NCAA Tournament

Gonzaga becomes the hunted team in West Region

Gonzaga is a Cinderella no more. The Zags, which built their NCAA Tournament reputation as giant killers, are now among the big boys as a No. 1 seed. It’s a first for the Bulldogs, who are making their 15th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

And, they know something about their first opponent, Southern. The teams met to open the 2010-11 season, with Gonzaga winning by 45. Five current Zags played in that game, including senior center Kelly Olynyk, one of the a nation’s top players who averaged 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds.

Second-seeded Ohio State has played its best basketball over the past three weeks, including a run to the Big Ten tournament title. The improvement has come on the defensive end, but Deshaun Thomas, one of the nation’s best scorers, and point guard Aaron Craft, have been at the top of their games lately.

New Mexico flies under the national radar, but the Lobos were the regular season and conference tournament champion of the highest rated conference based on RPI, the Mountain West. They’re the nation’s No. 2 RPI team and have 10 victories against the top 50. Only Kansas has more.

Coach Steve Alford’s Lobos are balanced, although Kendall Williams makes things go, averaging 13.5 points and five assists.

What has happened to sixth-seeded Arizona? Weeks ago, the Wildcats were looking like a potential top seed, but their loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament made them 5-5 in their last 10. Belmont, the No. 11 seed and champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, is thinking upset.

The first-round game between No. 13 seeds Boise State and La Salle for the right to meet fourth-seeded Kansas State in the round of 64 should be entertaining. Explorers guard Ramon Galloway can carry a team, and Boise knocked off Creighton and fell at Michigan State by four this season. No, the Broncos don’t play on blue hardwood. Well, not all blue. Only areas inside the three-point circle.