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2017 NCAA Tournament Breakdown: East Region

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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. With the play-in games happening, we’ll try to save some of those regions for later in the week and start with those where we don’t have to guess what 11 seed will be playing in the Round of 64.  I’ll be releasing my entire bracket on Wednesday so there won’t be a ton of revealing here. 

East Region: 

East

Storylines 

1. Can Villanova get back to the Final Four? 

No real surprise this is a storyline. The Wildcats have one of the best regular seasons after a national title as they won the Big East regular season, championship and are the No. 1 overall seed. Throw in the fact they did this without Omari Spellman, Phil Booth and Darryl Renolds (for a couple games). I know everyone is freaking out about Wisconsin as their No. 8 seed, but it’s Virginia Tech who is the ones they don’t want to see in that second round. Teams with quicker guards that can take Villanova off the dribble without a screen is what gives them trouble. Look back at Napier/Boatrright, Cat Barber and even this year Kamar Baldwin from Butler and that’s how they got them. Wisconsin doesn’t have those guys. You can hide Brunson on Showalter. You can put Jenkins on Hayes and dare him to shoot.

2. Will Duke live up to the hype? 

Duke easily had the most hype heading into the season, which was quickly set back due to injuries and simply not looking the part. Well, here they are after winning the ACC Tournament and being considered (for a night) as a possible No. 1 seed. They have an interesting draw in having to play South Carolina (if seed holds) in South Carolina. Duke is the better team here, but South Carolina’s physical guards can give them some trouble. I’ve said it before, this team needs Grayson Allen to shoot the ball well. Frank Jackson has taken on the role of getting into the lane and kicking, but if Allen isn’t hitting shots, it allows the defense to shade on Kennard and sit on Tatum. That’s going to be the key going forward for Duke.

3. Can SMU make a run? 

Everyone is talking about SMU due to their record and ridiculous win streak at the end of the year. However, they are a No. 6 seed for a reason. They have exactly 2 wins over an NCAA Tournament team and it came against the same Cincinnati squad. I get you can only beat who you play, but it’s tough to get a great read on them because of that. They are a unique team in the sense that they are a bunch of 6’6″-6’8″ dudes and can spread you out offensively while play a variety of defenses. They can switch, they can zone, they can press. A lot of people have them beating Baylor in the second round, which would be an interesting matchup due to Baylor’s size.

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. Jalen Brunson – Villanova 

As teams continue to try and take away Josh Hart as much as possible, Jalen Brunson continues to thrive. He was probably their most consistent player in conference play, but again, a large part of that was due to teams taking away Hart. While Villanova does play slow, if he gets the ball in transition and starts to get into the lane, it becomes bully ball. He’s tough to stop and he’s an incredible scorer – it was his biggest strength coming out of high school.

2. Jayson Tatum – Duke

He has become one of the best players in the country and is working his way into the top-4/5 for the upcoming NBA Draft. He’s been rebounding the ball much better as the season goes on and continues to kill you offensively. He has a little Syracuse-Carmelo in him with his size, ability to take people off the bounce and is damn near impossible to stop in 1v1 on the wing. While Kennard has been the most consistent player for Duke, Tatum has become their best as the  season ended.

3. Kyle Guy – Virginia 

Virginia struggles to score. That’s not a surprise if you’ve watched them play and almost a little bit of a knock over the last couple of years. The difference is the past couple of years they’ve had guys (Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon) who could go get their own bucket if they needed one. This year? They really don’t have that. Guy is the closest one to that and the freshman is coming off his worst shooting performance of the season.

4. KeVaughn Allen – Florida

Allen is the leading scorer for Florida and the 6’2″ guard might draw the toughest defensive assignment too. He’ll be one of the guys that gets to guard TJ Cromer in the first round, but Allen needs to look to attack offensively as well. He went for 26 and 24 against South Carolina and Kentucky a couple weeks ago but then cooled down against Arkansas and Vanderbilt. He needs to shoot above 40% and get about 18 points for Florida to make a run.

5. Semi Ojeleye – SMU 

The Duke transfer is what makes SMU so good. He’s a 6’7″ forward that’s a little bit of a nightmare matchup for most teams. He’s averaging a little over 18 a game, but what’s made him so good is his 3-point shooting. He’s shooting over 42% from behind the arc, which is way up from the 25% he shot his last season at Duke. His ability to stretch the floor and then finish at the rim with his strength could give SMU a run to the Sweet 16.

Other names to know (besides the obvious guys): 

TJ Cromer (ETSU), Manu Lemcote (Baylor), C.J. Bryce (UNCW), Seth Allen (Virginia Tech), Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina), Markus Howard (Marquette)

Best 1st round matchup: No. 13 East Tennessee State vs No. 4 Florida

If Florida had John Egbunu for this game, I wouldn’t have it here and would have went with UNCW vs Virginia, but without Egbunu, Florida lacks a rim protector. If you watched ETSU’s conference championship game, they attacked the rim off the bounce. T.J. Cromer is a guy that looks to beat you off the dribble and finish with some contact. If Florida’s wings struggle with him, ETSU could pull the upset.

Most likely to reach Final Four in order: 

1. Duke

2. Villanova

3. Virginia

4. Baylor

5. SMU

6. Florida

7. Wisconsin

8. Virginia Tech

9. Marquette

10. South Carolina

11. UNCW

12. USC/Providence

13. ETSU

14. New Mexico State

15. Troy

16. Mount St. Mary’s/New Orleans

Teams Underseeded: Wisconsin

Teams Overseeded: No one

Matchups you want to see: No. 6 SMU vs No. 3 Baylor. No. 6 SMU vs No. 2 Duke. No. 10 Marquette vs No. 2 Duke. No. 9 Virginia Tech vs No. 1 Villanova. No. 5 Virginia vs No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Duke vs No. 1 Villanova. This region sets up a little bit weird. Villanova really just needs to swap Virginia out of their bracket for say Minnesota and you’re probably thrilled with the path. The bottom half of the bracket features unique teams in Duke and SMU, who can stretch you out and play a couple different ways. Baylor was slumping toward the end of the season and Wisconsin has been disappointing all year. That said, would it shock me if Wisconsin pulls a 2014 Kentucky? No. They have the talent. Question is can they hit shots?

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