NCAA East Region preview: Villanova looms large
THE TOP 4 SEEDS
Villanova, Purdue, Texas Tech, Wichita State
WHO SHOULD WIN
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 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.
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.