UCLA is one of the best college basketball programs in history. Arizona is always good. Gonzaga is an annual NCAA Tournament team. So how is it possible no team from the West Coast has reached a Final Four in nine years? That drought could end by Saturday.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in America’s shifting demographics, but you don’t have to be a genius to realize that many more millions of people live east of the Mississippi River than west of it. Still, it’s a pretty baffling statistic that no team from the Pacific Time Zone, which is California, Washington, Nevada, most of Oregon and part of Idaho, has reached a Final Four since UCLA in 2008. The team furthest west to make it since then is Oklahoma last year.
If you want to simply use west of the Mississippi as one large grid, no team has won the national championship since Arizona in 1997. So for purposes of this article, I will include the Wildcats. Plus, the state of Arizona is technically on Pacific time right now because the state doesn’t recognize daylight saving time. In 1968, the state legislature decided it was best for Arizona to opt out of the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which mandated the saving of daylight. It’s the same time of day right now in Phoenix as it is in Los Angeles.
There are four chances for a West Coast team to end the drought this season. Let’s look at their chances along with BetOnline NCAA basketball futures. The only region without a West Coast team in the Sweet 16 is the East.
West No. 1 Gonzaga
The Zags are +130 favorites to win the West as the program looks for its first-ever trip to the Final Four. It’s only the second time Gonzaga has been a No. 1 seed: In 2013, it was bounced by No. 9 Wichita State in the Round of 32. Coach Mark Few’s team is a 3-point favorite for Thursday’s game in San Jose against No. 4 West Virginia, one of three Big 12 teams remaining. If you have to play West Virginia, you want as many days to prepare for the Mountaineers’ pressure defense. One concern about the Zags is they rank 99th nationally in free-throw shooting percentage (72.7 percent). That could prove deadly in a close game. Gonzaga played one Big 12 team early this season, beating Iowa State 73-71 in a Thanksgiving holiday tournament in Florida. The Cyclones were 1-2 vs. WVU.
West No. 2 Arizona
We will know by Thursday night if a West Coast team will be in the Final Four because the Zags and Wildcats would meet in the Elite Eight if they both win. Arizona is +140 to win the West and a 7-point NCAA betting favorite against No. 11 Xavier, the school were the Wildcats’ Sean Miller used to coach. Arizona has had some terrific teams under Miller but hasn’t reached the Final Four on his watch. No. 2 seeds Arizona and Gonzaga both made the Elite Eight in 2015 and lost to the two teams that reached the title game, No. 1 seeds Wisconsin and Duke, respectively. Arizona and Gonzaga met on Dec. 3, with the Zags prevailing 69-62 in Los Angeles.
Midwest No. 3 Oregon
The first game to tip-off in the Sweet 16 on Thursday is from the Midwest when No. 3 Oregon takes on No. 7 Michigan. Despite being the lower seed, the Ducks are 1.5-point underdogs. They have won 10 of 11 games but of course lost star big man Chris Boucher to a season-ending injury in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon has never beaten Michigan in four tries. The teams last played in 2014. UO has made a Final Four previously, but it was in the first-ever NCAA Tournament back in 1939 when the Ducks won it all. Last year, No. 1 seed Oregon was routed by No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the Elite Eight. Oregon is +400 to win the Midwest. Should it beat Michigan, it likely will be facing No. 1 Kansas in Kansas City on Saturday.
South No. 3 UCLA
The Bruins are in the stacked South Region and face No. 2 Kentucky in the most anticipated Sweet 16 game of them all Friday from Memphis – a huge edge for UK in terms of fan support. The winner there then likely faces No. 1 North Carolina, which takes on No. 4 Butler also Friday. The Bruins and their national-best offense are +250 second-favorites in the South and -1 vs. UK. UCLA star freshman point guard Lonzo Ball is just seven assists shy of breaking Jason Kidd's Pac-12 record for most assists in a single season. Ball and Co. went to Lexington on Dec. 3 and knocked off No. 1 Kentucky 97-92, ending the Wildcats’ 42-game home winning streak.
It’s possible that 75 percent of the Final Four could be West Coast teams. Arizona or Gonzaga should win the South, and either would be favored against the East Region champion with No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Duke out of that. Oregon and UCLA could meet for the third time this season in the national semifinals on the other side, although both the Ducks and Bruins would be underdogs in the Elite Eight if they face Kansas and North Carolina, respectively.
Predictions: Arizona & UCLA get to Glendale, Ariz. Anyone for an all-Pac-12 national title game?