JeQuan Lewis (Photo courtesy VCU Athletics)
JeQuan Lewis (Photo courtesy VCU Athletics)

MARK MADNESS | Mark Adams breaks down the West Region

In bracket order, scouting the NCAA Tournament's West Region for upsets — hello Middle Tennessee! — and previewing the games. They start Tuesday with Kansas State-Wake Forest in a First Four matchup:

Ranking System | Chances for an upset

  • UPSET ALERT! Think "Hoosiers" — 60% or higher
  • I’ll take that bet! — Higher than 50%
  • Flip a coin! — 50%
  • Like marrying a Kardashian — 25%
  • So you’re saying there’s a chance (Lloyd Christmas optimism from "Dumb and Dumber" — 1 in a million

Gonzaga vs. South Dakota St. |
Thursday, 2 p.m. ET

1 | GONZAGA

  • Record: 32-1, 17-1 West Coast.
  • Go-to guys: 6-3 JR Nigel Williams-Goss (16.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 52% FG shooting, 37% 3PT shooting); 7-1 SR Przemek Karnowski (12.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 60% FG shooting).
  • Strengths: Depth means fouls to give and Gonzaga might be as deep as any team other than North Carolina in their front court. Not to mention a backcourt that is also talented and deep led by Williams-Goss. Seven-footers Karnowski and Zack Collins combine girth with athleticism to rule the paint. Then there's 6-9 Johnathan Williams, a matchup nightmare.
  • Weaknesses: BYU exposed the Zags' guard play on an off night. The Gonzaga guards have been consistent and solid all season long except for that game. The Bulldogs are also a poor ‘O’ rebounding team especially for their size. I’m nitpicking here as coach Mark Few's squad appears to be a Final Four team.

16 | SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

  • Record: 18-16, 8-8 Summit.
  • Go-to guy: 6-9 SO Mike Daum (25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 52% FG shooting, 42% 3PT shooting, 87% FT shooting).
  • Strength: This is team that gets to the FT line often mainly because Daum is there a lot!
  • Weaknesses: Daum doesn’t have enough help, especially from a porous defense.

» UPSET PREDICTION: So you’re saying there’s a chance (1 in a million)

Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt |
Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET

8 | NORTHWESTERN

  • Record: 23-11, 10-8 Big Ten.
  • Go-to guys: 6-3 JR Bryant McIntosh (14.4 points, 5.2 assists, 40% FG shooting); 6-5 JR Scottie Lindsey (14.2 points, 43% FG shooting, 84% FT shooting).
  • Strengths: The Power 5 darlings are led by a true coach on the floor in Brian McCormick. This guy really gets it assisting over five baskets per game and his leadership and winning attitude has made the difference for these Wildcats! Northwestern has developed into a very solid defensive team that also shares the ball unselfishly on O. This is a true team!
  • Weaknesses: Even though Northwestern doesn’t take a lot of chances defensively they foul more than they should especially against more athletic opponents. Keep an eye on that as the tournament progresses.

9 | VANDERBILT

  • Record: 19-15, 10-8 SEC.
  • Go-to guys: 6-5 JR Matthew Fisher-Davis (13.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 40% FG shooting, 44% 3PT shooting); 7-0 SR Luke Kornet (13.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 41% FG shooting, 34% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: Vandy boasts four double-figure scorers, including Fisher-Davis, Kornet, Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance. LaChance can take all the chances he wants from deep as a 48% sniper. Vandy lives and dies from the arc where they are dangerous team (38% 3PT shooting) but with only seven guys can this group sustain a run?
  • Weaknesses: This team lacks depth. The Commodores can be turnover prone and at times suspect on the boards. These Commodores have trouble manufacturing hustle points. I’m not sold.

» UPSET PREDICTION: Flip a coin (50%)

Notre Dame vs. Princeton |
Thursday, 12:15 p.m. ET

5 | NOTRE DAME

  • Record: 25-9, 12-6 ACC.
  • Go-to guys: 6-5 JR Bonzie Colson (17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 52% FG shooting); 6-8 SR V.J. Beachem (15.0 points, 44% FG shooting, 38% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: The Irish are hard to guard and coach Mike Brey has a recent history of getting his team to peak at the right time. One secret weapon is their ability to make free throws at an 80% clip, which leads the country. This is a great passing team that rarely turns the ball over and basically doesn’t foul. In other words, Notre Dame is one of the best at not beating themselves.
  • Weaknesses: The Fighting Irish don’t fight well on the boards. This is their collective weakness and while this team has significant and identifiable strengths this is an obvious NCAA tournament weakness!

