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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Houston drops the game to Arizona

D-backs outslug Greinke and Astros to take series opener

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

With the series win over the Rangers by taking two of three games in the middle of the week, the Astros welcomed the Diamondbacks to Minute Maid Park for a three-game weekend series, Houston's final three regular-season home games. Here is how the opener unfolded:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 6, Astros 3.

Record: 25-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Zac Gallen (2-2, 3.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luis Garcia (0-1, 2.53 ERA).

Houston scores first, but Arizona grabs a lead against Greinke

Houston would get on the board first on Friday night, with George Springer reaching base in the bottom of the first on an error, moving to second on a walk, then to third on a single, as the Astros loaded the bases with no out to threaten a big inning. Instead, they would come away with just one run, with Springer taking home on a wild pitch, grabbing the 1-0 lead, but leaving runs on the table.

They doubled their lead in the bottom of the third, getting a two-out RBI-double by Kyle Tucker to make it a 2-0 Houston lead. The D-backs responded in the top of the fourth, getting back-to-back singles to lead off the inning before a three-run homer by Kole Calhoun off of Zack Greinke would put Arizona in front, 3-2. Greinke would finish one more inning before Houston would move to their bullpen, striking out the side to bring his total to nine on the night, making the bad fourth inning the one blemish on his night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 1 HR, 89 P.

Astros tie it, but D-backs take the opener

George Springer would get Greinke off the hook in the bottom of the fifth, leading off the half-inning with a solo bomb to tie the game at 3-3. Luis Garcia was first out of Houston's bullpen and retired Arizona in order for a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh but would allow a leadoff single, RBI-triple, and wild pitch to bring in two runs. He would face two more batters, allowing a double and getting a strikeout, before Dusty Baker would come out to get him, now down 5-3.

Blake Taylor would make his return from the IL after Garcia, getting back-to-back outs to finish the inning. He continued on in the 5-3 game in the top of the eighth, but allowed a one-out solo homer to Calhoun, his second of the night and fourth RBI. That made it a 6-3 D-backs lead, which would go final as Houston would go scoreless after Springer's home run back in the fifth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Saturday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70 ERA) for Arizona and Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22 ERA) for Houston.

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