East Region Preview: Villanova and Virginia could be on collision course
A look at the most intriguing region of the four: the East.
The East is a weird region. It's got a chalky feel at the top, but a lot brewing underneath.
We'll hit on just about everything you need to know in this quadrant of the bracket. Uncertain about which upset you should go with? Is that 8/9 game just staring you in the face? How did Northern Iowa get under-seeded like that, and is Louisville maybe on upset alert?
These were some of the questions I had. I'm also wondering how well UNI and Louisville fans will travel to Seattle, as Wyoming and UC Irvine's faithful won't have quite as long of a trek for those Friday games.
Villanova and Lafayette get to stay in-state with the Pittsburgh locale. The Boise State-Dayton winner only has a bus ride from Dayton to Columbus. (And I'm fuming over Dayton's seed job.)
Before we get into the rest of it, I will say MSU-Georgia seems like a blowout. The Spartans are close to a 5, and Georgia shouldn't even be in the field.
Three initial thoughts on the region
1. This is the biggest toss-up between No. 1 and No. 2 seeds
Villanova is rightfully the No. 1 seed. Virginia at the No. 2 is very intriguing, though. Obviously we can't bank on both teams reaching the Elite Eight, but if it happened, it would be a tremendous matchup. Villanova loves to shoot from deep, and Virginia lives off a pack-line defense that guards the paint as if it was holding the Holy Grail. But Nova can penetrate with every player -- yet doesn't need to in order to get the wins.
I'm fascinated by this potential matchup, and the committe nailed the 1 and the 2 here, no question.
2. What happened to Dayton was wrong and ill-conceived
The Flyers somehow barely sneak into the field and are placed as an 11 seed in the First Four. What? This was the third-best team in the A-10, at worst, and was a few seconds away from winning the automatic bid in the conference.
Yet, check the official 1-68 seed list. And Dayton's the final at-large team listed. If UConn won, Dayton would've been in the NIT.
A top-40 KenPom team and a group that won 25 games is the last one in? I know Dayton didn't have the strongest resume, but I thought the Flyers would have slid right into the 8/9 game. It's maddening. I did think the seeding and inclusion here would really throw some things out of whack, but Dayton was not on my list of potential what-in-the-world seeding decisions.
Now the Flyers get to play Boise State, a sneaky good team with deep-shooting ability. In a weird way, the committee goofed on this because they punish Dayton by mis-seeding them, and punish Boise with giving the Broncos essentially a road game. (The First Four is held at Dayton's home arena.)
3. This could be a region with real chaos
Look around. LSU in the 8/9 game is a danger. The Tigers have the talent to play with Villanova. Not saying they'll win, but it's lurking. Belmont is actually a great matchup for Virginia, considering how the Bruins can light it up and let it fly from deep. Providence is among my favorite Elite Eight dark horses in the field. And I'm not so certain Albany doesn't beat Oklahoma.
Five best players in the region
1. Kris Dunn (Providence): First off, this region is loaded with great players. There are another five guys who aren't listed below, including Dunn's teammate, LaDontae Henton, who is a beast. But Dunn is unreal. Unstoppable in penetration and a wizard of a passer. A joy. A top-15 player in the country.
2. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville): Harrell would have been at the top of this list in the preseason, but no more. He's still great. And he's a matchup problem for most. Louisville will need his absolute best in order to get the Cards to the Sweet 16.
3. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma): Hield is the best player you don't know about. Hield is a do-it-all guy for Oklahoma that has blossomed into one of the 20 or 25 best players in the nation. He's tough and composed.
4. Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia): Picking one of Virginia's three is tough, but Brogdon's the choice here over Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson. Brogdon has the gumption to get shots at every level.
5. Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa): Tuttle is at worst a second-team All-American. No player means more to their team in this region than Tuttle to UNI. A skilled big man with some power in his legs and agility up top, he deserves his chance for a huge moment.
Five bold predictions for the region
The biggest Round of 64 upset will be … Albany over Oklahoma. Give me the Great Danes, who bring with them one of the best stories of the NCAA tournament. Albany's Peter Hooley hit the winning 3-pointer to send the team to the tournament. He left the program earlier this season for an extended hiatus to be with his cancer-battling mother, who died at the end of January.
If Albany beats Oklahoma, it will be one of the three biggest stories of next weekend.
The lowest-seeded school to make the Sweet 16 will be … Providence. Since I have Albany over Oklahoma, I think No. 6 Providence will get by either Boise State or Dayton, then beat Albany. You can make the case no program has a better true 1-2 punch than PC's Dunn and Henton.
The player the country doesn't know now but will know by Saturday is … UC Irvine's Mamadou N'Diaye, a 7-foot-6 center (obviously) who is so, so much fun to watch. Irvine will have a tough time with Louisville, but the battles with Harrell down low should be tremendous.
The Elite Eight showdown … No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 2 Virginia. I promised I wouldn't pick Nova to lose before the Elite Eight, and I'm sticking with that here. The four-guard look they throw at teams is a matchup nightmare because Villanova has great decision-makers, good slashers, reliable shooters and a big man down low in JayVaughn Pinkston. Virginia, meanwhile, grinds teams to dust and is such a force. The Hoos only have three losses all season.
The champion of the Midwest Region will be … No. 1 Villanova. Give me this team, the best Jay Wright has had at Villanova, to move on to Indianapolis. Plus, they'll be playing at the Carrier Dome. The Wildcats fans will flood that place. It's going to feel unlike any old Big East game VU ever played at Syracuse in years past.
Too few people believe in this group. And it's going to take four wins to sway the crowd.
Which is exactly what's going to happen.
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