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Road to the Final Four | West

An unlikely winner emerges in New Mexico

New Mexico is coached by former Indiana star Steve Alford.

AP/File

New Mexico is coached by former Indiana star Steve Alford.

A look at the 16 teams that make up the West bracket of the NCAA tournament:

Upset specials: Mississippi over Wisconsin, Belmont over Arizona

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Sweet 16 picks: Gonzaga, Kansas State, New Mexico, Ohio State

Regional champion: New Mexico

1. Gonzaga (31-2)

The Zags are one of the best offensive teams in the tournament (77.6 ppg), with multiple weapons. What’s different this season is the defense, holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting. And 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, who’s not only the most improved player in the nation but one of the best, averages 17.5 ppg and 7.2 rpg. There’s also a nifty guard off the bench named David Stockton (that’s right, son of John, Gonzaga’s greatest player).

2. Ohio State (26-7)

The Buckeyes are streaking, winning eight straight games (half over ranked teams) and capturing the Big Ten tournament. Deshaun Thomas has been the primary scoring weapon, averaging 19.7 ppg, but junior point guard Aaron Craft remains the catalyst, especially on defense.

3. New Mexico (29-5)

The Lobos, coached by former Indiana star Steve Alford, had many notable victories this season, including at Davidson, vs. UConn, at Cincinnati, at Indiana State, and New Mexico State (twice).

4. Kansas State (27-7)

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Angel Rodriguez has had a solid sophomore season, scoring 11.7 ppg and dishing out 5.3 apg. K-State always looks to senior guard Rodney McGruder (15.7 ppg) for offense.

5. Wisconsin (23-11)

All Bo Ryan’s teams do is win, it seems, especially in the postseason. The Badgers own a streak of winning at least one game in the NCAA Tournament for the last six seasons. Guard Ben Brust (11.4 ppg) leads a balanced offense.

6. Arizona (25-7)

Late road losses to UCLA and Southern Cal cost Arizona a shot at the Pac-12 title, but the Wildcats were a perfect 12-0 out of conference, with wins over Florida and Miami.

7. Notre Dame (25-9)

Like many of Mike Brey’s teams, the Irish are super efficient on offense, shooting nearly 47 percent overall and more than 37 percent from behind the 3-point line.

8. Pittsburgh (24-8)

The Panthers won 11 of their last 14 conference games, a turnaround that was sparked by defense. Pitt is a deep, balanced team, with 10 players averaging from 4.2 ppg to senior point guard Tray Woodall’s team-leading 11.8.

9. Wichita State (26-8)

One result says it all for the Shockers: they beat hyperactive VCU in Richmond, 53-51, dictating pace and making it the half-court, defensive game they prefer.

10. Iowa State (22-11)

The Cyclones were fourth in the country in scoring at 79.6 per game. But Iowa State allows more than 71 a game.

11. Belmont (26-6)

The Bruins switched from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley this season but still got their sixth NCAA bid in eight years. This guard-oriented team is led by Ian Clark (18.1 ppg) and Kerron Johnson (13.7).

12. Mississippi (26-8)

The Rebels took what could have been a difficult bubble decision out of the selection committee’s hands by winning the SEC tournament.

13. Boise State (21-10)/La Salle (21-9)

This is the first at-large bid for the Broncos, who fought hard in the highly competitive Mountain West. Boise won at Creighton . . . The Explorers return to the tournament for the first time since 1992. La Salle averages 72 points per game and chucks up 20 threes per game.

14. Harvard (19-9)

The Crimson lost their two best players in the school’s academic scandal but the season was saved by freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who made first-team All-Ivy after averaging 12.9 ppg and 5.8 apg.

15. Iona (20-13)

The runnin’ Gaels average 80.7 points per game, third in the country.

16. Southern (23-9)

Malcolm Miller comes off the bench and averages 15.8 ppg.

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