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Heel Tough Blog: West Region Breakdown

Thursday, the Tar Heels begin their 2024 NCAA Tournament as they look to send Armando Bacot and RJ Davis out with a title after they got so close in 2022. In order to do that, the Tar Heels will have to navigate the unpredictable West Region of this bracket to reach Phoenix, the sight of the team’s last national title victory. Let’s get you prepared for any possible opponent the Tar Heels could face in the first four rounds of the tournament with our in-depth breakdown of the region.


Caleb Love

2) Arizona Wildcats

Record: 25-8 (15-5 in Pac-12)

Head Coach: Tommy Lloyd

Key Players: G Caleb Love (18.1 ppg, 3.4 apg, 42.1% FG, 34.7% 3-pt), F Oumar Ballo (13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 64.9% FG), G Pelle Larsson (12.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 53.0% FG, 43.0% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 6th | Offensive Eff.- 8th | Defensive Eff.- 12th

Notes:

-Averages 87.9 points per game (3rd), allows 72.2 points per game

-14th in FG% (48.1%), 3rd in 2-pt FG (23.7), 42nd in 2-pt FG% (54.6%), 24th in 3-pt FG% (37.1%), 3rd in rebounding (42.6)

-94th in opponents FG% (42.3%), 79th in opponents 2-pt FG% (47.8%), 171st in opponents 3-pt FG% (33.4%), 61st in turnovers forced (13.5)

This is the team that everyone else in the country wants the Tar Heels to face if they get to the Elite Eight and there is a good chance that could happen. The Wildcats are built similarly with Love, the 2022 Tar Heel tournament hero, as the guy leading the way and Ballo as the physical presence inside. Recent tournament history and struggles at times this season with the basement dwellers of the Pac-12 are reasons that some are skeptical, but there is not denying that this is the biggest obstacle that stands in the Tar Heels. 


Jakobe Walter

3) Baylor Bears

Record: 23-10 (11-7 in Big 12)

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Key Players: G Ja’Kobe Walter (14.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 37.3% FG, 34.0% 3-pt), G Rayj Dennis (13.3 ppg, 6.8 apg, 48.1% FG, 33.7% 3-pt), F Jalen Bridges (11.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 45.4% FG, 40.1% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 14th | Offensive Eff.- 6th | Defensive Eff.- 62nd

Notes:

-Averages 80.5 points per game, allows 71.2 points per game

-22nd in FG% (48.3%), 52nd in 2-pt FG% (54.1%), 9th in 3-pt FG% (38.8%), 26th in free throw makes (16.8), 35th in free throw attempts (22.8), 183rd in rebounding (35.2)

-283rd in opponents FG% (45.4%), 277th in opponents 2-pt FG% (51.9%), 189th in opponents 3-pt FG% (33.7%)

On paper, the Bears are the matchup that could probably cause the Tar Heels the most problems in the region. Walter and Dennis are talented guards with size who can get to their spots and hit shots, something that has been a theme this season in games that the Tar Heels have lost. Yves Missi isn’t nearly as intimidating as some of the other big men that the Tar Heels could meet in this region, but he is an athletic big who has had moments of dominance throughout the season. The Bears enter the tournament just 4-4 in their last eight games and have some wondering if they have already played their best basketball of the season. There is a lot of talent here and this could be a tough rematch of the Round of 32 game from 2022 if both teams can get there.


Mark Sears

4) Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 21-11 (13-5 in SEC)

Head Coach: Nate Oats

Key Players: G Mark Sears (21.1 ppg, 4.1 apg, 50.4% FG, 43.1% 3-pt), G Aaron Estrada (13.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 45.9% FG, 31.9% 3-pt), F Grant Nelson (12.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 49.4% FG, 26.7% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 13th | Offensive Eff.- 2nd | Defensive Eff.- 112th

Notes:

-Averages 90.8 points per game (1st), allows 81.1 points per game (356th)

-32nd in FG% (47.7%), 12th in 2-pt FG% (57.5%), 3rd in 3-pt FG (11.1), 4th in 3-pt FG attempts (30.3), 40th in 3-pt FG% (36.5%), 24th in rebounding (39.6)

-202nd in opponents FG% (44.0%), 239th in opponents 2-pt FG% (51.1%), 79th in opponents 3-pt FG% (31.9%), 359th in opponents free throw makes (18.5), 354th in opponent free thrown attempts (24.8)

There may not be a better offensive team in this region than the Crimson Tide, but the defensive woes are what concern most people about having them even advance out of the first weekend. Sears is a tremendous scorer that could cause for the Tar Heel guards and collectively this is a team that can really shoot from deep. The problem is, they can’t slow anyone down. Over half of their opponents scored over 80 points and it has really been an issue in the games against ranked opponents. This is another team that comes limping into the tournament after losing four of their last six and allowing more than 100 in three of those four.


