Staring at your bracket in a daze, marveling at how this year’s East Region is so stacked? Looking for a little affirmation? You’ve clicked the right place. Delving into depths of the upper-left corner of our brackets, we’re giving you all the juice on the East Region. Pulp-free. (Or with pulp if that’s your thing, I am not one to judge).
Quick disclaimer: This analysis reflects the views of just one BECB writer (myself, hello!), and truly, who but the fate-filled forces of March Madness have any control over the outcomes.
Round of 64
(1) Villanova vs. (16) Mount St. Mary’s
Season Records: Villanova 31-3; Mount St. Mary’s 19-15
If you’re looking for the first-ever 16-seed upset over a 1-seed, you’re not going to find it here. Look elsewhere. Maybe go for a walk and listen to some Bruno Mars.
(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) Virginia Tech
Season Records: Wisconsin 25-9; Virginia Tech 22-10
Wisconsin fans are irked at this seemingly low-seed for the Badgers, but Virginia Tech fans are just happy to be back at the Big Dance for the first time in a decade. Wisconsin boasts standing number two in the Big Ten, while VT’s ninth place in the ACC and smaller size may not initially excite. The Hokies have a few impressive wins under the belt, most notably a early-season thrashing of Duke.
Wisconsin’s bread and butter lies in their staunch defensive skills paired with a knack for securing rebounds. VaTech, on the other hand, shoots three-pointers with vigor and consistency. To put the Hokies’ shooting emphasis in perspective, six VT players average double digit points per game, compared to Wisconsin’s three players.
(5) Virginia vs. (12) UNC Wilmington
Season Records: Virginia 22-10; UNC Wilmington 29-5
Senior London Perrantes leads UVA’s offense, but having a season average of 12.5 points per game isn’t exactly domineering. The Cavaliers have positioned themselves as a tough defense-oriented squad, limiting even efficient shooting opponents to near 55 point games on average. Whereas UVA plays dense in the post, UNC Wilmington opts for an upped-ante style. The Seahawks tout an incredibly high offensive rating, and are prone to outside shooting spurts. Wilmington ranks 10th in overall scoring points per game (85.2), making this a favorite 5-12 upset matchup.
(4) Florida vs. (13) Eastern Tennessee State
Season Records: Florida 24-8; Eastern Tennessee State 27-7
The biggest detriment to Florida is the loss of 6’11 center John Egbunu to an ACL injury in back in February. Without Egbunu, the Gators have relied on sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen, who leads the team with 13.9 points per game and near 40 percent three-point shooting. However, Florida was still upset by a 7-seed Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. In contrast, Eastern Tennessee is fresh off their tournament championship. Senior guard T.J. Cromer has averaged 19.6 points per game, and sophomore Tevin Glass leads both ETSU and Florida’s squad with an average of 6.2 rebounds.
(6) SMU vs. (11) USC
Season Records: SMU 30-4; Providence 20-12; USC
Southern Methodist is quick to flaunt their skilled ball-handling, but even quicker to fall-back and rely on their tested defense. Junior forward, a transfer from Duke, Semi Ojeleye has been the Mustangs’ strongest offensive force, dropping 18.8 points per game and grabbing 6.7 rebounds on average.
USC’s top-scorer, sophomore Bennie Boatwright, missed a large portion of the season due to injury, but still manages to lead the Trojans 14.6 points per game. He had a big outing in the win over the Friars in their First Four game on Wednesday night in Dayton.
Overall, SMU brings a depth and careful execution to their play that is likely to outrun either USC.
(3) Baylor vs. (14) New Mexico State
Season Records: Baylor 25-7; New Mexico State 28-5
Baylor had a strong 15-0 opening to the season, defeating the likes of Oregon and Louisville before falling to West Virginia in mid-January. Since their season peak, Baylor has gone 10-7 and was sent home by Kansas State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. New Mexico State, sensing a more weakened Baylor, is hoping to end their drought of first weekend NCAA tournament wins. Led by senior guard Ian Baker (16.6 ppg, 4.3 rebounds), the Aggies bring shooting range. However, the Aggies did not play a Top 25 opponent all season; Baylor’s experience with schedule strength may well have conditioned them for a first-round win.
