March Madness 2018: Previewing the East Region

Welcome to part two of my March Madness preview series, where I break down each region on the bracket and pick my winners for the first two rounds and make my pick on who’s going to the final four.  If you’d like to see my full bracket, click on the link below.

Tournament Challenge – ESPN – Boston Sports Mania.pdf

Missed a previous article?  Check them out below.

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NCAA March Madness Previews

Tuesday, March 13: March Madness 2018: Previewing the Midwest Region

Wednesday, March 14: March Madness 2018: Previewing the East Region

Wednesday, March 14: March Madness 2018: Previewing the South Region

Thursday, March 15: March Madness 2018: Previewing the West Region

 

Today, I’ll be taking a look at the East Region.  Villanova is the clear favorite here and assuming West Virginia or Wichita State doesn’t mess up their momentum, they have a clear path to the Final Four.  But don’t be surprised if some underdogs such as Wichita State and Florida challenge them for the crown.

Round of 64 Preview

Pittsburgh: Games Start Thursday, March 15, 2018, at 6:50 PM EST on TNT

#1 Villanova Image result for villanova logo vs. Related image #16 Radford (Beat LIU Brooklyn in First Four)

Radford lucked out when UNC Asheville and Winthrop lost early in the Big South tournament, and they may be better than LIU Brooklyn (who’s only here due to their success vs. Wagner).  But they do not have a chance against Villanova.  The Wildcats are one of the best teams in the tournament this year, and Jalen Brunson will lead them to a deep run, starting with a win here.  Villanova’s high-powered offense will just be too much for Radford.

The Pick: Villanova

 

#8 Virginia Tech Related image vs. Related image #9 Alabama

I was giving Alabama a hard time early on, but when I realized they had the third toughest schedule, I cut them some slack.  It just so happened to turn out that way, and I regret rejecting to place them in my projected Field of 68 until they made a run in the SEC tourney.  Doing what they did on the third toughest schedule after missing the tournament last year is very impressive, and they will keep up the good work against Virginia Tech, led by Collin Sexton.  Virginia Tech had a great season, but they won’t stay on top of Alabama, who is coming into this tournament with plenty of momentum.

The Pick: Alabama

 

San Diego: Games Start Friday, March 16, 2018 at 1:30 PM EST on TNT

#4 Wichita State Related image  vs. Related image #13 Marshall

The Thundering Herd made a great run in the C-USA tournament, defeating Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky to win the conference.  But they did not have a good season.  Wichita State was able to win March Madness games in lower seeds.  Now that they joined the AAC and got the #4 seed, they will be even stronger.  Expect a deep run out of the Shockers, who will continue to shock at the Big Dance.  It all starts with an easier win here.

The Pick: Wichita State

#5 West Virginia Image result for west virginia logo colored background vs. Image result for murray state #12 Murray State

Murray State could pull an upset here.  They are 47th in RPI, which is a pretty high mark for a mid-major.  But West Virginia has been upset a couple times in recent years, and they will learn from their mistakes.  The Mountaineers should be able to get past this ambitious Murray State squad.  The Racers were 26-5 after winning the OVC, but they did not beat anyone from a high major conference.

The Pick: West Virginia

 

Dallas: Games Start Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 7:27 PM EST on truTV

#3 Texas Tech Image result for texas tech red raiders logo  vs. Image result for stpehen f austin logo colored background #14 Stephen F. Austin

SF Austin is one mid-major team who has made a name for themselves in the NCAA tournament.  The Lumberjacks quietly had a strong season in the Southland conference, and they came up big in the conference tourney.  Their offense will compete with Texas Tech’s, as they have scored 81.1 PPG this season despite an easy schedule.  But SFA beat the tougher teams on their schedule like LSU and North Dakota State, coming very close against Mississippi State and Missouri.  I’m sensing an upset here.  SFA pulled a similar one in 2016 against West Virginia, and they can do it again, this time against Texas Tech, who lost their momentum coming into the Big Dance by losing 4 of their final 5 regular season games and losing to WVU in the Big 12 semifinals.

The Pick: Stephen F. Austin

 

#6 Florida Image result for gators logo vs. Image result for bonnies logo #11 Saint Bonaventure (Beat UCLA in First Four)

The Bonnies had an impressive win against another Pac-12 team who failed to make the Round of 64 (USC was in the first four out, and Arizona State could lose to Syracuse).  But Florida is underrated.  The Gators have an interesting profile, with wins over Cincinnati, Gonzaga and others early to go along with a late run, despite some bad losses.   They started well and ended well, which makes their season pretty memorable.  I could picture them beating the Bonnies.  If they can ride their late season momentum, they have the potential to make a deep run.

The Pick: Florida

 

Detroit: Games Start Friday, March 16 at 12:40 PM EST on truTV

#2 Purdue Related image  vs. Image result for csu fullerton logo #15 CSU Fullerton

CSU Fullerton is another team that made an impressive conference tourney run but will fail to keep up their momentum in the NCAA Tournament.  Carsen Edwards leads a strong group that makes Purdue’s core this season.  Edwards is averaging 18.5 PPG for the Boilermakers, and he will lead a strong offense to the Round of 32 and beyond.  Ranking 9th in RPI and averaging 81.1 PPG as a team, the Boilermakers are well on their way.