Aidan Mahaney

5) Saint Mary’s Gaels

Record: 26-7 (15-1 in West Coast)

Head Coach: Randy Bennett

Key Players: G Aidan Mahaney (13.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, 39.4% FG, 36.2% 3-pt), G Augustas Marciulionis (12.4 ppg, 5.2 apg, 44.1% FG, 34.3% 3-pt), F Mitchell Saxon (11.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 54.8% FG)

KenPom: Overall- 20th | Offensive Eff.- 46th | Defensive Eff.- 16th

Notes:

-Allows 58.5 points per game, 2nd fewest in the country

-All five starters average double figures scoring, three of the five average 5.7 rebounds or more

-Allow the fewest rebounds to opponent in the country

-8th in opponents FG% (39.5%), 2nd in opponents 2-pt FG% (42.9%), 2nd in opponents 3-pt makes (4.9), 3rd in opponents 3-pt attempts (15.6)

The Gaels are a team that is not getting talked about enough and would provide a stiff test for the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16 if both teams get there. After a sluggish start where they lost five of their first eight games, they’ve lost just two games and emerged as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Scoring on them is as tough as any team in the country as the percentages show and the offense is as balanced as any team in the country. Mahaney and Marciulionis aren’t nearly as deadly as some of the other guards in this region, but the spread-out scoring means everyone will have to be locked in defensively for the Tar Heels if this matchup comes to fruition. The Gaels have a tough Round of 64 matchup with Grand Canyon that will determine a lot about what this part of the region looks like.


PJ Hall (24)

6) Clemson Tigers

Record: 21-11 (11-9 in ACC)

Head Coach: Brad Brownell

Key Players: F PJ Hall (18.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 49.2% FG, 31.6% 3-pt), G Joseph Girard (15.7 ppg, 2.8 apg, 43.8% FG, 42.5% 3-pt), G Chase Hunter (12.3 ppg, 2.9 apg, 41.2% FG, 32.1% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 36th | Offensive Eff.- 27th | Defensive Eff.- 69th

Notes:

-Averages 77.4 points per game, allows 71.3 points per game

-62nd in FG% (46.8%), 45th in 2-pt FG% (54.5%), 112th in 3-pt FG% (35.4%), 9th in free throw % (79.0%)

-63rd in opponents FG% (41.8%), 58th in opponents 2-pt FG% (47.1%), 213th in opponents 3-pt FG% (34.0%), 321st in opponents free throw % (74.4%), 351st in forced turnovers (9.3)

The Tigers are a team that beat the Tar Heels earlier this season, but things haven’t been the same for this team since the first matchup with Carolina. After an 11-1 start to the season, they are just 10-10 in the final 20 games, including a current stretch where they have lost three of four, all to non-tournament teams. They have the balance they offensively want with an excellent big combo of Hall and Ian Schieffelin and two dynamic guards in Girard and Hunter, but everyone is way too inconsistent to place trust in them. If they could make a run and get to the Elite Eight, we’ve seen the issues they have given Carolina, especially in that second matchup, this season, but that is asking a lot of this team.


DaRon Holmes

7) Dayton Flyers

Record: 24-7 (14-4 in A-10)

Head Coach: Anthony Grant

Key Players: F DaRon Holmes (20.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 54.5% FG, 38.5% 3-pt), F Nate Santos (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 47.9% FG, 42.7% 3-pt), G Koby Brea (10.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 47.9% FG, 49.2% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 33rd | Offensive Eff.- 20th | Defensive Eff.- 86th

Notes:

-Averages 74.7 points per game, allows 66.3 points per game

-31st in in FG% (47.7%), 63rd in 2-pt FG% (53.8%), 3rd in 3-pt FG% (40.2%), 22nd in 3-pt FG (9.5)

-49th in opponents FG% (41.5%), 105th in opponents 2-pt FG% (48.2%), 64th in opponents 3-pt FG% (31.7%), 4th in opponents free throw (9.5), 2nd in opponents free throw attempts (12.9)

The Flyers are a mid-major team that doesn’t feel like they are getting enough respect for how dangerous they could be. Holmes is an absolute monster in the middle and you couple that with the fact that this team can shoot the lights from three led by Brea who shoots nearly 50% from deep. They also are a very solid defensive team that almost never fouls, forcing you to have to win the game from the field. They have a tough Round of 64 matchup against a hideously under-seeded Nevada team, but if they can find a way through that one, it is this team has the right balance of offense and defense to make a run and be a tricky matchup in the Elite Eight if the Tar Heels get there.