(7) South Carolina vs. (10) Marquette
Season Records: South Carolina 22-10; Marquette 19-12
Marquette sits atop South Carolina in KenPom ratings by one point (MU ranked 29, SC ranked 30), and that one point difference can be summed up in one word: Villanova. Marquette’s thrilling defeat of a highly-ranked ‘Nova squad in February manifested the best of the Golden Eagles’ basketball: seamless, relentless 3-point shooting from multiple players. South Carolina, however, prides its game in flexing a defensive stronghold, forcing turnovers and controlled, pressure exertions. The Gamecocks may not be as keen on three-point shooting, but senior guard Sindarius Thornwell’s 21 points per game average indicates a close line.
(2) Duke vs. (15) Troy
Season Records: Duke 27-8; Troy 22-14
If you’re looking for insight as to how Troy will beat the Blue Devils, the answer is filed under “It’s Not Happening.” It’s the manilla folder labeled to your left, in the grey cabinet.
Round of 32
Villanova vs. Wisconsin
Wisconsin may have a Top 10 defense, but Villanova is well-equipped to transcend the Badgers’ blockade. Between sophomore Jalen Brunson’s ability to capitalize off the transition and senior Josh Hart’s dual-dexterity on offense and defense, the Wildcats have no talent shortage to ease past the second round.
Virginia vs. ETSU
On the chance that ETSU manages the upset over Florida, the Buccaneers are not so readily poised to continue the trend. Virginia’s well-seasoned squad is may not put up flashy points, but their experience lends the Cavaliers to outlast ETSU efforts.
SMU vs. Baylor
Bring your cowboy hats for this Texas showdown. Baylor will use their physicality in spades, but SMU is set to respond with offensive aplomb. In addition to Ojeleye, Sterling Brown and Shake Milton bring range to Mustangs, both beyond the arc and near the post. Both teams are among the top ten best offensive rebounding teams in the country, but Baylor bears an additional burden of being more turnover-prone.
Marquette vs. Duke
While Marquette’s 3-point shooting may be hot, their minimal defensive abilities will leave them in the Arctic. Duke should have little problem gliding into the Sweet 16, particularly with it’s all-star, fully healthy squad.
Villanova vs. Virginia
Upon the smile of March Madness Gods, this is the rematch basketball fans deserve. Villanova bested Virginia in ‘Nova’s most intense victory this season 61-59 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. For Cavalier fans, the high-octane game signaled a breakout performance by freshman Ty Jerome, who put up 24 points coming off the bench against the Wildcats. Culminating in tip-in by Villanova freshman Donte DiVincenzo, ‘Nova displayed it’s penchant for gritty defense and continuous hustle.
SMU vs. Duke
SMU’s lack of top-ranked opponent play will undoubtedly hurt their efforts at a deep tournament run. Conversely, while Duke did not exactly dominate their packed conference schedule (11-7 in conference action), the Blue Devils’ recent ACC tournament victory bolsters their post-season reputation enough to warrant a run to the Elite Eight.
Villanova vs. Duke
Ah, the Madison Square Garden East Region-Battle Royale of our dreams.
In one corner stand the defending National Champions. Despite being named the overall top team in the tournament, many experts have been quick to dismiss Villanova in favor of Coach Krzyzewski’s team. I beg to differ.
Senior Josh Hart, a finalist for the Wooden Award, has matured his game into a display of cool prowess. Hart’s ability to weave and spin his way through the densest of defenses is rivaled only by his smooth touch beyond the arc. Sophomore Jalen Brunson’s cerebral ball-style joins the ‘Nova brand of “calm yet explosive” play, with the young guard leading the Wildcats in assists, and more importantly, serving as a deft playmaker for complex sequences. Also, the developing dominance of freshman Donte DiVincenzo’s enthusiastic offensive drive cannot be underemphasized.
Yes, Duke sophomore Luke Kennard is having a monster season with averaging 20.1 points. Yes, an even-tempered Grayson Allen can be a lethal offensive force. Yes, the Blue Devils boast five players averaging double digit points, compared to Villanova’s three players.
However, Villanova’s greatest asset rests in their attitude. The ubiquitous phrase for Jay Wright’s team encapsulates a great deal—no matter the opponent, the Wildcats exert a toughness without pretension, mounting defensive pressure with offensive triumph. The Wildcats’ commitment to steady balling has resulted in them being number two in offensive efficiency and number the in defensive efficiency in the country. A ready formula for the Final Four, if you ask me.