The Pick: Purdue

 

#7 Arkansas Related image vs. Image result for butler logo  #10 Butler

The Bulldogs had a good season, but despite making the Big East semifinals, Butler struggled to keep up with the tough but tight Big East.  The Razorbacks also rode a late run into the tourney with a SEC tourney semifinal appearance.  But I think Arkansas had the better season overall with better wins.  They advance to the Round of 32.

The Pick: Arkansas

 

Round of 32 Preview

If my first round picks are correct, the Round of 32 will line up like this:

#1 Villanova Image result for villanova logo vs. Related image #9 Alabama

#4 Wichita State Related image  vs. Image result for west virginia logo colored background #5 West Virginia

#6 Florida Image result for gators logo vs.  Image result for stpehen f austin logo colored background #14 Stephen F. Austin

#2 Purdue Related image  vs. Related image  #7 Arkansas

Collin Sexton will challenge Villanova’s offense, but I trust Jalen Brunson to lead Villanova back to the Sweet 16 after Wisconsin upset them in the Round of 32 last year.  Wichita State will advance to play them, as they shock West Virginia.  West Virginia may have learned from their mistakes in the 1st round, but it’s always difficult to beat Wichita State.  I don’t think SF Austin will make the Sweet 16, even though I’m very confident in picking them in the 1st round.  Florida continues their momentum from late in the regular season, advancing to the Sweet 16.  Lastly, I think the red hot Razorbacks will challenge Purdue, but Carsen Edwards and co. will lead Purdue to the Sweet 16.

And The Projected East Champion Is…

#6 Florida Image result for gators logo

The Gators are underrated and on a good streak right now, and if they can start off this tournament strong, it will take them places.  Purdue and Villanova/Wichita State could give them a real challenge for the crown, but Florida is my underdog to make the Final Four.  However, on my safer brackets, I picked Villanova to make their second Final Four in three years.  Wichita State and Purdue will also contend.

That’s all for this preview.  Stay tuned for Part 3, where I will take a look at the East Region.  In addition, I’ll be releasing an update on the NFL free agent frenzy this weekend, including how I’ve done on my predictions so far, the top stories you may have missed, and my thoughts on what happens next.

Bracketology 3.0: Who’s In & Who’s Out After Championship Week

Selection Sunday is finally here.  Most tickets are already punched, and as you are reading this, it is likely that the selection committee is building their bracket.  For this bracketology, I followed the real algorithm that the selection committee uses, the only differences being that I do not represent any NCAA team (even as a fan) and that my bracketologies are made by a one person committee (me), so that saved me time that the committee spends voting.

For this bracketology, I have provided analysis for each of the four regions I have put together.  I will also give you a final look at this year’s Bubble Watch.

Note: On this bracket, the final five automatic bids that are available have been awarded to the teams I have predicted to win today.  This bracket was finalized this morning around 9:00 AM EST.  (This did not account for Davidson’s A10 title)

East Region

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Villanova secured their 1 seed with an OT victory over Providence in the Big East championship.  Cincinnati should secure their #2 with a win over Houston today.  I couldn’t see an overload of upsets here, as Villanova, Cincinnati and other powerhouses make this a strong conference.  But do not sleep on Michigan, who quietly made their way into the Big Ten finals and beat Purdue, putting an end to Purdue’s contention for a #1 seed and giving a huge boost to Michigan in the selection process.  Rhode Island could be another surprise team here, as long as they hold off a rising Providence team.  Alongside Providence, Loyola-Chicago, Buffalo, and UNC Greensboro could also pull upsets.

I think Buffalo could easily upset a Clemson team that struggled a bit late into the season.  UNC Greensboro could also pose a significant threat to a Texas Tech team that was contending for a Big 12 title until the final weeks of the season.  Loyola-Chicago could also be dangerous after going 28-5, a great record for a mid-major team.  In the end, I think this conference will come down to Villanova, Cincy, and possibly Michigan.

West Region

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Much like Villanova, Kansas secured their #1 seed with the Big 12 win.  But Villanova was already a practical lock for one, while Kansas competed with several other teams for the fourth 1 seed.  That leaves Duke, also a #1 contender who I have in the west region, in a #2 seed.  They will likely compete for the final four in another strong conference.  Wichita State, Gonzaga, and Kentucky among others could also contend.  But even though it looks unlikely for Cinderella teams to make a crazy run without pulling a shocker over Kansas or Duke, I do see upsets happening.

New Mexico State has pulled upsets in the past, and they could become a Cinderella if they can get to the Sweet 16 over Nevada and Duke.  Boise State and San Diego State, who came close to Nevada in the battle for the Mountain West’s regular-season title, could also pull upsets.  SDSU had to beat Nevada to get to the title game and win the conference tourney.   Boise State is now on the bubble after failing to win the Mountain West in both the regular season and playoffs, but despite a lack of strong victories, I think they are on the committee’s radar.  Montana is the mid-major team I could see pulling a shocking upset.  But they’ll have to get past Gonzaga, a west coast powerhouse.