12 | PRINCETON

  • Record: 23-6, 14-0 Ivy.
  • Go-to guys: 6-5 SR Steven Cook (13.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 49% FG shooting, 42% 3PT shooting); 6-1 SO Devin Cannady (13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 43% FG shooting, 42% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: Steven Cook, Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens all shoot over 40% 3PT and they make ten 3’s/game which is Top 10. Plus, the Tigers do not give the ball away at just over 10 TO’s/game.
  • Weaknesses: This is not a physically intimidating team and in this tournament they could get hammered on the glass.

» UPSET PREDICTION: Like marrying a Kardashian (25%)

West Virginia vs. Bucknell |
Thursday, 2:45 p.m. ET

4 } WEST VIRGINIA

  • Record: 26-8, 12-6 Big 12.
  • Go-to guy: 6-2 JR Jevon Carter (13.1 points, 45% FG shooting, 37% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: This team is fueled by momentum and Bob Huggins and his singular focus on dominating an opponent. Huggins has morphed into one part Paul Westhead and one part Tark and I love it! They steal it like no other team in the nation, then they share like no other team in the nation, then they beat the holy crap out of you.
  • Weaknesses: Unless you can take care of the rock and then you win!

13 | BUCKNELL

  • Record: 26-8, 15-3 Patriot.
  • Go-to guys: 6-9 JR Nana Foulland (Patriot League POY and Defensive POY, 14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocked shots, 63% FG shooting); 6-7 JR Zach Thomas (15.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 47% FG shooting, 42% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: The Bison can really shoot the ball and a top 25 team in FG% and top 55 in 3PT FG%. Thomas and Foulland area solid mid-major 1-2 punch. Bucknell has an attitude defensively and the Bison steal the ball with anticipation and preparation with over 7 steals per game.
  • Weaknesses: The Bison are a below average FT shooting team (under 68%) and they turn it over +13 times per game.

» UPSET PREDICTION: Like marrying a Kardashian (25%)

Maryland vs. Xavier |
Thursday, 6:50 p.m. ET

6 | MARYLAND

  • Record: 24-8, 12-6 Big Ten.
  • Go-to guy: 6-3 JR Melo Trimble (17.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 44% FG shooting, 33% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: Trimble has such a flair for the dramatic and I saw it first-hand this season in person. Kevin Huerter is such a joy to watch develop and Justin Jackson is fun to watch play his role. Damonte Dodd is a shot blocker and 'O' rebounder to fear! The Terps are a solid team but not a great team.
  • Weaknesses: If you can figure out a way to defend Melo you can beat Maryland. It takes a rangy, nasty defensive specialist. If any mid-major has that guy the Terps run will be short-lived.

11 | XAVIER

  • Record: 21-13, 9-9 Big East.
  • Go-to guy: 6-6 JR Trevon Bluiett (18.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 44% FG shooting, 37% 3PT shooting)/
  • Strengths: Bluitt gives Xavier a chance to make a run. J.P. Macura is a capable shooter but has been inconsistent. If he gets hot, then Xavier’s late season struggles could turn around. The biggest strength for Mack’s Muskies is their ability to rebound at a nearly +7 advantage.
  • Weaknesses: This is a team in a late search for a new identity. One identity crisis is on defense where Chris Mack’s team can be downright bad at times. If that isn’t fixed forget about these guys.

» UPSET PREDICTION: Flip a coin (50%)

Florida St. vs. FGCU |
Thursday, 9:20 p.m. ET

3 | FLORIDA ST.

  • Record: 25-8, 12-6 ACC.
  • Go-to guy: 6-7 SO Dwayne Bacon (16.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 44% FG shooting, 35% 3PT shooting.
  • Strengths: FSU is skilled offensively and solid on the defensive end. Bacon can sizzle and Xavier Rathan-Mayes can dish. Jonathan Isaac and Jean Marc Christ Koumadje anchors a Seminole defense that roams the rim rejecting over five shots per game. And then there is a load down low with Michael Ojo.
  • Weaknesses: The Seminoles are guilty of fouling too much at nearly 20 per game and not making enough foul shots (69%). Watch those numbers for a hint at an upset.

