NCAA Tournament West Region First Round Preview

Pictured: Markus Howard
Source: Drew Hallowell / Getty Images North America

Take a look at the matchups set in the First Round West Region.

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Two of college basketball’s most exciting players lead their teams into an opening round showdown

At 25 and 24.6 points per game respectively, Marquette’s Markus Howard and Murray State’s Ja Morant are the two highest-scoring players in the 2019 NCAA Tournament field. They headline a first-round showdown on Thursday that has all the makings of a classic 12-over-5 upset.

Marquette limps into the Tournament with losses in five of its last six. Howard told reporters on Monday he was ready to go at full strength despite suffering a wrist injury in the Big East Tournament, and there’s no doubt the Golden Eagles need him. He went off for more than 50 points twice in the regular season, showing an offensive repertoire similar to that of Arizona State legend and longtime NBA mainstay Eddie House.

Howard’s an intriguing NBA prospect; so, too, is Morant. Morant burst onto the scene this season, generating draft talk in league with noteworthy names like Duke freshmen phenoms Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. The high-flying Morant and his Murray State teammates aren’t thinking about June’s draft, though. The OVC champions want to dance on.

Nevada, one of last year’s Tournament darlings who lost by one point to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16, are the ones on upset alert.

On Thursday, the Florida Gators and the Nevada Wolf Pack will get together for a traditional No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Although the Gators finished their SEC season with a 9-9 record, the club made it all the way to the semifinals of their conference tournament before losing to eventual champion Auburn.

Nevada, on the other hand, has been ranked in the Top 25 of both polls for the entire season (the majority of that time in the top 10) and has already collected 29 wins. The Wolf Pack were upset in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament by San Diego State and hope to avoid a similar fate on Thursday.

A pair of teams looking to put disappointing regular-season finishes behind them face off in Salt Lake City

Neither Baylor nor Syracuse are strangers to NCAA Tournament success during this decade. For that reason, their matchup on Thursday in Salt Lake City promises to be one of the must-see first-round games.

The Orange made Final Four runs in 2013 and ’16. They also reached the Elite Eight in 2012 and the Sweet 16 in ’10 and ’18. The Bears made a Sweet 16 run a year ago and in 2014. Before that, Baylor reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and ’12.

Both teams landed lower seeds after key injuries caused them to pile up losses late in the season. The Bears lost four straight coming into the tournament and the Orange dropped five of seven.

Baylor is making its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bears earned their lowest seed since being awarded a No. 11 seed in 2008. Syracuse is in the 68-team field for the third time in four seasons. The Orange are a No. 8 seed for just the second time in their history after being awarded the same seed in 1999.

Sun Devils look to ride momentum of First Four victory when they take on the Bulls in Tulsa

Can Buffalo take the next step forward and solidify an identity as an emerging basketball power? That’s the question facing the Bulls as they take on Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Arizona State enters the game with major momentum after crushing St. John’s 74-65 in the First Four on Wednesday. The Sun Devils held the Red Storm to 25 first-half points on 30 percent shooting and led by double digits for most of the game.

Buffalo is no stranger to facing Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls obliterated Pac-12 champion Arizona in the first round a year ago as a No. 13 seed. This time around, everything is a bit different. Buffalo has taken on the role of the hunted instead of the hunter. The Bulls eclipsed 30 wins and rose to No. 15 in the final AP Top 25 Poll.

Adding an interesting wrinkle to the mix is that former Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley will be facing his old school for the first time. Hurley led Buffalo to the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015 before departing for Arizona State. He has sparked a renaissance in Tempe, leading the Sun Devils to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1981.

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