UCLA and Western Kentucky make up half of my Last Four In, and they could also pull an upset.  I think UCLA should be in after making the Pac-12 semifinals, and I value Western Kentucky’s win over Purdue very highly, so even in a mid-major conference, I think they can make it after falling to Marshall last night.  In the end, as I had said before, I think it will be Kansas or Duke that comes out of the west.

South Region

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This region is a little more upset friendly.  Michigan State was upset in the first round the last time they were a #2 seed, and although I doubt UMBC can beat MSU, it’s a possibility that Florida can beat them.  Although Virginia was the best team in the league during the regular season, I don’t know if they will have the same success under the pressure of March Madness.  They should make the Sweet 16, but after that, the pressure could get to them.  Auburn is pushed into the #3 slot after losing to Florida in the SEC tournament.  There will be plenty of upsets here.  Stephen F. Austin upset West Virginia in 2016, but can they do the same to the #4 seed Arizona?  SFA got here by winning the Southland championship last night.

Bubble teams like Alabama and Louisville, who round out my Last Four In, could pull an upset as well, especially against West Virginia.  SFA will also have a chance to beat West Virginia again if they both win in the Round of 64, so even as a #5, West Virginia will not have it easy.  However, teams like SFA and Louisville are not serious contenders.  Look for Houston and Florida to pull upsets later on to contend for the conference alongside Virginia, MSU, and others.

Midwest Region

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This is the conference that I see having the most upsets.  Xavier proved that they can struggle under pressure after losing to Providence in the Big East semifinals.  Will lower seeds get a piece of them, especially in later rounds?  I think Ohio State could be the team that upsets them, in the Sweet 16.  Although OSU lost to Penn State multiple times, including in the B1G quarterfinals, I see them bouncing back for a deep run, especially if they can beat an ambitious South Dakota State team, who nearly pulled an upset last time they were here, as a #12 seed.

Iona is another team to watch.  Purdue has struggled a bit of late, and the Gaels surprised many by winning the MAAC and returning to the Big Dance.  Murray State and Charleston are also among the mid-majors with plenty of upside in this region.  Even bubble teams, like Middle Tennessee could pull upsets.  I still see the dominant Blue Raiders as a tournament team.  They made a mistake.  It just happened to occur in the conference semifinals.  Marshall, who beat them, went on to win Conference USA.  With Xavier, Purdue, and other high seeds being matched up against high upside teams, UNC and Ohio State among others could emerge as contenders for the Final Four.

Bubble Watch

Last Four In

  1. Image result for ucla basketball logo UCLA
  2. Related image Alabama
  3. Image result for louisville logo  Louisville
  4. Image result for western kentucky logo red Western Kentucky

UCLA should still make it.  They finished with a decent record and made the Pac-12 semifinals, and although USC is in a better position, UCLA has a pretty secure slot.  On the other hand, I didn’t have Alabama in the field of 68 until they made the SEC semifinals.  Their impressive run should put them on the committee’s radar.

You could argue that Louisville’s late collapse and lack of quality wins will cause them to drop out of the field, but I still see them as a contender for a spot after beating FSU to make the ACC quarterfinals.  They didn’t have a chance against Virginia, so the FSU win might be enough to put Louisville in and kick FSU out.  Western Kentucky’s success in the C-USA will help them, but it’s their wins over Purdue and other high major conference teams that proves them worthy of grabbing a spot.  You could argue for Louisiana or Vermont instead, but WKU has more quality victories.

First Four Out

  1. Related image Florida State
  2. Image result for oregon logo Oregon
  3. Related image Penn State
  4. Image result for syracuse logo Syracuse

FSU could be put in the field of 68 over Louisville or WKU, but they lacked quality wins.  Oregon’s struggles in the weakening Pac-12 will keep them out.  They couldn’t stay on top in a downfall for most Pac-12 teams.  Penn State is on the committee’s radar after their upset of OSU, but it’s not enough to put them in the tourney.  Syracuse will also miss the tournament.  They had some impressive wins, but also embarrassing losses.  All these teams will be in serious consideration though.

Next Four Out

  1. Image result for nc state logo North Carolina State
  2. Related image Texas
  3. Image result for vermont catamounts logo Vermont
  4. Image result for louisiana lafayette basketball logo Louisiana

NC State’s loss to Boston College likely burst their bubble.  They are not even in my first four out anymore.  Texas’ lack of quality wins plus their 14 loss season likely put an end to their hopes.  Vermont and Louisiana may be mid-majors who lost their conference, but they dominated in regular season play.  However, it does not compare to what high major teams on the bubble have done, as both Vermont and Louisiana lack Quadrant 1 wins.

 

That’s all for my bracketology.  Stay tuned for my bracket breakdown series, which will be released throughout the week after the selection show.