14 | FGCU

  • Record: 26-7, 12-2 Atlantic Sun.
  • Go-to guy: 6-2 JR Brandon Goodwin (18.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 52% FG shooting, 36% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: Dunk City is back and they dunk it enough to shoot over 50% overall. The Eagles are unselfish as passers but downright selfish on the glass where they outrebound their opponents by +6 RPG. If guard play wins then coach Joe Dooley has a great one in Goodwin. These Eagles are a high-flying, go-for-it opponent with the right upset attitude!
  • Weaknesses: FGCU can be foul prone and they are an average 3PT shooting team (35%). Overall FGCU won their games by 10+ points/game and that begs the question, if the Eagles are tournament tested?

» UPSET PREDICTION: Flip a coin (50%)

St. Mary’s vs. VCU |
Thursday, 7:20 p.m. ET

7 | ST. MARY'S

  • Record: 28-4, 16-2 West Coast.
  • Go-to guys: 6-11 JR Jock Landale (16.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 61% FG shooter); 6-6 JR Calvin Hermanson (13.0 points, 50% FG shooting, 44% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: Landale is an inside pillar for Randy Bennett’s Gaels. He can be a tough guy to game plan for and Saint Mary’s is really hard to guard due to spacing and skill sets. Hermanson brings a three-point marksman’s mentality and Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon are more than willing to find Hermanson and Landale!
  • Weaknesses: The Gaels will not out-athlete you with steals on D or dribble drive and contact on O to get to the line.

10 | VCU

  • Record: 26-8, 14-4 Atlantic 10.
  • Go-to guy: 6-1 SR JeQuan Lewis (14.7 points, 4.6 assists, 43% FG shooting, 37% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: I have watched this team a lot this season. The Rams can steal the basketball as we all know. They are an unselfish team that shares the ball and makes opponents pay for their mistakes. Lewis has played at a high level and Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman provide coach Will Wade with high major talent to take on the big boys. The supporting cast is good enough led by high energy Jonathon Williams.
  • Weaknesses: The Rams are streaky at best from behind the arc and just not very good from long distance on most nights. Lewis is the only true legitimate threat from the arc and after that it gets iffy. The good news is VCU is ultra-aggressive which leads to steals. The bad news is VCU fouls as much as anyone — they rank in the bottom 15% in the country in personal fouls per game. That could be a problem as the NCAA tournament is typically called even tighter than the regular season.

» UPSET PREDICTION: Flip a coin (50%)

Arizona vs. North Dakota |
Thursday, 9:50 p.m. ET

2 | ARIZONA

  • Record: 30-4, 16-2 Pac-12.
  • Go-to guys: 7-0 FR Lauri Markkanen (15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 49% FG shooting, 43% 3PT shooting); 6-5 SO Allonzo Trier (16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 47% FG shooting, 38% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: The Wildcats are a well-rounded team that is good enough on offense and defense but not exceptional at either. Where they are exceptional is when they make three’s and get to the free-throw line (+76%). Arizona is not a volume 3-ball team but at a 39% success rate they can beat you with disciplined shot selection and tough rebounding. Markkanen is a blossoming Finnish star and their combined solid defense with good decision making makes the Wildcats a tough out.
  • Weaknesses: Arizona beats you with execution which is a good thing. This team is not built to manufacture points by forcing turnovers or getting offensive stick backs. The Wildcats are a fine defensive rebounding team and fast break team. An opponent that can defensively transition and then play lock down half-court defense will be a challenge for Sean Miller’s team.

15 | NORTH DAKOTA

  • Record: 22-9, 14-4 Big Sky.
  • Go-to guy: 6-0 SR Quinton Hooker (19.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 47% FG shooting, 44% 3PT shooting).
  • Strengths: Hooker makes these Fighting Hawks good but Geno Crandall (15.6 points, 2.0 steals) makes them downright dangerous. This is a team that comes up with steals and turns them into points. Those layups contribute to impressive offensive efficiency stats as these Fighting Hawks shoot over 48% on FGs and 38% on 3-pointers..
  • Weaknesses: Turnovers and fouls will make it hard to advance as both can be deadly weaknesses against this elite field.

» UPSET PREDICTION: So you’re saying there’s a chance (1 in a million)

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