Men's Basketball 2017 NCAA Tournament West Region Round of 32 Game Breakdowns

West Region Round of 32 Game Breakdowns
Northwestern continues their great historic run by defeating Vanderbilt in strange fashion on Thursday night.  A head-scratching foul sent Bryant McIntosh to the line to hit two free throws to seal the deal against the Commodores.  The Wildcats magical season continues against a No. 1 seed. 
Gonzaga had their hands full for a time against South Dakota State.  The Jackrabbits kept it close for much of the first half.  The Zags were ultimately able to hold Mike Daum to 17 points (which is significant considering Daum was second in the nation in scoring this season).  The Bulldogs size underneath was overwhelming.
This is an interesting matchup simply because Northwestern certainly has a chance to win to continue their first tournament journey.  Gonzaga is so talented, so they will have their hands full.  If the Wildcats can shoot like they did in the first game (nearly 50%), they will be able to hang with Gonzaga.  Vanderbilt was able to climb back into the game on Thursday with strong 3-point shooting.  The Bulldogs were not great shooting from long range against South Dakota State (8-30), so Northwestern could find themselves in a good position should that trend hold.  That being said, it is difficult to see Gonzaga shooting that poorly from behind the arc for two straight games.  Northwestern has frontcourt talent in Vic Law and Dererk Pardon.  Will they be able to handle Przemek Karnowski in the middle and maybe get him into foul trouble?  Gonzaga has the talent and experience to get this done.  But don’t count the Wildcats out.
This has the potential to be the best second round game in the region.  Notre Dame kicked off the tournament with a nail-biting win against a pesky Princeton team.  The Irish could never shake the Tigers, and Princeton was able to keep Notre Dame off balance by hitting shots.  Notre Dame may have also had some nerves.  They are the best team in the NCAA at free-throw percentage, and they missed several key foul shots at the end of the game.
They will play a West Virginia team that really had to shake themselves of a Bucknell team that kept taking it to them.  The six point margin of victory is indicative of how even of a game it was.  Both teams shot around 45% and both generated plenty of turnovers (13 for Bucknell vs. 15 for West Virginia).  The main difference was West Virginia’s ability to collect rebounds.  Their physicality allowed them to pick up some timely extra possessions that forced Bucknell to foul at the end of the game.  One or two possessions can make all of the difference.
That grit will come in handy against the Irish.  These are two contrasting styles.  West Virginia is all about a defensive game and keeping teams out of sync.  Notre Dame is an efficient offensive team that will slash to the basket and shoot effectively from outside.  Something will have to give.  West Virginia, even with all of their defensive prowess, will still have to score a significant number of points in this game. The 86 they scored last game is a good sign for them moving forward.  They cannot get into a foul-shooting contest with the Irish.  That will spell their demise.  Limiting Bonzie Colson will be important.  More outstanding rebounding will also help.  Notre Dame cannot be as efficient if they do not possess the ball.  This should be a good, tough game.
In a mild upset, Xavier beat Maryland by going to a relative unknown and by hitting three pointers at a clip they had not hit them for quite some time.   Trevon Bluiett, Xavier’s star player, started slow but really came to life in the second half and shot 50% from three-point range.  More surprising is the contribution from Sean O’Mara.  A guy who averages about six points per game had 18 points and missed only one shot from the field.  It is a good sign for Xavier that they may be able to rely on players other than Bluiett to help them secure a victory.
They will play a Florida State team that was a part of one of the most fun games to watch so far this tournament.  We knew that their matchup against Florida Gulf Coast would feature two incredibly athletic teams.  They did not disappoint.  They appeared locked in a track meet for the full 40 minutes.  Several times during the game FGCU led the Seminoles.  In the end, Florida State’s size was insurmountable for the Eagles.  The Seminoles completely dominated on the boards (46-26) and amassed nine blocks. 
With Xavier at full strength, it would be easy to pick them to win this game.  They started the season so strong and they have great tournament experience.  Florida State is young, albeit talented.  Xavier’s shooting is going to have to stay hot.  Keeping Florida State in a half-court offense is to Xavier’s advantage and offensive efficiency is the best way to make that happen.  Florida State’s size creates such a problem for opponents, and Xavier is not terribly big.  That may be the difference.  That being said Florida State has been beaten by some scrappy, gritty teams this season.  Xavier is a tough squad.  That toughness will need to translate into points.
In a game many thought could result in an upset of seeding, St. Mary’s really did a great job shutting down a tough VCU team.  It was a high-scoring game where the Gaels shot over 55% from the field.  They totally overwhelmed VCU with three-point shooting.  The Rams kept it close by creating turnovers, but in the end they had no answer for star center Jock Landale, who played all 40 minutes of the game and led all scorers with 18 points.  St. Mary’s looked as good as the four-loss team they have been all season.
They now get to face one of the most athletic and skilled teams in the country in Arizona.  The Wildcats have really hit their stride in the latter part of the season.  They had won four straight heading into the tournament, blowing through the best teams in the Pac-12 just last week.  To North Dakota’s credit, they kept it interesting at times during the first round game.  The Fighting Hawks would chip away and hold the lead to single digits through segments of the game.  Arizona just had too much speed and athleticism for them.  The Wildcats were able to put up 100 points behind freshman Lauri Markkanen’s 20 points. 
St. Mary’s will not go down easy, and this could be a fun game to watch if both teams are hitting their shots.  Plus, the Gaels are one of the best defensive teams in the country.  While they will have their work cut out for them against a superb team, they may be able to hinder Arizona’s offense enough to keep it tight.  The issue is that Arizona can score in bunches from all different angles.  No one has been able to stop Markkanen all year.  Even if you can, star guard Alonzo Trier can take over at any given time and light up the floor.  Arizona will not put up 100 points again, but they should be able to find a way to overmatch St. Mary’s like they did North Dakota.  St. Mary’s has been ranked all year and fought tooth and nail with Gonzaga for three games.  They can win this game if their defense is flawless.