NCAA Men’s Tournament: West Region Preview

The UConn Men’s basketball team is going dancing for the 2nd straight year after a 5-year gap. UConn has earned it’s highest seed since 2011 and was considered by the committee to be the 17th overall ranked team and #1 ranked 5-seed. While all of that is positive and to be in the NCAA Tournament is a goal every year, the committee certainly didn’t do UConn any favors putting them in the West Region. For me it’s the toughest region of them all in 2022 and the top seeds are an absolute gauntlet to run through if a team wants to play the Cinderella role, and there are some interesting Cinderella options. Let’s take a look at what makes this region so challenging.

The top 4 seeds in the region are #1 Gonzaga (#1 overall), #2 Duke, #3 Texas Tech, and #4 Arkansas. The Zags are the #1 overall team, not surprisingly, and they are paired with the lowest #2, #3, and #4, but they are far from easy matchups. There is certainly debate about Duke being a #2 seed and while I can understand the argument, that’s far from a favorable #2 paired with the Zags. The Blue Devils in March are always a tough matchup and know how to win in big tournament games. Whether they were playing their best basketball down the stretch or not seems not to matter, especially when they are playing for Coach K in his final season.

The #3 Texas Tech Red Raiders have had a really strong year in the Big 12, finishing 3rd in the regular season and 2nd in the conference tournament, losing to #1 seed Kansas in the title game. All 9 losses on the season for the Red Raiders were to quad 1 teams (8 wins) and they are ranked 9th in NET out of 358 teams. The Red Raiders are one of the toughest defensive teams in the country, ranking 1st out of all 358 teams in adjusted defense according to KenPom. Texas Tech is a veteran-led team that is a tough matchup for most anyone and certainly not an easy #3.

Not to be outdone, the lowest #4 seed Arkansas, is anything but an easy draw (and would be UConn’s 2nd game opponent if the bracket goes chalk). Arkansas turned themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the country later in the season and went 5-2 down the stretch of the regular season with both losses by a combined 5 points. Led by coach Eric Musselman, an outspoken coach who is known for being strong in the area player development, they will be ready. He already made his feelings known that playing Vermont and having UConn as a team in Buffalo was “interesting” based on geographic location. Arkansas is not an easy matchup for anyone and they are the #4 seed.

Looking at the rest of the region and specific matchups, it doesn’t get any easier. Tom Izzo and Michigan State are the #7 seed and face a really tough #10 Davidson team in their first game. Both teams have had past tournament success, obviously Izzo more than almost anyone, so it should be a fun matchup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset there. Another upset alert game is the 4 vs 13. As much as I really like Arkansas as the #4, they have a really tough matchup against #13 Vermont, closer to Vermont’s home turf. Vermont will slow you down and drain the life out of you, which gives them a chance to be this region’s Cinderella.

The 8 vs 9 matchup is another great game. They usually are tight contests, but this one is especially interesting for me. The #8 Boise State Broncos are underseeded in my opinion, finishing the year with the regular season and conference tournament championship in the Mountain West Conference. Their 27-7 record included 7 quad 1 wins (3 losses) and 6 quad 2 wins (3 losses), which is an impressive feat. Their 1 quad 4 loss certainly hit their resume hard, but overall they were able to beat tournament-level teams. The #9 is Penny Hardaway’s Memphis team who had a rocky season, but made a run to the American Athletic Conference tournament final, losing to 5th seeded Houston. They finished with a 21-10 record (13-5 in the conference) and were just 8-8 against quads 1 and 2, and had 2 bad losses to quad 3 teams. Overall, this will be a fascinating game in terms of tempo, Memphis wanting to move the ball quickly and Boise State wanting to grind you down.

A play-in winner often makes a bit of a run in the tournament each year and the #11 in the West Region will be either Rutgers or Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a team that barely got into the tournament and most believe should have been out, which is just the type of story that leads to a surprising run. Rutgers had some bad losses, but overall faired much better against quad 1 teams compared to ND (Rutgers 6-6, ND 2-8) and frankly neither team was particularly impressive this season. I doubt either gets past the fast-paced #6 Alabama team.

