March Madness is a time of great joy and sorrow for both fans of sports and fans of just having fun alike. The dream of having a perfect bracket is usually shattered in the first few days of the tournament, while those that last typically fall shortly after. I have had a few brackets finish in the top 1-5% percent, but I have also had many others perish early on when one of my Final Four teams has been ejected from the tournament much sooner than expected. Here is how I see the East Region of this year’s NCAA Tournament playing out. Oh and just one more warning, this is by far the chalkiest (higher seeds beating lower seeds) region of my bracket this year.
Round of 64
#1 Villanova vs. #16 Mount Saint Mary’s
Along with the other #1 seeds, Villanova has history on its side right from the get go. A #1 seed has never fallen to a #16 seed and Villanova won’t be the team that changes that trend. Regardless of who wins the play-in game for the #16 seed in this region, Nova will take the win handily.
#8 Wisconsin vs. #9 Virginia Tech
Next up on the slate is one of the most enticing First Round matchups of the tournament, perennial bubble team #9 Virginia Tech facing off against the Badgers of #8 Wisconsin. On paper (and not just because they are seeded higher) Wisconsin is the stronger of the two teams. Wisconsin boasts a 32 on the rating percentage index (RPI) and a 21 on the basketball power index (BPI), while VT sits at 47 and 50, respectively. With indexes aside, here are the stats that catch my eye previewing this matchup. The Badgers rank 8th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom) and 333rd in pace of place; they like to play slow and steady and carefully dismantle their opponents. Balancing out Wisconsin’s strong defense is Tech’s proficient guard-heavy offense ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage. The tell tale matchup of a strong defense versus a strong offense.
Though Virginia Tech may be smaller, have a weaker bench, and be expected to lose in this one; I’m going to pick them to take the upset. Their coach, Buzz Williams, has made a name for himself in recent years when it comes to the NCAA Tournament (most recently with Marquette) and I’m hoping to see him have a strong debut with Virginia Tech, a school that has just barely been missing out on the big dance the past few seasons. Oh and one more stat to keep in mind, the Badgers rank 332nd in the nation in free-throw percentage (64.4%). If they lose here, that stat will play a hefty part in it.
#5 UVA vs.#12 UNC Wilmington
Who thought it would be funny to put long time rivals UVA and Virginia Tech in the same region of the bracket? It would be a very hyped up Sweet Sixteen matchup, but it would take a few quality wins from both teams to make it there (most notably, VT would have to take down defending champion Villanova in the Round of 32). With all of that being said, I expect the University of Virginia to come out on top of their First Round matchup. UNC Wilmington has the potential to give UVA a run for their money, as they did with Duke last year, but to do so they will have to come out hot from the start.
UVA scores and allows opponents to score nearly 20 points less than the averages of UNCW. If UNCW solves the defensive puzzle of Virginia then we can’t be sure that the Cavaliers will be able to keep up with them; however, if the shots aren’t dropping consistently and often for the Seahawks then the UVA defense will keep them behind. UVA ranks in as the #1 defense in terms of efficiency, per KenPom, and #24 defending against 3-point shooting holding opponents to 31.2% from behind the arc. All-in-all, UVA has been inconsistent throughout the year, but not inconsistent enough for me to count the nation’s top ranked defense out in the First Round.
#4 Florida vs. #13 ETSU
#13 ETSU is quickly becoming a popular upset pick this season, but I’m not falling for it. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but I think it will be a bit too unlikely with the game being played in the Gators backyard (just South in Orlando, Florida). The Gators sit in the top 10 in both RPI and BPI with the Buccanneers at 54 and 74, respectively. Florida has looked a bit shaky since losing their best big man John Egbunu to a season-ending injury, but they have enough in the tank to overcome ETSU playing in Florida.
#6 SMU vs. #11 Providence/USC
#6 Southern Methodist University is most likely going to be the only #6 seed that I have advancing out of the First Round this year. I really like the potential of the other three #11 seeds to pull out the victories, but in this one I think SMU is going to overcome. SMU may not have much depth when it comes to the bench, but this team boasts five capable starters who produce on both sides of the ball. USC did beat SMU by five when they met earlier this season, but if SMU can stay out of foul trouble I fully expect them to come out on top of the winner of Providence/USC.
#3 Baylor vs. #14 New Mexico State
Oh Baylor, yet another year where I feel like you are overrated and overseeded. Last year you lost to #12 Yale in the First Round, will you fall to #14 New Mexico State this time around?
