TOURNAMENT TIME

NCAA East Region preview: Villanova looms large

Keenan Evans will be the key for Texas Tech in a tough opener against SFA. Texastech.com

EAST REGION

THE TOP 4 SEEDS

Villanova, Purdue, Texas Tech, Wichita State

WHO SHOULD WIN

Villanova

Nova has everything you want in a title team. They have a great coach who is a proven winner in Jay Wright. They have the Big East Player of the Year in Jalen Brunson, and they have a squad loaded with guys who know what it takes to win a championship. The Wildcats didn’t lose a game in the non-conference season, mostly due to their overwhelming offensive attack. They average 87.2 PPG, tops in the country, and are the number one team in the country in offensive efficiency. They also shoot an unreal 40% from 3-point range. It will take a cold shooting night to knock off the Cats. 

IF NOT THEM

Purdue

Purdue is a very viable second option. They are also a fantastic three-point shooting team, and have a standout player in sophomore guard Carsen Edwards. He is flanked by four seniors, making Purdue another experienced threat. Isaac Haas is a focal point for multiple reasons. He can be a force down low, but when teams double him, the shooters come out to play. Purdue isn’t going into the tournament on fire, but they have the personnel to make it to San Antonio. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jalen Brunson- Villanova

Brunson is everything you want in a leader. He is cool under pressure. He is extremely talented. He lives and breathes the game. The junior guard led the Wildcats to another Big East title, capping it with a fantastic title game performance against Providence. He averaged 19.4 PPG and 4.7 APG and is amongst the most consistent and competitive players in the country. He will receive National Player of the Year votes. 

Collin Sexton- Alabama

Sexton proved himself capable of carrying Alabama further than most would have thought. Sexton willed the Tide to wins over Texas A&M and Auburn in the SEC tournament, and Bama wouldn’t even be in the tournament if not for him. Go back to an early season loss against Minnesota where Sexton almost brought Bama back against despite playing 3 on 5 down the stretch. Enjoy him while you can. 

Carsen Edwards- Purdue

Houston-area product Edwards has made the Boilermakers even better than they were last year, despite losing Caleb Swanigan to graduation. Edwards was a solid part of last year’s Purdue team, but this season he is the driving force of Purdue’s impressive offense. He averaged 18.5 points, 3 assists and 4 rebounds per game this season. 

BEST FIRST ROUND MATCHUP

Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin

At full strength, Texas Tech has looked like a Final Four contender all season. The biggest problem has been who will score when Keenan Evans doesn’t, and who will handle the ball when he can’t. The latter issue is likely to be tested by SFA, who turns opponents over at the highest rate in the country. Lumberjack coach Kyle Keller will look to deny Evans the ball at every chance and force someone else to beat him. All that said, the Red Raiders are a pretty salty bunch on defense as well, and could force some turnovers of their own. Tech should get out of here with a win, but it won’t be easy by any stretch.

UPSET THREAT

Marshall

This is a disastrous draw for Wichita State. Marshall wants to make this a high paced game, and junior guard Jon Elmore (23 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds per game) will give the Shockers everything they can handle. He is one of the most efficient and underrated offensive players in the country. Wichita’s flaws on defense are in transition and pick and roll, exactly where the Herd excels. Wichita has a lot of advantages, including the best player on the floor (despite Elmore’s unheralded season) in Landry Shamet, but the Herd are a dangerous team for them to run into in the first round. 

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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