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2018 NCAA Tournament Breakdown: East Region

usa-jay-wright-jalen-brunson

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 Wednesday or Thursday morning so there won’t be a ton of revealing here. 

East Region

East

Storylines:

1. How healthy is Keenan Evans?: Texas Tech was a team I planned on putting in the Final Four this year, specifically because of Keenan Evans. He’s one of the best point guards in the country and has the unique ability to carry a team offensively without forcing anything. Throw in that Tech is one of the best defenses in the country and there’s a lot to like about this team. However, late in the season we saw Evans miss a couple of games due to a toe injury. If he’s healthy, they have a chance to make that run. If he’s not healthy, you could be looking at a round of 32 exit.

2. Can Wichita State defend?: Wichita State has always been known as a great defensive program. It’s all part of Gregg Marshall’s gap defense and it shows year in and year out. However, this year the Shockers have really struggled on that side of the ball. At first it was just because they didn’t have Shaq Morris, who allowed for a lot of the rotations and versatility they rely on. Then he came back and the defense has still looked subpar. They are going to have to figure something out quickly though because Marshall has one of the most efficient offenses in the country and a guy in Jon Elmore who can beat them.

3. Villanova’s Round of 32 or title game: Villanova is an elite program – shouts to Joe Flacco and PFT. That said, Nova has had weird NCAA Tournaments during this 5-year run. They’ve been the 1 or 2 seed all 5 times and it’s resulted in either a national championship or a heartbreaking loss in the round of 32. This year, Nova has a potentially tough round of 32 game against Va. Tech or Alabama. Va. Tech has Justin Robinson, who can really score the ball plus the Hokies want to push the tempo and they can match Nova in shooting threes. Alabama has Collin Sexton and if you have Collin Sexton you have a chance.

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. Eric Paschall (Villanova) – Everyone knows Brunson and Bridges, so we’re going to go with Eric Paschall here. What makes Nova so good is a guy like Paschall. You can throw him at the four or five spot. He can switch defensively on so many different guys and then on the offensive side he can spot up and shoot or beat you off the dribble. He’s a guy that allows Nova to run its version of the death lineup.

2. Carsen Edwards (Purdue) – Carsen Edwards made the leap this year. That’s not too much of a surprise as he spent the summer playing for Team-USA in Egypt and then with Purdue in the World University Games. He’s turned into the best player for Purdue, scoring 18.5 per game while shooting 41% from three. He’s going to be even more important in the NCAA Tournament. Teams are starting to defend Isaac Haas 1v1 in the post and not leaving the shooters. That means Edwards – who really is the only player on Purdue that can take someone off the dribble and create – has to do just that. He needs to draw doubles, break down the defense and kick that way.

3. Jon Elmore (Marshall) – If I asked you who was the only player in the country to average 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game would you guess Jon Elmore? Because, that’s the correct answer. Elmore plays 95% of Marshall’s minutes while slapping up 22.8/6.9/6.0 splits. He’s good enough to go out and beat Wichita State and go head to head against Landry Shamet. In the C-USA title game he scored 20 of his 27 in the second half. When this guy gets rolling he’s one of the most fun players in the country.

4. Daniel Gafford (Arkansas) – Gafford is expected to be a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The 6’11” freshman is averaging 12 points, 6 rebounds and over 2 blocks per game. His ability to protect the rim could be vital against Butler and Purdue if both win. Personally, I believe Arkansas has a chance against Purdue because Gafford is good enough to play 1v1 in the post, assuming he stays out of foul trouble. He doesn’t do anything specific offensively, but he’s excellent at just finishing at the rim.

5. Chris Chiozza (Florida) – I’m pretty sure Wisconsin fans remember Chris Chiozza. This is the guy who last year hit that runner from three to beat Wisconsin at the buzzer in the Sweet 16. He’s back this year with a Florida team who has looked like a top-5 team and an NIT team all at once. Now, Chiozza will have a tough draw in round 1 but I’m all the way here for him vs Jaylen Adams.

Other names: Phil Booth (Villanova), Dakota Mathias (Purdue), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Zhaire Smith (Texas Tech), Jalen Hudson (Florida), Matt Mobley (St. Bonaventure), Herb Jones (Alabama), Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech).

Best 1st Round Matchup: No. 8 Virginia Tech vs No. 9 Alabama 

 I mean this game should be awesome. It’s going to be up and down as Virginia Tech wants to push tempo, something that’s just fine with Alabama. Both teams average under 17 seconds for average length of offensive possession. Just look at some of the talent on the floor in Sexton, Justin Robinson, Herb Jones, John Petty, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Dazon Ingram. That’s a loaded 8/9 game.

Most likely to reach Final Four: 

1. Villanova
2. Texas Tech
3. Purdue
4. West Virginia
5. Florida
6. Wichita State
7. Alabama
8. Arkansas
9. Virginia Tech
10. Butler
11. Marshall
12. St. Bonaventure
13. Murray State
14. Stephen F. Austin
15. Fullerton
16. Radford

Team underseeded: No. 5 West Virginia
Team overseeded: None

Matchup you want to see: No. 1 Villanova vs No. 3 Texas Tech

I almost went with Nova vs Purdue here, but I want to see Brunson vs Keenan Evans. I love watching lead guards who just control the game go at each other. That’s what we’d have in Nova vs Texas Tech. The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either. Zach Smith, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver for Tech vs Booth, DiVincenzo, Spellman, Bridges and Paschall. Throw in Chris Beard being one of the best defensive coaches in the game and coming up with a way to stop that Nova offense.

Most likely first round upset: No. 13 Marshall vs No. 4 Wichita State