This region may prove to be one of the easiest paths to the Final Four of any of the regions. Even if that is the case, that does not mean this region will not be full of excitement. Whether it is Villanova continuing their dominance of the regular season into the tournament or future NBA Lottery pick Collin Sexton making an even bigger name for himself, a full preview of the East Region will better prepare March Madness fanatics for the chaos that could ensue.
March Madness: Full East Region Preview
East Region Matchups (1st Round)
(1) Villanova vs. (16) LIU Brooklyn/Radford
(8) Virginia Tech vs. (9) Alabama
(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) Stephen F. Austin
(6) Florida vs. (11) UCLA/St. Bonaventure
(2) Purdue vs. (15) Cal State Fullerton
(7) Arkansas vs. (10) Butler
(4) Wichita State vs. (13) Marshall
(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Murray State
Matchups to Watch
No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler
Fresh off of their semifinals loss to the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC Tournament, Arkansas looks to bounce back with the help of potential first-round draft pick, Daniel Gafford. The Razorbacks will be trying to make it out of the first round for a second consecutive season, but face a stiff test in the Butler Bulldogs.
Led by the Big East’s leading scorer Kelan Martin, the Bulldogs will be looking to play the role of spoiler in the East region with first-year head coach LaVall Jordan making his NCAA Tournament debut.
This alone could prove to be the difference maker, being that Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has the edge in experience after taking multiple teams to the dance.
No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Alabama
Although the Hokies struggled to finish the regular season, they were one of only two teams to knock off the tournament’s top-seeded team, the Virginia Cavaliers. Being a team whose offense typically lives or dies by the three pointer, the Hokies could either prove to be Alabama’s kryptonite or it could cause disappointment in the first round for a second straight season.
Being that Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide lost five straight games to end the regular season, they needed a spark in the conference tournament to find their way back into the NCAA Tournament. A spark is exactly what they got from freshman Collin Sexton, as he set a school record scoring 79 points over three games in St. Louis.
Players to Watch
Collin Sexton, Alabama
As previously mentioned, the future first-rounder Sexton has arguably been one of the hottest names in the nation over the last week thanks to his performance in the SEC Tournament. He has been compared to Russell Westbrook due to his ability to get around defenders and to the basket as quick as any other player in the tournament. Sexton has the ability to single handedly carry the Crimson Tide into a second-round matchup with Villanova. However, that is likely where his college career will come to an end barring a major upset.
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Averaging just under 20 points per game, the National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson will be a difference maker for the Wildcats as they look to avenge the early upset they faced in last year’s tournament. The junior Brunson has proven that he does not like to turn the ball over, averaging less than two per contest. Combine that with his ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor and Villanova will prove to be a scary team throughout the month of March.
Chris Chiozza, Florida
Whether or not the Florida floor general will have a career at the next level, Chris Chiozza has clearly made a name for himself during his time in Gainesville. He was put on many teams’ radars following his buzzer-beater in last year’s Sweet 16 against the Wisconsin Badgers. Chiozza has not let off the gas since that moment. Being named First Team All-SEC was only another step in the right direction for the Florida guard. He has proven all season long that he has what it takes to lead a team like the Gators deep into this tournament.
Teams on Upset Alert
No. 4 Wichita State
Unlike previous Greg Marshall coached teams, this Shockers group has been fairly inconsistent throughout the season. Nevertheless, a majority of their losses, even the ones they had no business losing, came by a relatively small margin. If Wichita State can avoid looking past the Marshall Thundering Herd, then they could be looking at a tremendous Round of 32 matchup with “Press” Virginia.
No. 6 Florida
Although Florida entered the SEC Tournament playing as hot as any other team in the conference, a tough first round opponent could prove to be the downfall of the Gators. If Florida can escape upset at the hands of either UCLA or St. Bonaventure, then they could possess a relatively easier path than most in the East by avoiding Villanova until the Elite 8.
No. 5 West Virginia
Prior to their conference championship loss to Kansas, the Mountaineers were highly-regarded as potentially being one of the toughest outs this March. With that being said, West Virginia will now have to find a way to remain hungry after not only losing their conference championship, but also after being under seeded in this year’s tournament.
Who’s Moving On
No. 1 Villanova
With experience on their side, Jay Wright and the Wildcats are going to be the favorites to not only win the East region, but to find their way to a second National Championship in the three seasons.
No. 2 Purdue
While Purdue’s path through the East region will not be as favorable as Villanova’s, they have the playmakers to navigate through their side of the region to set up an intriguing Elite 8 matchup with Jalen Brunson and the Villanova Wildcats.