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March Madness West Region: UNC or Arizona?

North Carolina went from playing in the 2022 national title game to missing the tournament in 2023. The Tar Heels are not only taking part in March Madness once again but earned a No. 1 seed despite a loss in the ACC tournament. Although Arizona is the No. 2 seed, the Wildcats lead the way in the college basketball odds when it comes to winning the West Region.

Saint Mary’s, which won the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles, is the only automatic qualifier among the top 10 seeds and joins Long Beach State as California schools in the West Region.

March Madness West Region: UNC or Arizona?
Armando Bacot #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels/Greg Fiume/Getty Images/AFP

Wagner edged Howard 71-68 in the First Four matchup with the Seahawks advancing to play North Carolina. Michigan State and Mississippi State will get the first round going with a Thursday afternoon game in Charlotte, N.C.

When looking at our odds of winning March Madness, Arizona (+1200) is fourth and North Carolina (+1400) is fifth in the odds of winning the national title.

 

Will UNC, Arizona Renew Acquaintances?

It seems hard to believe that since a matchup in the 1997 Final Four, North Carolina and Arizona haven’t crossed paths in the NCAA Tournament. That could change this season with the Tar Heels the top seed and Arizona seeded second in the West Region. It would be the first meeting between the programs since a 2007 regular-season game.

Both teams fell short in their conference tournaments North Carolina would meet either Michigan State or Mississippi State in the second round with a possible regional semifinal showdown with either Saint Mary’s or Alabama a definite possibility.

Arizona may need to contend with Baylor in the Sweet 16 game.

It would be quite the story if the top two seeds reach the regional final in Los Angeles, considering that Arizona’s top scorer, Caleb Love, was a three-year starter at North Carolina and a member of the team that played in the 2022 national title game. He will be a popular pick in the prop and parlay bets if that game happens.

 

Baylor Bears Ready to Feast?

Baylor is not being mentioned much as a title contender but few teams have been tested more since the beginning of February – eight of the last 13 games played by the Bears were against ranked teams.

Baylor has had mixed results with just a 5-5 record against ranked opponents this season. Will the Bears be on upset alert against a Colgate team making its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance? Or perhaps No. 6 seed Clemson can regain its form from earlier this season when the Tigers were ranked in the national polls.

Saint Mary’s, seeded fifth, could be the team that is lurking. Things were a little ugly with the Gaels in November but Saint Mary’s is 23-2 over its last 25 games with 15 of those wins by at least 10 points.

With Alabama’s recent struggles, Saint Mary’s could meet up with North Carolina in the Sweet 16. And with seven players from California on the roster, there could be quite a few Saint Mary’s fans making the trip to Los Angeles for that matchup.

 

Injuries to Monitor

The good news is that most of the teams in the West Region are close to full strength heading into the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Langston Love, one of six Baylor double-digit scorers, is questionable with an ankle injury. That shouldn’t have much of an impact on Baylor’s March Madness odds.

Saint Mary’s post player Harry Wessels hasn’t played since a Feb. 20 win over San Francisco and he is questionable.

Michigan State freshman guard Jeremy Fears has been out since a Dec. 21 win over Stony Brook.

 

Who is on Upset Alert?

Alabama has been struggling, especially on the defensive end of the court, late in the regular season. The Crimson Tide allowed more than 100 points to Florida twice in a span of 10 days.

Clemson is 1-3 in March with a 21-point loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament so that is another team in this bracket that should come with a buyer beware tag.

 

Five Players to Watch

1. Armando Bacot, North Carolina: Fellow North Carolina star R.J. Davis could easily be in this slot but the ability of Bacot to impact the game on both ends of the court as an elite post player gives him the nod. He has scored in double figures in all seven of his NCAA Tournament games and had double-doubles in all six of the Tar Heels’ games in the 2022 tourney.

2. Josh Hubbard, Mississippi State: Hubbard has flown a bit under the radar when it comes to the discussion of the best freshmen in the country. However, in the last five games against ranked opponents, Hubbard is averaging 24.6 points.

3. Caleb Love, Arizona: Love has made quite the impression in his first season at Arizona after being a three-year starter at North Carolina. Love is just 7-for-34 over his last three games, but when he is on he can shoot a team to victory at this time of the season.


4. Aidan Mahaney, Saint Mary’s: Those who hadn’t seen the sweet-shooting sophomore in action would have been impressed by his 23-point effort against Gonzaga in the WCC title game. It is not the first time he delivered on a big stage.

5. Mark Sears, Alabama: Don’t blame Sears for the Crimson Tide trending in the wrong direction. He has six straight 20-point games and he has shot at least 50% from the field in six of his last 11 games.

A Look at the Schedule

Michigan State and Mississippi State get together in a matchup of Power-5 conference teams playing for a chance to likely meet top-seeded North Carolina, with Michigan State the 1½-point favorite. No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 1 seed North Carolina are both heavy favorites in their first-round games while No. 10 seed Nevada is a slight favorite against No. 7 seed Dayton.

No. 3 Baylor will meet Colgate on Friday with the Bears listed as a double-digit favorite. New Mexico, the No. 11 seed, is listed as a 1½-point favorite according to the Las Vegas odds against Clemson. Alabama and Saint Mary’s are the last of the title contenders to hit the court in the first round.

 

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Questions Of The Day

Which team has the best odds to win the West Region title?


Arizona is priced at +250 and North Carolina comes in at +300 in the odds to win the regional title followed by Alabama and Baylor, both currently at +750.

Are any lower-seeded teams favored in the first round in the West Regional?


No. 9 seed Michigan State, No. 10 seed Nevada, and No. 11 seed New Mexico are all favored to win in the first round of the West Region.

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