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The Big NCAA West Region Preview

March Madness comes to Vegas for the first time, and here’s who the locals should be firing on from the stands.

We are here in Vegas on the ground, we went to a bit of the shoot arounds today, we heard the press conferences, and we’ll be back tomorrow afternoon for the actual basketball from the Las Vegas Strip.

But here’s where things stand as of now, and what we think happens tomorrow night.

No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 4 UConn, 7:15 p.m. ET Thursday

Spread: UConn -4
Total: 140
Moneyline: UConn -195, Arky +165

The Hogs are going to need to get something out of Nick Smith, who was non-existent in the win over Kansas (0-4, 1 rebound, 1 assist in 16 minutes), but assuming that happens I think Arky can at least keep it within a possession. With no disrespect to the Big East, there simply isn’t a team that plays as hard or as physically in that league.

What the Razorbacks do in close games is wear teams down over a long period of time, and then hope to execute offensively late against worn-out opponents. That’ll be tougher against guys like Adama Sanogo and Alex Karaban on the block.

Thing too look for: UConn is second in the country in offensive rebound rate, and the Hogs are just 138th in stopping teams from getting their bricks. How many missed 3’s are they turning into second looks?

The pick: UConn wins, but Arky covers in what should be a war and one helluva basketball game.

No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA, 9:45 p.m. ET Thursday

Spread: UCLA -1.5
Total: 145.5
Moneyline: UCLA -125, Gonzaga +105

This has turned into quite the west coast rivalry in college basketball, with Adam Morrison crying and Jalen Suggs banker from the logo both belonging in the One Shining Moment Hall of Fame.

The Zags are playing much better basketball than they did six weeks ago, as the loss at Saint Mary’s in OT on February 4 has sparked them to being undefeated since. They also dispatched another elite, physical defensive team in TCU in the second round.

But the difference here is the Bruins bring that level of toughness, and can score efficiently in isolation in ways the Zags just can’t counter. Julian Strawther will do his best on Jaime Jaquez Jr., and Rasir Bolton will try to keep Tyger Campbell from being a playmaker, but they just don’t have speedy defensive rotations of past Bulldog units.

In Cronin’s final press conference, he said “we’ve got to be tough enough to figure it out. That’s just what it boils down to. You’ve got to be tough enough to do whatever you’ve got to do to win the game.” That toughness should be the difference here.

Thing too look for: If the Zags double, can they recover two-or-three-passes away to stop open threes and weak side cuts to the rim? And can Drew Timme stay out of foul trouble by not being a step late on drivers?

The pick: UCLA wins and covers. Even without their stopper in Jaylen Clark, the Bruins are second nationally in adjusted efficiency via KenPom for a reason. The Zags No. 1 rated offense might be from preseason grade inflation, and their 75th-ranked defense will be why they head home.