldogs can avoid playing a team from Iowa, they can easily make it out the bottom half of the region. If they must face the Hawkeyes or Cyclones, they will be challenged.
Assuming things go to plan and the #2 Bulldogs survive that part of their region, it will set up a likely Elite Eight game against #1 seed Duke. If it’s not the Blue Devils, #4 Georgetown and #5 Utah are the likely opponents. It’s doubtful the Bulldogs can stop Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, and Georgetown is always talented although they often stumble in March just like the Zags. The Bulldogs will hope Utah can go on a Cinderella run to have the best chance of getting a win and making the Final Four.
Overall, it’s not a bad road for the Bulldogs. It’s far from easy, but Duke is the only team they can face that will be an overwhelming favorite. I don’t like the big game experience of Iowa and Iowa State, but they’re aren’t impossible to beat. The Final Four seems unlikely, but the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight are within reach.
Playing their first two games in Seattle is a nice advantage, and it may help them slip by Iowa or Davidson in what could be a close game. It’s hard to say if they have what it takes for a deep run after their sluggish play recently, but they shouldn’t underachieve either with an early exit during the first week of play. The safest prediction is that the advantage of playing in their home territory gets them past the first two rounds with ease, but they fall in the Sweet Sixteen to an Iowa State team that absolutely could do deep in this tournament.
The Bulldogs start their postseason run this Friday. Tip-off against North Dakota State is set for 6:50 pm Pacific, and the game is available on TNT.