As the #5 in the region, if UConn wants to make a run, it’s going to be a tough path. If, and it’s a big if, they beat #12 New Mexico State in round one and avoid the dreaded 12 over 5 upset, than they likely face the tough Arkansas Razorbacks. If for some reason they are able to make the 2nd weekend, then the #1 overall seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs are likely their opponent. If for some reason they can upset the Zags, then they could play Duke or Texas Tech. While that’s a crazy hypothetical, that’s an absolute gauntlet and makes a deep run damn near impossible for the Huskies this year. That being said, stranger things have happened in the NCAA Tournament…

Game Preview: #5 UConn vs #12 New Mexico State

Quick Details

Gametime: 6:50pm Thursday, March 17th on TNT

Arena: KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY

Previous matchups: N/A

Odds (as of 3/14): UConn -6.5, o/u 131.5 (according to Yahoo)

New Mexico State Overview

New Mexico State was the automatic qualifier out of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) this season after winning the tournament championship in fairly convincing fashion. They finished the year at 26-6 (13-4 in conference) and averaged 74.2 points per game this season. The team’s leader is G Teddy Allen who finished the season as the leading scorer in the WAC (19.3 points/game) and the 5th leading rebounder in the WAC (6.8 per game). The former West Virginia Cavalier and Nebraska Cornhusker, Allen transferred to the Aggies after last season and has seen improvement in almost every statistical category. Now as a Junior, the 6’6″ guard has experience playing Big 10 and Big 12, so he won’t be intimidated by a bigger and more powerful matchup in the tournament. On the defensive side, the Aggies were one of the best at limiting opponents scoring in the WAC. They finished 2nd in the conference holding opponents to a 39.1% field goal percentage and 1st in points per game against (61.2). In all games, they allowed 65.0 points per game.


Overall, these two teams are fairly close in a number of statistical categories, which is interesting. Both have committed a similar number of turnovers on the season (375 – NM St, 380 – UConn), both allow a similar number of points per game (65.0 – NM St., 65.2 – UConn), both are in the mid-to-bottom of the NCAA in total fouls committed (508 – NM St, 538 – UConn), and both teams run a slower-paced tempo overall (223rd – NM St, 291 – UConn). The huge difference for me is in their strength of schedule, naturally. UConn has played the 27th hardest schedule in all of the NCAA, while the Aggies schedule is 131st. Additionally, UConn has a KenPom of 18th, while New Mexico State is 81st and KenPom ranks New Mexico State as the 17th luckiest team in the country whereas UConn is 248th luckiest (out of 358)*.

New Mexico State has some size up front in Will McNair Jr. and Yuak Alok who are 6’10” and 6’11” respectively. (Sidenote: I desperately hope we see Akok vs Alok) It will be interesting to see if they can limit Adama Sanogo inside or if Sanogo’s brute strength gets the New Mexico State frontcourt in early foul trouble. If they are able to limit Sanogo inside, then there will be more pressure on Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole to provide some offense and Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley to draw the taller players further from the rim on defense. Defensively, if UConn can slow down Teddy Allen like they have in the past with their opponent’s best guard (i.e. Collin Gillespie in the Big East Tournament), then New Mexico State will have a hard time putting up points, playing right into the Huskies hands.

Prediction – UConn 69-62

Given the style of play and focus, I’m guessing this could be more of a grind-out game than a high-scoring affair, something UConn is all too familiar with. I think UConn does a nice job slowing down Allen and gets Sanogo involved in the play, but the big man doesn’t dominate inside against the size and length of the Aggie’s. I do think Sanogo’s ability to score down low will draw a number of fouls early against the New Mexico State frontcourt and allow UConn to build a small first half lead. The Aggies inability to hit FTs (under 70% as a team) will hurt them in late-game situations and the easy ride for UConn fans to head to Buffalo should give them the edge in crowd noise. I’m taking UConn in a hard-fought, close 69-62 victory.

*The luck measurement is the deviation between a team’s actual winning percentage and what one would expect from it’s game-by-game efficiencies. A team involved in a lot of close games should lose all of them. Those that win those games are considered luckier.