Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Tournament: East Region breakdown
The East Region could be one of the most unpredictable and exciting in this year’s bracket, as there is plenty of depth beyond the top four seeds.
Tournament stalwarts such as Duke, Kentucky, and Michigan State are out to prove they can still make national title runs. And upstarts like Florida Atlantic and Louisiana could bust some brackets.
The region features some of the nation’s best individual talents like Purdue’s Zach Edey and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe. It also has veteran national championship-winning coaches — Kentucky’s John Calipari and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo — and others such as Purdue’s Matt Painter and Marquette’s Shaka Smart, who are each still chasing their first.
No. 1 seed Purdue won both the Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament championships for the first time in program history. The Boilermakers will head to Columbus, Ohio for the first weekend and Painter’s squad might be playing its best basketball of the season at the right time. Edey, who leads all Division I players with 26 double-doubles and eight games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, is the focal point. But the Boilermakers, who are chasing their first national title and first Final Four appearance since 1980, might go as far as their young guards, led by freshmen Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith, take them.
No. 2 seed Marquette could be a great sleeper pick to make the Final Four coming off its first Big East tournament championship. The Golden Eagles finished the season on a nine-game winning streak capped with victories over UConn and Xavier. Smart, who guided VCU to a memorable run to the Final Four in 2011, leads a balanced scoring squad that can go nine-deep off its bench and is led by guards Kam Jones and Tyler Kolek, the Big East Player of the Year. Kolek predicted this Marquette run since the start of the season and is the conductor of the Golden Eagles offense, averaging 7.7 assists per game.
–GAMES TO WATCH
8 Memphis vs. 9 Florida Atlantic. Memphis’ Kendric Davis is averaging 21.8 points per game and is one of the more dynamic guards in the nation. Florida Atlantic is enjoying a dream season for its program, winning 31 games — already 10 more in one season than it had ever had before.
4 Tennessee vs. 13 Louisiana. Tennessee could be vulnerable to being one of the first upset victims of the tournament after losing guard Zakai Zeigler to a torn ACL. Louisiana forward Jordan Brown is a finalist for the Lou Henson Player of the Year Award, given annually to the top player at a mid-major program.
6 Kentucky vs. 11 Providence. In one of the juiciest storylines, Kentucky transfer Bryce Hopkins leads the Friars against his former team. The Wildcats have won five of their past seven games but exited the SEC tournament in the quarterfinals following a loss to Vanderbilt.
–GET TO KNOW
Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (16.4 points, 13.1 rebounds per game) is a main event attraction if you like getting a glimpse at future NBA talent rivaled only by Edey at Purdue …
Max Abmas, one of the architects of Oral Roberts’ Cinderella run to the Sweet 16 in 2021, is still one of the nation’s top scorers (22.2 points per game) and looking to lead the Golden Eagles on another such run.
USC point guard Boogie Ellis could make a major impact for the 10th-seeded Trojans as he enters the tournament averaging 18 points and 3.7 assists.
–SPREAD THE NEWS
The 7-10 matchup (Michigan State -2.0) is close to a pick’em between two teams who distribute the ball well with USC’s Ellis and Michigan State’s A.J. Hoggard.
The 8-9 matchup (Memphis -2.0) is another, although slightly more cautious since now we’ll see how legit Florida Atlantic is following its Conference USA championship season.
Tennessee (-11.0) over Louisiana is a tempting bet to take the Ragin’ Cajuns with the points considering they have the potential to pull off an outright upset.
–OUT OF THE EAST
Marquette. How fitting would it be for Marquette to clinch a Final Four spot at Madison Square Garden, where it just won its first Big East crown?
There’s also reason to back Duke, which is on a nine-game winning streak and appears to have the size to compete with Edey if it faces Purdue in the Sweet 16. Or it could finally be Purdue’s time if its backcourt can complement Edey’s dominant presence inside.
–Field Level Media