TDT’s 2017 NCAA Tournament Preview: East Region
Can anybody in the East derail Villanova on their quest to repeat as champs?
The NCAA Tournament gets underway tonight with the first two play-in games, so while we wait, let’s take a look at the field. We’ll be breaking down each region, the best players, matchups, and ultimately the team that will advance to the Final Four. The East region is pretty heavy at the top, with Villanova and Duke the favorite to meet in the Elite Eight.
Best Player: G Josh Hart, Villanova
Josh Hart is one of the hardest working players in the country. His passion and fire shines bright every time he takes the court. The senior guard is the best player on the best team in the East region. Hart does so many things well on the basketball court and it should be expected for him to make big plays throughout the tournament for the Wildcats.
Best First-Round Matchup: No. 6 SMU vs. No. 11 Providence/USC
Some may argue that SMU got snubbed a little bit, being the 6-seed when they went 30-4 on the season. I’m sure they will come out and play with a chip on their shoulder. The Mustangs are led by talented Duke transfer and AAC Player of the Year, Semi Ojeleye. Whoever they play will be a tough matchup. Providence has no star power, but have a lot of heart and finished the regular season on a hot streak. USC makes their bread and butter shooting threes and forcing turnovers on the other end. If they’re on, either team can make things interesting.
Sleeper That Can Win It All: No. 3 Baylor
Maybe at No. 3, Baylor shouldn’t be considered a sleeper, but given that Villanova and Duke are in the same region, it makes plenty of sense. Junior forward Johnathan Motley is definitely a player to watch in the tournament, as he averaged a double-double during the regular season. The Bears had a winning record in the regular season against ranked opponents, but did fall off a little towards the end of the season. With their stingy defense, they could surprise a lot of people.
Potential Cinderella: North Carolina-Wilmington
UNC-Wilmington is a very intriguing team in this year’s tournament, after giving Duke a scare in the tournament a year ago. The Seahawks are an explosive offensive ball club, averaging more than 85 points per game, led by a veteran backcourt of Chris Flemmings and C.J. Bryce. Virginia is still a solid defensive team, but they are nowhere near as daunting of an out as they have been in the past several years. I could possibly see them getting past Florida or East Tennessee State in the next round too. If they can get hot, anything is possible, especially in March.
Elite Eight Matchup: Villanova over Duke
To be honest, this contest could go either way. It’s the matchup everyone wants to see and for good reason too — it pits the past two NCAA champions against one another. Villanova has handled the pressure of being the defending champs pretty well this season. Duke is an exciting team to watch, led by Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum. The Blue Devils are definitely the deeper of the two teams, but they are probably going to coast to the Elite Eight. You’re probably thinking this is a good thing, but the Wildcats are going to be more battle-tested, so I give the nod to Jay Wright’s squad.