2021 NCAA Tournament Region Breakdown (East): This Is The Region Where We'll Get A Ton Of Upsets
I’ll be looking at each region over the next couple of days as the NCAA Tournament gets ready to tip. We’ll look at matchups to watch, previews, picks, players to watch and what team could be a sleeper to come out of each region. I’ll be releasing my entire bracket on Thursday morning so there won’t be a ton of revealing here.
1. Are we going to see Isaiah Livers: This isn't just the biggest storyline in this region, it's the biggest one in the Tournament. Michigan's Isaiah Livers has a foot injury and it's expected he'll be out the entire Tournament. We saw how they looked against Ohio State without him, not a surprise they lost. What makes Livers so important is the space it gives Dickinson to work in the post. Livers has great size to play the small ball 4 next to Franz Wagner and can space you out. No Livers makes Michigan extremely beatable even with Dickinson and Wagner. Johns clogs up space a bit and really limits Michigan's offense.
2. Rick Pitino magic again: The last time Alabama had this sort of awesome team guess who beat them? Some guy named Rick Pitino coaching a private Catholic school in the northeast. That's right 1987 No. 2 Alabama lost to No. 6 Providence. Slightly taller orders as the No. 15 Iona, but it's not lost on me that this is a story. You can't escape it. Plus it won't ever stop being outrageous that Rick Pitino is coaching a 15 seed. The man is one of the 5 best coaches in the history of the game.
3. Can Texas stay hot: Texas is undefeated this year in Tournament settings. They won the Maui Invitational (in NC) and won the Big 12 Tournament. They have all the pieces to be a Final Four team, but they are so inconsistent. They have 3 good guards - Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones and Matt Coleman. Jericho Sims is improved. Kai Jones is a future NBA player. Greg Brown is going to be a lottery pick. They have it all. But again, they are inconsistent even half to half. They'll be a trendy Final Four pick though.
4. More March magic for Izzo: Michigan State probably shouldn't be the play-in game. They should have been an 11 seed with a bye. Assuming they beat UCLA, they draw BYU. That'll be a popular 11 over 6 pick. Listen, Michigan State figured shit out at the end of the year, mostly the fact Rocket Watts was figuring stuff out. Are we really going to see another run to the second weekend by Izzo?
5. Speaking of runs - Georgetown gonna keep it going: The best story of conference tournament week was Georgetown winning the Big East. Something romantic about Patrick Ewing winning the Big East Tournament for Georgetown at MSG on the anniversary of Georgetown hiring John Thompson. Now they are the 12 seed and similar to MSU they've figured shit out. They've gotten steady point guard play. They can shoot the ball and more importantly they really defend. They draw Colorado in the first round and I already see a ton of people picking that upset. Remember Colorado has McKinley Wright though, one of the best guards in the country.
Players to Watch:
There are a couple ways to look at this, but I’m looking at this strictly as an intrigue factor. These are players that could be lottery picks in the NBA Draft, could put a team on their back or are just flat out good players
1. Herb Jones (Alabama) - The guy won SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year and still feels undervalued. He can do a little bit of everything including handling the ball and is a good passer. Alabama's got a completely underrated defense (top-10 in the country) mostly because of Jones. He's a guy that can get them to the Final Four as its best player.
2. Isaiah Miller (UNC-Greensboro) - You want a mid-major guy that can go win you a game? Isaiah Miller is a popular pick for that. He's one of the best defenders in the country. He can go get you 20. UNC-G drew a terrible matchup against FSU, but Miller can make the game interesting.
3. James Bouknight (UConn) - Ah, here we go. UConn has a star. UConn is a 7 seed in March. We've seen this story before. Bouknight has been banged up all year but is still an All-American. He draws Big 10 DPOY in the first round then Bama in round 2. But if UConn gets to the Sweet 16 it's all because of Bouknight.
4. Franz Wagner (Michigan) - I love Wagner's game. He's probably the best NBA prospect in the Big 10 - him or Ayo. He can blow up PnR's defensively because he's a 6'9" wing. He can shoot the ball and put it on the floor. If he's out there Michigan is still dangerous without Livers. He's the guy that you want to watch.
5. Cam Thomas (LSU) - Did you know Cam Thomas is the 4th leading scorer in America? Well, Cam Thomas is the 4th leading scorer in America as a freshman. We saw LSU push Bama to the buzzer and Trenton Watford was the star of that game but Thomas is the guy you gotta plan against.
Other names: Scottie Barnes (FSU), McKinley Wright (Colorado), Andrew Jones (Texas), Kyle Lofton (St. Bonaventure), Alex Barcello (BYU)
Best 1st Round Matchup
No. 8 LSU vs No. 9 St. Bonaventure
I know 8 vs 9 seems like a cop out, but this game is going to be awesome. LSU is a bit weird in the sense that they get up for big games and we've seen them lay eggs against teams they don't care to play. Does St. Bonaventure catch them here? The Bonnies are legit good. They won the A-10 regular season and conference tournament. Kyle Lofton is a hell of a guard and they have a big guy in Osun Osunniyi. The winner of this can also catch Michigan assuming Livers is out.
Most likely to reach the Final Four
9. St. Bonaventure
10. Michigan State/UCLA
15. Abilene Christian
16. Mount St. Mary's/Texas Southern
Team underseeded: Michigan State (play-in game), LSU (8), St. Bonaventure (9)
Team overseeded: Colorado (5)
Matchup you want to see: No. 2 Alabama vs No. 3 Texas in Sweet 16
Most likely first round upset: No. 11 UCLA/Michigan State over No. 6 BYU
Best value bet (via Barstool Sportsbook) Florida State +900 to win the region