Josh Hubbard

8) Mississippi State Bulldogs

Record: 21-13 (8-10 in SEC)

Head Coach: Chris Jans

Key Players: G Josh Hubbard (17.1 ppg, 1.7 apg, 38.7% FG, 35.8% 3-pt), F Tolu Smith (15.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 56.4% FG), F Cameron Matthews (9.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 62.4% FG)

KenPom: Overall- 30th | Offensive Eff.- 59th | Defensive Eff.- 20th

Notes:

-Averages 74.8 points per game, allows 69.1 points per game

-124th in FG% (45.5%),79th in 2-pt FG% (53.5%), 264th in 3-pt FG% (32.5%), 49th in rebounding (38.4), 323rd in free throw % (67.2%), 292nd in turnovers per game (12.9)

-52nd in opponents FG% (41.6%), 207th in opponents 2-pt FG% (50.7%), 7th in opponents 3-pt FG% (29.4%)

The Bulldogs might very well be the best 8 seed in this tournament and match up very well with the Tar Heels. Josh Hubbard is as consistent a scoring guard as there is in the country and is coming off an outstanding week in Nashville at the SEC Tournament. Big man Tolu Smith is one of the more talented big men in this region as well and would be a stiff test for Bacot early in the tournament. Defensively, the Bulldogs are gettable inside, but they are a tremendous 3-point defensive team, forcing teams to have to play more inside out against them than other teams in the country. They have to navigate Michigan State, but if they do, this will be a Round of 32 matchup that could really test the Tar Heels.


Tyson Walker

9) Michigan State Spartans

Record: 19-14 (10-10 in Big Ten)

Head Coach: Tom Izzo

Key Players: G Tyson Walker (18.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 44.2% FG, 37.3% 3-pt), F Malik Hall (12.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 52.3% FG, 35.1% 3-pt), G A.J. Hoggard (11.0 ppg, 5.2 qpg, 41.6% FG, 33.8% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 18th | Offensive Eff.- 57th | Defensive Eff.- 8th

Notes:

-Averages 73.1 points per game, allows 65.9 points per game

-87th in FG% (46.1%), 205th in 2-pt FG% (50.4%), 282nd in 3-pt (6.4), 325th in 3-pt attempts (17.8), 75th in 3-pt FG% (35.9%), 274th in free throw makes (12.4), 263rd in free throw attempts (17.6), 251st in free throw % (70.6%), 221st in rebounding (34.6), 30th in turonvers (9.8)

-43rd in opponents FG% (41.2%), 61st in opponents 2-pt FG% (47.2%), 130th in opponents 3-pt FG% (32.8%)

Speaking of the Spartans, they are tied for the most losses of any power conference team in the tournament, but Tom Izzo is still patrolling the sidelines, so you never really know. This is an experienced group of players and they have put up some good numbers defensively, ranking eighth in defensive efficiency. They too, though, are a team that has limped to the finish, losing five of their last seven including three to non-tournament teams. The experience of this team across the board still makes this a tougher foe than their record suggests.


Jarod Lucas (2)

10) Nevada Wolfpack

Record: 26-7 (13-5 in MWC)

Head Coach: Steve Alford

Key Players: G Jarod Lucas (17.8 ppg, 1.5 apg, 42.2% FG, 39.7% 3-pt), G Kenan Blackshear (15.1 ppg, 4.9 apg, 49.9% FG, 19.2% 3-pt), F Nick Davidson (12.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 54.9% FG, 28.6% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 36th | Offensive Eff.- 40th | Defensive Eff.- 36th

Notes:

-Averages 76.4 points per game, allows 67.1 points per game

-40th in FG% (47.5%), 92nd in 2-pt FG% (53.0%), 46th in 3-pt FG% (36.5%), 9th in free throw makes (17.9), 9th in free throw attempts (24.8), 236th in rebounding (34.5), 39th in turnovers per game (10.0)