#14 NMSU is back to the tournament for the fifth time in the last six years; but this will be their first time under head coach Paul Weir. The Aggies have been 0-8 in the big dance since 1993 and are hungry to pick up their first NCAA tournament win in over 2 decades. NMSU’s strengths come in their top five ranked blocking percentage and top twenty ranked offensive rebound percentage.
How about those Bears? Baylor went 6-6 down the stretch with one of those losses coming in the First Round of their conference tournament to Kansas State. They also had an injury scare to first-team all-Big 12 forward Johnathan Motley who dislocated a finger against Kansas State (status undisclosed). This Baylor team is playing much differently than the one who started the season off so dominantly.
With everything taken into account, I think it is very possible for NMSU to pull off the upset here; however, the weakness of the Aggies’ schedule makes me hesitate. The Bears will be having fears of last year’s game against Yale, as well as their recent tournament upset against K-State, but I believe they will overcome them to pull off the win here. They won’t make it far in the tournament, but I think they are strong enough to at least make it out of the First Round this time around.
#7 South Carolina vs. #10 Marquette
Upset City! In by far the chalkiest region of my bracket this year, I finally have a decent upset. I am taking the Marquette Golden Eagles to overcome the Gamecocks of South Carolina. Marquette has some of the best shooters in this year’s field. The Golden Eagles are shooting an incredibly accurate and nationally leading 43% from 3-point range coupled with a 77.9% from the free throw line. Marquette has one of the nation’s weaker defenses, while South Carolina has one of the nation’s stronger defenses, but a decently tough defense won’t be enough to hold Marquette’s accurate shooting in check.
#2 Duke vs. #15 Troy
The Duke Blue Devils have lost before as a #2 seed (shout out to Lehigh), but it won’t be happening this year. Duke is primed for a deep tournament run and #15 Troy is just a small, pint-sized obstacle in their way.
Round of 32 (assuming my Round of 64 picks are correct)
#1 Villanova vs. #9 Virginia Tech
As much as I would love to see Coach Buzz Williams and the Virginia Tech Hokies advance further; this will mostly likely be the end of the line for them if they get this far. The Wildcats take the win.
#5 UVA vs. #4 Florida
Welcome to the battle of two highly ranked, under-performing teams as of late. Both the Cavaliers of UVA and the Gators of Florida had strong seasons that teetered off at the end of the year. As a fan of the sport, I am hoping that both of these teams had a nice reset after their respective conference championship tournaments and are ready to play to the best of their ability to close the season out. If this matchup happens, I would take UVA to come out victorious. Both teams have been inconsistent, but having a top-ranked defense will help UVA get the edge in this one.
#6 SMU vs. #3 Baylor
I don’t expect Baylor to get very far in this year’s tournament, so I’ll be ending their short-lived run here against a red-hot SMU squad. SMU enters the tournament on a twelve game win streak and I expect them to keep that streak alive into the Sweet Sixteen. SMU takes the win in a close one.
#10 Marquette vs. #2 Duke
I feel like Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils are making a deep tournament run every few years. This will be one of those years. If Grayson Allen and the rest of the Blue Devils don’t get tripped up early (…see what I did there), Duke will charge right on into the Sweet Sixteen.
Sweet Sixteen (assuming my Round of 32 picks are correct)
#1 Villanova vs. #5 UVA
If UVA is able to regain their form and get back to the quality of play that they had earlier in the season then this will be one heck of an exciting matchup. With that being said, I don’t think UVA will be able to regain that form and I expect the Wildcats to move on to the Elite Eight.
#6 SMU vs. #2 Duke
SMU congratulations for making it into the Sweet Sixteen, now enjoy your offseason. The Blue Devils advance to the Elite Eight.
Elite Eight (assuming my Sweet Sixteen picks are correct)
#1 Villanova vs. #2 Duke
It is rare that the #1 and #2 seeds from a region both make it to the Elite Eight; this region is one of those rare cases in my humble opinion. Both Villanova and Duke are playing on a different level than their competition in this region. Both teams took down a host of competitive teams en route to winning their respective championships and both teams have shown that they have no intention of slowing down. If this matchup comes to fruition then it will be one for the ages, a definite must-watch. Without further ado, I choose you, Duke! Duke is a team that goes far or loses early on; there never seems to be an in-between with them. A number of times I have taken them to lose early and they have went far and many other times I have taken them to go far and they have made a earlier exit. Heed that warning. There is a third instance; however, and that is when I hit their run straight on the nose. I’m hoping that this is one of those times. The #2 seeded Duke Blue Devils are my pick to make it into the Final Four from the East Region this year.
*All picks are subject to change prior to my bracket being officially submitted.
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