By Oliver Mauntel
The East Region looks as if it is Villanova’s to lose. Outside of the Wildcats, the region is wide open, with underdogs prowling in every meeting. Don’t be surprised if a “Cinderella” team arises from Villanova’s shadow.
Villanova (30-4): Since the formation of the “new Big East”, Jay Wright has turned the Wildcats into a well-oiled machine. Like Virginia, Villanova doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot. Nearly every Villanova player has the ability to shoot the three-ball, making them dangerous once they get hot. Oh, and they are led by the potential national player of the year: Jalen Brunson.
On the road/neutral site: (18-3) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Purdue (28-6): This Boilermaker squad might be Matt Painter’s most talented team yet. Four of Purdue’s starters shoot over 39% from the three point line, and they have a pair of seven-footers on the roster too. Carsen Edwards has become an elite scorer, and must be accounted for by opposing defenses. Matchups will be important for Purdue, considering they are limited athletically, and can struggle against more athletic teams.
On the road/neutral site: (12-5) Last 10 games: (6-4)
Texas Tech (24-9): Chris Beard has turned this program around in just his second year, however, I’m not sold on them as a title contender. Keenan Evans has been spectacular this season, but an ‘off’ day usually spells doom for the Red Raiders.
On the road/neutral site: (7-8) Last 10 games: (5-5)
Wichita State (25-7): Landry Shamet leads Wichita State in points and assists, and must play well for the Shockers to make any noise in the tournament. Shaq Morris, a senior, is the heart and soul of this team, and needs to continue his exceptional play of late.
On the road/neutral site: (12-4) Last 10 games: (7-3)
West Virginia (24-10): The Mountaineers are never an enjoyable matchup, especially in March. A pair of senior guards, Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., are the leaders of Bob Huggins’ team, and have been playing well lately. Also, Sagaba Konate is a force in the paint.
On the road/neutral site: (10-7) Last 10 games: (6-4)
Florida (20-12): Although the Gators are only a 6-seed, they have one of the highest ceilings in the field. Florida has quite the resume, which includes wins over Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Auburn. Florida also took Duke down to the wire in November, before losing by three. With three players that shoot over 40% from three, Florida is especially dangerous on a good shooting night. Also, something to keep in mind: The last four times Florida has appeared in the NCAA tournament, they have at least reached the Elite 8 each time.
On the road/neutral site: (8-7) Last 10 games: (5-5)
Arkansas (23-11): Many people don’t realize it, but the Razorbacks have one of the better backcourts in the country. Jaylen Barford (18.0 ppg, 43.6% from three) and Daryl Macon (16.9 ppg, 42.9%) are problematic for opposing defenses. Both are seniors, and you can bet on them leaving everything on the floor. Look out for Daniel Gafford, the human windmill, as well. Gafford (11.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg) is only a freshman, and has risen up NBA draft boards throughout the season. For his 6’11 height, Gafford is an elite athlete, which makes him difficult for a traditional big man to guard.
On the road/neutral site: (8-9) Last 10 games: (7-3)
Virginia Tech (21-11): The Hokies have an accomplishment that no other team can attest to: Defeating Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. Virginia Tech’s success is in the hands of their three point shooting. The Hokies average 80.0 ppg, and shoot an impressive 38.5% from downtown. Virginia Tech is efficient as well, shooting 49.8% from the field, which ranks ninth in the nation. With five players that average double figures, Virginia Tech will be a tough matchup.
On the road/neutral site: (7-7) Last 10 games: (5-5)
Alabama (19-15): Alabama has Collin Sexton, and nobody else does! Considering they are not a good three point shooting team (32.4%), Alabama often ‘out-athletes’ their opponents. The Crimson Tide seem to play up to the level of their opponent, which will serve them well in the tournament, especially if they earn a date with Villanova. Alabama is 6-2 against AP Top 25 opponents, and 13-13 against unranked opponents.
On the road/neutral site: (7-10) Last 10 games: (4-6)
Butler (20-13): New coach, same results for the Bulldogs. Butler was expected to experience a drop off in LaVall Jordan’s first season at the helm, and not expected to defeat Villanova once again. Kelan Martin (20.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.0 apg) is a matchup nightmare, and Kamar Baldwin (15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg) is slippery with the ball in his hands. The Bulldogs would love nothing more than a rematch with in-state rival, Purdue, in the round of 32.
On the road/neutral site: (6-10) Last 10 games: (4-6)
Saint Bonaventure (26-7) (defeated UCLA in First Four): The Bonnies conquered Syracuse’s 2-3 zone at the Carrier Dome in December, and experimented with their own version against UCLA a few days ago. Considering the Bonnies forced 20 turnovers against the Bruins, I’d say that defensive tactic was successful. Jaylen Adams (19.4 ppg) and Matt Mobley (18.4 ppg) no-showed against UCLA. For Saint Bonaventure to take down the Gators, Adams and Mobley must be at their best.
On the road/neutral site: (13-6) Last 10 games: (9-1)
Murray State (26-5): The Racers are riding a 13-game winning streak and are peaking at the right time. Unfortunately, Murray State drew Bob Huggins’ squad in the first round. The Racers only somewhat comparable opponent this year was Auburn, who they gave a scare to. Auburn prevailed 81-77, but Murray State showed that they are able to compete with the big boys. I would expect a similar result against the Mountaineers.
On the road/neutral site: (12-3) Last 10 games: (10-0)
Marshall (24-10): The Thundering Herd, like Murray State, also gave a scare to a big time program earlier this season. The opponent was Xavier, with ironically the same score (81-77) and on the same date (December 19). Led by Dan D’Antoni, the brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, Marshall loves to shoot threes (just like the Rockets). Nearly half of their field goal attempts are threes; high risk, high reward.
On the road/neutral site: (9-8) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Stephen F. Austin (28-6): The Lumberjacks have already toppled LSU this season, and nearly took down Mississippi State and Missouri too. They might not have a star player, but Stephen F. Austin doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses and plays as a unit. If Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans isn’t 100%, the Lumberjacks have a good shot to pull off the upset.
On the road/neutral site: (12-5) Last 10 games: (9-1)
CS Fullerton (20-11): Fullerton struggled to compete with premier opponents in non-conference play and I expect no difference this weekend. For the Titans to be competitive, Kyle Allman (19.4 ppg, 43.0% from three) needs a big time performance.
On the road/neutral site: (11-7) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Radford (23-12) (defeated LIU Brooklyn in the First Four): Radford earned their first ever tourney win, with a victory over LIU Brooklyn in the First Four. Their reward? Villanova. It was a good season for the Highlanders, but they won’t be the first ever 16-seed to take down a 1-seed.
On the road/neutral site: (11-10) Last 10 games: (8-2)