-57th in opponents FG% (41.7%), 125th in opponents 2-pt FG% (48.8%), 73rd in opponents 3-pt FG% (31.8%)

The Wolfpack are one of two Mountain West teams in this region that are extremely under-seeded and could be dangerous out of the bottom part of this bracket. The backcourt duo of Lucas and Blackshear can really fill it up and Davidson is a very solid big in the middle that provides scoring and rebounding. They are an aggressive team that likes to attack downhill and score it or get to the foul line, but they are still a really good free throw shooting team. They have nice balance as they are a very sound defensive team, but they do struggle to rebound the ball as a team. That will be a challenge they have to overcome in the Round of 64 matchup with DaRon Holmes and Dayton, but if they do, there is a chance this team could be the double-digit seed that makes a run.


Jaelen House

11) New Mexico Lobos

Record: 25-9 (10-8 in MWC)

Head Coach: Richard Pitino

Key Players: G Jaelen House (15.5 ppg, 3.4 apg, 37.1% FG, 32.7% 3-pt), F Donovan Dent (15.0 ppg, 5.6 apg, 52.8% FG, 37.5% 3-pt), F JT Toppin (12.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 62.5% FG)

KenPom: Overall- 25th | Offensive Eff.- 42nd | Defensive Eff.- 24th

Notes:

-Averages 82.4 points per game, allows 71.1 points per game

-7th in FG (30.2), 3rd in FG attempts (65.2), 81st in FG% (46.3%), 5th in 2-pt FG (23.5), 45.4 (1st), 131st in 2-pt FG% (51.9%), 24th in rebounding (39.6)

-111th in opponents FG% (42.6%), 149th in opponents 2-pt FG% (49.3), 32nd in opponents 3-pt FG% (30.9%)

The Lobos are one of the hottest teams heading into this tournament after taking home the Mountain West Tournament title over the weekend. House, Dent and Jamal Mashburn Jr. give the team three different guys who are capable of filling it up offensively every night and Toppin is a legitimate threat on both ends of the floor inside. They run a fast pace that allows for a ton of possessions, which is why they allow as many points as they do, but it should have you thinking this team can’t defend. This is the most dangerous 11 seed in the entire tournament and they are more than capable of being the latest double-digit seed to end up in the Elite Eight.


Tyon Grant-Foster

12) Grand Canyon Antelopes

Record: 29-4 (17-3 in WAC)

Head Coach: Bryce Drew

Key Players: G Tyon Grant–Foster (19.8 ppg,6.0 rpg, 44.8% FG, 33.1% 3-pt), G Rayshon Harrison (13.7 ppg, 3.9 apg, 41.5% FG, 31.1% 3-pt), F Gabe McGlothan (13.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 48.6% FG, 40.8% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 53th | Offensive Eff.- 63th | Defensive Eff.- 51st

Notes:

-Averages 79.8 points per game, allows 66.9 points per game

-73rd in FG% (46.5%), 81st in 2-pt FG% (53.4%), 161st in 3-pt FG% (34.4%), 51st in rebounding (38.2), 4th in free throws made (18.9), 7th in free throws attempted (25.2), 56th in free throw % (75.2%)

-20th in opponents FG% (40.5%), 14th in opponents 2-pt FG% (44.5%), 106th in opponents 3-pt FG% (32.4%), 44th in turnovers forced per game (13.9)

The Antelopes are back in the tournament and are a popular pick to make some noise this year after an outstanding regular season and conference tournament. This is one of the more balanced mid-major teams in the field and they might have the best player from a mid-major in this tournament in NBA Draft prospect Tyon Grant-Foster. They have a stiff test against the suffocating defense of Saint Mary’s, but if they can find a way to do what they do best and get the line offensively, they have a chance to pull the upset. People also really like their chances to make it to the second if they navigate Saint Mary’s regardless of who prevails in the 4-13 matchup.


Reyne Smith (Charleston Athletics)

13) Charleston Cougars

Record: 27-7 (15-3 in CAA)

Head Coach: Pat Kelsey

Key Players: G Reyne Smith (12.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 41.2% FG, 39.5% 3-pt), G Ante Brzovic (12.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 47.1% FG, 22.7% 3-pt), F Ben Burnham (11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 46.2% FG, 36.9% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 99th | Offensive Eff.- 59th | Defensive Eff.- 170th

Notes:

-Averages 80.5 points per game, 37th most in the country

-8th most field goal attempts per game, 3rd most 3-pt field goal attempts per game, 8th most 3-pt field goals, 22nd in rebounds per game, 24th in offensive rebounds per game

The Cougars aren’t nearly as popular an upset pick as they were a year ago in the tournament, but they are still a team worth watching. They play with a ton of pace and want to turn games into shootouts, especially with how well they shoot the three and follow misses, but that is a dangerous proposition against Alabama. If they can get hot from deep, it might be able to carry them past the Crimson Tide, but it’s hard to see this team stringing together much more than that unless Grand Canyon makes it through.


