College Sports

West Region: It’s Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard in terrific first-round showdown

How will Gonzaga respond to its loss to St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament final? It was a stunning outcome, but the selection committee kept the Zags as a top seed.

After all, the Bulldogs defeated Duke on their way to a 30-3 season. Gonzaga has one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, and the program knows its way to the Final Four, having played in the 2017 NCAA title game.

No telling where second-seed Michigan would be if it could solve Michigan State. The Wolverines have lost three of their last seven, all to the Spartans. The good news for John Beilein’s club is he wouldn’t have to face Michigan State again until the national semifinals.

Third-seeded Texas Tech reached a region final last year and overachieved this season as co-champion of the Big 12 after being picked in the preseason to finish seventh. The Red Raiders are one of the nation’s top defensive teams and should have coach Chris Beard’s attention after getting upset by West Virginia in their first conference tournament game.

If zone defense is your thing, check out the 8-9 game between Syracuse and Baylor. It’s the favored scheme of coaches Jim Boeheim and Scott Drew.

Players to watch

Rui Hachimrua and Brandon Clarke are Gonzaga’s dynamic duo who combine to average 37 points and 15 rebounds. Hachimura hits 47 percent of his three-pointers and Clarke averages 3.1 blocks per game. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver was the Big 12 player of the year and averages 18.5 points. Big East player of the year Markus Howard, who averages 25.1 points, leads fifth-seeded Marquette.

Howard will face Murray State, a team led by Ja Morant, the dynamic guard who averages a double-double with 24.6 points and 10.1 assists. He could be a top three pick in the NBA Draft.

Upset special

Morant wins the battle with Howard and the Racers pull off a 12-5 upset over Marquette. There’s been at least one of them in nine of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments.

Winner

Michigan over Florida State.

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