The East is the home of the number one overall seed Villanova Wildcats and the much talked about Duke Blue Devils. These teams each won their respective conference tournaments in the Big East and ACC and both draw well to the second-weekend site, Madison Square Garden.
If there were a clash of the two high seeds in the region it would be an incredible atmosphere. Media would be tripping and falling over each other to write their columns on the reigning National Champions facing off with the pre-season number one overall team for a birth in the Final Four at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
You will be hard pressed to find a preview that doesn’t have these two teams getting to the Elite Eight. FiveThirtyEight says Villanova has a 59% chance to get there, and Duke 51%. Sure, that is the most likely scenario and I’m sure you’ve already read that elsewhere so let’s talk fun facts.
Here’s some region notes:
Without question the East is the Region of SLOW. Check out some of these KenPom adjusted tempos (out of 351 teams):
- Villanova 323
- Wisconsin 333
- Virginia 351
- SMU 330
- Baylor 337
All five fall within the top 20% of slowest teams playing in this year’s Big Dance. On the other hand, only UNC Wilmington is in the top fastest quintile.
Paul Weir of New Mexico State is off to a flaming start in his first season with the Aggies. Mike Krzyzewski is in his 37th year at Duke making him the elder statesman of the group.
Sindarius Thornwell is the highest scorer in the region averaging 21 per game. Of the 16 leading scorers in the region, there is one freshman, six sophomores, two juniors, and seven seniors. Highest from each class:
- Freshman: Markus Howard 13.2 (Marquette)
- Sophomore: Luke Kennard 20.1 (Duke)
- Junior: Semi Ojeleye 18.9 (SMU)
- Senior: Sindarius Thornwell 21(South Carolina)
Troy and South Carolina are the two teams that had the longest NCAA Tournament droughts snapped this year. Troy lose in the first round to Xavier in 2003, while South Carolina fell to Memphis in the first round of 2004. Six teams are returning to the tournament from last year (Duke, Villanova, Baylor, Virginia, USC, and UNC Wilmington).
Marquette and Steve Wojciechowski have the highest likelihood for a first-round upset per FiveThirtyEight at 43%. Mount St. Mary’s has the longest odds with 1% (so you’re saying there’s a chance?!). Also of note from FiveThirtyEight, SMU and Baylor have equal likelihood to reach the second weekend (46%).
As far as the round of 64 schedule (all in EST):
- Virginia (5) vs UNC Wilmington (12) 3/16 at 12:40 PM
- Florida (4) vs East Tennessee State (12) 3/16 at 3:10 PM
- Villanova (1) vs Mount St. Mary’s (16) 3/16 at 7:10 PM
- Wisconsin (8) vs Virginia Tech (9) 3/16 at 9:40 PM
- Baylor (3) vs New Mexico State (14) 3/17 at 12:40 PM
- SMU (6) vs USC (11) 3/17 at 3:10 PM
- Duke (2) vs Troy (15) 3/17 at 7:20 PM
- South Carolina (7) vs Marquette (10) 3/17 at 9:50 PM
If I were to rank the odds of first-round upsets, I would go:
- Virginia Tech
- East Tennessee State
- UNC Wilmington
- New Mexico State
- Mount St. Mary’s
Between Duke and Villanova, they both will have tricky round of 32 matchups. Villanova would have to play either a senior led Wisconsin team with tons of NCAA tournament success, or a strong ACC team in Virginia Tech who has a coach in Buzz Williams with a proven NCAA track record. Duke must face South Carolina in their home state or former Duke assistant Wojo and his dynamic Marquette offense.
People fall in love with power conference tournament winners each year and the East has three: Villanova (Big East), Duke (ACC), and SMU (AAC). Beware of these trendy picks! When teams win their tournaments, the bandwagons tend to get a little too crowded.
One of these teams will win four games over the next two weeks. This would be two-thirds of the way to the six wins needed to win a championship! Unless Mount St. Mary’s or USC goes bonkers, they would need seven and hey, you never know!