Braeden Smith (2)

14) Colgate Raiders

Record: 25-9 (16-2 in Patriot)

Head Coach: Matt Langel

Key Players: G Braeden Smith (12.5 ppg, 5.8 apg, 39.3% FG, 30.3% 3-pt), F Keegan Records (10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 56.5% FG, 25.0% 3-pt), G Ryan Moffatt (10.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 43.0% FG, 37.1% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 145th | Offensive Eff.- 211th | Defensive Eff.- 102nd

-Allows 63.2 points per game (11th in the country)

-30th in opponents FG% (40.8%), 13th in opponents 3-pt FG% (29.8%), 3rd fewest free makes allowed (9.3), outside of the top 300 in free throw makes, attempts and free throw percentage

-Shoots 47.0% overall and 36.1% from three

This is the third trip in four years to the NCAA Tournament for the Raiders, which is why they might be the most dangerous 14 seed in the entire field. Their past two tournament teams have been built to play in the open court and score, but this one plays a much slower pace and stingy on the defensive end. They will test Baylor’s guards in the first round and could do the same to New Mexico or Clemson if they were to pull the upset. Because of how they play offensively, though, this is a team that it’s hard to see making a miracle run beyond the Sweet 16, which would be an amazing accomplishment in itself.


Marcus Tsohonis

15) Long Beach State 49ers

Record: 21-14 (10-10 in Big West)

Head Coach: Dan Monson (kind of)

Key Players: G Marcus Tsohonis (17.6 ppg, 2.9 apg, 40.6% FG), G Jadon Jones (12.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 42.9% FG, 38.1% 3-pt), G Aboubacar Traore (12.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 53.8% FG)

KenPom: Overall- 165th | Offensive Eff.- 146th | Defensive Eff.- 212th

Notes:

-Averages 77.9 points per game, allows 75.9 points per game

-163rd in FG% (39.3%), 15th in 2-pt FG (22.3), 193rd in 2-pt FG% (50.6%), 338th in 3-pt FG (5.4), 330th in 3-pt attempts (17.7), 324th in 3-pt FG% (30.7%)

-152nd in opponents FG% (43.3%), 192nd in opponents 2-pt FG% (49.9%), 265th in opponents 3-pt FG% (34.8%), 48th in turnovers forced per game (13.9)

The story of this 49ers team might be the most interesting in the entire field. Head coach Dan Monson was relieved of his coaching duties by the university prior to the Big West conference tournament but chose to stay on and finish the season with his team. His group rallied behind him, winning three games in three days to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in twelve years. His team can score the ball inside, but they struggle to shoot the three and allow opponents to shoot it real well. I wouldn’t put anything past this group who is playing some inspired basketball for their head coach, but there might be a few too many obstacles in the way for them.


Melvin Council Jr.

16) Wagner Seahawks

Record: 17-15 (7-9 in NEC)

Head Coach: Donald Copeland

Key Players: G Melvin Council Jr. (14.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 38.3% FG, 25.9% 3-pt), G Tahron Allen (10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 40.4% FG, 47.3% 3-pt)

KenPom: Overall- 292nd | Offensive Eff.- 334th | Defensive Eff.- 170th

Notes:

-Averages 63.5 points per game (354th nationally), allows 62.1 points per game (6th)

-357th in overall field goal percentage (39.2%), 358th in 2-pt percentage (43.6%), 281st in 3-pt percentage (32.2%), 226th in FT percentage (71.0%)

-64th in field percentage allowed (41.8%)

The Seahawks took down Howard on Tuesday night to face the Tar Heels in the first round on Thursday and they’ll have some work to do to pull the upset. Council Jr. showed the other night that he is capable of carrying this team a bit, but he is far from the most efficient player in doing it. Neither are the rest of his teammates, who might combine to form one of the worst offenses in this field. The gameplan for the Seahawks will be to slow the game down and let their defense control things, but that will be easier said than done.

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