NCAA Tournament 2018 Preview: East Regional loaded with superstar-level talent
A talent-rich region has six teams that rationally should expect to make it out of this bracket
The East is frequently the toughest region the NCAA Tournament because it's the most populated part of the country with reliably great programs. This year? It's really good again, but probably not the best.
It's very interesting, though. Let's get right to it. Here's what to keep in mind as you can through the top right corner of the bracket.
Three initial thoughts
1. There is a ton of talent in this region.
As you'll see below, in listing the six best players in this region, I didn't even get to include Villanova's Mikal Bridges, Butler's Kelan Martin, Purdue's Carsen Edwards, Wichita State's Landry Shamet or Arkansas' Daniel Gafford. Murray State's got two really good guards, and Florida's not lean on talent either. Team-wise i think this is the second-best region overall. Player-to-player? I think it's the deepest.
2. This is the deepest region for teams that can get to the Final Four.
Villanova will be favored to win the region, but I think Purdue's basically almost as good as Villanova. Texas Tech as a No. 3 is going to foolishly be undervalued. West Virginia is the strongest No. 5 seed in the field, and Gregg Marshall's already coached Wichita State to a Final Four. The Shockers are a quality No. 4. Florida's the strongest No. 6, too. I legitimately would not be surprised if any of those teams got to San Antonio. This region can be chaotic -- and glorious.
3. It has the biggest toss-ups of all the 8/9 and 7/10 games.
Virginia Tech vs. Alabama is the kind of 8/9 game you convince yourself you'll pick incorrectly. I'm on the Hokies, so congrats to the Crimson Tide on getting to the weekend. Further down in the bracket, No. 7 Arkansas has a fascinating style matchup with 10th-seeded Butler. The Hogs are longer and leaner than Butler, but the Bulldogs rate better in all the new-age metrics.
Texas Tech is in a one-possession game with Stephen F. Austin with 40 seconds to go
I like Tech to win, but SFA has enough dudes to make that a compelling game, I think. It's an off-the-radar matchup, but that intra-Texas battle seems destined for a 67-64 type of ending.
Best potential matchups
1. Villanova-West Virginia, Sweet 16
2. Villanova-Purdue, Elite Eight
3. Murray State-Wichita State, second round
Upsets to watch for
1. Murray State over West Virginia. The Racers have good enough guards with Jonathan Stark and Ja Morant to pull this off. WVU is tough, underseeded and a brutal matchup, but Murray State's the best 12 seed in this field.
2. St. Bonaventure over Florida. The Bonnies would have a tougher time against UCLA than Florida, in my opinion. Given the guard play of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, Bonaventure's got a good shot at continuing the trend: every year since 2011, when the First Four was introduced, at least one team to come out of Dayton has made it to the second round.
3. Wichita State over Villanova. The Shockers have the starting five to contend with the Wildcats. Villanova's had an unusual feast-or-famine run in the NCAAs over the past decade. When it's made the tournament (every season except 2011-12), it's either reached the final weekend or lost in the first two rounds every time since 2009. That pattern breaks this year. Villanova makes it to the second weekend and then gets stopped by a Wichita State team that ironically enters this year's tournament seeded higher -- at No. 4 -- than in recent years when it was a double digit seed and had many more backers.
Six best players
1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova
2. Jevon Carter, West Virginia
3. Aaron Holiday, UCLA
4. Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
5. Collin Sexton, Alabama
6. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
Who I'm picking
Purdue. I trust the Boilermakers' overall skill level on offense, its 3-point shooting from five players who shoot 39 percent or better, and the size down low of Haas and Haarms. Add in good defense and a team that's hungry after losing in the Sweet 16 last year, and this team's got everything a Final Four squad should have.
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